Reporting from Chicago — It seems impossible to believe, but the numbers speak for themselves. The Angels have been a better team since losing their best hitter, Kendry Morales, to a season-ending injury May 29.
With Saturday's 12-0 pasting of the Chicago Cubs, the Angels are 15-5 since Morales broke a bone above his left ankle. They have averaged 5.9 runs, hit 25 home runs and raised their batting average from .250 to .259 in the 20 games.
Erick Aybar raised his average from .231 to .272 in that span. Howie Kendrick from .253 to .274, Hideki Matsui from .234 to .262 and Torii Hunter from .272 to .292.
"Right before Kendry got hurt, there were four or five guys struggling to get into their offensive games," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think it's just coincidence, but when Kendry went down, all of these guys started contributing what we were anticipating. Guys started to have better at-bats, and it's carried forward."
Could there have been a collective effort among players to elevate their game in the wake of Morales' loss?
"If there was, we would have said we're anticipating Kendry getting hurt, so we want you to start [hitting] now," Scioscia said. "I don't think guys thought they had to pick it up; that's counterproductive. They just needed to get into their games."
They got into them quickly Saturday, scoring four runs in the first inning against Ted Lilly on Kendrick's leadoff home run and Juan Rivera's three-run double.
Lilly carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning of his last start, and the left-hander gave up only four earned runs in 302/3 innings of his previous four starts.
Hunter hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning, and the game got so out of hand that reliever Scot Shields, who replaced starter Jered Weaver in the eighth, came to bat with two on in the ninth, only his fourth career plate appearance.
Shields, under orders from Scioscia not to swing, took three consecutive strikes.
"The last thing we needed," Scioscia said, "was him swinging the bat."
Shortstop Aybar, sidelined since Tuesday because of cartilage damage in his left knee, did agility drills and played catch for a second day in a row Saturday but is still not ready to run 100%.
The Angels remain hopeful that Aybar won't have to go on the disabled list, but if Aybar is "not making enough progress in the next couple of days, we'll consider a move," Scioscia said.
"Right now, we're going to wait and see. He's getting more mobile and feels better every day. If he makes improvement and can play by the middle to the end of next week, we'll hold off on a move."
Jeff Mathis was not in Saturday's lineup, but the catcher came out of Friday's game, his first since breaking a bone in his right wrist April 19, fine. "We want to break him in a little slowly," Scioscia said. "Gradually, he'll be a guy who will catch a lot." … The 12-0 loss Saturday was the worst shutout loss for the Cubs since 1988.