Commentary

Angels can't gain ground despite wins

Even with their interleague dominance, the Halos still trail the Rangers in AL West

Updated: June 23, 2010, 10:32 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Angels feel like they've seen this movie before, so they have a pretty good notion what's going to happen in the end. The guys in the cowboy hats don't always win.

Even as they steer themselves back from the cliff's edge of a failed season, the Angels have kept half an eye on the Texas Rangers. As usual, the Angels are romping in interleague play and warming up in June, but it's gotten them zero traction in the standings.

After rallying to beat the Dodgers -- and their impressive young left-hander, Clayton Kershaw -- 6-3 Tuesday night, the Angels are eight games over .500 this month. And it's cost them a game in the standings.

The Angels began June 2½ games back and they went home Tuesday night 3½ games behind after Texas won its ninth straight game.

This is a perilous stretch for the Angels, while Texas gets to romp over the weakest teams in baseball. From June 5 until they visit Anaheim next Tuesday, the Rangers will have played only sub-.500 teams: the Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates. It's kind of a who's who of baseball's most disappointing and hopeless teams.

But the Angels have gotten used to strong midsummer pushes -- and to watching Texas fade in the hot months -- so they're hoping to hold on going into the All-Star break, with the expectation of better things to come.

"We have to just keep them close. We don't want them to get too far, because we're going to face them a couple more times, I think," said Bobby Abreu, whose three-run home run off Kershaw in the sixth stirred the Angels suddenly to life. "I think if we keep them close going into the All-Star game, it could be different in the second half."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia summed up the Angels' seventh inning this way: "We put together four really good at-bats at an important time."

He wasn't kidding. A loss would have put the Angels as far out of touch with first place as they've been since May 25, the dark age of this season. But they've shown a knack for perseverance and resiliency, particularly when they're facing National League teams. The Angels are 22-9 in their last 31 interleague games and have won 17 of their last 24 games against the Dodgers, who can't seem to tread water against AL teams.

After Abreu's stunning blast, the Angels passed the momentum baton right back to the Dodgers when Russell Martin picked off Juan Rivera at third base for the second out of the seventh. But they somehow wrestled it back. Jeff Mathis lined a single to left, Brandon Wood dumped one into right and Howie Kendrick chopped one through the right-side hole to push the go-ahead run in. Then Kevin Frandsen yanked one into the corner to score two more.

The Dodgers scored in measured increments against Ervin Santana, two runs in the third and one in the fourth (on Matt Kemp's home run). The Angels barely sniffed a rally until Kershaw started losing his command of the strike zone in the middle innings.

Kershaw walked two batters to lead off the fourth, but Torii Hunter hit into a rally-killing double play. Kershaw walked Wood -- .171-hitting Wood -- and fell behind Kendrick 3-and-0 in the sixth. Kendrick singled up the middle and, a couple of batters later, Kershaw threw the belt-high inner-half fastball that Abreu sent on an arc over the center-field fence.

It was Abreu's first home run since June 7, and it was only the second time in Kershaw's career that he has given up a home run in the sixth inning or later.

Scene and heard

It's not often that a pitcher gets ejected after he pitches a scoreless inning. But home plate umpire Bill Welke had heard enough from Fernando Rodney about a pitch to Kemp by the time the eighth inning wrapped up.

As it turned out, Rodney got Kemp to hit into a double play -- after a diving stop by Wood -- which was even better than the strikeout he thought he had.

"He just said, 'Go back to the dugout,'" Rodney said. "I just told him the same thing I told him before: 'That's a strike. Do your job.'"

Quote of the day

"That's a huge, huge momentum swing and a great play on their part, but we're going to keep playing baseball." Scioscia on Martin's pickoff.

Luck of the draw

Fans at Angel Stadium will have to wait for the All-Star game to see Ubaldo Jimenez in person.

The Angels face the Colorado Rockies this weekend, but barring a change of plans, they won't face their young ace. The Rockies announced their rotation as Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Jhoulys Chacin.

Jimenez leads the majors in wins (13) and ERA (1.15).

Minor matters

The Angels had two players picked to play in the Futures Game, a showcase for minor-leaguers to be played two days before the All-Star game at Angel Stadium.

Center fielder Mike Trout, 18, will be the youngest player in the game. A first-round pick in 2009, Trout is hitting .370 with six home runs, 35 RBIs and 34 stolen bases for Class A Cedar Rapids. The other Angels minor-leaguer selected is Luis Jimenez, who is batting .329 for Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Jimenez will play for the World team.

Looking ahead

Joel Pineiro's numbers don't quite reflect how consistently he's pitched for the Angels. Two blow-up starts, April 30 in Detroit and May 21 in St. Louis, have skewed Pineiro's numbers. Take away those two short outings, in which he allowed 18 earned runs combined, and Pineiro is 6-4 with a 2.87 ERA.

Pineiro (6-6, 4.45) pitches Wednesday night against the Dodgers' John Ely (3-4, 4.15). The last time Pineiro faced the Dodgers, he worked a complete game, allowing a run on five hits. The Angels scored four runs in five innings against Ely the first time they saw him June 12.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.