Angels, Rangers are in a tight knot

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – This, by the way, is about the time the Texas Rangers go away.

It gets hot or the ballpark gets small or the pitching staff gets weary and averse to the strike zone. Something. Whatever the reason, the Rangers are a first-half ballclub, while typically the most meaningful baseball is played after that. You know, without them.

This, too, is when the Los Angeles Angels have put games and then weeks and then another season between themselves and the Rangers, because they always have pitched better and caught the ball more reliably, non-negotiable details for manager Mike Scioscia.

So it is with some sense of routine that the Angels and Rangers will reach the All-Star break near enough to each other they'll both be able to smell the cigarettes on Ron Washington's breath.

What's next might not be so familiar.

For while the Angels pinned much of their first-half mediocrity on a bullpen that was close to the worst in baseball and a starting rotation that hadn't yet gotten healthy, neither has ascended to dependable levels quite yet.

In fact, hours after staff ace John Lackey(notes) failed to get out of the fifth inning against the Rangers at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night, staff No. 3 (or 4 or 5, depending on the inning) Ervin Santana(notes) on Wednesday night never even saw the fifth, continuing the Angels' personal themes of inconsistency.

Add to that a six-week stretch in which Joe Saunders(notes), an All Star a year ago, endured more ratty starts than productive ones, and the current Angels look more like those Rangers than those Angels – a lot of hitters' counts, a lot of baserunners, a lot of offense required.

Conversely, the Rangers, while reminding no one of a team that will necessarily dominate from the mound, are at least making progress. They beat the Angels twice this week at Angel Stadium by generally staying out of the big and ugly innings that have dogged them, and generally believe they have a chance to keep the score down most nights, a grand departure from a previous decade of pitching imprecision.

After all these years, the Angels are hitting (mostly) and the Rangers are pitching (kind of), and won't that be a new and interesting way to spend an AL West summer, particularly if the Seattle Mariners continue to pitch better than both of them?

"The only thing I leave here thinking is, we did what we wanted to do, which is win two games," Washington said late Wednesday night. "If we come back in September and do the same thing it would have some significance."

They have four games in Anaheim in the final week of the season. Were the stories then to be about the Angels and Rangers, and not about the Angels and their waiting division series opponent, that would constitute meaningful progress.

It's not impossible, and so far everything that had to happen to the Angels so the Rangers could meet them halfway is happening.

Just this week, Washington was getting Josh Hamilton(notes) back from surgery while Scioscia had to go without Torii Hunter(notes) (adductor) and Vladimir Guerrero(notes) (knee) because of new injuries. And as Washington was getting reasonable starts out of Dustin Nippert(notes) and Vicente Padilla(notes), Lackey was getting shelled, and Santana was throwing waist-high fastballs to Andruw Jones(notes). And while Washington had every reason to believe there are reinforcements coming in young starters Matt Harrison(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes) (more haul from the Mark Teixeira(notes) trade two years ago), Scioscia is still holding tryouts for the fifth spot. And the Rangers left for a four-game series in Seattle in first place.

"There's a lot of reason to think the pitching could get better," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said.

The Angels, meanwhile, have three weeks to decide whether they can believe an improving bullpen, and more important whether they're going to get consistent starts out of Lackey and Santana, both of whom started the season with issues in or near their elbows. It would seem they'll at least have to upgrade the back of the rotation – it won't be Pedro Martinez(notes), whose recent tryouts have revealed a plodding fastball and loopy slider – but might have to consider going big, really big, with Roy Halladay(notes) or Cliff Lee(notes). The rumors placing the Angels with Diamondbacks starter Dan Haren(notes) were overstated – GMs Tony Reagins and Josh Byrnes had a single casual and fleeting conversation about Haren when the Angels were in Arizona two weeks ago – but the sentiment is clear: The Angels probably can't go around giving up eight runs a pop and win anything.

"I don't think we're in a position of panic or trying to reinvent some things," Scioscia said. "But some things need to be settled if we're going to be the team we need to be."

The Rangers, of course, are in no position to add such a big arm (read: such a big salary), so they, too, would more likely upgrade in the bullpen or perhaps add a veteran to the rotation. They're probably who they're going to be, which, turns out, might be enough.

"We're a better team than we were two years ago," Washington said. "We're a better team than we were a year ago. Our attitude is different. The way we go about the game is different."

As for the results, they could be different. It's not impossible.

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