Lackey and Byrd both answered their detractors with strong months in May, helping the Halos win their first five games of the month and finish 5-3-1 in May series.
Lackey (3-1, 3.02 ERA) and Byrd (3-1, 3.03 ERA) were both sharp for the month, while Scot Shields continued his strong season by earning six saves while Francisco Rodriguez was on the disabled list. Rookie Ervin Santana joined the team when Kelvim Escobar was disabled and responded by twirling a shutout of the red-hot White Sox in his second start.
The exceptional pitching was a necessity in May, as the Angels bats were a hollow .245 for the month. Jose Molina (.304 with three homers) was the only player to crack .300 for the month.
At the end of May, the Angels sat a game behind Texas in the West -- with Oakland in last place, a dismal 11 1/2 games out and 13 games under .500. Both the Rangers' and Athletics' fortunes would change dramatically in June.
Texas slid and Oakland sizzled in June, but the Angels didn't pay much attention. The Halos turned in their second-best month of the season, finally adding consistent hitting to their usual excellence on the mound.
The Angels went 5-2-1 in June series and mounted an eight-game winning streak from June 20-28, including five wins over the reeling Rangers and three more over the Dodgers in a dominant Freeway Series performance.
The team's success was all the more impressive considering 2004 AL MVP Guerrero spent part of the month on the DL with a shoulder injury. Darin Erstad batted .324 with 26 runs scored in 25 games, while Guerrero batted .443 with 20 RBIs in the 19 games he played. Second baseman Adam Kennedy, who returned from offseason surgery in May, also had a June to remember, batting .435. Most of the Halos' hitters were hot, though, as the offense batted .308 in June while scoring 5.8 runs per game.
A tepid July set the stage for a contentious finish to the season. Thing started well enough, with a sweep in Kansas City and a series win in Minnesota. The Angels went into the All-Star break, though, on the heels of a four-game sweep at the hands of last-place Seattle at Angel Stadium. It wasn't even close, as the Mariners outscored the Halos, 33-13.
After the Midsummer Classic -- in which Anderson, Colon and Guerrero represented the Angels -- things got a little better. The Halos won three of four from both the Twins and Yankees, but later lost two of three to the Yankees and A's and were swept in Toronto.
The offense disappeared for long stretches, as the Angels scored only 3.8 runs per game. Guerrero (.208) and Anderson (.229) both struggled in the heart of the lineup. Lackey and Washburn were the only starters to post an ERA below 4.10, but they were a combined 4-5, despite their efforts. The bullpen did its part, as Shields (1.06 ERA), Rodriguez (1.50 ERA) and Brendan Donnelly (2.08 ERA) all were sharp.
At the end of the month, the A's trailed the Angels by only 1 1/2 games, leading many to revisit their early-season predictions that the Angels would win the division running away.
An equally lukewarm August frustrated many Angels fans, as the offense heated up just as the bullpen seemed to wear down.
The month was highlighted by the beginning of Colon's push for the Cy Young Award, as the right-hander went 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA. Lackey (3-1, 2.63 ERA) continued to sizzle, while Santana's respectable 4.45 August ERA was actually the worst of the starters.
The offense couldn't be blamed much, batting .276 and scoring 134 runs (5 per game) -- over one run per game more than the Angels' opponents managed to score. Despite that sizeable differential, though, untimely bullpen blowups held the Angels to 14-13 August record. The Halos were 5-3-1 in August series, but a three-game sweep in Tampa Bay was part of a five-game losing streak that marred the month.
Rodriguez (0-2, 5.00 ERA, one blown save), Donnelly (6.23 ERA, two blown saves) and Shields (2-3, 4.38 ERA) all struggled at times, leading some to wonder if the Angels' best bullpen arms had been fatigued by the many close games they'd been asked to close out all season. On the eve of September, Oakland led the West by one game.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the battle-tested Angels disproved all their doubters during a dominant stretch run. The Halos were a season-best 7-2 in series, winning eight straight during the middle of the month and then took three out of four in Oakland from Sept. 26-29 to dash the A's playoff hopes.
Rodriguez was 14-for-14 in save chances, Byrd was 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA, Escobar returned from elbow surgery to emerge as a dominant late-inning force and Colon blew past the 20-win mark. Figgins (.325, 25 runs), Guerrero (.330, six homers) and Juan Rivera (.297, four homers) powered the offense, which scored five or more runs 15 times.
The Angels entered September in second place, but after pounding out 25 wins against only nine losses in a little over a month, they finished with 95 wins, winning the AL West by an impressive seven games. For the season, the Angels outscored their opponents, 761-643, using strong pitching and as much offense as they could muster to earn a Division Series matchup with the Yankees -- against whom the Angels were 6-4 in 2005.