Angels baseball's model franchise
With right skipper, strong farm, Halos lead by example
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, through their own excellence, drained all the drama out of their division race by midsummer. Now they'll just have to live with the consequences.
This is not a problem in the conventional baseball sense. This is a situation. There are 29 other clubs that would long to have anything resembling the 15 1/2-game lead that the Angels currently enjoy in the American League West.
At this point, the Angels' main enemy appears to be boredom. But in fact, that cannot be the case, and will not be the case. The issue of how the Angels will navigate the distance between here and the end of September with success as their constant companion will be solved each day with the arrival of the next game on the schedule.
This is what manager Mike Scioscia says, and he has the track record to be completely credible on this topic. When the concept of a huge lead in the division enters a question, Scioscia does not need to hear the rest of the question to launch into a spirited discussion of how it just doesn't matter. It is not long before he gets to what has become his mantra:
"It's not who we're playing, or where we're playing, but how we're playing."
But this may be just as fundamental as that. "I haven't looked at the standings since the end of last season," Scioscia says. "Nothing changes. Our challenge isn't looking at what place we're in. Our challenge is the schedule and the game it brings.
"Whether you're up or down in the standings, whatever the spreads may be in any division, your challenge is the schedule, not the standings. The only way to get results in the standings is to play well. It's like your report card. You can't be transfixed on your report card; you have to be transfixed on the process to get there.
"There has to be a sense of urgency. You have to keep that focus and that edge. There's implications for every game, and our goal is not to focus on what other clubs are doing, but our focus is on what the Angels are doing and the type of club we have to continue to strive to be. That's all we're looking at."
This kind of attitude should prevail, although there can be occasional bumps in the road. The Angels have dominated most of the competition this year, but they have lost five straight games on the road to the Tampa Bay Rays. The fifth occurred on Tuesday, when an early Angels lead evaporated on the way to a 4-2 loss. For the moment, the team with the American League's best record was no longer the Angels, but the Rays.
This is not a sign that the Angels have become complacent. This is a sign that the Rays are 47-17 at home, practically invulnerable at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, formerly bench coach for the Angels, looks across the field and does not notice any lapses on the part of the Angels.
"I know those guys. I don't think they're any different," Maddon says. "I know Mike Scioscia and his coaching staff. I know those players. For them, they don't care what their record looks like and who they're playing; they're going to want to win that game."
The Angels typically do win that game and for all the right reasons, not just this year, but in recent history. At the end of this regular season, they will, in all likelihood, have four division titles in five years and a genuine shot at their second World Series title in this relatively new century.
The typical Angels team is strong in pitching, strong in defense, versatile and aggressive on offense, alert everywhere. Beyond all that, the Angels have become a model franchise.
What Maddon wants to do with the Rays is basically have an operation that emulates the Angels.
"What they did there, we're trying to do also, and that is create a system," Maddon said. "If people get hurt at the Major League level, then you have this guy that pops up out of Triple-A and all of a sudden walks in here and knows exactly what you're doing, the kind of game you want to play, and exactly what's expected of him. That's what I want us to have here, also.
"I don't think that's spoken about enough in regard to them. They've gone out and gotten some free agents, et cetera. But the majority of that group is kind of homegrown. And there's a method of play, a style of play that permeates the entire group. And that's what I want here."
The Angels have all that and they also have a manager who is absolutely insistent about focusing only on the one thing immediately in front of the team: The task at hand, tonight's game.
"The key to playing this game well for a long time is to have a filter," Scioscia says. "When you get to the park, you get on the field and you're drawn into that game, pitch by pitch, play by play. And I think our guys have been good, up to this point, at doing that."
The Angels have to be good at that. The rest of the way home this season, they will be accompanied closely by the persistence of their approach, not by notable opposition from the remainder of their division.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.