You can’t kill the Angels. You can take away their best starting pitcher, their offensive catalyst and their cleanup hitter via free agency. You can take away their best hitter via a freak accident. You can send them on the road for two weeks.
They win. That is what they do.
The Angels spotted the rest of the American League West the better part of two months, and here they are, half a game out of first place.
They’re the hottest team in baseball, with 13 victories in their last 16 games. They won 11 games on their marathon trip, as many road games as the Oakland Athletics have won all year.
They just swept the Dodgers, and here’s the thing: There is no position at which the Angels clearly have the superior player. You could argue about second base, or shortstop, or left field, or center field, but you can’t argue with the scoreboard.
The Angels win. That is what they do.
The Angels are 36-30. They were 36-30 last year too, and they won the division by 10 games.
“Nobody panics,” said pitcher Scot Shields, the longest-tenured Angel.
Manager Mike Scioscia sets the tone, with the track record to back it up. Every team talks about responding to adversity. The Angels just do it.
“That comes from the top,” bench coach Ron Roenicke said. “When we’re not playing well, Mike’s the same guy. Sooner or later, we’ll start playing well.”
We pause here for the rebuttal from our friends in the sabermetric community: The Angels have scored exactly as many runs as they have given up, so they should be a .500 team.
Pythagoras hasn’t caught up to Scioscia after all these years. This could be the year, since the pitching has not been up to par and an offense built around batting average is hitting a collective .260.
The Angels had one day last year where everyone in the lineup was batting .300. No one in Sunday’s lineup was batting .300.
The daily statistical report lists 35 offensive categories. The Angels have a player in the top five in the AL in three of those categories -- Torii Hunter in doubles, Erick Aybar in sacrifice bunts and Mike Napoli in strikeouts.
However, since they are not built around one or two sluggers, they don’t collapse when Kendry Morales breaks a leg jumping onto the plate.
“It’s a lot of guys doing a lot of things right,” Shields said. “That’s what makes us good. Everybody contributes. There’s not one superstar that carries the team.”
In a statistics-crazed era, not every manager would focus on aggressive baserunning, or bat Maicer Izturis third to ignite a slumbering offense. Scioscia’s Angels rank 11th in on-base percentage, but they’re fifth in runs.
“I give the manager the credit,” Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. “Of course, I’m a little partial to that. With the style they play, he puts together a lot of pieces that work.”
That speaks to the Angels’ organizational depth, a strength the club has been hesitant to tamper with. The world wonders when the Angels are going to trade for a first baseman to replace Morales, but not the players.
“It would be nice,” Hunter said, “but we’re not expecting anybody to come in and save the day for us.”
The Angels could have Paul Konerko today, if they so desired. For now, they appear content with Napoli, who has hit 10 home runs in little more than a month. If they do make a trade, they might be better off picking up a third baseman.
“We have enough flexibility and versatility that you could look at some different scenarios to add a bat,” Scioscia said.
In the meantime, first place is theirs for the taking. In 2008, the Seattle Mariners were the chic pick, with the addition of Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. In 2009, the A’s were the trendy pick, with Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi. The Mariners were the hot pick this year, with Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee.
“Critics always look at us in April and say, ‘These guys are done,’ ” Hunter said. “Then they say, ‘Now they’re back in it.’
“I wouldn’t respect those guys. I would say those dudes don’t know what they’re talking about.”
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