It's still difficult for Manager Buck Rodgers to fathom that the Angels are even in a division race, but here it is in mid-July, and only two games separate them from first place.
"It's really amazing," Rodgers said, "but you've got to look at the big picture. I think we're still feeling our way around. I'm not even concerning myself with the division race."
Considering all of their woes and injuries the first half, it's somewhat miraculous to the Angels they even are hanging around in the race, let alone being called a contender.
Third baseman Kelly Gruber has come and gone. Julio Valera, projected to be their No. 3 starter, may not pitch again until 1995. Joe Grahe proved he wasn't Bryan Harvey. They have no No. 5 pitcher. They've had only two victories since May 28 from any starter without the name of Mark Langston or Chuck Finley. They've given up on any hopes for a starting catcher to emerge this year. Luis Polonia has the second-lowest on-base percentage of any Angel regular, and unfortunately for the Angels, he's their leadoff hitter.
"It's been something, I tell you," Rodgers said.
Despite the Angels' deficiencies that won't be addressed until the winter, Rodgers says that the organization is ecstatic with the play of their young kids, realizing their nucleus could be around for a long time.
Rookie right fielder Tim Salmon, whom Rodgers hoped would hit 15 homers and drive in 75 runs by the end of the year, already has 17 homers and 58 RBIs. Chad Curtis, showing that last season was no fluke, is batting .296 with a league-leading 37 stolen bases. Rookie first baseman J.T. Snow, showing that it's premature for the sequel of Wally World with his .187 batting average since April 25, still enters the break with 11 homers and 41 RBIs. Damion Easley has proven he can play absolutely any infield position. And Gary DiSarcina has become one of the most underrated shortstops in the league.
Reliever Grahe yielded two hits and two runs Saturday night in his final rehabilitative stint at triple-A Vancouver, and will join the Angels for the second half. Right-handed reliever Doug Linton is expected to be sent out to make room for Grahe. . . . Despite being intentionally walked five times Sunday, the Angels still have been intentionally walked only 24 times the first half. San Francisco's Barry Bonds has been intentionally walked 23 times by himself. . . . Rene Gonzales, who started the game at first base, was removed after the sixth inning because of an inflamed right knee.