Now that the Los Angeles Angels have gained home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and have learned their first-round opponent, they can take it easy over the last two days of the regular season.
The AL West champions continue their weekend home series against the Texas Rangers, although they’re clearly more focused on playing next week.
Los Angeles (99-61) failed to record the franchise’s first 100-win season after a 12-1 loss to Texas (78-82) on Friday, but that came after the Angels gained home-field advantage because of Tampa Bay’s loss at Detroit. The Angels also learned later that with Boston’s loss to the New York Yankees, the Red Sox will enter the playoffs as the AL wild-card and travel to Anaheim for a division series matchup starting on Wednesday.
It’s the first time the Angels have ever finished with the best record in baseball.
“It’s very important. Everybody knows that,” Los Angeles center fielder Torii Hunter said of gaining home-field advantage. “We were trying to fight for home field advantage, and we did what we said we were going to do.”
News of clinching home-field advantage is definitely affecting the Angels’ approach in this series. When they took the field for the fourth inning Friday, manager Mike Scioscia removed his entire starting lineup at once - except for right fielder Juan Rivera, who shifted to left field. Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero also got the rest of the night off.
The Angels’ Ervin Santana (16-6, 3.25 ERA) looks to set a new career high for wins in a season. Santana, who also won 16 two years ago, is 3-0 with a 4.09 ERA in three starts this year versus the Rangers, and 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA in four career home outings against them.
The right-hander has pitched very well down the stretch, and will likely start one of the first two games next week against the Red Sox. Santana is 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his last 10 starts, and won at Seattle on Monday by yielding one run over eight innings in a 2-1 victory.
Texas has lost eight of the last nine games started by Scott Feldman (5-8, 5.45), who gets the ball on Saturday. The right-hander fell to 1-5 with a 6.57 ERA in that span after he allowed six runs in six innings in Sunday’s 7-3 home loss to Los Angeles.
“They’re going to be hard to beat,” Feldman said about the Angels. “They’ve got speed, power, great defense, great pitching, great bullpen. I’d say they’re the most complete team that I’ve seen.”
Feldman dropped to 0-2 with a 10.34 ERA in three starts against the Angels this year. Hunter and Sean Rodriguez each have three RBIs against him in 2008.