Despite securing their third division title in four years, the Los Angeles Angels still have some work to do in their final six regular-season games.
The Angels continue their pursuit of the American League’s best record when they open a season-ending road trip against the Texas Rangers on Monday night.
On Sunday, the Angels avoided their first three-game losing streak in more than two months with a 7-4 victory over visiting Seattle and clinched another AL West crown. John Lackey pitched seven strong innings for his 18th win, and Casey Kotchman and Macier Izturis homered to help Los Angeles (92-64) finish first for the sixth time in the franchise’s 47-year history.
Lackey pitched the wild card-clincher in 2002, then won Game 7 of that year’s World Series against San Francisco, becoming the first rookie to do so since 1909.
“I take a little pride in that sort of thing,” Lackey said. “I enjoy getting the opportunity in big games and I want to make the most of it.”
Sunday’s win also kept the Angels close in the race for the league’s best record, which carries home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Los Angeles is tied with Boston, and both are one-half game behind Cleveland.
“We hope to get it, but it’s more important for us to have our team as a whole ready to go,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re going to try to win every game out there, but not at the expense of a having a fractured team that isn’t where it needs to be. We have a huge challenge ahead of us.”
Finishing first in the AL won’t be easy since the Angels are only 17-15 this season against Texas and Oakland - their final two opponents. They are 10-6 against the Rangers, winning four of seven road games.
One player that could get a few days off in the final week for the Angels is Vladimir Guerrero, who has been bothered lately by right triceps tendinitis. Guerrero, however, is batting .415 with 21 homers and 58 RBIs in 70 games against Texas.
Recently moved back into the rotation, Ervin Santana (7-13, 5.63 ERA) looks to prove himself worthy of a postseason roster spot. The right-hander replaced injured Bartolo Colon on Wednesday against Tampa Bay and responded by limiting the Devil Rays to one run and six hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 2-1 victory. He also walked two and struck out 10.
In his last four appearances - including three starts - Santana has given up only three earned runs in 21 1-3 innings.
“His mechanics are better. He’s been preached to all year, he just had trouble putting it all together,” Scioscia said of Santana, who’s 4-3 with a 6.36 ERA in nine career starts against the Rangers, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three outings this year.
Kevin Millwood pitched seven scoreless innings Sunday as Texas (72-84) gained a split of its four-game series against Baltimore with a 3-0 victory.
All-Star shortstop Michael Young singled in the sixth inning for his 195th hit of the year. He needs five hits in the final six games to become the third player since 1940 with 200 hits in five consecutive seasons. The others to accomplish that are Wade Boggs and Ichiro Suzuki, who both did it seven straight years, including this season for the Mariners’ star.
Young is batting .458 (11-for-24) with one home run against Santana.
Armando Galarraga (0-0, 2.25) makes his first major league start for Texas in place of Vicente Padilla, who is serving a seven-game suspension. The right-hander has made two relief appearances since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma on Sept. 12, allowing one run and four hits in four innings with three walks and two strikeouts.
Galarraga was 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA in four games at Oklahoma, including a seven-inning complete-game shutout of Nashville on Aug. 25.