Under better circumstances, the Angels would be pointing toward their three-game series with the Texas Rangers with a sense of anticipation.
That’s probably not how they’re feeling right now. Rather than preparing for a head-to-head scrum against their American League West nemesis, the Angels are hopeful they can trim away some of their seven-game deficit and climb out of last place.
Assuming they can avoid the thunderstorms that are anticipated, the Angels and Rangers meet three times in Arlington, Texas, starting Friday night. Most figured it would be the first of several battles between them for the division lead; instead, the Rangers have a solid grasp on first place and the Angels are still trying to reach .500.
That doesn’t mean it’s a mismatch.
The Angels, who are 7-3 since April 30, will start their three most reliable starting pitchers. None is likely to get booed more than left-hander CJ Wilson, who spent the past seven seasons in Texas before signing a five-year, $77.5-million free-agent contract in December.
The Angels took two of three from the Minnesota Twins this week, but it’s worth noting that of their seven most recent victories, five have come against the Twins, who have the worst record in baseball.
The Josh Hamilton factor can’t be discounted – certainly not after the Rangers center fielder hit four home runs Tuesday night against the Orioles, giving him 14 and lifting his batting average to .406 – but pitching matchups will be pivotal.
Still, the Rangers are deeper than just Hamilton. They lead the league in hitting (.293), runs (170), on-base percentage (.352) and slugging (.480). Five players – Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli – have at least 16 RBIs, which is more than any Angel hitter.
The Rangers were rained out Wednesday night in Baltimore, forcing them to play a doubleheader on Thursday, which can only be to the Angels’ benefit. It’s uncertain how it will affect their rotation for the Angels, but here’s how they teams scheduled starters match up:
Friday: Yu Darvish (4-1, 2.54 ERA) vs. CJ Wilson (4-2, 2.61)
This will be Wilson’s first start against his former team, for whom he won 31 games the past two seasons. Wilson has six quality starts and has pitched at least seven innings four times. The Rangers feast on lefties, however. Their .313 team batting average and .365 OBP against left-handers lead the AL.
Darvish, who took Wilson’s spot in the Texas rotation, has been as good as advertised. He suffered his first loss of the season last Sunday against the Cleveland Indians, but has pitched six innings or more in his past four starts. Take out Darvish’s first and last starts this season and he’s 3-0 with a 0.99 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings.
Saturday: Matt Harrison (4-2, 5.11) vs. Jerome Williams (3-1, 3.38)
It wouldn’t be fair to call Williams the Angels’ No. 5 starter. He’s better than that, winning three consecutive decisions and throwing a three-hit shutout May 1 against the Orioles. In fact, since bungling his first start of the season, Williams has allowed just seven earned runs over 29 1/3 innings, a 2.15 ERA.
Harrison rebounded in his most recent start, going seven productive innings at Baltimore and winning for the first time since April 21. He previously struggled in back-to-back starts against Tampa Bay and Toronto, allowing 22 hits and 14 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings, both losses. The left-hander has a 1-1 record and 5.16 ERA in four career starts vs. the Angels.
Sunday: Neftali Feliz (1-1, 3.81) vs. Jered Weaver (5-0, 1.60)
Aside from his no-hit performance May 2 against the Minnesota Twins, Weaver is on a torrid stretch: In his past three starts covering 21 innings, he’s yielded just 10 hits and one earned run. He admitted to feeling tired in his last start, but he should be up to the challenge of facing the Rangers in the series finale. He leads the league in ERA and is tied for first in wins.
Feliz has had problems controlling his fastball, but when he’s on, he’s tough. Two starts ago, he walked six in five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays and failed to hold a five-run lead. But he followed up last Tuesday with a solid performance against the Orioles: six innings, one earned run, two walks and eight strikeouts. He’s holding opposing batters to a .189 average, but he won’t win if he walks people.