Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/27/12
SEATTLE If the Angels have proved one indisputable fact on their road trip, it's this: Even if a newly revived Albert Pujols eventually turns them into an offensive machine, it's their starting pitching that will carry them. Obvious but true. Good teams rely on pitching. Great teams usually have reliable starters who help their teams survive extended hitting slumps. Nothing steadies a team like pitching, as the Angels have come to realize. Sunday, they finished up their best road trip of the season and their best stretch of games behind a workmanlike performance from left-hander CJ Wilson and the bullpen. While the offense still occasionally ebbs and flows, pitching remains a constant. "Even adding Albert and some of the other guys in the lineup, I think the starting pitching is always going to be the backbone of this team," starter Dan Haren said. "Really, any playoff team or division-winning team is going to have a strong starting staff. Look at what Texas is doing this year." The Angels have slowly begin to close ground on the Rangers in the American League West, going 7-3 on the trip and sweeping the Mariners in four games at Safeco Field with Sunday's 4-2 victory the team's first four-game sweep in Seattle since April 1985. They extended their season-high winning streak to six games. On the trip, starters gave up just 18 earned runs in 68 innings, a 2.38 ERA and that includes Ervin Santana's dreadful game Friday night when he walked seven batters in five innings and gave up four runs. Wilson allowed just two hits in six innings, but he developed a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand in the fourth inning and left rather than risk opening up a larger wound that might cost him a start. The hitters still aren't hitting the way they should, but Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo each crushed home runs that supported Wilson and the usual back-end relief corps of Jordan Walden, Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs, who combined to pitch three innings without allowing a run. "You see us moving forward with confidence," said manager Mike Scioscia, whose team is now within one game of .500 at 24-25. "In some areas we're doing a great job, and the bullpen has really gotten itself together and is doing a terrific job. Offensively, some guys are starting to swing the bat, but we're not pressuring teams like we will. That's something we hope we'll start to see as we keep going forward." In the meantime, the starters continue their impressive work. They lead the majors with seven shutouts and lead the American League with a 3.40 ERA. This month, they have a no-hitter (Jered Weaver), a combined one-hitter (Wilson and Frieri) and a complete-game shutout with 14 strikeouts (Dan Haren in the series opener). "The rotation sets the tone," Wilson said. "If we go out there and prevent scoring right out of the gate, especially if it's like the first three innings where we don't give anything up, it gives the offense a lot of confidence. We don't need to score five runs in an inning. It's one run, one run, one run. Sometimes it's a home run, sometimes it's a stolen base." In some cases, a good game by one starter challenges the next pitcher in the rotation to match it. "I think we really push each other," Haren said. "I feel like I really haven't held up my end of the bargain so far this year. I've thrown the ball well more often than not, but still not at the level I want to. Jerome (Williams) has come in and thrown the ball pretty much unbelievable, except for his first start. Everybody's been pretty consistent." In fact, the starting staff hasn't given up more than three runs in 11 of its past 13 games and has quality starts in 25 of its past 31 games. While the Angels wait for their offense to break out, at least they know their pitching will keep them in most games. "The heartbeat of a championship-caliber club is definitely going to be the starting rotation," Scioscia said. "Our guys have met the challenge. They're all throwing the ball well. Because of a lack of support, maybe some their numbers are not what you'd expect, but they're good."
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