Ex-Angels thriving for Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em?

That's been a terrible recipe for building baseball teams in the past. For years, aspiring teams gobbled up fading stars from powerhouses like the New York Yankees and overpaid them in their declining years. The Los Angeles Angels were one of those teams. Remember Reggie Jackson?

OK, how about Hideki Matsui?

So, when the Texas Rangers signed ex-Angels Vladimir Guerrero, 35, and Darren Oliver, 39 last winter, they looked like precarious moves. The Rangers had been chasing the Angels to no avail for years. The last thing they needed was to overpay Angels cast-offs.

But those moves have been among the many savvy decisions by Texas general manager Jon Daniels that have gotten his team positioned to end the Angels' run of dominance. Now, with Texas trying to nail down its first division title since 1999, those guys are veteran pillars on a team that has developed a reputation for its late-summer fades.

"We didn't acquire them because they played for the Angels, but there's obviously a comfort zone. We've seen them play quite a bit," Daniels said before the Angels' 6-2 win trimmed his team's lead to six games. "Whether it's the Angels, Phillies or Boston, any time you get a player that's been through what those clubs have been through, it's a secondary attribute that's nice to have."

The Rangers have four ex-Angels: They acquired catcher Bengie Molina on July 1. Reliever Darren O'Day pitched for the Angels for part of 2008. In all, the four of them played in 17 playoff series, won one MVP award and one World Series with the Angels. They've been key veteran accoutrements to a young, talented Texas core.

"I think we're heading into the time of year where it'll show up," Daniels said. "We're heading into what is relatively uncharted territory for the organization and for our young players."

Of course, they're also providing production. Though Guerrero has been slumping this month, he's still among the league leaders in home runs (20), RBIs (76) and total bases (189). Though he's just 1-for-11 in this series, Guerrero has punished his former team. He's 11-for-30 (.367) and he was slugging 1.000 against them going into Saturday.

The Angels hit Oliver hard Saturday, scoring three runs in the seventh inning, but the lefty is having one of his finest seasons as a reliever, with a 1.90 ERA. Opponents are hitting .203 against him.

Molina has helped plug one of the Rangers' biggest holes, catching. Asked if he'll be a good influence on the Texas pitching staff, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "Big-time." Molina also has chipped in with his hitting. He hit for the cycle July 16 in Boston and has two home runs and seven RBIs. O'Day has a 1.40 ERA, with opponents batting .195 against him.

"I think we can bring winning, that's true, but I still also believe we all have to do it," Molina said. "It's not like, because we were winners before, they're going to give us the game or something like that. You still have to go out there and win games."

Oliver said he hasn't talked to his younger teammates about what it takes to withstand the heat of a pennant race, but he said they watch how he, Molina and Guerrero prepare before games. The ex-Angels are virtually the only Rangers with playoff experience.

"Obviously, guys who haven't won a whole lot see how guys who have go about it day in and day out," Oliver said. "I think it helps. We really haven't talked about it a whole lot. You've got to get there first."

Key performance

Jered Weaver remains the Angels' staff ace, but he's had a little competition lately. Ervin Santana leads the team in innings pitched and has been on a roll, with six quality starts in a row.

Santana (9-7) helped the Angels stave off desperate straits with eight strong innings Saturday. The only difference between this outing and many of his previous five starts was run support. The Angels had lost Santana's previous three outings by scores of 4-2, 1-0 and 2-1.

"I had a lot of concentration," Santana said. "Those guys are very aggressive. They don't miss. They don't mess around. If you leave one pitch there, they're going to kill it, they're going to crush it. I just wanted to keep the ball down and put guys away with less pitches."

Psychology 101

According to Santana, the Angels need to play "every game like it's the last game."

Scioscia couldn't agree less. He doesn't want to build these two series with Texas up so much that his team plays tight. Scioscia thought the Angels scored only two runs in the first two games here because they were overswinging.

Scioscia thought playing "free" was what helped the Angels come up with 13 hits Saturday.

"Maybe some guys said, 'We were gripping it a little too hard. Maybe we were trying to do too much. Maybe we're not bringing our game onto the field,'" Scioscia said. "I don't think anybody put a tag of 'must-win' on it or anything like that."

Quote of the day

"When I pitch, I always want to win. It doesn't matter if we won 30 games in a row or lost 30 games in a row. I always think positive and trust myself." -- Santana.

Looking ahead

In a time of desperation, the Angels turn to rookie Trevor Bell (1-1, 6.05 ERA) to stop their downward spiral. It's a tough spot for Bell, who only recently returned to starting and has yet to throw more than 83 pitches.

Meanwhile, the Angels run into red-hot starter Tommy Hunter (7-0, 2.09), the first pitcher in Rangers history to have at least seven wins and no losses in his first nine starts of the season.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.