Saturday, August 27, 2011

Angels Still Can't Mess With Texas


So there were the Rangers, no less bullish as Power Rangers than the ballclub was as an American League contender amid a tight, tense pennant race, aiming to remain atop the AL West and hinder the Angels from giving chase.

What the Rangers desire for an industrious crusade is the aid of hopefulness, exuberance and victories to stay in contention and, if possible, be in pursuit of back-to-back World Series glory. Sure, it's been seen before in baseball, such are tight races and sometimes an extreme fight last until the final day of the 162-game season, but it doesn't seem like the Angels are fully capable of catching the Power Rangers to tie the division.

The first necessity is for the Angels to continue a surge and induce fear, when the Texas Rangers clearly have been in a funk of late ineffective in pummeling the Angels in a pennant race of dubiety and nerves. The momentum came suddenly and inexplicably, just as we were optimistic in the Angels, just as we were telling ourselves not to discount the Angels and relight the Halo.

It happened so quickly we could feel the streak of a miraculous turnaround, a convergence of Angels in the Outfield to evoke miracles for the red-hot ballclub. With merely one swing of the bat, or maybe even multiple swings -- I might add -- the Angels were thrashed in the Heart of Texas.

This was a night when the Rangers couldn't be reckoned with, a night when the Angels couldn't mess with Texas, a night the boys from Orange County were burnt like Texas toast. When David Murphy lofted his second career grand slam in the fifth inning off Angels starter Dan Haren, this after Nelson Cruz broke out of his slump and opened the fourth with a drive to center field, he had secured a crucial 11-7 win for the slumping Rangers.

The horror exist still as it was last week when the Angels were said to be dead and buried by the Rangers and it was so bad that the majors could've staged a funeral in tribute of the fallen Angels. The moment before all of this, the Angels weren't even in contention, but were done for the season after a rebuilding stage crumbled under the inept general manager Tony Reagins and cheap owner Arte Moreno.

We all screamed amazed by the Angels resurgence, as the Rangers never panicked and had indicated to be the stronger, hungrier and powerful ballclub in this showdown worth raving about only for what is at stake between a pair of clubs with the objective to win its division and clinch a postseason berth. All of the sudden, the Rangers came alive in their own ballpark in Arlington to ignite fireworks that brightened the humid air on an ideal night for baseball.

Even more important was the Rangers finding an identity, when the Angels strayed in the first game of the most critical weekend series and were stonewalled by Texas, an ambitious club that began the stretch 6-1 and finished 2-5. But stunningly, the streak that the Angels rode, playing with plenty of heart and talent, is missed and disappeared instantly.

It was missing in action when the Angels were absent and never challenged the Rangers, losing in a lopsided fashion, getting pushed and shoved around in an uncompetitive meeting and falling in the AL West standings. And when it comes to the Angels, as a reminder to you all, they have no consistent or solid power hitters in the lineup, lacking that one power bat in the batting order to produce RBIs without leaving too many runners on base.

Despite the Angels juggernauts and a crafty pitching rotation, if you haven't noticed by now, this is the team that relies on aggressive base running and scoring runs by doing the little things to collect a win. Now the Angels are finally enduring a real test. A more painful test or an uphill battle the Halos flunked ever so badly against a dexterous offense with the ability to compile runs on the scoreboard swiftly.

The night for the Angels wasn't all so bland, even if a six-game winning streak became commonplace at a time when all the momentum was positive and used to their advantage. It's undoubtedly one of the must-win situations the Angels wish they could have back, another chance to redeem themselves after the Rangers badly stomped them for 18 hits and three homers at Rangers Ballpark -- a loss snapping the Angels season-high winning streak.

It's not a perfect world, at least not for the Angels -- come to realize that the Halos left the happiest place on earth and traveled to Texas for a three-game showdown with division foes. But now it's much clearer that the Angels can't match the Rangers' incomparable depth, from the pitching rotation to the batting order. To a certain extent, there's just not enough talent. It's largely for the fact that the Angels have no solid hitters, and sometimes the pitching is a bit shaky, erratic and subpar as manager Mike Scioscia has no choice but to depend on his wayward bullpen.

"It's one loss," Scioscia said. "We need to turn the page and move on to tomorrow's game. Obviously, everything is magnified tonight because we're playing the team we're trying to catch. But it's one loss and there's still a lot of baseball to be played."

But now, he's giving his team the best opportunity to win by choosing to send Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver on three days' rest to the mound in a critical series.

Leave it to Weaver, it appears.

It's actually a brilliant decision, simply because Weaver is in the running for the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP award. It's actually a splendid move, mostly because he is the face of the Angels, particularly after signing a five-year $85 million contract extension as the ace prefer to reside in Southern California and continue wearing an Angels uniform. His family roots exist in California, his prior accomplishments are in Orange County and his likeability is beyond amazing.

He probably could, even though he's a human and not a robot that can throw a 90 mph fastball without getting tired after a grueling 100-plus pitch night on the mound, be the man who wins the division single-handedly for the Angels. The other night, where the Angels shut out the White Sox in an 8-0 victory at Angel Stadium, a place closer to the Happiest Place on Earth, he tossed seven scoreless innings for a 15-6 record.

He potentially is a 20-game winner and leads the MLB with a 2.03 ERA. Without him, the Angels aren't closer to heaven, but are useless and futile. If the Angels are trying to purge woes and compete for the division title, then they'll need to win the next two games of this series. Until then, the Angels can't slow down Texas, unless the two teams are playing different clubs in another series.

This time, Scioscia was confident and gusty -- enough, in fact, to juggle his rotation and shift his starters around as Weaver and Santana give the Angels an edge in the series. On the flip side, it can all backfire if Weaver and Santana struggles in their next outings, but the Angels are in a pursuit, angling to keep momentum and remain in a tight race with the Rangers.

For the worse, he and Mike Butcher can generate criticism if all fails over the weekend, like a player suffering an injury or giving away a meaningful contest. They also know nobody is keen to see Joel Pineiro and Jerome Williams. If many had the choice, they'll rather see Weaver and Santana every other day on the mound.

With one swing, Cruz ended his slump when he was 4-for-27 in his last seven games and was swinging wildly without a conscience and discipline. It was huge as Cruz laced a two run-scoring double in the second to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. And he wasn't done. The man of the night was a triple shy of the cycle in the sixth and demolished the Angels, hitting a bullet to left-center and scoring three more runs. That marked his third six-RBI game of the season.

Even if it seems as if the Angels are back in the running for winning the division, in reality, it doesn't seem real but surreal, until Los Angeles convince the public that they can beat the Rangers at least twice in a series to win a three-game showdown.

For now, it seems, we have to wonder if the Angels have it in them.