With six wins in their last seven games, the Los Angeles Angels may be positioning themselves to break away from the rest of the pack in the AL West.
Two games in Kansas City on Tuesday could help further widen the gap.
The surging Angels will try to extend the sputtering Royals’ six-game losing streak as the teams open a three-game series with a doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium, after Monday’s scheduled opener was rained out.
Texas and Seattle have given Los Angeles (52-38) more competition than most expected in the West, and the Angels have gone just 14-17 within the division to add further intrigue to what’s become a three-team race.
The Rangers moved within 2 1/2 games while the Angels were washed out Monday. Los Angeles had opened the second half by taking three of four in Oakland even though the team continues to play without injured outfielders Vladimir Guerrero(notes) and Torii Hunter(notes).
A third outfielder, Juan Rivera(notes), was scheduled to be out of the lineup with a hamstring problem Monday before the postponement. Now, the Angels should have a good chance to increase their win total considering the pitchers they’ll face.
Originally scheduled to start Monday, Ponson (1-5, 7.27 ERA) will make his first appearance since May 29, and first start since May 6. He was 1-4 with a 5.91 ERA in six starts before being demoted to the bullpen, where he went 0-1 with a 12.96 ERA in five appearances.
The right-hander has been on the disabled list for the past seven weeks with a right elbow strain. He is 7-2 with a 4.16 ERA in 12 career starts against the Angels, but he’ll have to be careful with Bobby Abreu(notes), who is 9 for 22 (.409) with three homers and 10 RBIs against Ponson.
Abreu’s 10th-inning home run Sunday provided the margin of victory in the Los Angeles’ 1-0 win over the Athletics.
Chen (0-4, 6.86) will also be returning to the rotation after a brief stint in the bullpen. The left-hander has lost all four of his starts this year and 11 straight decisions since his last win Oct. 2, 2005, missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery.
If those pitchers get into trouble, the Royals’ bullpen hasn’t inspired much confidence lately, going 0-3 with a 9.50 ERA over the past five games and issuing five walks in a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
“We’ll keep playing to the best of our ability until somebody comes to the forefront in the eighth inning,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
Hillman was given a vote of confidence Monday from general manager Dayton Moore despite Kansas City’s 19-43 record since May 8.
The Angels, on the other hand, have won 23 of 32, and the emergence of Ervin Santana(notes) would further help their cause. Santana’s season had been mostly a major struggle before Thursday, when he allowed one run and three hits in eight innings of a 6-2 win at Oakland.
The right-hander, who will start opposite Ponson, has been on the disabled list with arm problems twice this season, and his velocity remains down from last season, when he won 16 games and had a 3.49 ERA.
“His stuff isn’t quite the same as last year, but he has plenty not only to compete but to win,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Santana (2-5, 6.70) had lost three straight starts before shutting down the Athletics, and opponents are hitting .320 against him this year with nine home runs in 48 1-3 innings.
He relied on more offspeed pitches to keep Oakland off-balance.
“The first few starts, it’s, ‘What’s going on - 88 (mph), 81, 85?’” Santana said. “I’m focusing on pitching. Velocity’s going to come some day. I want to be where I was last year. That’s my goal.”
Rookie Sean O’Sullivan(notes) (2-0, 3.80) will get the ball for the Angels in the nightcap, making his first start since July 4 against Baltimore. That was the worst of the right-hander’s four major league outings, as he allowed four runs and nine hits over 5 2-3 innings and didn’t figure in an 11-4 Los Angeles win.
Both of O’Sullivan’s victories have been on the road, where he has a 2.08 ERA.