It is not the last place you would have expected to find the Angels on the Fourth of July this year – but it wasn't the first place, either.

The Angels reached the holiday in first place in the AL West for the fifth time in the past seven seasons (and stayed that way after a win over the Tiges). This time, though, it seemed like they got there with one arm tied behind their back – an offense that has been sporadic at best and must "get better," as Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Monday.

"I don't feel any different," Scioscia said of his team's sharing first place with the Rangers. "We've started to get some wins and inch up there. It's really academic where you are right now. You might inch up there now. If you're not the team you need to be, it's not going to stick and we need to get better."

The Angels have gotten better over the past 3 ½ weeks – but only marginally so. They picked up six games in the standings while the Rangers slumped (9-12) but their record (44-41) going into Monday's game would have put them no higher than third place in any other division.

Right-hander Joel Pineiro said he didn't realize the Angels had moved into a share of first place with their win Sunday – "Honestly, it's a little too early to be scoreboard-watching." But outfielder Vernon Wells knew it and embraced it.

"I'm not surprised," Wells said. "I said it before when we were going through our struggles – every team goes through them. It's better to go through them early and learn from it. We've been playing good baseball the past couple weeks. We've figured out what we need to do to be successful and we started to do it on a more consistent basis."

That improvement started after Scioscia called his three veteran hitters – Wells, Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter – into his office and told them he was going to put the Angels' offense on their shoulders. The three would hit in the middle of the lineup and stay "connected," usually with Wells in the cleanup spot, Hunter and Abreu ahead of him.