NEW YORK -- Now that the Rangers are set to return home tonight to face the Angels, we asked ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon to answer a few questions about the Angels:
Q: What's been the biggest key to the Angels' recent success after a slow first few series?
MS: Probably a turned-around bullpen, which was a mess in Kansas City and has been virtually perfect since. Going into Saturday's game the pen had a string of 25 1/3 scoreless innings. Mike Scioscia flip-flopped some roles, Jordan Walden for Fernando Rodney at closer, and sent a couple of struggling relievers, Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn, to Triple-A. It's been a dramatic turnaround. Statistically, they have the best pen in the league.
Q: How has Walden done as the new closer? How did that impact the bullpen and Rodney?
MS: So far, so good. He hasn't been scored on in eight appearances this year. He also wasn't scored on all spring. His fastball ranges between 96 and 102 mph and his slider is dramatically improved from his minor-league days. He could be this year's Neftali Feliz. The funny part is Rodney has been perfect since he moved to the eighth inning. He revamped his delivery, raising the question, "Why not do that in spring training?"
Q: How is new Angel Vernon Wells doing?
MS: The Arlington kid couldn't be doing much worse. He's batting .113, has already lost track of the outs that could have cost them a run and made an error. Oh, and he got booed at Angel Stadium in the Cleveland series. I imagine his best days right now are the first and the 15th of each month. They need him to settle in and get comfortable quickly.
Q: What is making Dan Haren and Jered Weaver so successful this season?
MA: I think what's making them successful is how good they are. This isn't coming out of nowhere. Jered Weaver was 13-12 last year, but if he'd gotten any run support, defensive support and bullpen help, he could easily have easily made a convincing argument for the Cy Young. He led the majors in strikeouts, was third in WHIP, his ERA was inflated by awful outfield defense. Haren is exactly who they thought he was, a workhorse who never gets hurt, pitches a ton of innings and is always among the league leaders in strikeouts because of a nasty split-finger pitch. If the Angels are good, it will be because these two push each other all year.
Q: How's the Angels defense overall?
MS: A lot better than last year, when the outfield defense was atrocious. There was one series in Arlington where that was particularly apparent. The Rangers made every play, the Angels blew every play, it seemed like. Peter Bourjos is a superb center fielder and Wells and Torii Hunter have looked really good in the corners. Between them, they have 12 Gold Gloves as center fielders. The infield defense is excellent when Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar are both playing and decent when Alberto Callaspo is playing.
Q: Give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we'll see in the series.
MS: Ervin Santana: two-pitch pitcher, but he's slowly adding a split-finger fastball. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a good slider. He's a solid No. 3 pitcher. All of his outings have been cookie cutters this year: 7ish innings, six or seven hits, three runs.
Matt Palmer: Don't make early dinner plans. He has helped the Angels by filling a variety of roles over the past few years, but there's a reason he's 33 and can't stick in the big leagues. He loses command suddenly and spectacularly. He has a nice moving fastball that touches 90 and will drop a big loopy curveball in there. He just isn't consistent and usually goes about 5 innings on a good day.
Weaver: great command with a deceptive delivery because he's 6-foot-7 and throws across his body (his leg goes this way, his arm goes that way)... low 90s fastball, good slider and changeup... does a bunch of stuff with his fastball, like cutting it.. catchers can't believe how capable he is of throwing any pitch to any location.
Q: Anything else Rangers fans should know about the Angels?
MS: Under Mike Scioscia, they're never going to roll over and hand this division to Texas, so you and the Rangers better get ready for a battle.