Series Preview: Angels @ Rangers
The Los Angeles Angels (14-18) have won or split their last three series after winning just one series in all of April (and splitting zero). They will look to keep their solid May going as they square off with the division leading rival Texas Rangers (21-11) in a showdown in Arlington.
Angels @ Twins (W 8-3, L 0-5, W 6-2)
The Angels looked to continue their May resurgence on the road against the Twins, the team they had swept to kick May off. In the series opener, Jered Weaver took the hill for his first start since no-hitting these same Minnesota Twins five days earlier. He wasn’t nearly as dominant, showing signs of fatigue from the 121 pitch no-no May 2, but he was still strong through six innings. He gave up just one run with two walks and two strikeouts, allowing just three hits. The offense was led by Alberto Callaspo who knocked in three runs including a two-run home run in the third. Albert Pujols chipped in with a pair of RBI as well, going 1-for-5 with a single to follow up his first home run as an Angel.
In Game 2, the Angels bats went silent yet again this year, but this time behind Dan Haren. Haren struggled as well, unable to finish the fourth inning for his shortest outing of the season. He had pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last four starts, but struggled against a soft Twins lineup. He failed to record a single strikeout for just the third time in his career, and the first time in almost eight years. He finished the day giving up five runs on eight hits with a pair of walks in a rough outing that snapped a streak of 13 quality starts by Angels pitchers. It was the seventh time this season that the Angels have failed to score a single run, most in the major leagues.
For the series finale, Ervin Santana took the hill for the Angels still looking for his first win of the season and he finally got it and got something that had been missing all year: run support. Over Santana’s previous five starts, the Angels had scored zero runs, making him the first pitcher since 1974 to go through five straight starts where his offense was shut out, according to STATS LLC. Santana went 7.1 innings, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out one, and was visibly excited in the dugout when Mike Trout doubled home Erick Aybar for the first run in a Santana start since the third inning of Santana’s April 8 loss against Kansas City. Pujols added another couple of hits with a pair of RBI to get himself into double digits and inch his average back near .200, and Trout added a couple of RBI to go along with a pair of runs scored.
Rangers @ Orioles (W 14-3, W 10-3, L 5-6, W 7-3)
The Rangers headed to Baltimore in a matchup of first place teams and the Texas bats went into overdrive. In the series opener, the Rangers scored 14 runs on 19 hits in support of Matt Harrison who went seven innings, giving up three runs on six hits and striking out three. The offense was led by former Orioles draft choice Brandon Snyder, who hit a three-run homer during a career-best six RBI day. The team hit three home runs on the day, with Michael Young and Josh Hamilton joining Snyder, and poured things on at the end, scoring seven runs in the top of the ninth to really put an exclamation point on the day.
In Game 2, Rangers sent Neftali Feliz to the hill, who was strong through six innings, givein up just one run on four hits while striking out a career-high eight, but his gem was overshadowed by Josh Hamilton’s monster day at the plate. Hamilton hit home runs number 11, 12, 13, and 14 as part of a four-homer, eight RBI day that paced the Rangers offense to another double-digit output in runs. It was just the 16th time in history that a player had hit four home runs in a game and the first time that Hamilton had hit more than two shots in a single game. The Orioles bullpen had no answers for Hamilton, as he hit the four blasts off of three different pitchers.
Game 3 of the series was postponed by rain and had to be pushed back to the next day as the first game in a double-header. Colby Lewis took to the mound and immediately put his team in a 3-0 hole as he gave up back-to-back-to-back solo home runs to start the game. Lewis would respond by retiring the next 18 batters he faced before giving up another solo home run to Adam Jones in the seventh inning. Lewis would then walk a batter before giving up another home run, his fifth of the day, to give the Orioles a 6-1 lead, which proved just enough cushion as the Rangers mounted a rally in the late innings the fell just short. The day was hot and cold for Lewis, who went seven innings, surrendering six runs on five hits, all home runs. It was a career high in home runs allowed for Lewis, but he also set a career high for strikeouts with 12.
Derek Holland took the hill for the Rangers in the second game of the double header, and he shut down the Orioles for six innings. He was let down in the second inning by his defense, who committed three errors which resulted in three runs scored, but Holland was unphased and struck out five while walking just two and giving up only four hits. Hamilton hit yet another home run, pushing his total to a league leading 15, while Elvis Andrus also chipped in a pair of RBI. The win gave the Rangers three of four against Baltimore and completed their road trip with a 5-5 record.
May 11: C.J. Wilson (4-2, 2.61 ERA) vs Yu Darvish (4-1, 2.54 ERA)
Wilson makes his return to Arlington as he gets his first start against his former team. Wilson was the ace of the Rangers staff in 2011, but signed with division rival Los Angeles during the offseason and expects to hear about it when he takes the mound. Wilson is downplaying how much he’ll be affected by it, and will look to keep his strong start to 2012 going. He’s openened the season with six straight quality starts, with an excellent 39:15 K:BB ratio and is holding opponents to just a .184 average against him. In his last start against Toronto, Wilson went 8.0 innings, giving up just two runs on six hits, striking out nine and walking three. He hasn’t given up more than three runs in a start this season, but will have to face one of the hottest lineups he’s faced all year. Working to his advantage, though, is that he knows how to keep the ball in the park in hitter-friendly Arlington.
