Stellar Pitching Has Los Angeles Angels Poised to Impact Multiple Races Down Stretch

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Stellar Pitching Has Los Angeles Angels Poised to Impact Multiple Races Down Stretch Raise your hand if you've had enough of the Los Angeles Angels in the past seven years.

Even though the 1986 American League Championship Series provided a lot of fond memories, Red Sox fans have seen all they need to see of the Angels in October recently, having faced the Halos four times since 2004. With a strong starting rotation, a reliable bullpen and utility players who take the extra base whenever available, the Angels were annoying foes for the Sox in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

It looks like they're at it again in 2011.

The Angels, who have been shut out 11 times and were five games below .500 on June 12, are now 1 1/2 games behind Texas in the American League West. They have the fourth-best record in the AL, although if the postseason started Wednesday, they would not qualify.

But they're still very relevant.

In a year filled with flawed teams — teams that can hit can't pitch, teams that can pitch can't hit or can't defend, and teams that by all rights should be running away with divisions aren't — the Angels are no exception. Given the way they're playing and the series remaining on their schedule, however, they are poised to play a big role in how the postseason field in constructed.

While many have been overwhelmed by the individual performances of Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett, the Angels quietly have the best starting rotation in the AL. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren each has a walks plus hits per innings pitched well under 1.000, and Ervin Santana — who has been a complete-game machine lately — is down to 1.149 WHIP.

Angels starters as a collective have the lowest earned run average in the league, at 3.35, and have pitched 761 innings, the most in the AL, taking pressure off a bullpen that is pretty good in its own right. Angels relievers have a 3.37 ERA combined, third-lowest in the AL. Their closer, 23-year-old Jordan Walden, has 26 saves, but since the save is an over-valued stat, a better measure of Walden's performance is the 49 batters he's struck out in 46 innings of relief.

The Angels' weakness, which they've only occasionally overcome, is an offense that couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat. They have 1,512 total bases, which means they could add Jose Bautista's league-leading total from all of 2010 and still not have as many total bases as the Red Sox' 1,852 this season.

There are more examples, but suffice to say the Angels don't score a ton of runs.

Who does score a lot of runs? The Rangers, and that's made them the supposed favorite in the AL West. Since the trade deadline moves to bolster their bullpen, though, the Rangers have watched their lead in the division shrink and their relief ERA is still fourth from the bottom in the AL.

A legitimate division pennant race is therefore heating up in the AL West, with the winner staying home for the playoffs.

L.A. and Texas meet 10 times the rest of the season, including a three-game set in Anaheim to conclude the regular season. The first pivotal matchup is Monday, when the teams open a four-game series at Angel Stadium. Texas considers anything less than another World Series trip to be a disaster; depending on the results of these games, disaster is an imminent possibility.

Don't think the Red Sox will be mere innocent bystanders to the rest of the Angels' season. The next time the Angels will encounter the Red Sox, if at all, won't come until the playoffs, but the Halos may still have a profound impact on the Red Sox' position in the standings. They're in the middle of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and will welcome the Yankees to close a nine-game homestand in September.

If the Angels can hit — and that's a big "if" — their fate is in their hands. That could mean another October date with the Red Sox, with whom they're mighty familiar.

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