ARLINGTON, Texas -- An ugly win never looked so beautiful as it did for the Texas Rangers on Sunday.
For a team desperate to win a series and stay near the top of the American League West standings, the Rangers looked happy and relieved in the clubhouse following a 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels in which Texas committed two errors, squandered early scoring opportunities and watched No. 1 starter C.J. Wilson struggle.
Despite myriad problems -- the biggest being the bullpen -- and injuries the past month, the Rangers sit just a half-game behind the Angels in the division. After 40 games, they are 21-19. This time last year, they were 22-18 following a home series win over the Angels, interestingly enough. Then, the Rangers were first in the AL West by two games. (They would drop to second at the end of the month but take over first in early June and never relinquish it).
"It's pretty encouraging," outfielder David Murphy said after Sunday's win snapped a stretch of five consecutive winless series and allowed the Rangers to finish the homestand with a .500 record. "The numbers don't tell the complete story. But we're not where we want to be. If we can polish some things up, especially on defense, we'll be fine."
As the Rangers head to Chicago to face the White Sox at the start of a three-city, seven-game trip, they can take solace in the fact they are hanging around without playing their best baseball. Among the issues:
The Rangers have made 36 errors in 2011, the most in all of baseball. They are on pace to commit 145 errors by the end of the season and have the worst fielding percentage in the majors.
The entire Opening Day outfield is on the 15-day disabled list: 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton, one of the club's top clutch hitters from a year ago in Nelson Cruz and speedy center fielder Julio Borbon, who was hitting the ball well when his hamstring gave him fits this weekend.
The good news: Cruz is on track to come back this weekend in Philadelphia and Hamilton could return a few days later when the club returns home. Borbon's injury is also not as bad as first feared, and he should return as soon as he is eligible. The offense has struggled with its consistency with the big bats out.
The bullpen, such a strong suit for this club in 2010, has also been plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness. Closer Neftali Feliz missed two weeks with right shoulder inflammation and has only been back for about a week. Manager Ron Washington is still searching for a reliable right-handed setup man for the eighth inning and as a result has had to ride veteran left-handers Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes hard in the early going.
Yet the Rangers coaching staff, front office and players have resisted the temptation to push any panic buttons. And in the past four or five games, Texas has started to find ways to win games -- even ones that don't end up counting (see the rainout against Oakland on Wednesday).
"We know we have a lot of improving to do and that's something we can look forward to as the season goes on," said designated hitter Michael Young, who leads the Rangers with a .342 batting average. "We know the areas that we want to address and we have the right guys in here to make those adjustments and make ourselves a better team as the season goes on."
The Rangers didn't exactly play a crisp game Sunday to earn the series win over the Angels. They made two more errors, one that was particularly costly when Adrian Beltre bobbled a sacrifice bunt attempt in the sixth. The Angels ended up scoring two runs on a two-out hit by Erick Aybar off reliever Brett Tomko.
But the Rangers showed some grit, too. The bullpen, so shaky the entire season, was able to bear down after the base hit off Tomko, who got through the seventh and the first two outs in the eighth. Mark Lowe trotted out to face Maicer Izturis, the Angels' No. 3 hitter and most consistent batter this season, and got him to pop up to the catcher on one pitch -- and earn himself a win for his brief day of work.
That came after Chris Davis, called up last month to help the bench, hit a single to right to score the winning run with the bases loaded in the eighth. Davis also hit a home run to the opposite field earlier in the game. It was an important hit in terms of Davis' growth and came a day after he didn't execute in moving runners over in a key situation early in Saturday's loss.
Feliz, with his velocity down and his command wobbly, ended the game with a double play starting with a 95 mph high fastball that Alberto Callaspo chased and missed on a hit-and-run attempt. That gave catcher Mike Napoli time to throw to second to get Howard Kendrick to end the game.
"We came out on the good end of it," Washington said afterward. "We'll take it."
Washington is used to close games against the Angels. The Rangers hold a 13-12 edge over Los Angeles the past two seasons thanks to the series win this weekend. Feliz has saved 12 of those 13 wins, including victories on Friday and Sunday.
The two teams won't see each other again until July in Anaheim. The Rangers hope to have a healthier team by then. And they know they need to shore up the defense and get better in the bullpen.
But for now, they're simply trying to stay afloat in what is shaping up to be a tight division race.
"It was important to win [Sunday] just for the sake of winning," Young said. "People like to say we've got to win this series because we lost the last one. We just want to win games for the sake of winning games. We're a competitive group and every time we're out there we want to win ballgames.
"The last five or six games we've been playing better baseball. We're going to keep pushing forward and try to get better."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.