Three up, three down: J-Ham finding stroke
Angels on the rise as slugger begins to turn things around at plate
He's back. Josh Hamilton has snapped out of a season-long slump, and the Angels are suddenly grabbing the attention of the rest of the American League West. Oh, despite winning 10 of their last 12 games they have been able to only go from 10 games out to 8 1/2 games back of Oakland. But they are winning, confidence is growing and after the All-Star break, the Angels get a chance to make an emphatic statement. While they spend the week leading up to the break playing two games against the Cubs and three against the Mariners, 10 of the first 13 games after the break are against Oakland (seven) and Texas, the two teams ahead of them in the division. And to have Hamilton in one of his hot streaks makes that promising for the Angels. While he's only hitting .230 for the season, Hamilton has run off a 12-game hitting streak in which he has hit .372. Now if the Angels can jump-start Albert Pujols, whose .184 slump in the last 12 games has dropped his season average to .247. And the Angels are competing with the game's elite. During their 12-game surge, which has them within two games of .500 for the first time since April 7, they swept a three-game series at Detroit and took two of three from both St. Louis and Boston last week.
The All-Star break will be welcomed by Minnesota. It will give the Twins a chance to regroup. The last two weeks haven't been much fun. They have lost 10 of 13 and fallen 11 games below .500 for the first time this season. And it's been a team failure. Oswaldo Arcia (.318) and Brian Dozier (.277) are the only regulars hitting .235 or better. Pitching? Well, the rotation is a combined 3-8 with a 5.78 ERA over that stretch, and there's not a multiple winner on the staff. And now they get to spend a week on the road, visiting Tampa Bay and the Yankees. The White Sox (15-31) and Houston (15-25) are the only AL teams who have had more trouble on the road this season than the Twins (16-25).
The Rays took a low-risk gamble with free-agent first baseman James Loney in the offseason, signing him to a one-year, $2 million guarantee with the chance to make another $1 million. He's paying off. Loney is the team's only .300 hitter (.320) and already has nine home runs and 43 RBIs after hitting only six home runs and driving in only 41 runs while hitting .249 in a 2012 split between the Dodgers and Red Sox. And he's been especially hot the last two weeks. The Rays have won 11 of 14, and finish up the pre-All-Star portion of their schedule this week hosting Minnesota for four games and Houston for three. Loney has hit .412 during the recent surge. The core of the Rays' success, however, has been their starting pitching, not the lineup. While closer Fernando Rodney is 5-for-5 in saves with a victory in the 14-game run, the top four spots in the rotation are a combined 9-0 with a 1.44 ERA. Jeremy Hellickson (0.96) and Matt Moore (0.47) are both 3-0. The fifth slot, however, is a problem. Roberto Hernandez and Alex Colome are a combined 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA.
It was three weeks ago that the Padres were getting giddy. They had improved their record to 35-34 with a 5-3 win at San Francisco and had pulled within a game of National League West-leading Arizona. So much for the celebration. The Padres have lost 15 of 19 since, and they return home Monday having lost the final nine games on a 10-game road trip. Will the presence of the slumping Colorado Rockies, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games, make a difference? The Padres' loss of four regulars to the disabled list -- C Yasmani Grandal, 1B Yonder Alonso, 2B Jedd Gyorko and CF Cameron Maybin -- is taking a toll. San Diego has hit only .231 since June 18, 14th in the NL, ahead of only the struggling Giants, who have hit .221. And the rotation has stumbled not only to a 5.03 ERA, but a 1-8 record. Edison Volquez's June 28 win at Miami, in fact, is the only win for a Padres starter in their last 21 games. Robbie Erlin, Jason Marquis and Eric Stults are each 0-2 during the slide.
The schedule is an ally. After losing eight of 11 and seeing Pittsburgh move atop the division, the Cardinals regained a share of the NL Central lead thanks to a weekend sweep of Miami, and now the Cardinals head into the All-Star break by hosting Houston and visiting the Cubs. St. Louis took advantage of the Marlins to pull out the second game of their weekend series, claiming its first walk-off win of the season. With the score tied at 4 two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Jon Jay was on first, and Shane Robinson singled to right, advancing Jay to third. Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, however, made a nonchalant throw that went under the glove of first baseman Logan Morrison, allowing Jay to jog home without a play. The Cardinals allowed only seven runs in the three games, but that's nothing new. They have a team ERA of 3.32, second best in the NL behind only the Pirates.
San Francisco has won two of the last three World Series, but the reputation doesn't help the Giants win games this year. They have stumbled to 16 losses in their last 21 games, and are battling the Padres to avoid the basement in the NL West. Madison Bumgarner has been the only bright spot of a pitching staff that has been the foundation of past successes, but has become a major concern this time around. Bumgarner has the only four wins for a Giants starter since June 14, and in the last 21 games, he is 3-1 while the rest of the rotation is 0-8, and the bullpen has converted only four of eight save opportunities. The Giants, meanwhile, have hit .225 during the 21 games, and have scored an NL-low 50 runs, scoring three or fewer in 15 games, one or none in eight games. Pablo Sandoval has hit only .111 with twice as many strikeouts (12) as total bases (six). He has four singles and a double, and has missed nine of the 21 games.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.