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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 1:47 PM

The Los Angeles Angels are 8-1 their last nine games thanks to what looks to be the delayed 2012 “arrival” of slugging superstar Albert Pujols. His surge came at the perfect time….amidst a road trip to divisional rivals Seattle and Oakland, just before a homestand against the New York Yankees and two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

That right there tells you how legit this surge may be. The Angels didn’t go 8-1 because of a bunch of home games against Minnesota, Kansas City, and the like. They went 6-1 during a road stretch within the division, and then 2-1 against the vaunted Yankees.

Los Angeles enters this weekend’s series against Texas with a 26-26 record and a 5.5 game deficit in the AL West standings. With exactly 110 game left in the season, there’s plenty of time to catch the Rangers from behind. And, a Wildcard spot is clearly within reach now when it looked like a longshot just a few weeks ago. Winning this huge series would provide a huge boost for both of those goals.

Let’s look at what Pujols has done lately:

*5 home runs in his last 9 games

*10 RBI’s

*a .341 batting average

*and he found his intimidating swagger!

Remember that this was happening in pitcher’s parks against teams who were taking the games very seriously. And, probably the most important thing…it happened after former hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired! Pujols mechanics got extremely messed up this year in his early days as an Angel. Looks like the guy who messed everything up has been dispatched.

It’s very important that you handicap going forward with the Angels rated as a contender rather than an also-ran. They’re obviously not going to win 8 of every nine games from this point onward. But, they’re no longer the struggling doormat they appeared to be in the first several weeks of the season. They’ve worked out the kinks. They’re playing with confidence and enthusiasm. And, they’re playing with a sense of urgency because they’re trying to make up for that slow start.

Here’s what’s ahead for the Halo’s.

This weekend: vs. Texas

Mon-Wed: vs. Seattle

Fri-Sun: at Colorado (struggling NL West team)

Mon-Wed: at LA Dodgers (great rivalry!)

Fri-Sun: vs. Arizona (disappointing NL West team)

Talk about great timing! The Angels have a chance to make immediate inroads on Texas this weekend…then largely step down in class for a set of games that will often have them favored in Vegas. If they can pop a 10-5 run on top of their current 8-1 stretch…they will definitely be well-positioned for a playoff run in the second half of the season.

If you’re a do-it-yourself handicapper, play close attention to this team and Pujols in the coming days. Also, monitor how the rotation reacts to the injury to Jered Weaver. We can’t emphasize enough how important these next few weeks are for the Angels.

Other big matchups this weekend:

Miami at Philadelphia: both teams are 13-7 their last 20 games, best in the NL East. A great division is flush with critical matchups in these final days leading up to Interleague action.

Atlanta at Washington: All five teams in the NL East are playoff contenders. Only three at the most can make it. Atlanta is 2-8 its last 10 games and needs to snap out of a funk.

Baltimore at Tampa Bay: First place is at stake in the AL East, as both teams enter the weekend at 29-22. Neither is in great form of late though, with losing records over the last 10 and last 20 games. Has the Baltimore miracle run its course? Or, will they get back on track this weekend?

NY Yankees at Detroit: This was supposed to be a playoff preview, possibly an ALCS preview. But, now there’s a chance neither team will make the playoffs given the number of potential contenders. Detroit is taking way too long to get rolling, while the Yankees have only been able to tread water in baseball’s toughest division.

Best of luck with your picks this weekend. If you’d like some help finding the best plays on the board, consult with our VSM experts each and every day. Check the home page of this website for big play bulletins. We’ve already heard through the grapevine some of the strongest releases so far this season will be going Saturday and Sunday! Build your bankroll tonight and Friday for those must-have MONSTERS!

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