August 26, 2011
As the pennant races start to heat up, Big League Stew will be there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
The situation: With the Rangers clinging to a one-game lead heading into a three-game set at Arlington starting Friday night, the AL West might be the only remaining race of consequence in the league. Just when you thought the Rangers might reach escape velocity and pull away, they've stumbled and lost six of eight. Just when you thought the Angels would lose their tenuous grip and fall hopelessly behind, they've gotten hot and won six in a row, including three in their last at-bat. Put those events together and Los Anaheim has gained five games on Texas in the past eight days.
Previously on ...: A week ago Thursday, the Angels were spared what would have been a demoralizing four-game sweep at home against Texas. Rookie slugger Mark Trumbo(notes) connected for a dramatic game-ending two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give L.A. a 2-1 victory, one that prevented Texas from taking an eight-game lead. So far, Texas leads the season series 7-6.
What's left: After this weekend, the challengers don't meet again until the final weekend of the regular season for a three-game set at The Big "A."
For starters: Angels' right-hander Dan Haren(notes) faces Rangers lefty Derek Holland(notes) in the opener; No-hitter man Ervin Santana(notes) opposes lefty C.J. Wilson(notes) in middle game; ERA leader Jered Weaver(notes) tangles with Japan expatriate Colby Lewis(notes) on Sunday.
Quick turnaround: Manager Mike Scioscia, perhaps because of a sense of urgency, decided to bring back Santana and Weaver on three days of rest — which neither have tried before. Weaver has been a little better on four days rest than five over the course of his career, for what it's worth. Los Angeles has a day off Monday.
"If you're going to a four-man rotation or using guys on short rest three or four times through the rotation, some guys might unravel if they're not used to it," Scioscia said. "But this would be a one-time deal, so these guys should be fine."
He's seen this before: Torii Hunter(notes), who has been through a number of pennant races, said the Angels don't have to overly concerned about sweeping, or even winning the series. Just play like they've been playing.
"We don't have to sweep them," he said. "We want to win the series, but we don't have to win the series. It won't hurt us. We just have to keep playing this way. … I know there's light at the end of the tunnel. Do what you've got to do, and as long as you've got a breath in you, you're still alive."
That's offensive: The Angels have scored at least five runs and collected 10 or more hits in each of the past five games, their longest such streak in two years. Why? Because they have gone 21 for 49 with runners in scoring position, and have a collective .583 slugging percentage in that span. Peter Bourjos(notes) is particularly hot over the past 10 games, going 18 for 43 (.419) with seven extra-base hits and a .692 slugging percentage.
But they don't have to be: The Angels lead the league with seven victories while collecting four hits or fewer.
Don't worry, he's a limo driver: Hopefully for his sake, Holland got a quiet ride to the ballpark so he could focus on turning around his luck. He has a 6.41 ERA in four starts this month.
Conversely, Holland has four shutouts, which ties for the AL lead with James Shields(notes). Nobody gets better run support than Holland, whose offense scores a major league best 6.98 runs per start. That love will be tested against Haren in the series opener.
Did you know ...: Despite dropping three straight games to the Red Sox, the Rangers are still 40-26 at home.