The Los Angeles Angels are in the thick of the playoff race despite having a lot of things go wrong this season.
The Scott Kazmir reclamation project was an epic failure and ended in his release after he posted miserable rehab starts in Triple-A.
The acquisition of Vernon Wells—which was criticized by almost everyone at the time of the deal—has proven to be worse than originally anticipated.
Despite the disappointments, the Angels have had a lot of things go right.
Several of the young prospects have stepped in and played well, including Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Walden and Mark Trumbo. More importantly, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren have been one of the best one-two punches in the league, if not the best.
Although Weaver and Haren are obviously vital to the team and are the main reasons the Angels are in the playoff hunt, this list will not discuss them.
Weaver and Haren are gamers. I have no doubt that both will continue to pitch at a high level and give the Halos a chance to win every time they take the mound.
With that in mind, this slideshow focuses more on players who will need to step up if the Angels will succeed down the stretch.
Here are the seven most vital players to the Angels’ playoff race.
In last Thursday’s game against the Seattle Mariners, Peter Bourjos went down with a strained right hamstring.
Rather than putting Reggie Willits in center field (yawn), the Angels made an incredibly bold move by calling up Mike Trout.
If you are an Angels fan and have not heard of Trout yet, you probably aren’t that big of an Angels fan.
Trout has been an absolute stud in the minors and made his major league debut on Friday. Although his bat has yet to impress, he has already displayed his overall abilities.
At 19 years old, Trout is the youngest player to make his major league debut since Wilson Betemit debuted almost 10 years ago.
If Trout can continue to play at the level he was performing at in Double-A Arkansas, he will have a huge impact on the Angels and help them make a postseason run.
After seeing Fernando Rodney struggle early in the season, Mike Scioscia elected to go with Jordan Walden as the closer.
Walden paid immediate dividends by pitching well enough to be named to the All-Star team.
At the All-Star break Walden had recorded a 2.84 ERA, and his 20 saves rank him No. 5 in the American League.
He has not been perfect, but he has been a huge upgrade from Rodney. Walden needs to continue to improve in the second half of the season for the Angels to stay in the hunt.
Mark Trumbo has been the Angels’ everyday first baseman and has filled in adequately for the injured Kendrys Morales.
While his .260 batting average is nothing to boast of, he has brought a lot of pop to a Halos lineup that desperately needs home runs.
Trumbo finished the first half of the season on fire and hit four homers in the last five games. He ranks No. 1 on the team with 17 long balls.
Trumbo has the potential to be a 40-home run guy, but the Angels would be thrilled if he could hit 30 for them this year (and cut down on the strikeouts while he’s at it).
At age 21, Tyler Chatwood is another one of the Angels’ young players who has made big contributions this season.
Scott Kazmir was an absolute bust, and Chatwood has filled the void sufficiently. At the break he has a 3.62 ERA and has gone 5-5, winning two of his last three decisions.
On a less than positive note, Chatwood leads the AL in bases on balls—something he will need to fix to have a strong second half.
When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez stepped up as rookies to win big games. Chatwood will need to do the same.
2011 marks the first year that Torii Hunter has been a right fielder, and it has been a disappointing season.
On July 5 he had a batting average of .237, but he collected nine hits over the following five games to raise it to a mediocre .250.
At age 35 Hunter’s best years are already behind him, and his abilities will steadily decline from here.
Hunter is the most vocal player on the Angels and will need to rally his teammates and show the young guys what it takes to win.
While he will have plenty to say over the next several months, he must let his bat do some talking if the Angels hope to stay competitive down the stretch.
Has Ervin Santana just had bad luck this year?
Despite posting a solid 3.89 ERA in the first half of the season, Santana has a 4-8 record.
Run support has been the main thing weighing him down. In the month of June, Santana had a 3.48 ERA but still went 0-4 in five starts. Why?
The Angels offense scored a total of 10 runs during his five June starts.
While he finished last season with a 17-10 record, he is on pace to strike out 18 more batters this year, and his WHIP and ERA are better than last year.
If Santana continues to pitch the way he has been, he will not only record more wins for the Halos but also help them capture the division.
Along with investing $26 million in Vernon Wells this season, the Angels essentially invested their playoff hopes.
The Halos offense has been lackluster this year, and a lot of that has to do with their left fielder. Wells had an awful start to the season and had a .171 batting average at the end of April.
Wells has worked hard to climb out of the early season hole and has raised his average to .222. He has also begun to show some power by hitting nine home runs from June to present.
He may never live up to his huge contract, but his team needs him to live up to half of it—or even just a fourth of it.
Wells is the most vital player to the Angels’ playoff race and could go from goat to hero with a stellar second half.