|Angels atop AL West heading into second half|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 11 July 2007 11:41|
At the break last summer, Los Angeles was 43-45 and two games out of the AL West lead. They had gone into July with a 35-44 mark, and even a major league-best 54-29 record afterward wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs.
This time, the Angels' 53 wins are tied with Boston for most in the majors, and they lead the AL West by 2 1/2 games over Seattle. Last year's division champion, Oakland, is nine games off the lead.
The 53 wins (against 35 losses) is the Angels' most since they were 55-38 at the break in 1979.
Los Angeles, which failed over the winter to add a much-needed slugger to the lineup and has had a string of injuries this season, has succeeded because of strong pitching and derring-do on the basepaths.
``We're an aggressive team,'' reliever Scot Shields said. ``Sometimes we get thrown out on some bases, but that's what makes us. We go out there and we take the extra bases, we go first to third. It's fun watching the type of baseball that we play.
``I think we've got to continue to just keep doing that and, of course, pitching is always the number one thing for us. We've got to go out there and get quality outings by the starters and by the bullpen. We feel real confident in that.''
John Lackey (11-5, 2.91 ERA) and Kelvim Escobar (10-3, 3.19) have been the stalwarts of the rotation, which has been effective despite Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver missing games early because of injuries.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez again has been outstanding, with 24 saves in 26 chances, and he earned the save in the AL's 5-4 victory in Wednesday night's All-Star game in San Francisco.
Shields also has been very effective as the setup man for Los Angeles, with a 1.70 ERA.
With 14 players landing on the disabled list this season, the Angels have gotten help from a number of younger players. Dustin Moseley and Joe Saunders filled in the rotation while Colon and Weaver were out, and outfielder Reggie Willits has provided an offensive boost from the leadoff spot.
Guerrero, who played in his eighth All-Star game on Tuesday and won the Home Run Derby the day before, is having a typical year by his high standards: He's hitting .325 with 14 homers and 75 RBIs.
Orlando Cabrera is having an outstanding year, leading the team in hits (115) and runs scored (55) while batting .328 with 51 RBIs. Chone Figgins (.304, 20 steals), Howie Kendrick (.297, 32 runs in 195 at-bats), and Casey Kotchman (.291, 38 RBIs) have helped provide the offense.
The Angels slumped heading into the break, losing eight of 12 and matching their most one-sided loss in 20 years with a 12-0 defeat by the New York Yankees last Sunday.
``We haven't played well. There's no sugarcoating it,'' manager Mike Scioscia said after the loss.
But he added, ``The model we've been working from the last two months is sound.''
Scioscia and the players realize there is plenty of work left to do.
``We're not looking at the standings. Our challenge isn't what place we're in, how many games up, how many games back, who we're playing,'' Scioscia said. ``Our challenge is how we're playing the game.''
AP Baseball Writers Mike Fitzpatrick and Ben Walker contributed to this story.