LOS ANGELES -- Mike Scioscia likes to keep the Angels' focus narrow -- on today's game, dismissing yesterday and tomorrow whenever possible. The manager claims he doesn't look at the standings and has no interest in how critics rate his club. Reluctant to be drawn into peripheral discussions, such as prospective All-Star Game participants on his roster, he says only that the Angels "have a lot of good candidates" and leaves it at that. This sets a tone for his players. Yet there have been words of support expressed recently by players for teammates -- notably in the case of John Lackey, whose 10 wins and 2.53 ERA make him an early candidate for the Cy Young Award as well as a spot on Detroit manager Jim Leyland's staff for the July 10 showcase in San Francisco.
"In my opinion, yeah, he's an All-Star," setup man Scot Shields said, when asked about Lackey's credentials. "He should be up there for the starter, too. Watching him game in and game out, there's not a doubt in anybody's mind here. It's all about who Leyland wants to take." Lackey, who has yet to make an All-Star team in five-plus seasons, characteristically keeps his bat on his shoulder when the subject surfaces. "I don't know about that," Lackey said. "A lot of things come into play, like when you pitch right before the break. It will be up to Leyland, whatever he thinks." Vladimir Guerrero, leading vote-getter among AL outfielders, is a lock to start his fourth game representing the Angels. "I hope he goes to the All-Star Game," Guerrero said of Lackey. "I think he deserves it." Other Angels considered candidates for selection to the Midsummer Classic include pitchers Francisco Rodriguez, Kelvim Escobar and Shields, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. Long ball can be overrated: The Angels are fourth in the AL in runs scored despite ranking 11th in home runs. They've surged to a winning road record (18-16) despite getting outhomered by a whopping 20 (46-26) in those 34 games. They've produced runs by making things happen on the bases (first in the AL in steals, constantly going from first-to-third on singles), by trailing only Detroit in hits and by ranking third in the AL in average with runners in scoring position (.279).
Overall, the AL West leaders have been outhomered, 70-54.By contrast, Cincinnati, with the worst record in the National League, has outhomered the opposition, 90-61. "There's more than one way to score runs," Scioscia said, having mastered with his Angels the old art of pressuring pitchers and defenses with aggressive baserunning and situational hitting. "There are all kinds of things you can do offensively, and there are other important elements, like hitting with runners in scoring position, high on-base percentage. Our on-base percentage has gone up over the last month or so. That's not because of any change of philosophy or strategy. It's more about guys like Reggie Willits and Casey Kotchman, the talent we have that has put us in that direction." Numbers game: Willits' .417 on-base percentage is second among AL rookies, while Kotchman is eighth in the AL with his .409 on-base percentage. Guerrero is running third in the league with a .432 on-base mark. Guerrero (.573) is fourth in the AL in slugging percentage, with Kotchman (.554) tied for ninth with Texas' Mark Teixeira. The Angels have three hitters in the top 10 in batting average: Orlando Cabrera (fifth, .336) and Kotchman and Guerrero (tied for seventh, .333). The Angels also have three of the top 10 AL hitters in late, close-game pressure situations: Guerrero (13-for-30, .433) is second to Cleveland's Victor Martinez (.455), with Willits (7-for-17, .412) and Kotchman (10-for-25, .400) also delivering handsomely in the clutch. Rivera progressing: Recovering from a broken leg suffered in winter ball, outfielder Juan Rivera has been cleared to take live batting practice in Arizona. It's another step in his bid to rejoin the club sometime in the second half. "A lot of questions have to be answered before you know where you put Juan Rivera on your depth chart," Scioscia said. Third baseman Dallas McPherson also is making strides in his recovery from back surgery, starting light baseball activities, but he isn't expected to be able to play this season. Hail the champs: Prior to facing the Astros on Tuesday night, the Angels will honor the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks with on-field ceremonies. Members of the Ducks' organization will be saluted on the field before the game and take part in an honorary first pitch. The Stanley Cup will also be on display in the Angels Hall of Fame Team Store, where fans can pose for pictures with the trophy. Among the Ducks tentatively scheduled to appear are Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Pronger, Dustin Penner and Chris Kunitz. Minor stars of the day: Triple-A Salt Lake lost to Portland, 4-3, but Terry Evans banged his 10th homer of the season against rehabbing Padres starter Clay Hensley. Evans is batting .327 with a .556 slugging percentage. Kendry Morales ran his hitting streak to 10 games, while Brandon Wood pushed his to nine games. Up next: Kelvim Escobar (7-3, 2.89) faces Randy Wolf (8-4, 4.06) in the series finale at Dodger Stadium at 1:10 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.