7/12/2014 7:25 P.M. ET
Halos flourishing with runners in scoring position
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Angels' surge to the Major Leagues' second-best record behind American League West rival Oakland has been fueled by a variety of forces, not the least of which is an offense that has been punishing pitching staffs -- especially in clutch situations.
Over their past 23 games, an 18-5 stretch lifting them to 55-37, the Angels are batting .296 with 30 homers, averaging 6.1 runs per game. They're hitting .381 in 160 at-bats with runners in scoring position, emulating the 2013 Cardinals, who hit an unprecedented .330 for the season with men on second and/or third.
Only the Tigers, at .283, have a higher season average with runners in scoring position in the AL than the Angels' .272 mark. Not so coincidentally, Detroit's 27 comeback wins tie the Angels for the most in the Majors.
"Early in the year, guys were struggling with runners in scoring position," said leadoff man Kole Calhoun, hitting .297 with a .963 OPS and 16 RBIs in 37 opportunities in those situations. "Right now, with everybody swinging the bat well as a whole, we're feeling confident in those situations. Everybody's calming down too, getting their pitches to hit. With us playing so well, it kind of takes the pressure off."
Overall, the Angels lead the Majors in runs scored (463), rank third in batting average (.267), on-base percentage (.332) and slugging (.427) and are fifth in the Majors in homers with 101.
"A lot of guys are taking their walks, going first to third, doing a bunch of different stuff well," Calhoun said. "When you're playing good, it all seems to come together."
The June 25 return from femur surgery of hitting coach Don Baylor, with his vast experience and wisdom, appears to have had a positive imprint. The Angels lead the Majors in average (.306), runs (105) and slugging (.472) since the return of the venerable "Groove."
Shoemaker's patience pays off
ARLINGTON -- As he reflects on a breakthrough first half at 27, after grinding his way through six Minor League seasons, Matt Shoemaker will take to the All-Star break a strong sense that he has shown he belongs in The Show.
Carrying a 7-2 record and 4.38 after 15 appearances -- nine as a starter -- and 63 2/3 innings, the man from Michigan believes he has earned a spot in manager Mike Scioscia's rotation. But he emphasizes that his goals are team-related and he'll relish any role that keeps him in an Angels uniform.
"If that's where I am, great, awesome," he said when asked about taking a regular turn in the rotation. "I'm here to do whatever I need to do, whatever gets us to the World Series and helps us win the World Series.
"This completely justifies all the things you go through -- and, at the same time, you know you have to keep up the hard work to stay here."
It hasn't been a relatively quick ride to the chartered flights and finest hotels, along the lines of teammates such as Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Shoemaker has paid heavy dues along the way, hitting every stop in the farm system. He pitched in 134 Minor League games before this season, 115 as a starter.
"There are years, times when you go through struggles," Shoemaker said. "It's like anybody in life. It makes you a stronger player and person.
"I've never lost faith or focus. In my mind I always wanted to pitch; that was my love, from the time I started pitching at 8 or 9 years old. I played some third base and first base up through my first year of college [at Eastern Michigan University], but this is what I've always wanted to do, pitch in the Major Leagues. So it's literally a dream come true for me and my family."
Shoemaker and lefty Hector Santiago give Scioscia options at the back of the rotation in support of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Scioscia likes to keep a depth chart eight or nine deep for starting pitchers, and Shoemaker is delighted to be part of it, wearing No. 52 for a team with a chance to do great things.
"I've always had this love of baseball," Shoemaker said. "I was never a guy who threw 98 [mph], but I was going to compete my butt off no matter what. Getting here and being with this team, it's obviously an exciting time in my life."
Navarro back for bench support
ARLINGTON -- Efren Navarro's quality defense at three positions and his professional approach at the plate have him back in the Angels' dugout, ready to do whatever manager Mike Scioscia needs in the final two games before the All-Star break.
Right-hander Drew Rucinski, who made his Major League debut on Thursday night, returned to Double-A Arkansas as Navarro was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake.
Navarro, a 26-year-old athlete from Lynwood, Calif., taken in the 50th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is making his third separate appearance with the big club after taking full advantage of his 14 games in May and June.
Navarro has a .297/.350/.432 slash line in 40 plate appearances and has excelled defensively at first base, left field and right field, appearing in four games at each position.
"Efren is very comfortable in left field and has shown he can play right field," Scioscia said. "At first base he's a Gold Glove-caliber player. And, offensively, he's been a tough out. His versatility has allowed him to work his way onto a big league roster."
In 72 games at Salt Lake this season, Navarro has a .326/.418/.462 line, driving in 50 runs with 19 doubles, three triples and four homers.
• Mike Trout is the first Angels player to start consecutive All-Star Games since Vladimir Guerrero started four in a row, 2004-07. He's the fourth AL outfielder with three All-Star selections before turning 23, joining Mickey Mantle (1952-54), Al Kaline (1955-57) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1990-92).
• According to Baseball-Reference.com, Trout came into Saturday's games leading the Majors in OPS-plus, which includes ballpark factors in the equation. Trout (182), Troy Tulowitzki (178), Andrew McCutchen (173), Victor Martinez (167) and Paul Goldschmidt (165) are the top five.
• Since June 13, through Friday, Albert Pujols was tied with the Tigers' J.D. Martinez for the Majors lead with 27 RBIs. Trout and Reds rookie flash Billy Hamilton were tied for third with 24.
• Richards the fourth Angels pitcher to reach the All-Star break with at least 11 wins, 120 strikeouts and a sub-2.60 ERA. He joins Frank Tanana (1977), Nolan Ryan (1979) and Weaver (2011).
• Second baseman Howie Kendrick, in the midst of another productive season, celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday with teammates, family members and a cake presented in the clubhouse by Tom Taylor, the Angels' traveling secretary.
• The Angels, general manager Jerry Dipoto announced Saturday, have dealt left-hander Nick Maronde to the Indians for cash considerations.
Maronde, 24, has a 0-0 record and a 7.13 ERA in 17 2/3 innings in 33 Major League games. He was a third-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft and made his Major League debut on Sept. 2, 2012. He struck out the first four hitters he faced with the Angels. Maronde was on the club's Opening Day roster this season, appearing in 11 games with a 12.79 ERA. He struggled with his control after he was sent to the Minor Leagues and was designated for assignment on Thursday.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.