OAKLAND — Not that Mike Scioscia really cares, because the standings this time of year are irrelevant to the Angels manager, "neither here nor there," as he likes to say.
But the Angels care, and they were pleased to be leading the American League West by a half-game after Monday night's 4-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics. They were 5 1/2 games out of first place on May 21.
"I think it means a lot considering how we started," pitcher Scott Kazmir said after delivering his best game of the season. "We're on a roll, and it feels good to be back in first. We've just got to stay confident and ride that wave right now."
Kazmir, who has struggled for two months to find the stuff and the swagger that made him one of baseball's better young left-handers, gave up one run and five hits in 6 1/3 innings, struck out five and walked two. He extended his scoreless-innings streak in Oakland to 20 before Jake Fox's solo homer in the seventh.
Bobby Abreu, who went 0 for 6 Sunday in Seattle, hit a two-run homer in the first, and Bobby Wilson (double), Erick Aybar (RBI triple) and Howie Kendrick (RBI single) keyed a two-run fifth to help the Angels to their sixth straight win and ninth victory in 10 games.
Reliever Kevin Jepsen retired the last two batters in the seventh, and after Fernando Rodney allowed an unearned run in the eighth, embattled closer Brian Fuentes retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the ninth for his eighth save.
"It's way too early to consider standings," Scioscia said. "We have a huge challenge ahead of us, and we need to keep bringing the things we've done to win games on this stretch onto the field."
Though the offense has come alive during the run, starting pitching has provided the rebar, the foundation on which a hot streak can be built.
Since inflating to a 5.23 earned-run average on May 6, Angels starters have combined for a 3.59 ERA in 30 games and allowed three earned runs or fewer in 28 of the last 40 games. They are 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA during the six-game win streak.
"We've been scoring runs the way we think we can for the past 10-15 games, but it all comes down to controlling the game with pitching and defense, and for the most part, we've done that," Scioscia said. "That's going to keep moving us forward."
Kazmir, slowed by mechanical problems, nagging hamstring and shoulder injuries and an inability to throw a sharp slider, was the team's most inefficient starter, his pitch counts routinely hitting the 100 range in five innings.
But he looked different from the start Monday, striking out three of the four batters in the first and blanking the A's on four hits through six innings.
He threw only 78 pitches through five innings, and of his 115 pitches in the game, 77 were strikes. He evened his record at 5-5 and lowered his ERA to 5.40.
"That was exciting to watch," Scioscia said. "That was some of the best stuff we've seen from Kaz in a while. He used both sides of the plate effectively and set up his changeup really well."
Kazmir has won his last two starts, allowing two earned runs and 10 hits in 12 innings, with Wilson behind the plate. In fact, the Angels are 7-0 with a 3.12 ERA in Wilson's seven starts.
"I didn't shake him off much," Kazmir said of Wilson. "Whenever he'd go to a location, he gave a good target. It just seemed we had a good rhythm going, a good tempo."