Los Angeles Angels: Nelson Cruz

Catching up to, not catching, Texas

June, 3, 2012
6/03/12
5:40
PM PT


It might appear as if the Angels and Texas Rangers are in similar places.

Puffed up with new TV money, they've both become major off-season -- and, in Texas' case, in-season -- spenders.

They both have veteran cores with good young talent around the edges. They both have solid rotations and bankable bullpens. They are the two best teams in the AL West and, who knows, they might be the two best teams in the league.

But even as the Angels closed the gap over these three games, you can see that they're really not in the same place at all. The Rangers, which have kept their core intact for years, knows exactly who they are. The Angels, who turned their roster over in the off-season and have continued to tinker with personnel in the first two months, are still getting a feel for what works.

"I think we still have to evolve as a team to be what we can be," manager Mike Scioscia said.

Texas has been playing its worst baseball of the season, giving up bushels of runs and dropping baseballs as if they were covered in axle grease. The Angels have been on their biggest tear of the season, having won eight of nine coming in. Not surprisingly, the Angels won the series, two games to one.

But the way Texas hits, the Angels probably need to find another gear to hang with these guys over the coming four months. Just when it looked like the Angels might get the sweep Sunday, creeping to within 3-2, the Rangers' No. 6 hitter, Nelson Cruz, hit a ball 484 feet, the longest shot in the majors in 2012. It clanged around near the flag poles before rolling down the hill.

And you know what it would have said if it could have talked? "Not yet." The Angels aren't yet in the same class as the class of the AL.

"Their seven, eight and nine hitters could probably hit 3-4-5 in a couple of National League lineups," said Angels starter Dan Haren, who had to fight to get through five innings. "They never let you breathe."

Even after this series, which revived the notion of a vibrant AL rivalry west of the Mississippi, here's where these lineups stack up: The Angels have scored 206 runs, 89 fewer than Texas. Their team on-base percentage is No. 12 in the AL. Texas' is No. 1. They have hit 48 home runs, 28 fewer than the Rangers.

So, while Scioscia was pleased with the series, he didn't exactly pronounce it a new era in the West.

"The first couple games set up the way we can handle them. We scored just enough runs and gave it to our bullpen, got some clutch hits at the end," Scioscia said. "We still need this offense to get to a higher level for us to start talking about the potential of our team. We're not there yet."

And until they are, they'll still be playing catch-up.

Mike Trout, disruptive force

June, 3, 2012
6/03/12
12:02
AM PT
Mike TroutJeff Gross/Getty ImagesMike Trout, who scored the winning run Saturday, has kept the Rangers on their heels lately.

ANAHEIM -- The Angels are a more uncomfortable team to play since they added Mike Trout.

It's not just the speed. It's the intent. He runs hard all the time, perhaps oblivious to the other major-leaguers who think playing at 70 percent most of the time is acceptable. And he knows what his speed can do to disrupt the other team, so he's looking to force it on them as much as possible.

The Texas Rangers are a seasoned ball club, probably the best team in the American League for the third straight season, but they looked flustered Saturday night trying to contain the white-and-red blur wearing 27 that thundered around them on the base paths.

Elvis Andrus, an acrobatic defender prone to mental mistakes, twice allowed Trout's speed to flummox him. He rushed and threw high in the first inning for an error, then played back and realized he had no play -- not even bothering to throw -- on an infield hit in the seventh.

And Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz, whose powerful right arm normally prevents runners from trying to advance, couldn't throw Trout out on a close play at the plate that led to the winning run in the Angels' 3-2 win.

All of which led Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson to take a subtle, or perhaps intentional, shot at his former team.

"I think it was a misplay on (Andrus') part to not charge that ball and Cruz has one of the best arms in the league and he ran right in his face and scored," Wilson said. "The thing with Texas is they have a lot of defensive talent, but they also make a lot of errors. Tonight that was really the story.

"Trout is so fast, if you hesitate he's going to beat it out."

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Angels vs. Rangers: Meat of the order

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
11:27
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AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps
Of all the moves this offseason, Prince Fielder not signing with Texas ranks as one of the biggest for the Angels.
This is part of an occasional series comparing the rosters of the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers and the rebuilt Angels, who could have the hottest rivalry in the league this year.

