Back in Spring Training, I certainly had circled this weekend’s Angels-Rangers series as one that stood out above almost all others this season. After all, the Rangers were the two-time American League Champions and added Japanese sensation Yu Darvish this offseason. Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno was tired of watching Texas finish above his club in the AL West and spent more than $300 million on C.J. Wilson, the former Rangers ace, and Albert Pujols. Immediately, the Angels and Rangers were the AL favorites, and I presumed this weekend’s series would be not only for the AL West title but likely the top overall playoff seed in the Junior Circuit.
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This being baseball, things didn’t go as expected. Texas has been about as good as expected. Barring a collapse this weekend and in next week’s season-ending series at Oakland, the Rangers should win the AL West and can still take the top seed in the AL as they battle the Yankees for that honor. Meanwhile, Pujols started off terribly and so did the Angels. But once the team called up super-phenom Mike Trout, it turned things around. The problem with the Angels is that they are just as likely to win six games in a row as they are to lose those games. Thus, they are outside of the playoffs looking in as things currently stand. L.A. probably has to win five of its final six games to have a realistic shot at a wild-card spot or at least force a one-game playoff for it.
The AL MVP and Cy Young Awards could be decided in this series. Trout is battling Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the MVP. Cabrera will win the RBI title and is four points ahead of Trout and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer for the batting lead (entering Thursday). Cabrera is one homer behind the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton for the AL and MLB lead. If Trout could somehow win the batting title and/or if Hamilton holds off the Tigers’ star for the home-run lead, then Trout may become the third player in baseball history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season (Fred Lynn, Ichiro Suzuki).
As for the Cy Young race, Angels ace Jered Weaver goes for his 20th win Friday in the opener. He would be the fourth 20-game winner in franchise history and first since Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young in 2005. The Cy Young race is probably down to Weaver, who likely would pitch again Wednesday in the season finale, and Tampa Bay’s David Price. The Rays’ ace goes for No. 20 in what should be his final start of the season Sunday. If one gets 20 wins and the other doesn’t, that could decide the Cy Young.
This series begins a season-ending six-game trip for L.A. (next to Seattle), while it’s the Rangers’ final home series of the regular season. Thus, it could be the final regular-season games for free-agent-to-be Hamilton in Texas. The season series between the Halos and Rangers is tied at eight wins apiece. Texas is 4-3 at home. The teams just played three in Anaheim, Sept. 18-20, with the Rangers winning two of three.
Angels at Rangers Probable Starting Pitchers
Friday: Angels RHP Jered Weaver (19-4, 2.74) vs. Rangers RHP Ryan Dempster (12-7, 3.07) – Weaver faced the Rangers in that last series, beating them by allowing three runs on six hits in seven innings. But he has given up 10 runs in 9 2/3 innings at Rangers Ballpark this season. Dempster started slowly since arriving from the Cubs but has been terrific of late. But the Angels own him, as Dempster is 0-1 with a 14.63 ERA in two starts vs. L.A.
Saturday: Angels RHP Ervin Santana (9-12, 4.23) vs. Rangers LHP Derek Holland (11-6, 4.50) – Santana will be on seven days of rest in this one after being pushed back. He has allowed more than two earned runs just twice since the start of August. Santana is 1-1 with a 12.15 ERA in two starts vs. the Rangers in 2012. Holland lasted only three innings last time out, allowing three runs and four hits vs. Oakland. He pitched at the Angels on Sept. 19 and won, giving up two runs in seven innings.
Sunday: Angels RHP Zack Greinke (15-5, 3.42) vs. Rangers RHP Yu Darvish 916-9, 3.90) – Greinke hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his past seven starts. On Sept. 20 vs. Texas, he got a no-decision despite only giving up a run and five hits in eight innings. Darvish was scratched Tuesday with stiff neck but should be good to go here (there’s a very slight chance he pitches Friday’s opener). He last missed an outing in late August with a tight quad muscle and has thrown seven straight quality starts since then. Darvish beat the Angels last time out opposite Greinke, allowing one run on four hits in eight innings.
Angels at Rangers Betting Odds and Trends
For the series, the Rangers are projected to be around -125 favorites, with Los Angeles at +115. For Game 1, Texas is -120 with the total at nine. “Over/under” records: LAA 35-36-4 on road, TEX 34-40-3 at home (entering Thursday).
The Angels have won five straight Friday games and five of their past six road games. L.A. is 7-3 in its past 10 road starts vs. right-handed pitchers. The Halos are 8-1 in Weaver’s past nine road starts. Texas is 4-0 in Dempster’s past four home starts. Texas is 4-10 in its past 14 games vs. a starter with a WHIP less than 1.15. The under is 14-3 in the Rangers’ past 17 Friday games. The over is 9-2 in the past 11 meetings between these teams in Arlington. Los Angeles is 9-3 in Weaver’s past 12 starts vs. Texas.
Angels at Rangers Betting Predictions
The Rangers are looking very mortal all of a sudden and the A’s just gave them major fits. Los Angeles, meanwhile, is surging again and Torii Hunter has found the fountain of youth. Hunter has the third-highest batting average in the AL since the all-star break at .342 and has 53 RBI in that span. He has never finished above .300 for a season in his career but is at .307 entering Thursday. And the scary thing is that Hunter is about the fourth most-feared hitter in the lineup (Trout has struggled a bit this month).
The pitching matchups all seem to favor the Angels, and they are playing with a serious sense of urgency, while Texas knows it has a bit of wiggle room. Take the Angels to win the series and the opener in a low-scoring game.
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