There are currently eight teams within four games of either American League Wild Card spot. At 44-45 and 2.5 games back, the Angels are one of them and at 41-44 and 3.5 games back, the Rangers are another.
The Rangers have lost seven of their last 10 games and have dropped three consecutive series. The Angels have also struggled recently, having lost their previous two series.
The two teams haven’t met since April when they squared off in three-game sets in each city and split the six games. The Rangers and Angels are as evenly matched as they come, but they have opposite strengths and weaknesses. While the Angels own the fifth-best team ERA in the American League, the Rangers rank 10th. And while the Rangers have scored the third-most runs in the AL, the Angels come in at 12th.
Mike Trout is set to return after the upcoming All-Star break, so the Rangers offer one final test for an Angels team that has survived an injury that was supposed to doom their postseason aspirations.
Question: Can the Angels win one more series without Mike Trout? It would be their seventh time in 12 attempts doing so.
Cole Hamels, Texas’ second-best starting pitcher, returned from an injury that sidelined him for all of May and most of June last week. In his first start, he lasted just 4 1⁄3 innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits while walking four and only striking out one batter. He fared better in his second start, allowing two runs across 6 2⁄3 innings while fanning six and walking zero. In April, he shut down the Angels, tossing seven innings of one-run ball.
Most of the current Angels have had very little success against Hamels. However, Eric Young Jr., Cameron Maybin, and Yunel Escobar have hit .324 with nine doubles in a combined 102 at-bats against the lefty. On the other hand, Andrelton Simmons is 3-for-30, and Albert Pujols is 5-for-32 with a couple of home runs.
Nolasco is coming off a masterful three-hit shutout of the Mariners in which he struck out seven and walked none. In the start prior, he tossed 6 1⁄3 shutout innings against a high-powered Dodgers offense. His last two starts were the first time he didn’t allow a home run in back-to-back starts this season, but he still leads the league with 23 homers allowed. In his one start against Texas this year, the Rangers tagged him for five runs in as many innings.
The Rangers don’t have a ton of experience against Nolasco, but those on the roster have hit him well. The lone exception is Mike Napoli, who is 1-for-14. Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez are both 5-for-12.
Nolasco’s been on a roll, but the Rangers will be a tough matchup for him, as they’ve hit the third-most home runs in the AL this year. Therefore, Hamels and his track record have the edge here despite a mediocre start to the season.
Once a stud pitcher for the Padres, Ross only pitched 5 1⁄3 innings last year due to injury, which is why the Rangers managed to pick him up for cheap this offseason. This year, he’s made four starts, posting a 6.41 ERA in 19 1⁄3 innings.
The current Angels are mostly unfamiliar with Ross, as none have more than 10 at-bats against the 30-year-old. Pujols is 1-for-10, and Cliff Pennington is 4-for-10.
Chavez is coming off a couple of middling starts, surrendering four runs in 10 1⁄3 innings across them. Chavez has had good moments this year, but he’s been mostly sub-par, logging a 4.97 ERA. As was the case for Nolasco, Chavez’s last couple of starts were the first time he prevented his opponent from going deep in consecutive starts.
Chavez has been solid against current Rangers, though, again, like Nolasco (Are they the same pitcher?), he gave up five runs in his start against them in April. Chavez has held Texas’ best hitter, Adrian Beltre, in check throughout his career, holding him to three hits in 16 at-bats.
Napoli, Joey Gallo, and Shin-Soo Choo have also struggled versus Chavez, hitting just .190 with 11 strikeouts in 42 combined at-bats. Gomez and Rougned Odor are the only ones who have had success in more than a handful of at-bats; Gomez is 5-for-14 with three doubles while Odor is 6-for-12 with a pair of homers.
At this point, it’s still difficult to know what to expect from Ross, and Chavez has only had two real clunkers in his last seven starts, so the Angels appear to have the advantage in this one.
Darvish is the Rangers’ ace and one of baseball’s most prolific strikeout artists. Since he entered the league in 2012, he has punched out a higher percentage of batters faced than all but two starting pitchers in the majors.
He gave up seven runs in his most recent start, which raised his season ERA to 3.56, but it was only the fourth time in 18 starts that he permitted more than three runs in an outing this season. Darvish has already faced the Angels twice this year, and he dominated both times; in 13 innings between the two starts, he yielded two runs and fanned 20 Angels.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that most of the Angels’ roster has struggled against Darvish throughout their respective careers. Escobar is 2-for-20, and Pujols is 7-for-34. Calhoun is the only one whose had any success against Darvish, and he’s 6-for-16 with two home runs.
JC Ramirez looked like the best starter on the Angels at one point this year, but he’s hit a rough patch of late. In five of his last seven starts, he’s allowed four or more runs, and he’s only lasted six or more innings twice in that stretch. Ramirez faced Texas once this season and was serviceable, giving up two runs in 5 1⁄3 frames while striking out nine.
As this is his first full season both as a starter and in the AL, only one Ranger, Gomez, has more than six at-bats against Ramirez, and he has five singles in 10 tries.
Ramirez has been brilliant at times, and he will need to be on Sunday, as the Angels’ offense will have its hands full with Darvish.
The Angels have done an admirable job remaining relevant in the postseason picture with Trout on the mend for so long, and one last series win before his return would go a long way. The Rangers and Angels are in similar positions in the standings, but, facing Texas’ top two starters, the Halos will need to rely on their pitching staff to quiet the lethal Rangers offense in order to come away with the series victory.