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After rough start, Angels jelling as cohesive unit

Through the first month or so of the season, the Angels just didn't seem to fit. In all phases of their game, something was missing.

"I don't think we were there yet," Torii Hunter said. "It took us a while to get it going, to get together and find that togetherness."

After the first 20 games of a season that began with the highest expectations, the Angels posted a franchise-worst 6-14 record and ended the season's first month at 8-15. In April, their batting average was 23rd in the league at .238 and the bullpen's ERA was a staggering 5.08.

"And now, I think it's there," Hunter said. "It's only going to get better. We started off slow for six weeks trying to find it, but now there's togetherness and we have it."

Although outfielder Mike Trout leads American League rookies in batting average (.341) and runs (35), he has been just one part, albeit a large one, in the Angels' complete turnaround.

After reliever Ernesto Frieri pitched his first game with the Angels on May 5 after being acquired from the Padres on May 3, the bullpen has a 2.74 ERA. In his 18 appearances since joining the Angels, Frieri has a 0.00 ERA with 34 strikeouts, while surrendering just three hits.

And one of the Angels' top free-agent signings in the offseason, Albert Pujols, is finally starting to look like the hitter general manager Jerry Dipoto knew he was signing in December.

After hitting a season-low .190 on May 8, Pujols is hitting .333 with nine doubles, eight home runs and 28 RBIs during the last 33 games. He's also forcing opposing pitchers to decide between throwing to him or to one of the Angels' most consistent hitters this season, Mark Trumbo.

Trumbo is batting .328 this season with a team-high 14 home runs and 39 RBIs. His average dipped below .300 in only eight games this season.

But early in the year, when the Angels were nine games out of first and in last place in the AL West, what the club was missing most wasn't Trout, Trumbo, Pujols or Frieri, C.J. Wilson said.

It was cohesion.

Every year a team has to rebuild its chemistry, Wilson said, and with the addition of some big-name players in the offseason, it took time for this team to truly bond. The Halos not only had to fit Wilson and Pujols into the rotation and the lineup, but they had to fit into the clubhouse, as well.

"[Chemistry] definitely doesn't come overnight. It does take a while," Wilson said. "That's the common misconception that it's one guy, but instead, it's like 25 guys all choosing to get along.

"The better the chemistry is, more guys root for each other even. Sometimes it's hard, because you feel like you want to be playing in a particular spot, but when the team's first, I think everything good comes from that."

Through Spring Training and into the first month of the season, teammates weren't discussing how to attack a pitcher as much as they should have. They weren't talking about what a pitcher has been throwing in certain situations. Simply put, communication in the dugout was lacking, Pujols said.

"Early in April, I mean you saw it, everybody was pressing, trying to do a little bit too much," Pujols said. "It wasn't where we wanted it to be, and it happens. It's part of the game."

But now that the familiarity and camaraderie are where they need to be, players are on the top step of the dugout cheering more than they were. They're laughing and joking more, Hunter said.

"We're having a lot more fun in the clubhouse," Hunter said. "Of course, winning cures everything. Losing is a disease, and that's the cure. Right now, we're having a lot more fun. The music's going, we're cracking jokes on the bench. The atmosphere is a lot better."

After winning two of three over the National League West-leading Dodgers, the Angels' deficit in the AL West remains at 3 1/2 games.

Yet, the Angels knew they'd get to this point eventually. They knew they had the talent to be one of the best teams in the Majors.

It just took longer than expected to get there.

"We believed in it when I think a lot of people didn't," Peter Bourjos said. "It's easy for people to jump on the bandwagon today when the guys are playing great. A month ago, they were saying, 'They're not going to make the playoffs.' We're playing good baseball. We knew it was going to happen, it's just a matter of time."

Los Angeles Angels, Ernesto Frieri, Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, C.J. Wilson