Winning another AL West crown hasn’t slowed the Los Angeles Angels, who still feel they have a lot left to accomplish in 2008.
The Angels look to complete a sweep of the Texas Rangers when they close their three-game series on Sunday.
Los Angeles (95-59) clinched its fourth division title in five years on Sept. 10, and has won three in a row and seven of nine since then. The Angels beat Texas 7-3 on Saturday as Francisco Rodriguez extended his major league record with his 60th save of the year.
“This could be the year that we win the championship,” Rodriguez said. “We have tremendous chemistry here. We’re peaking in every department.”
With the win, the Angels took a 20 1/2-game lead in the AL West over the second-place Rangers. Los Angeles is looking become the first AL team since Cleveland in 1999 to win a division by at least 20 games.
Perhaps of greater importance, the win also kept the Angels 2 1/2 games ahead of AL East-leading Tampa Bay in the race for the league’s best record and home field advantage in the playoffs.
“It certainly has importance,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said of gaining homefield. “We have an opportunity to accomplish everything in the regular season that can be accomplished and that’s important to us.”
Los Angeles needs to win five of its final eight games to reach 100 for the first time in franchise history. The Angels won 99 games in 2002 en route to winning their only World Series.
The Angels, looking to sweep the Rangers in Texas for the first time since Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2005, hand the ball to John Lackey (11-4, 3.38 ERA), hoping he can break out of his slump.
Lackey is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in his last three starts. He pitched 5 1-3 innings against Oakland on Tuesday, allowing four runs and nine hits in the 8-1 loss.
“My arm felt great, movement-wise and velocity-wise. It definitely helped, physically,” Lackey said after going nine days between starts.
The right-hander is 9-9 with a 5.45 ERA in 25 starts against the Rangers, but 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA in two starts versus them this season.
Hank Blalock went 4-for-4 with two doubles for Texas on Saturday, and is batting .443 (27-for-61) was five homers and 16 RBIs in a 16-game hitting streak against the Angels that dates back to May 13, 2007. He’s hitting .316 (18-for-57) in his career against Lackey.
Scott Feldman (5-7, 5.30) returns the Rangers’ rotation and gets the start in this game. The right-hander pitched one inning of relief on Wednesday against Detroit, allowing one run and one hit while striking out two.
Texas didn’t plan on starting Feldman again this season, but Brandon McCarthy’s finger injury changed those plans.
Feldman was 1-2 with a 7.18 ERA in his previous five starts. He is 0-1 with an 11.17 ERA in two starts against the Angels this season.
The Rangers (75-80) have lost three straight and five of their last seven.