Albert Pujols came out of the All-Star break with a career .324 average in the second half, and in the third inning of the Angels' 4-1 victory on Friday night, it showed.
The Angels slugger clubbed a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall for his 491st career home run, and he'll need to mirror that performance if the Angels are to overcome the first-place A's in the American League West.
"I don't look at numbers," said Pujols, who has nine RBIs in the last eight games and hits in nine of the last 10. "I don't see it on the computer, I don't see it in the paper every day. ... My job is to get ready every day, whether it's the first game of the season or the last game of the season. Obviously success is huge in the second half because when your team needs it the most, you put up some numbers, but my goal is to get ready every day, have good quality at-bats and help my ballclub out."
The Angels stand 10 games behind the A's and third in the AL West, but a strong showing from Pujols and the rest of the team's stars could put them right back in the hunt for a postseason push with 13 of the the next 20 games against the A's and Texas Rangers. Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Pujols combined for two home runs and three RBIs in the Angels' win Friday.
"Those are the teams in front of us. Those are the teams we need to beat, one game at a time," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think in the second half of the season, every game is critical. It's not like there's tomorrow. Before you know it, you're in September."
C.J. Wilson will get the nod for the Angels on Saturday. The left-hander finished the first half as the club's hottest starting pitcher, at 5-1 with a 2.04 ERA over his past six starts. He'll look to avoid the debilitating second half of 2012, when he posted a 5.54 ERA in 16 starts.
Dan Straily, who has been moved up and down from Triple-A Sacramento this season, will look to solidify his place with the A's. He's given up just three hits total in his past two starts, spanning 13 1/3 innings, and has limited opponents to two runs or fewer in seven of his past nine outings.
A's: Cespedes scratched with sore left wrist
Yoenis Cespedes, winner of the Chevrolet Home Run Derby on Monday night in New York, was a late scratch from the A's lineup on Friday with soreness in his left wrist. He was on the disabled list last season with a muscle strain in his left hand.
Replacing Cespedes in left field, Chris Young made an excellent running catch of an Albert Pujols drive toward the foul line with two on and none out in the first inning.
Cespedes is hitting .225 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs. He is in the midst of a 19-game homerless drought. He had 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, hitting .292.
While playing 129 games last season, Cespedes, 27, struggled with various ailments. Along with the injury to his left hand, he had a strained left hamstring that took him to the DL.
Cespedes launched 17 homers in the first round at Citi Field, followed by six in the second round and nine in the finals. He defeated the Nationals' Bryce Harper in that final round to join Mark McGwire (1992) as A's who have won the Home Run Derby.
"I've seen it," A's manager Bob Melvin said before the game of Cespedes' power display. "This is the first time the baseball world has seen it. It's exciting for all of us. I think it even pumped him up. He's a remarkably talented guy and definitely showed it off that night. I think it was good for him to be there."
Angels: Pujols' foot is still ailing
Plantar fasciitis caused Pujols to serve as the Angles' designated hitter for 57 of the 91 games he played in during the first half, and because Pujols' production is so crucial to the Angels' success, his health will be monitored accordingly.
"Albert's naturally a guy that is important to us," Scioscia said. "Just like any player, you are always looking for things that might be out of character, as far as how they're moving or some of the time if they are laboring doing things. That doesn't change with any player, and we'll keep our eyes on him the same way."
Despite the injury, Pujols has managed to avoid the disabled list this season and sat out only two games in the first half.
Pujols is determined to be in the lineup and help his team in any way possible for the rest of the season, but offseason surgery is not out of the question.
However, it is not something Pujols wants to think about until the season is over.
"I don't want to talk about that right now," Pujols said. "That's not what's in my mind. We've still got a lot of games left and I don't want to put that distraction in this clubhouse."
• The A's have had a stranglehold on the Angles prior to Friday's loss, going 5-2 this season with victories in 11 of their past 13 games at Angel Stadium. Over the past three seasons, the A's are 26-19 vs. the Angels
• Manager Bob Melvin said he hopes southpaw Brett Anderson, sidelined since May 1 with a sprained right ankle, will join the team in Houston after the weekend series against the Angels. Anderson is 1-2 with a 8.18 ERA in three starts. There is no target date for his return. Starter Jarrod Parker, dealing with a hamstring issue, threw a bullpen session on Friday.
• Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos played a little bit of catch on Friday and hopes to begin swinging a bat at some point next week.
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.