The last time the Los Angeles Angels were alone atop the American League West, Thor was No. 1 at the box office.
OK, so May 15, 2011, wasn't that long ago. Yet it must seem like long enough to Angels fans, who watched their club limp to third-place finishes in each of the last two seasons.
And as he so often does, Mike Trout led the charge, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. As the Angels rise, so do Trout's chances of claiming his first MVP.
But he's far from the only catalyst behind the Angels' ascent. After a disappointing, injury-shortened 2013, Albert Pujols is enjoying a bounce-back campaign, belting 23 home runs and providing Trout with some much-needed protection in the lineup.
The bullpen, bolstered by the arrival of closer Huston Street before the trade deadline, has transitioned from a liability to an asset.
The rotation remains a question mark; Tyler Skaggs is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and No. 3 starter C.J. Wilson owns an unsightly 4.59 ERA.
Still, Los Angeles can ride studs Garrett Richards (2.53 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 167 IP) and Jered Weaver (3.66 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 161.1 IP).
Granted, the Angels' perch is precarious. Oakland, despite dropping five in a row entering play Tuesday, is loaded with aces and boasts baseball's highest-scoring offense.
And the Angels haven't been unstoppable. They've gone 16-13 since the break, but, as Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com notes, the bulk of those wins have been squeakers:
The two teams will square off 10 more times before things are settled, and the strength of their remaining schedules is virtually identical, per ESPN.com. This means things could easily tip either way, and this marathon will almost assuredly go down to the final lap.
"It's been a race," leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun, another key cog in the Halos' winning machine, told MLB.com's Gonzalez. "We've kind of been neck and neck all season. It's nice to be in this position right now."
The stakes couldn't be higher.
The winner of the AL West will waltz into the division series, likely with home-field advantage. The loser, meanwhile, will be tossed into a one-game, do-or-die playoff (assuming they don't careen out of the wild-card picture).
It'd be a tough break for what could end up being the second-best team in the big leagues. Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia has no problem with that, as he told Daniel Carp of USA Today:
I think the weight on winning a division is warranted. If you're going to have divisional baseball, you have to make winning a division the first objective of any team that's contending. And if you don't reach that goal and you played well enough, you have the opportunity to work your way into the playoffs.
The Angels, naturally, are hoping to skip that "opportunity" altogether. They have their sights set on the top spot—a position the A's once seemed to have firmly in their grasp, but which is now officially up for grabs.
As Anthony McCarron, who recently put the Angels at the top of the New York Daily News' power rankings, notes:
"Just when we thought Oakland was untouchable, Mike Trout and the lads have slipped into first place in the elite American League West, the best division in baseball ... They're good. Real good."
Good enough to hang on and make a run at their first World Series since 2002 and the second in franchise history? Time will tell.
For now, we know this: Thor may not be the No. 1 movie in America, but the Angels are flying like superheroes.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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