As good as the Angels have been since June 11 -- their 42-16 record is the best in baseball in that span -- they have been unable to shake the Texas Rangers, who are 4 1/2 games back in the American League West.
And that, Torii Hunter said, may not be such a bad thing.
"That's good," the Angels center fielder said. "You want that push. You don't want a 20-game lead and to be so comfortable that you get to the playoffs and lose your mojo.
"You want to be pushed to the end, and I tell you what, Texas is not going an-y-where. Their pitching and defense is much better than it's been in the past."
The Angels began last August with a 12 1/2 -game lead and blew away the rest of the division, winning a major league-best 100 games and finishing 21 games ahead of the second-place Rangers.
But that meant nothing in the playoffs, as the Angels lost to the Boston Red Sox in the division series, three games to one.
Did the Angels lose their mojo last October?
"It's hard for me to say, but we could have," Hunter said. "I don't want to make excuses, but that could have been part of it. You get a big lead, you get comfortable, and you lose it a little bit."
One of the first things Chone Figgins did after collecting hit No. 1,000, in the sixth inning Sunday, was to shake the hand of Mickey Hatcher and thank the Angels hitting coach.
And after the game, Figgins, the 31-year-old third baseman with a .310 average, .403 on-base percentage and a league-leading 93 runs, credited Hatcher with "giving me the mind-set of a big league hitter."
Hatcher appreciated the compliment but deflected credit.
"I told Figgy, 'It's all you; you put in the work,' " Hatcher said. "I'm just there for them. These guys get on their own programs."
The key to Figgins' evolution from utility player to one of baseball's best leadoff hitters, Hatcher said, has been maintaining a simple approach.
"We never pound mechanics," Hatcher said. "Every day in the cages, it's repetition, hitting line drives to both sides of the field. You want them to create something that gives them a good feel, and he's done that.
"He's become his own hitting instructor. If a coach can get a guy to understand his own swing and make his own adjustments, that's great."
Easy does it
Hunter said he felt fine Monday after playing all 13 innings of Sunday's 4-hour 28-minute marathon, his first game after spending five weeks on the disabled list because of a right groin strain.
But as expected, Hunter did not start Monday night against the Orioles. Manager Mike Scioscia wants to ease Hunter back in the lineup, playing him every other day for a few days before returning him to a full-time role and the third spot in the order.
"I want to play; I'm not used to this cautious stuff," Hunter said. "But I understand. I need to be careful so I can be here for the long run. But when I woke up [Monday] morning I thought, yeah, I'm ready."
Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero was back in the cleanup spot Monday night after sitting out Sunday's game because of soreness in the back of his left knee, where he was hit by a pitch Saturday night. . . . The Angels have scored eight runs or more in a game 14 times in 30 games since the All-Star break.