In a difficult season, the Los Angeles Angels are slowly moving into position to defend their two straight AL West crowns.
The Angels look to further tighten up the AL West race heading into the All-Star break when they try to capture a four-game series against the first-place Oakland Athletics on Sunday at the McAfee Coliseum.
Los Angeles (42-45) has struggled through most of the season, falling 6 1/2 games out of first place and a season-worst 11 games below the .500 mark after a loss at Texas on May 22.
Saturday’s 6-4 victory over Oakland moved the Angels within three games of .500, the closest they’ve been to the break-even point since May 6. They’ve won seven of eight and can move within two games of the first-place Athletics (45-42) with a victory on Sunday.
“Guys have been swinging the bat all year,” said leadoff hitter Chone Figgins, who had four hits Saturday and is 7-for-14 in this series. “What makes a good team good is the ability to overcome the struggles.”
Los Angeles starters have keyed victories in the last two games. After John Lackey fired a one-hitter in Friday’s 3-0 victory, Jered Weaver improved to 6-0 after allowing two hits in seven scoreless innings on Saturday.
Weaver is part of a rotation that is taking shape for the Angels since the return of reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon off the disabled list. The starting staff was held together in Colon’s absence by Ervin Santana (9-3, 4.13 ERA), who will get the start on Sunday.
Santana is 5-0 with a 3.32 ERA over his last six starts. He pitched poorly his last time out, but still notched the win after allowing six runs and six hits over eight innings in a 14-6 victory at Seattle on Tuesday.
“I’ll take it,” Santana said. “I’m happy because we scored some runs and we know we need to score runs against those guys.”
The right-hander is facing the Athletics for the first time this season after going 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in four outings against them last year.
Angels left fielder Garret Anderson has missed the last two games due to tightness in his left hamstring and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
Oakland, which has dropped eight of 12, would like to see Bobby Crosby get untracked in the series finale. The shortstop is hitless in 11 at-bats in this series and mired in a 5-for-30 slump over his last eight games.
The A’s are one game ahead of Texas for the division lead and just 3 1/2 in front of last-place Seattle. Oakland has not been in sole possession of first place at the All-Star break since 1990, the last time it played in the World Series.
Oakland starter Dan Haren (6-6, 3.40) is 0-1 with a 3.24 ERA in his last four outings. He pitched well in his last start on Tuesday, allowing one run and four hits over seven innings in a 2-1, 10-inning victory over Detroit.
Haren is making his second start of the year against Los Angeles. The right-hander gave up five runs and eight hits over 7 1-3 innings in a 5-4 loss on April 22.
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