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A wealth of infield talent driving the Angels

A wealth of infield talent driving the Angels

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Angels entered August with the best record in the American League -- one game ahead of the Yankees -- and the second best in the Majors, trailing only the Dodgers.

Evidently, manager Mike Scioscia's troupe, assembled by GM Tony Reagins, is doing something right.

The Angels have an inner strength that has enabled them to endure heartbreak (the death of Nick Adenhart) and countless injuries (from John Lackey and Ervin Santana to start the season to Scot Shields to Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero lately).

The fractured and fragmented pitching staff has placed the onus on the offense and defense to deliver, and both units have managed superbly.

Critical to this success has been the quality play in the heart of the infield by Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Howard Kendrick -- three gifted players manning two positions, shortstop and second base.

Kendrick's misfiring offensively sent him to Triple-A Salt Lake for some work under the hood, and he has returned with a blazing bat that has helped make the Angels' offense the most productive in the Majors.

Deep throughout with speed and power, the Angels average 5.6 runs per game. The runner-up Yankees, who have benefited from that jetstream to right field at the new Yankee Stadium, are next at 5.52.

"Those three guys have all played at high levels," Scioscia said. "Not only what they're doing at the plate, which is impressive, but what they're doing in the middle of the diamond. It's helping us move forward."

Aybar, playing his 82nd game on Saturday, has become a force offensively and a steady, brilliant defender who should be in the Rawlings Gold Glove conversation.

With improved pregame workout habits and smarter play, he has remained healthy after spending extensive time on the disabled list the past two seasons with hamstring and hand injuries.

Aybar is hitting a robust .313 with a .353 on-base percentage (up from .298 lifetime coming into the season), and his .986 fielding percentage is the third best in the AL, with a 4.55 range factor superior to those of the two men ahead of him (Marco Scutaro and Derek Jeter).

Add in the fact that he is 25 years old and seemingly getting better by the day, and it's not hard to see why the Angels basically made him a deal-breaker in trade talks.

Izturis, with 35 starts at second base, 20 at shortstop and six as a designated hitter, has managed to stay sound after hamstring, back and thumb injuries sent him to the DL four times the past two seasons. Izturis credits this to improved knowledge about stretching and hydration.

Izturis is batting .300 with 51 runs scored in 73 games, and he has made a total of three errors. His field percentages are .994 at second base, .974 at shortstop. Izzy makes a mental mistake about as often as Hunter frowns, which is to say virtually never.

Kendrick, with 60 starts at second and four as a DH, has come surging to life. His .387 average in July was the second best in the AL, trailing only Abyar, who led the Majors at .414.

Kendrick also has been solid with the glove, evidenced by his .986 fielding percentage.

"Since I got back [from Salt Lake], things have been rolling along," said Kendrick, who has avoided hamstring issues plaguing him in the past with awareness of what he needs to do to stay warm and maintaining elasticity before and during games.

"Izzy, Erick and I all feel the same way. We want to play, but what's important is winning, doing whatever we can for the team. If we can continue to be consistent and win ballgames, we'll be happy."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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