Just When the Los Angeles Angels Were Starting to Get Noticed...

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 24:  Joe Saunders #51 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is pulled from the game by manager Mike Scioscia as catcher Jeff Mathis #5 looks on in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Angel Stadium June 24, 2009 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Rockies 11-3.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Coming off their three-game, 35-run shellacking of the Minnesota Twins last weekend, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finally garnered the national media attention they've so rightly deserved.

ESPN's “Baseball Tonight” dedicated a segment to the Angels, and analysts broke down the spectacular explosion of offense they've displayed over the last month.

Tim Kurkjian, senior baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine, praised the Angels' lineup in a recent article and listed several unlikely offensive stars in Anaheim, including Erick Aybar, Gary Matthews, Jr., and the break-out performer of the year, Kendry Morales.

And then the Rangers came to town.

Now, I'm the first to admit—and assert—that a team should never be judged by the outcome of a single game. With 162 of them in a season, a few are bound to be forgettable.

However, the 11-6 beating delivered by the Texas Rangers on Friday night helps put the Angels' recent winning ways into perspective.

Entering that game, the Angels were 15-5 since the All-Star break and were absolutely pounding their opponents, averaging 7.2 runs per game. They had even built a four-and-a-half game lead on the Rangers in the AL West. 

But look who they played.

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Three of the five series were against teams that were either last or next to last in their respective divisions (Oakland, Kansas City, Cleveland).

The Twins are only slightly better, hovering around the .500 mark but having yet to break through.

The only team that's played decent baseball this season was the Chicago White Sox, who took two out of three from the Angels—their first series loss since they faced the Texas Rangers at home.

This week will be a true test of their mettle.

The Rangers are in town for the weekend and are immediately followed by the Tampa Bay Rays, a team the Angels have struggled mightily with since Joe Maddon took his black-rimmed specs down to St. Pete.

It has been incredible to watch our hometown Halos go ballistic at the plate over the last month, but it's clear they need to do more than walk tall and carry a big stick.

They need a big arm to carry that stick.

Unfortunately, the Angels suffer severe—albeit short term—paralysis almost every year around July 31. This year, their failure to fill holes at the trade deadline will be exposed more than in the past.

So far, the offense has shown amazing resiliency, and even picked up despite losing Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero to injury. 

Scoring six runs on 12 hits like the Angels did against Texas is nothing to sneeze at, and they put up nine on the White Sox the day before.

But the fact remains, no team can sustain the kind of production the Angels have exhibited since the All-Star break, and when the bats come crashing back to Earth, they'll need a reliable arm on the mound to catch them.

Joe Saunders proved once more on Friday that he is not prepared to shoulder the load this season.

Although he began the year in his '08 All-Star form, Saunders has since regressed into a pitcher without toughness on the mound, zip on his fastball, or the ability to throw quality strikes. 

Give him a lead? He blows it. Put guys on base? He serves up one of his patented home run balls.

And don't even get me started on Justin Speier. After giving up three long balls of his own in just one inning, I'll be shocked if he isn't cut before the weekend is out.

Lately, the poor pitching has been overshadowed while the Angels' offense grabbed the national spotlight.

With guys like Morales, Bobby Abreu, and even even Chone Figgins generating MVP talk, it's easy to forget that John Lackey remains the only Angel pitcher with a quality start since the All-Star break.

Or that Brian Fuentes has been nothing short of awful in his last three outings, the first two of which he loaded the bases and was removed before ever getting a single out.

This week, the Angels will face good teams, playoff-caliber teams.

The kind that get deep into October with two solid starters, reliable arms at the back of the bullpen, and timely pop in the lineup.

Right now, good old L.A. of A. has only one of those, and no team can count on scoring 10 runs per game to get it through the postseason. 

They've done well to beat up on the weaker sisters of the league by outscoring them, but pitching is the key to winning championships.

Without any help coming in at the trade deadline, guys like Saunders, Fuentes, and Ervin Santana must step up their games in order to get this team past the first round of the playoffs.

The Angels have survived far greater adversity already this season.

Now we'll see how they respond to the Rangers' beating, and if they truly deserve the national media attention they've been given.