Mike Napoli, mired in a horrendous slump, started behind the plate Friday for only the fifth time this month. And although Manager Mike Scioscia is concerned with the veteran catcher's offensive production, he said what Napoli does on defense is far more important.
Entering the weekend, the Angels' earned-run average with Napoli catching was 5.20, nearly a run and a quarter higher than when Jeff Mathis was behind the plate. And Napoli has caught less than 16% of would-be base stealers.
"Your defense is your priority," said Scioscia, a two-time All-Star catcher with the Dodgers. "As a catcher you really want to take pride in that defensive consistency and that continuity. If you're 0 for 4, you still have a chance to go back there and be a major contributor in a team winning.
"Mike's struggled with some of that. [But] I see a definite improvement this last handful of games."
Before Friday, Napoli was hitting .095 since Aug. 19 and had homered once since July. He was 0 for 4 Friday against the White Sox.
"He's got a little bigger swing and it's going to tend to be a little more hot and cold," Scioscia said. "Right now he just needs to find a little bit of a feel and square some balls up. Those last probably 50 at-bats he's struggled with some things."
Count White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen among those who think the addition of left-hander Scott Kazmir could make the pitching-rich Angels one of the teams to beat in the postseason.
"They've got a great organization, so it's no surprise," he said. "They've got great balance and they can beat you so many different ways. If they make the playoffs, I think they've got a chance to go all the way. They've got a good pitching staff.
"And in that short a period of time, you're going to move guys out of that starting rotation and into the bullpen. And that's going to make you stronger."
With his shutout victory Thursday, John Lackey became the third pitcher in franchise history to win at least 10 games in seven consecutive seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Nolan Ryan did it for eight straight seasons (1972-79) and Chuck Finley for seven (1993-99).
The Angels have lost consecutive games only three times in the last five weeks and have lost as many as three in a row once since the All-Star break. They haven't had a four-game losing streak all season, leaving them on pace to become the first team to accomplish that since the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals. It's been done only 38 times since 1901.
The Angels are carrying 35 players on their active roster and 23 are products of the team's farm system, including four of the five starting pitchers and all four catchers.
The flags at Angel Stadium flew at half staff and a pregame moment of silence was observed Friday in remembrance of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Similar tributes were held before every major league game and all 30 teams wore special commemorative caps.