ANAHEIM -- As recently as a year ago it would have been difficult to image the Angels being able to compete for a divisional crown with a strictly pitching and defense strategy.
In 2009, the Angels were able to advance to the American League Championship Series thanks in large part to a battery that ranked second in the league in runs and first in batting average. Their success at the plate overshadowed some defensive limitations in the field. But when the offense took a dramatic step backward, the need to shore up that area became a point of emphasis in the offseason for general manager Tony Reagins.
"We saw what happened in '09, we had a terrific offense that absorbed a lot of defensive inadequacies that really manifested themselves in 2010," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We weren't able to absorb them with as much offense. Some of the range we had in the corner outfield, and Erick wasn't as sharp at shortstop."
The 2010 Angels ranked 13th in baseball according the Fangraphs' UZR rating (a defensive metric used to estimate fielder's defensive contributions). This year with Peter Bourjos at center fulltime, Vernon Wells in left, Torii Hunter in right and Gold Glove caliber play in the infield from Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo, the Halos have been able to keep up with the Rangers despite their offensive limitations.
This year the Angels rank fourth in UZR at 29.3 runs above average.
Scioscia said the makeup of the Angels defense began to improve when Bourjos took over center field duties last August.
"When we first made the move with Peter Bourjos in center and Torii in right that gave us a huge move forward on the defensive side," he said. "I think it reflected in some of the statistics you looked at from when that move was made in August. And definitely acquiring Vernon Wells was as much as to try to get a bat ... as it was to get another Gold Glove caliber outfield playing three positions. That was definitely something that was targeted."
Scioscia added: "Alberto Callaspo has quietly played [a] Gold Glove third base. I don't think a lot of people have given it notice, but he's played as well as any third baseman in baseball down there."
Callaspo ranks third in both putouts (75) and assists (174) among AL third baseman.
Santana finds groove with Wilson behind plate
ANAHEIM -- There's been a common component to practically all of Ervin Santana's best starts this season. The man calling the game behind the plate has been catcher Bobby Wilson.
Wilson was there for Santana's two most recent gems: his complete game effort last Tuesday against Minnesota, and the no-hitter he twirled in Cleveland on July 27. The Wilson-Santana combo also teamed up for an eight-inning outing at the end of June and a shutout of the Braves on May 20.
Because of those performances, it appears that Wilson has emerged as Santana's go-to catcher. Wilson started Sunday's rubber-match against the Mariners marking the third straight time Wilson and Santana have been paired together.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia wouldn't divulge if this was the beginning of a permanent pairing between the two. He noted that Santana has seen success with Jeff Mathis and Hank Conger at times this year, but right now he wanted to stick with what's working.
"I think those guys have really good chemistry and they're working well together," Scioscia said. "Jeff or Hank or whoever's been here has done a really good job behind the plate. Based on the last couple of starts I really feel comfortable doing it, we'll just try to keep that going today."
The stat breakdown certainly supports Scioscia's decision. In six games with Wilson this year, Santana has given up 12 earned runs for a 2.33 ERA. When paired with Conger his ERA is a full run higher (3.42 in 79 IP). Santana's worst numbers have come with Mathis behind the dish -- a 4.26 ERA in 31 2/3 innings.
His struggles with Mathis contrast with the last two seasons when Mathis caught the majority of Santana's starts, coaching the right-hander to his best ERA among his catching partners each season.
"There's not enough [evidence] to say that Jeff is not working well with Ervin this season," Scioscia said. "What you hope, and we talked about this for a long time, getting a little bit more offense behind the plate. You hope that from the defensive side they're working well with every pitcher. You have better options, might match up better or swing the bat a little better in certain situations. I think that's what we'll continue to look for but also keeping in mind there's some real strong numbers that Jeff has with some pitchers."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, hinting that he's already made up his mind, said the club would announce its starter for Wednesday's game in New York either on Monday or Tuesday. Reliever Hisanori Takahashi is believed to be one of the prime candidates to fill Joel Pineiro's spot in the rotation. Takahashi was a starter in Japan for 10 years and made 12 starts for the Mets last year. Scioscia said that prospect Matt Shoemaker, who was 10-2 with a 2.47 at Double-A Arkansas, was initially a part of the conversation but is unlikely to get called up. Shoemaker is 0-2 with a 8.14 ERA since getting promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake.
The Halos are 20-11 in their last 31 games and an AL-best 31-16 since June 13.
With last night's 5-1 loss, the Angels have now been held to one run or less 28 times in 2011.
David Ely is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.