ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Mike Trout thinks the Los Angeles Angels are about to begin the most important month of their season.
That's no exaggeration by the star outfielder, who has yet to appear in the playoffs largely because the Angels fell into a hole in the AL West standings at the outset of their last few seasons.
Awful April performances in the last two years left the big-budget Angels playing catch-up all summer, and not even Trout could carry them all the way back.
''We've got to have better starts,'' said Trout, who formalized his $144.5 million contract Saturday. ''The last two years killed us. We've got to figure out a way to prepare ourselves to come out in a hot streak. I've always told myself and everybody that the first couple of weeks of the season can make or break your season.''
Jered Weaver (11-8, 3.27 ERA) takes the mound against Felix Hernandez (12-10, 3.04) when the Angels face Seattle on Monday night at the Big A. They'll also host the Mariners debuts of $240 million second baseman Robinson Cano and manager Lloyd McClendon.
But even on March 31, an April spotlight will shine on the Angels, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2009.
They went 9-17 in April last season after Weaver got hurt early on, eventually stumbling to their worst season in a decade (78-84).
A year earlier, Trout was still in the minors for the first few weeks when Los Angeles started 7-15 with a homerless month from Albert Pujols, the Angels' own $240 million prize. They never got back on top of the division despite playing just one more sub-.500 month all year.
The Angels started 16-14 in 2011, and they were 12-18 in early May 2010. If the Angels hover below .500 in April yet again, manager Mike Scioscia's 15-season tenure could be in trouble.
Scioscia has dismissed any worries about the Angels' start to the season beyond the usual managerial boilerplate, instead choosing to focus on the particulars of the opening matchups with the Mariners. Seattle has raised expectations after its deep-pocketed ownership dug in to pay Cano, the former Yankees star and five-time All-Star.
''He's a great player, and the game just comes so easy and so naturally to him, so he makes any team better,'' Weaver said. ''It was a bit of a surprise to see him go to Seattle, but that's a decision that he made and he's going to make that team better. The West has become a little bit more challenging of a division than in years past, and adding him to the Mariners makes the division that much tougher.''
Seattle (71-91) also will debut outfielder Corey Hart, slugger Logan Morrison and closer Fernando Rodney, who spent two dismal seasons with the Angels from 2010-11.
''I think they're much improved, no doubt,'' Scioscia said of the Mariners. ''They've vastly improved on the defensive end, and obviously their lineup is deeper. They've got a lot of good left-handed hitters in there, which will be a challenge to a lot of teams.''
The Angels' vaunted lineup is ready to live up to its potential. The fully healthy Pujols likely will hit third behind Trout and ahead of slugger Josh Hamilton, who added 30 pounds of muscle for his second season in Anaheim.
Los Angeles also added third baseman David Freese. Kole Calhoun is likely to be the Angels' everyday leadoff hitter and right fielder, while 41-year-old Raul Ibanez is likely to face his former Seattle teammates as the Angels' designated hitter.
The Angels finished a 19-11 preseason with a victory over the Dodgers in Anaheim on Saturday night.
''It's always good to get these exhibition games gone, get a feel for playing in a big league stadium again and get under the lights again,'' Weaver said. ''It really gets your mind going that the regular season is fast approaching, and we're looking forward to going to work.''