If you were ranking this winter's free-agent news in terms of its impact on the Angels, you might have to put the stories in the following order:

1. Albert Pujols signs with the Angels.

2. Prince Fielder doesn't sign with Texas.

3. C.J. Wilson signs with the Angels.

4. LaTroy Hawkins signs with the Angels.

No offense to Wilson, a fine left-handed pitcher who I think will thrive pitching at Angel Stadium, or to Hawkins, who should be a winning influence on the bullpen in 2012. Their impact probably won't approach the damage Fielder could have done from afar over the next nine years.

Just imagine what Texas' lineup would have been like on a nightly basis after inserting a guy who has averaged 37 home runs (and hit 50 one year) and 106 RBIs, who doesn't turn 28 until May. The Rangers scored 855 runs last year, just 20 behind league-leading Boston.

Inserting Fielder would have given Texas perhaps the two most-feared left-handed hitters in the game (Fielder and Josh Hamilton) to go along with its four right-handed hitters who smacked at least 29 home runs last year. The only reason to think Texas wouldn't have had the best 3-4 hitters in baseball is you don't know whether manager Ron Washington would have broken up his two left-handed sluggers.

Not only would the Angels have had to pitch to Fielder about 75 times a year (as opposed to 25 or fewer now), they would have faced the possibility of meeting that lineup again in the playoffs. Who knows, it might have reduced the Angels to chasing one of the wild-card spots for years. Under the new proposed format, that's a far more perilous road to the World Series than winning the division.

Yeah, it's scary to think about, but now you don't have to. Instead, we can ask: Whose middle-of-the-order would you rather have, the Angels' or the Rangers'?

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Rangers 11, Angels 7: Three Up, Three Down

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
8:25
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Angels continued to flounder against the Texas Rangers, losing the first game of a pivotal three-game series 11-7 Friday night under swampy conditions at the Ballpark in Arlington.

The Angels are 1-4 in their last five games against Texas and 5-0 against everybody else in the past two weeks. The loss knocked them three games back in the AL West.

The Good:

Late life. Maybe Angels manager Mike Scioscia finally found the right lineup by the seventh inning. Mike Trout and Russell Branyan came in and sparked a little rally. Branyan smashed a three-run home run off the signs between the first and second decks. Of course, Yoshinori Tateyama might not have been pitching in a closer game.

More Branyan. The less he plays, the better he seems to do. Branyan had home runs in back-to-back pinch-hitting appearances early this month. He's making the most of extremely limited opportunities. He has only had 19 at-bats since July 1.

Surviving. Given the fact it was 96 degrees in the ninth inning, just getting off the field without any health emergencies seems worthy of mention. And, besides, what else was there worth calling "good?"

The Bad (and the ugly):

Tone-setting. This game was an opportunity for the Angels to further the Rangers' misery after they had lost two straight series. Instead, they breathed life back into a fading first-place club. Dan Haren was wobbly from the start, setting an ominous tone. Texas scored twice in the second inning and the Angels never really competed.

Scouting reports? It's hard to know what Angels' pitchers were trying to do with Nelson Cruz, but it clearly didn't work. Coming into this game, Cruz was so cold that Texas manager Ron Washington slid him all the way to No. 7 in the lineup. The Angels might singlehandedly move him back up. Cruz pummeled a pair of home runs, one of which traveled 452 feet, had four hits in his first four at-bats, and drove in six runs.

Focus. The Angels seem to play sharp defense against everybody but Texas these days. They kicked the ball around last week in Anaheim and Erick Aybar made a crushing error in the fifth inning. Mike Napoli hit what looked like an easy double play ball to Howie Kendrick, but Aybar dropped his throw, everybody was safe, and three batters later, David Murphy hit a grand slam.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Mike Trout
BA HR RBI R
.310 23 74 69
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Trout 23
RBIM. Trout 74
RM. Trout 69
OPSM. Trout 1.002
WG. Richards 11
ERAG. Richards 2.47
SOG. Richards 134