Posted 17 May 2010 - 07:44 AM
5/17 (20-18)TR-vs-LAA (18-21)
5/18 (20-18)TR-vs-LAA (18-21)
Rangers-Angels series could show who will win AL West.
10:24 AM CDT on Monday, May 17, 2010
Column by EVAN GRANT/The Dallas Morning Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
"Since spring training, the Rangers have been running what seems like an endless loop of commercials on their broadcasts with just about every member of the team speaking or shouting two words: "It's time."
The Angels replaced DH Vladimir Guerrero (left), now with the Rangers, with Hideki Matsui. So far, advantage Rangers. Guerrero is batting .336 with 31 RBIs, while Matsui is struggling through a .178 May and is at .241 for the season. The marketing campaign's underlying meaning is all about the club meeting expectations of reaching the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. That means it's all about dethroning the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels, who arrive in Arlington today for a quick two-game series, have won five of the last six AL West titles, including the two occasions this decade when the Rangers have mounted marginal challenges. The true measure for any contender is how it stacks up against the champion. Or, as 16-time world champion and wrestling icon Ric Flair might say: "Boys, in order to be the man, you gotta beat the man. ... Wooooo!"
As the teams prepare themselves for a five-month battle royal, here's a look at some key issues that could determine the series winner – and the AL West champ:
The Rangers would love to send a message to the Angels this week that they are a team to be reckoned with. The Rangers have already been there and done that in the past. And the Angels have sent a message right back: It's not about how you start, but how you finish.
Last year, the Rangers swept the Angels in Arlington. In 2004, the Rangers won three of four games in their first series. The Angels struck back in September both seasons, going 5-2 last year and winning three of four in the final week in 2004. Since 2004, the Rangers are 15-23 against the Angels after September 1.
Most of this season's series is late, too. The Rangers play the Angels 15 times after July 1, making them the most frequent opponent of the final three months. That includes seven meetings in the final two weeks and a season-ending four-game series in Arlington.
Guerrero vs. Godzilla
Rangers DH Vladimir Guerrero says he is not motivated by the Angels' decision not to bring him back.
His past betrays him.
In 2004, when Guerrero went from Montreal to the Angels, he said the same things and then won the MVP. The first time he met his old Expos mates, who had relocated to Washington, he went 4-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs. He has a career average of .412 against his old organization.
While Guerrero always hit in Texas with the Angels, he's established that he likes hitting at Rangers Ballpark, period. This season, he's hitting .397 there with six of his seven home runs. For his career: .396 with a .628 slugging percentage.
The Angels replaced Guerrero with left-handed hitting World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. It has not been a successful move. After a solid April, Matsui has struggled. He is hitting .178 for May, which has dropped his season average to .241. He began the season as the cleanup hitter, but lately he's been hitting fifth or sixth.
The Rangers' bullpen issues are well documented, including a change at closer and inconsistent setup work. The Angels' problems? Now, that's something new.
Over the last decade, no AL team has gotten more from its bullpen than Los Angeles. The Angels entered the season ranked first in relief ERA (3.70) and tied for first in save percentage (.743) over the last decade.
The two main reasons for that were closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup/middle man Scot Shields. But Francisco is in his second year with the New York Mets and Shields has not bounced back from a knee injury that forced him to miss the final four months of 2009. This season he has more walks (12) than innings (10 1/3 ) and a grotesque 7.84 ERA.
Last year, the Angels made up for Shields' absence by turning to versatile Darren Oliver, who gave them 69 relief innings. This year, he's pitching for the Rangers.
In addition, closer Brian Fuentes has been inconsistent. He missed two weeks in April with a back strain, during which time free-agent signee Fernando Rodney converted all five of his chances.
Both teams have started four catchers this season. For the Angels, the problem has been injuries to Jeff Mathis (fractured wrist) and Bobby Wilson (concussion). For the Rangers, it's been a lack of production and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's puzzling inability to throw the ball to his pitcher.
The Angels are currently rolling out Mike Napoli on a regular basis. He comes to town with a .230 average. The Rangers are going with Matt Treanor, who is hitting .208. Both rank in the bottom half of a weak AL field of starting catchers."