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Subject:  AL West Update, By Tom Brew
Date:  8/3/06, 10:55am
AL West Update

By Tom Brew
Contributing Writer

The Los Angeles Angels begin one of their most important series of the year Monday night, and they prepared for it by spending all night flying on an airplane.

And they didn’t mind one bit.

Thanks to being bumped back into the 8 p.m. ESPN Sunday night time slot for a showdown with the Red Sox, the Angels had to play a game, then fly all night cross-country back to LA. They arrived as the sun came up, and hopefully they’ll grab a quick nap before heading to Angels Stadium to start a three-game series with the Oakland A’s, who they’re chasing in the skin-tight American League West.

The A's beat the Angels to LA by several hours after finishing off the Toronto Blue Jays in dramatic fashion Sunday, so both teams come into this pressure-packed series on a high. The A’s got a walk-off homer from Milton Bradley against Toronto closer B.J. Ryan to win 6-5 in Oakland, and the Angels roughed up Curt Schilling and the Red Sox 10-4 before their long flight home.

"This is huge," said right-hander John Lackey, who gave up four runs (only three were earned) and nine hits in six innings to improve to 10-6. "A 5 1/2 -hour flight can feel like nine hours if we lost. It's definitely going to be a lot easier after a win."

The Angels are meeting the A’s at a perfect time. After an atrocious three-month start, they’ve posted a major league-best 19-6 record in July to get back into the race after beginning the month seven games behind.

The pitching matchups set up this way: Monday night it’s Danny Haren for Oakland against Ervin Santana (Angels are favored at at -$121). Tuesday it’s Joe Blanton against Joe Saunders, and Wednesday Esteban Loaiza takes on the Angels’ Kelvim Escobar.

It’s interesting that the rotations laid out the way they did and all the big names aren’t a part of it, but that’s the way it is in a long season. There’s no Lackey or Jered Weaver for the Angels and no Barry Zito for the A’s.

It’s huge nonetheless.

They may be a bit worn out when they arrive at Angel Stadium for tonight's game against the A's, "but that's part of baseball, we can't use it as an excuse," Angel Chone Figgins said. "It's going to be tough, but we'll play hard. We're just going to enjoy this one on the plane tonight … I mean this morning."

RANGERS AT A CROSSROADS: The Texas Rangers are still trying to think they’re in this race in the AL West, but it sure didn’t help losing two of three to the Kansas City Royals over the weekend. Now they embark a treacherous 10-game road trip, which starts tonight in Minnesota and winds through Los Angeles and Oakland, the two teams ahead of them in the AL West.

"We have to go on the road and play complete games to stay in this thing,’’ Rangers shortstop Michael Young said. “We thrive on the road, so we're looking forward to the challenge."

To get ahead in the division, the Rangers must avoid weeks like the last one. Management told them they were contenders by making a blockbuster deal for outfielder Carlos Lee, one of the top hitters on the market.

But the Rangers didn't look like contenders. They were swept by the Yankees and lost two of three to the Royals, owners of the league's worst record. The Rangers couldn't hit with any consistency, averaging 3.8 runs per game before exploding in Sunday’s 15-2 win.

They also had trouble on defense (six errors) and didn't get near enough from their starting pitchers. Even Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood, who had been solid of late, couldn't get the key outs as both lost to the lowly Royals.

"We weren't consistent at all this homestand, and we can't do that on this trip," Millwood said. "We scored a bunch [Sunday], but we have to score more runs in each game. And we as starters have to go deeper into the game to take the pressure off the bullpen."

John Rheinecker starts tonight for the Rangers against Minnesota’s Carlos Silva. The Twins are at -$135 at sportsbook, and the over/under at 10 is probably a little low.

MARINERS STILL HANGING AROUND: The Seattle Mariners, despite being two games under .500, are still only 3 ˝ games out in this AL West race, and they hope to keep on the heels of the leaders when they start a series in Baltimore tonight.

The Mariners won two of three in Cleveland and hope to get Gil Meche his 10th victory tonight. Meche (9-5, 4.19 ERA) is coming off one of his worst efforts of the year, allowing seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings of Tuesday's 12-3 loss against Toronto. But he has been very good vs. the Orioles through the years, posting a 4-2 record with a 3.17 ERA in 11 career starts.

The Mariners are favored, even on the road, because Baltimore is starting rookie Adam Loewen. odds are Mariners -$125.


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