ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Baltimore Orioles are heading into the All-Star break with a 45-40 record, only the second time the club has been above .500 at this stage of the season since 1998.
That alone should be reason enough for everyone in their clubhouse and front office to rejoice. But not manager Buck Showalter, who has much loftier goals. And he wasn't too thrilled at the way the first half ended on Sunday, with a 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels that prevented the Orioles from salvaging a split of the four-game series.
"Winning more games than we've lost is not what those guys in that clubhouse are after this year. That's not the way they're wound - and trust me, that ain't the way I'm wound," Showalter said.
"The story's yet to be written. The season's not over. It's an unfinished story," he added. "I mean, everybody this time of year knows they've done some things good and some things that they've got to do better at. It's more of a mental thing than anything else. We've got some important times ahead of us and we want to stay competitive."
The last time the Orioles took a winning record into the break was 2005, when they were second in the AL East with a 47-40 record under Lee Mazzilli and just two games out of first place. But Mazzilli was fired after they lost 16 of their next 20, and the club finished the season 74-88 and 21 games off the pace with Sam Perlozzo at the helm.
The Birds have reason for optimism this time, though. In all of Showalter's previous managerial jobs with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, the team finished with a losing record in his first full season with them and had a winning record the following season.
"Buck's obviously had a big impact," first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "He mixes and matches and puts guys in the best chances to succeeded. And he's getting the most out of everyone in here. We've definitely exceeded a lot of people's expectations. We're right in the thick of things, and anything can happen in the second half. We're definitely not done."
To make any kind of dent in the Yankees' division lead, the second-place Orioles will have to improve in several key areas. They are near the bottom of the AL in team batting average, runs and ERA, and have committed a major league-worst 75 errors. On top of that, they strike out too much, and have scored in only one of their last 32 innings - on a three-run homer from Steve Pearce against C.J. Wilson in the fifth inning of Friday night's 3-2 Orioles win.
"We're not swinging the bats well and we're in a little bit of a rut," Showalter said. "But we're facing good pitching, and that's why they call it the big leagues. You've got to beat good people. A lot of clubs are having challenges at this time of the year, but that doesn't make it any more tollerable."
Angels left-hander Brad Mills pitched five innings of three-hit ball in a spot start for the injured Dan Haren after getting called up from the minors, and got home run support from Albert Pujols, Erick Aybar, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo.
Baltimore rookie Wei-Yin Chen (7-5) lost his fourth straight start after winning his previous three outings. The Taiwanese-born left-hander surrendered homers by Aybar, Trout and Pujols in a span of seven batters as the Angels built a 4-0 lead through four. He was charged with five runs, five hits and three walks over four-plus innings in the shortest of his 17 big league starts.
"I don't think there's a place that plays as differently in day games and night games than this place, but they squared up some balls against him," Showalter said. "I think pitch selection was a little bit of a challenge for him today, but he pitched great the first half of the season and we're really happy to have him."
Maicer Izturis drove in the Angels' fifth run with a fourth-inning single, and Trumbo added his 22nd homer in the fifth against Luis Ayala.
Mills (1-0) threw 88 pitches on three days rest in his Angels debut with six strikeouts and no walks. The 27-year-old left-hander, is 3-3 with a 7.38 ERA in 10 big league starts over a four-year span. But he is 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA in three starts against the Orioles.
"We couldn't really get anything going against him," Reynolds said. "He changed speeds and kept the ball down. And when he came out of the game, they had a lot of guys throwing mid-to-upper 90s, which was tough."
LaTroy Hawkins, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden each pitched an inning of relief, and first-time All-Star Ernesto Frieri closed out the combined five-hitter for his 12th save in as many attempts to preserve the Angels' major league-leading 13th shutout of the season - two more than all of last year.
NOTES: The Orioles lost the season series for the eighth time in nine seasons (7-2), with seven of the nine games having been played in Anaheim. ... Chen has allowed 15 home runs, 11 with the bases empty. Last Tuesday at Seattle, he took a perfect game into the seventh before giving up a home run to Casper Wells. ... Aybar's last three home runs against AL pitchers have been against Baltimore. Alfredo Simon served up the other two last Sept. 18 at Camden Yards. ... Wilson has been replaced on the AL All-Star squad by Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox because of blister problems on his middle finger, but will travel to Kansas City for the festivities. ... Frieri kept his ERA unblemished in 26 appearances since the Angels obtained him from the San Diego Padres on May 3.