On the other side, Darvish, who was the man who replaced Wilson in the Rangers rotation, has been every bit as good as Texas hoped when they invested the majority of the offseason in signing the Japanese star. He has been strong to start the season, but is coming off his first loss of the season (and his MLB career) where he went 6.0 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits, striking out 11 and walking four. It was the worst outing of the year for Darvish since he game up five runs to the Seattle Mariners in his first start on April 9. Between those two outings, he’s been dealing, giving up just one run or fewer in four straight outings. There has been some concern over his control, as his 4.85 BB/9 is the worst among qualified starters, but his strikeouts have been overcoming that in his recent outings. Through his first three starts, Darvish walked 13 while only striking out 14. In his last three: eight walks and 30 strikeouts. Expect a pitcher’s duel to start this series.
May 12: Jerome Williams (3-1, 3.38 ERA) vs Matt Harrison (4-2, 5.11 ERA)
Williams is putting in his bid to be the third best starting pitcher in this rotation. After his bad start to open the season, Williams has settled into a nice groove, with three straight wins (with a no-decision after a blown save). Over his last four starts, he’s given up seven runs, striking out 22 while walking just six. In his last start against Toronto, Williams went 6.2 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on eight hits, striking out four and walking one. Most importantly for Williams’ success against Texas, though, is that he’s surrendered just one home run in five starts. He’ll need to continue his success at keeping teams in the yard if he hopes to keep Los Angeles close against a big hitting Rangers’ lineup.
Harrison has seen his performance hit a bit of a bumpy road over his last four starts after a dominant pair of wins to open the season. Over his last four starts, he’s gone 2-2, but has given up 26 earned runs, including 14 in back-to-back losses, and at least one home run in each game. In his last start against Baltimore, he went 7.0 innings and gave up three runs on six hits, including two home runs, striking out three and walking one. Harrison benefited from an offensive eruption from his lineup along with the Orioles failing to have anyone on base when they took him deep. The Rangers have watched Harrison’s ERA balloon up over 5 after posting just a 0.64 ERA after his first two starts, both wins. The team is hoping Harrison’s home run surge is just an anomaly, and he can return to his previous form soon.
May 13: Jered Weaver (5-0, 1.60 ERA) vs Neftali Feliz (2-1, 3.38 ERA)
Weaver has put himself pretty squarely at the top of the early season Cy Young discussion by being as dominant an ace as anyone in baseball. He ranks in the top five in wins, strikeouts, BAA, ERA, and WHIP and is just a start removed from his first career no-hitter. He’s having the best season of his career, dominating righties and lefties, overcoming the knock against him that his pitching numbers were inflated by a friendly ballpark by winning at home and on the road this season. He’s held opponents without a run in four of his seven starts and opponents are hitting just .174 against him, the best mark in the majors. Texas will be the toughest lineup Weaver’s faced this season and he’ll have a challenge keeping some of those fly balls he gives up in the yard in the hitter friendly Ballpark at Arlington.
Feliz has been struggling with his control so far this season, giving up 14 walks in his first four starts, and was the focus of his bullpen session before his last start against Baltimore. Things seem to have clicked for him, as Feliz walked just two while striking out a career-high eight. He’s allowed three or more runs in three of his five starts this season, so there is still some concern about him as he grows into the fifth starter role. He is hoping to be yet another Ranger pitcher to make the transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and doesn’t look to be discouraged by a few bumps along the way.
Storylines to Watch
Few star players leave a team to sign with a different team without hurting some feelings, and C.J. Wilson is no exception. His messy split with Texas has left plenty of people upset, and one radio personality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area even hoped Wilson would get beaned in the head, which is a less than hospitable thing to say. The return of Wilson to Arlington for the first time, especially matched up against his replacement, is going to make for some good headlines in this series. Rangers fans will get to see if their old ace against their new star, and really jump to conclusions about how much happier they are now from the result of this game.
Beyond Wilson-Darvish, this series is going to be a matchup of strengths: The Angels starting pitching against the Rangers monster lineup. The Halos are fortunate to have their lineup work out so that they can send their three best pitchers during this early season to the hill. They’ll have a tall test to overcome, as the Rangers lead the league in runs scored, batting average, and slugging percentage and are second in on-base percentage. Josh Hamilton has been tearing the cover off the ball, leading baseball in home runs with 15 and RBI with 38 while hitting .395. The rest of the lineup is no cake walk, either, so this will be a rough test for the Angels pitching, especially if the shaky bullpen is asked to take on too many innings.
This is a matchup of AL West favorites. So far, the West is getting run by Texas, who sit seven games up on the Angels, who are still in fourth. May has been a much better month for Los Angeles, who haven’t lost a series yet this month and are 6-3 with a chance to match or surpass their April win total in the first two weeks of May. They have a prime chance to make up some ground on Texas, who will try and keep putting distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
The Hangout View
While May has been much kinder to the Angels than April, this is still not a team that has things “figured out.” The bullpen is still a mess and the offense comes and goes like they’re dating the lead singer of Culture Club. Pujols is still hitting under .200 and nobody is stepping up to be a consistent presence while he figures things out. Texas, meanwhile, is playing better than the team we thought they would be, and that was a pretty good team we were expecting. The pitching will keep things close, but unless someone on the Angels puts this offense on their back and the starters pitch three straight complete games, the Halos will have trouble leaving Arlington with the series. We’ll pick the Angels to win one of three in Texas.