Three Days in Arlington
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Both teams come into the series on a roll. Texas has won 14 of their last 19 games over the past three weeks. They overtook the Mariners for the division lead last week, and have held on to first place since, including a three-game sweep of Seattle concluded yesterday with a walk-off home run in the ninth. The win pushed their record to 20-14. Six games over .500 is not only the season high for 2009, but also the best the record in manager Ron Washington’s three-year tenure. The Rangers usually have a prolific offense (a Major League leading 904 runs scored last season), but get let down by stinko pitching (a Major League leading 964 runs allowed last season). Throw in a dash of bad defense (Texas has led the American League in errors each of the past two seasons), and you have a recipe for a sub-.500 year. Texas rolled out the same five starters that finished 2008, but their performance has been far better than last year. They’ve actually been the catalyst for the surge over the past three weeks. In the first 34 games, Texas has just three starts of less than five innings, a pace of about 14 for the year. In 2008, they had about one of those sub-five innings starts every fourth game – 42 in all. The starting pitching and improved defense is the difference in this year’s Rangers.
The Angels are 9-3 this month after going 9-12 in April. Yesterday, 2008 All-Star Ervin Santana was activated from the disabled list to make his 2009 debut against Boston. He gave them five innings, but didn’t figure in the decision. Tomorrow, John Lackey is scheduled to be activated from the disabled list for his first start of the season. This team is getting healthier fast.
The most enigmatic area of the Angels though has been their bullpen, which is 3-9 after yesterday’s extra inning win over the Red Sox. A solid bullpen in Anaheim is usually a given in life, sort of like death and taxes. It was indeed shocking earlier this week to find the Angels dead last in the American League in bullpen ERA, which stood at 6.90 going into play Thursday. Scott Shields has been one of the most reliable middle relievers in baseball, leading the American League in holds in each of the past three years. Justin Speier has been really good too, and Jose Arredondo was so spectacular last season, he received strong consideration for the closer’s job when Frankie Rodriguez fled in free agency. Their ERA’s are respectively, 7.90, 8.18, and 5.51. Surely, the pitchers in the Angels’ pen will turn these numbers around soon, though there is speculation that Rudy Seanez may be signed to shore up the pen.
Joe Saunders (5-1, 2.66) has been the leader of the Angels’ staff so far. He opens the series tonight against Kevin Millwood (3-3, 2.92). Lackey’s Saturday afternoon opponent is Vicente Padilla (2-2, 4.97), while Jered Weaver (3-1, 2.45) goes in Sunday’s finale against Scott Feldman (2-0, 4.85).
A three-game series in May won’t really decide anything in a close division race. There are still too many games to play. However, for the upstart Rangers, proving themselves against the division favorites will give a boost of confidence to themselves and their fans that they are and will remain legitimate contenders to win the West this season. For the recovering Angels, the weekend series provides the opportunity to take over the division lead, and reestablish themselves as the team to beat in the West.
By: Richard W. Humphrey
MLBcenter.com Texas Rangers Correspondent
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