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Rangers & Angels: Pitching, Pujols & The Pen

By Tom Duerr, CBS 11 Sports
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ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – This was the series that we in the media, and we as fans though would be a good test of where the Rangers and Angels are at this early point — 35 games into the season. With it, two questions — are the Rangers that good and are the Angels that bad?

Our answers: Yes and no.

The Rangers are every bit as strong as their American League best record. When their offense is on, the Rangers can beat and out slug any team in baseball. It can even cover up the pitching mistakes, which are few and far between.

The Angles are not anywhere near as bad as their record might indicate. The simple explanation is, they just aren’t catching any breaks right now. Outside of Jered Weaver’s no-hitter, this team has been bitten by the bad luck bug. That will change.

I firmly believe that the race for the AL West will still come down to the Rangers and the Angels. And it will be a matter of what I’m calling the “Three Ps” — pitching, Pujols and the pen.

Starting pitching will go a long way to determining the winner of this division. And when you look at teams’ rotations on paper, the pendulum swings far to the Angels side. A rotation of Weaver, Haren, Wilson and Santana is difficult to match, unless maybe you’re the Philadelphia Phillies.

Four out of their five starting pitchers have the ability to turn a game, a series and a season when they take the mound. While they aren’t collecting the wins you would expect from them, collectively, they are still one of the strongest staffs in the game.

The Rangers are getting solid starting pitching on most nights. But in recent games, we have seen a few cracks. Colby Lewis has shown signs of having his home run problem again. Matt Harrison is not the sure bet that he was for much of last year. And Derek Holland has struggled at times. In the Rangers’ case, the offense is making the pitchers’ jobs a lot easier.

The next “P” belongs to Albert Pujols. The slugger is not yet living up to the massive contract he signed with Los Angeles of California in Orange County (or whatever they’re called now), but the season is still young. The future Hall of Famer is still getting adjusted to the American League pitchers and style of play.

While he may not put up the same large numbers he’s used to putting up when he was with St. Louis, he will still play a big role in what the Angels do this season. Remember that Albert Pujols started off slowly last year before surging late in the season. His slump cannot and will not last the entire season.

The third “P” is the bullpen. By far the edge here goes to the Rangers. It’s a remarkable transformation from what we saw last year, when the bullpen was the team’s biggest question mark. This year, the pen has been solidified by the additions of Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross and Joe Nathan. And the growth and improvement in Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe (tonight’s performance not withstanding) is fantastic.

This particular “P” could make the biggest difference in the race for the AL West. While the Rangers bullpen statistically is among the best in the American League, the Angels pen is one of the worst. One has to wonder where the Angels might be right now if they had a better bullpen.

Look for the “Halos” to make some upgrades as the season goes on — and that could cost them some talented prospects. In fact, young outfielder Peter Boujous has had his name battered around in trade talks already this season — as the Angels search for improvement in the pen.

Ultimately, this race for the West will most likely be closer than most people think. It will also be a lot more exciting than most people think. These two teams will play 16 more times this season, including six games in the last two weeks of the season. I can’t think of a better way to spend August and September than to watch these teams battle for first.

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