Angels Again at the Top of the American League

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Angels Again at the Top of the American League It may be easy to take them for granted, but the Los Angeles Angels are once again proving to be one of the elite teams in the American League.

Like clockwork, they crank out playoff-caliber seasons every single year, and no one on this side of the Mississippi River seems to notice or care. The Angels' win totals the last five years: 92, 95, 89, 94 and 100. This year, they're 86-57.

To East Coast elitists dying for a way to put the Angels down, never fear — there are plenty. The pitching rotation after John Lackey and Jered Weaver is a bit of a train wreck. The payroll includes busts like Gary Matthews, who's being paid $10.4 million to be a .241-hitting platoon man. And the team's so-called "aggression" on the basepaths has turned out to be much more of a liability than an asset, with the Halos being caught stealing 58 times this season, a major-league worst.

And yet look at that shiny record. It's hard to diss a team that's playing .600 ball.

The scary thing is, it's not even a case of the Angels beating up on the chumps out West and cooling off against the league's elite. This L.A. club won four out of six against the Red Sox in April and May; before this week, the Angels also won four of six against the Yankees. They have a losing record against their own division, 21-23, but they shine against the top-tier competition out East.

This week, it's time to find out whether the Angels will buck that trend.

On Monday night, they paid a quick visit to the Bronx, making up a rained-out contest with the Yankees from May 3. The Angels got an early lead, but a clutch Mark Teixeira triple and an eighth-inning rally made the difference for the host Bombers, who ruined Weaver's night and won 5-3.

The Angels, with the jetlag wearing off, now head to Fenway for a three-game set with the Red Sox.

You could argue that the pressure's been lifted a little bit from the wild-card-leading Sox. Their lead over Texas is now a healthy 4 1/2 games, and the Rays have embarked on an epic losing streak that's taken them completely out of the hunt. It's beginning to become clear that this is an October-bound Red Sox team, provided a choke isn't coming in the second half of September.

But nonetheless, this series is about showing the Angels who's boss. In all this talk of division chases and wild-card races, we've ignored the Angels all along — they've quietly gone about their business of sewing up the AL West title, as they've done in four of the previous five years, and there hasn't been much drama to speak of. But now, with October creeping closer, it's time to wake up and realize that this team's for real.

They do it in a new way every year. Sometimes it's the pitching, sometimes it's the defense — this year it's a lineup full of sluggers. The best one may be a guy you've never heard of — at 26, Kendry Morales is hitting .306 with 30 home runs. But with Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu supporting him, and Vladimir Guerrero starting to heat up (1.014 OPS and nine homers in August), Morales is far from the only guy leading the Angels' offense.

The Angels have now won eight of their last 11 heading into Fenway. They open a three-game set this week with the good fortune of missing Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, who happen to be the Red Sox' two hottest pitchers at the moment. They're poised to let the Sox know that they're still in charge in this American League pennant race.

It very well might not be the last time these two teams meet in 2009. And if the Red Sox do end up facing these Angels again in October, it would be nice to send a message right now: They're ready this time.

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