Credit the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for sticking in the AL wild card race. Heading into this weekend’s series in Arlington, the Halos had won five of their last six and 24 of their 34 games.
But they’re still going to need a successful weekend series in Texas to keep their flickering playoff hopes from extinguishing.
In what almost amounts to a must-win situation, the Angels prepare for the middle game of this weekend set at Rangers Stadium on Saturday, entrusting starting pitcher Ervin Santana (9-12, 4.93 ERA) with keeping the dream alive for another day. Providing opposition for host Texas will be lefty Derek Holland (11-6, 4.50 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, with FOX on hand to provide TV coverage to most of the nation.
While not impossible, the Angels’ task to make the playoffs was certainly daunting heading into the weekend. Missing a golden chance to pull within one game of the final AL wild card slot on Thursday when losing at home to the Mariners, the Halos entered the weekend two games out of the last playoff spot with only six games to play. Entering Friday, the Angels were also level in the wild card standings with surging Tampa Bay, although unlike the Rays did not control their own playoff destiny entering weekend action.
Simply, the Halos need to win in Arlington and get some help this weekend, specifically from Seattle (facing Oakland), Boston (facing Baltimore) and the White Sox (hosting Tampa Bay) to have a chance for their regular season-ending series in Seattle to have some significance.
The Angels entered this weekend set having also won 12 of their last 16 road games. They had split the previous 16 battles this season vs. Texas, including a wild four-game series between July 30-August 2 at Rangers Ballpark in which the Halos won the first two games before their bullpen collapsed in the final pair. In that series, Angels sluggers Albert Pujols and Torii Hunter went a combined 17-for-37 with four homers (all by Pujols) and 17 RBIs.
The Halos, however, have been encouraged by the recent performances of Saturday starter Santana, whose efforts had become so inconsistent midway through the summer that skipper Mike Scioscia considered banishing him to the bullpen. But Santana has recovered, as the Angels have won eight of his last 10 starts, with his last four outings being exceptionally good (26 2/3 IP, 14 hits, 32 Ks, and only six earned runs for a 2.02 ERA).
Although he has recorded a 13-10 career record against Texas, this foe has never been an easy one for Santana, as his 5.81 career ERA vs. the Rangers would suggest. He’s faced the Rangers twice this season and has a sky-high 12.15 ERA to show for it, although most of that damage came in a July 21 start at Anaheim when allowing six runs on eight hits (including three homers) in just 1 2/3 innings of work as the Halos were blitzed, 9-2. But Santana was better nine days later in Arlington, allowing three runs through five innings in an eventual 15-8 Angels win, beginning his personal stretch of effective outings.
Of course, this weekend set could prove monumental for Texas as well, as the Rangers were hoping to sew up the AL West crown during this series at home. Their magic number for the division title was four entering Friday’s night’s game, and Texas would certainly prefer to claim the West before a regular season-ending three-game set at Oakland, which entered the weekend in second place, four games behind the Rangers.
Texas has added motivation for the final week of the regular season in that it also entered the weekend with a two-game lead over the Yankees for the best record in the AL, and the reward of home-field edge as long as the Rangers stay alive in the AL portion of the playoffs. The National League winner will have home-field edge in the World Series thanks to the All-Star game result in mid-July.
After sending Ryan Dempster to the hill on Friday, the Rangers go with the aforementioned southpaw Holland in the Saturday matinee. Like Santana, Holland has also pitched better in recent weeks after a shaky patch of form in the summer, although he was not particularly sharp in his last outing on Monday vs. the A’s when lasting just three innings while allowing three runs and four hits.
Holland, however, was sharp in his last start vs. the Halos on September 19, working an effective seven innings when allowing just six hits and two runs while walking only one and striking out four in Texas’ eventual 6-2 win. Importantly, the Rangers have also won seven of Holland’s last nine starts.
Yet in three starts vs. the Angels this season, Holland’s only success was the September 19 outing, losing the previous two starts vs. the Halos and getting knocked around in the process. Overall, Holland is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA vs. the Angels this season, and 6-5 for his career with a 5.27 ERA.
Note also that five of the seven previous meetings this season between these teams at Arlington have gone ‘over’ and mostly by wide margins. A whopping 76 runs were scored at this site in the four-game set featuring these teams between July 30-August 2.