<
>

What a team coming together looks like

You can break down the rosters all you want, analyze the numbers until you're cross-eyed, and you'd probably come to the conclusion that the Texas Rangers are a better ball club than the Angels.

But on Sept. 10, in the heat of a pennant race, it doesn't matter who's better. The only thing that matters is who's playing better.

The Angels appear to be more complete than they have been at any time this season, mixing dominant pitching with speed and dashes of power to finally forge an identity. Perhaps it was the afterglow of Saturday's 6-0 win over the New York Yankees, in which Dan Haren pitched as well as he has in months, but the prospect of playing October baseball in Anaheim felt real.

"It'd be fun to get there," Haren said. "This is a long year, though. We've played almost 150 games now. Technically, we control our own destiny. We've got to win every ball game."

Not necessarily. The Angels, who trail Texas by 1 1/2 games, have 17 remaining games, 14 until what looks like a fateful final three-game series at home against those Rangers. The teams' schedules are comparable, though the Angels need to find a way to reverse their fortunes against the Oakland A's (5-8) and Toronto Blue Jays (3-3) or that final series will be a Texas inauguration.

Momentum, if you believe in it, is on the Angels' side. They have trimmed three games from Texas' lead in the last eight days. More important, they finally look like a complete team. Mike Trout is injecting energy, Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter are providing power and the starting pitching is driving the bus.

Seeing Haren piggyback on what Jered Weaver did the night before against the best lineup in the league led Angels manager Mike Scioscia to make a bold proclamation.

"There's no doubt our team is stronger than it's been all year," Scioscia said.

The Yankees don't get shut down like this very often and, when they do, it's by an elite pitcher. The previous four times it happened, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez were the ones getting it done. One of the more impressive things about these two nights of dominance is that neither Weaver nor Haren touched 91 mph. Haren spotted his cutter to both sides of the plate and, in the middle innings, brought in a devastating split-finger pitch to pile up strikeouts. One scout said it was the best he had seen Haren pitch since he was with the Oakland A's four seasons ago.