Alexander: Are the Angels starting to make a wild-card run?

ANAHEIM — Let’s take emotion out of it for a bit, even though it could be argued that the Angels have run on extra emotion and energy since the tragic death of teammate Tyler Skaggs.

And let’s discount, for a moment, a post-All-Star break sweep of the Seattle Mariners, who are a bad enough baseball team that you wonder how General Manager Jerry DiPoto still has a job.

But the fact is that the Angels have now won five in a row and eight of their last 11 games after Tuesday night’s 7-2 decision over the Houston Astros, who have seen what was once a 10-game lead in the AL West chopped to 4½ in the last five weeks and have enough of an unsettled pitching situation that they’ve had to use an “opener” two nights in a row.

And so it must be asked: Are the Angels hoisting themselves back into the wild card race?

The answer, if you look strictly at the numbers? “Meh.”

On July 1, the day Skaggs died, they were 4½ games out of the second wild-card spot with a 42-43 record, with the Indians, A’s and Red Sox between them and that spot. They are now 50-46 … but still 4½ games out, though with just two teams (the Red Sox and Rangers) between them and the second spot that now belongs to the A’s.

Which illustrates, again, the difficulty of having to pass multiple teams to get where you need to go.

(For what it’s worth, they were 11 behind the Astros on July 1, and now sit nine back after winning the first two of this series.)

Beyond the numbers? There might be something there.

Mike Trout’s calf injury notwithstanding – and the two-time MVP sounds pretty confident he’ll be back in the lineup soon, possibly as early as Wednesday – the Angels’ health status brightened considerably when left fielder Justin Upton returned from the injured list June 17 and shortstop Andrelton Simmons came off it 10 days later.

With Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Upton in the 2-3-4 spots and Albert Pujols – who had a three-run double in the first inning on Tuesday night – lurking further down in the order, it’s a lineup that can severely test most pitching staffs.

“You saw it (Monday) night, a lot of energy coming from a lot of guys,” Trout said before the game, in reference to the Angels’ 9-6 come-from-behind victory in the series opener. “It’s not one guy. It’s one through nine.”

Pujols’ bases-clearing double Tuesday night, incidentally, was part of a six-run first inning in which the Angels sent 10 men to the plate and Astros closer Hector Rendon couldn’t get the third out. That ensured that the Angels would score at least six runs in six straight games.

“When they put their best lineup out there and when they have their pitching healthy, they’ve always been considered a good team,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before the game. “It obviously starts with Trout and goes to a lot of different places on the field where they have an above-average player.

“I don’t think we’ve ever taken them lightly. I don’t think the league ever takes them lightly. Health is always important for all teams, and they’ve had their own fair share of issues, not keeping their players on the field. But, again, their best team is really good.”

If an opposing manager says it … well, it could usually be construed as a certain amount of apple polishing, although Hinch is a fairly straightforward guy.

If the Angels themselves believe it – truly, deep down, and not just mouthing the correct clichés – this could be an interesting and entertaining final 66 games.

Health, of course, is relative. Jonathan Lucroy is on the IL after his violent collision with Jake Marisnick in Houston (which led to Marisnick, who went to high school a little more than a half-hour up the 91 freeway at Riverside Poly, getting booed loudly on every plate appearance and later getting hit between the shoulder blades by a Noe Ramirez pitch). Zack Cozart is done for the season and will have surgery to repair a torn labrum. Tommy La Stella, who had an All-Star first half, will be out several more weeks with a fractured right tibia.

And, of course, there is that gaping hole in the starting rotation, as well as in the Angels’ hearts.

But maybe energy and passion will carry the day.

“A lot of it is that our offense has clicked,” Manager Brad Ausmus said before the game. “When you have your offense clicking, you have guys on base, you’re rounding the bases, you’re scoring, you’re high-fiving in the dugout. So that leads to a lot more energy, yeah.”

That’s another way of saying that at least six runs a night doesn’t hurt, either.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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