Los Angeles Angels: Can They Beat Out the Texas Rangers for the AL West Title?
They have done remarkably well to stay in striking distance of Texas, a team with a great combination of offense and pitching. They looked as thought they could fall out of contention after the All-Star break, slipping to five games back, one below their season high.
Now, though, the Angels are gaining on the Rangers. So after hanging with them for four months, can LA get in front of the defending AL champions and get into the playoffs?
How Things Stand
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The Texas Rangers (62-50) have either led the AL West or been tied for the lead every day since May 16. The last time they were not first in the division was when they trailed Los Angeles by half-a-game on May 15.
Since then, the Angels (61-51) have trailed by six, fought back to a tie, trailed by five and have fought back to a one-game deficit.
The two teams will play each other another nine times in 2011, including a season-ending three-game set in LA. The Halos lead the season series 5-4.
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The biggest difference between the Angels and the Rangers this season has been the potency of their respective lineups.
Los Angeles has scored 437 runs, the ninth-lowest total in the major leagues. By stark contrast, the Rangers have scored more runs than anyone other than the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees with 562.
The fears of a lack of a major home run threat, proved not to have much validity. Mark Trumbo is 16th in all of baseball with 21 long balls.
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The Halos and Rangers are much closer together on the pitching side of things, but it's the Angels who hold the clear advantage. Their 3.39 team earned run average is best in the American League.
Four of LA's starters have an ERA below four. Tyler Chatwood (6-7, 3.93) and Ervin Santana (7-8, 3.32) have pitched very well, and the rotation is led by one of the best one-two combinations in baseball.
Last year's trade acquisition, Dan Haren, has had the best season of his career, with a 12-6 record and 2.81 ERA. He leads the league with a 5.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In Jered Weaver, LA has a legitimate Cy Young Award contender. Weaver is 14-5 with the league's best ERA, a phenomenal 1.88.
An elite top two, and a very good three, bodes well for them if they can reach the postseason.
Trade Deadline Moves
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The Angels were heavily criticized for their lack of activity at the trade deadline. In past years, they had acquired Mark Teixeira, Scott Kazmir and Dan Haren, but there was no such move in 2011. Instead, they stood pat, but the Texas Rangers improved.
Texas' bullpen had been the second-worst in the AL, ERA-wise, with a 4.28 mark. That will change now, with the acquisitions of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. Neither was a blockbuster move, but they shore up the team's biggest weakness.
Back to the Playoffs?
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Last year, the Angels were one of baseball's biggest disappointments, missing the playoffs and posting a losing record. They have been better this year, but they are not going to beat the Red Sox or Yankees to the Wild Card. So, they have to win the division.
Texas has led the AL West for almost three straight months, but they are not running away with it by any stretch of the imagination. The Angels' biggest strength is pitching, and they have a lineup that is good enough to support their rotation. If Weaver and Haren can keep up their strong form, they can carry the team back to the playoffs. Once there, their one-two punch could make them a real force.