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Games Against West Teams Will Be a Recurring Theme

Angels: Beginning today at Texas, they'll face their division rivals 58 times.

April 03, 2001|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Angels will get their first look at baseball's $252-million man today when they open the 2001 season against the Texas Rangers and newly minted shortstop Alex Rodriguez at the Ballpark in Arlington.

It won't be their last. In fact, by the end of the season, they may feel as if they've seen Rodriguez 252 times.

Playing baseball's new unbalanced schedule, the Angels will have 58 games against American League West teams--20 against the defending division-champion Oakland Athletics and 19 each against the Seattle Mariners and Texas. That's 20 games more than they played against the West last season.

The Angels open the season with 19 games against division opponents, then will play 17 consecutive against them June 19-July 5, and will close the season with 19 games against them. A three-game series against the A's June 5-7 makes up the rest of the division schedule.

"We'll probably get sick and tired of seeing each other, but I'd rather play Seattle, Texas and Oakland all year than the other teams," Angel left fielder Garret Anderson said.

"Who better to be playing than the guys you're trying to gain ground on? It might create better rivalries, and it might intensify things. It adds more to the games because you know you can make up ground."

Most players, managers and coaches are in favor of the unbalanced schedule. Travel should be less grueling--the Angels make only one stop this season in each of New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Kansas City and Minnesota--and closing the season against division opponents should provide more interesting division races in September.

"Without a doubt, it will be more exciting knowing you're not playing Kansas City or Minnesota at the end of the year," Angel right fielder Tim Salmon said.

"But I'm still trying to figure it all out. Will the unbalanced schedule mean that one team can break away from the pack? Will it make the division race tighter?"

It will definitely put a greater emphasis on the first few weeks of the season. Teams that are notoriously slow starters could be buried in the standings before the end of April, so it's important to get off to a decent start.

It will also reduce the chances of the American League wild-card team coming from the West, which is one of the most power-packed divisions and appears to have the most parity. Three teams--Oakland, Seattle and the Angels--finished above .500 last season, and Texas made dramatic improvements over the winter.

While the West teams are battling it out, Chicago and Cleveland will probably be beating up on Central weaklings Kansas City, Detroit and Minnesota. In the East, New York, Boston and possibly Toronto figure to be feasting on Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

That should give the second-place teams in the Central and East better chances of beating out the second-place team in the West for the wild-card berth, which went to Seattle last season.

"It's a big advantage for the Central," Mariner Manager Lou Piniella said. "It's going to be hard for someone in our division to win the wild card--not while we have to keep butting heads.

"The interleague games are also going to be tougher in the West than they are for the Central. That's one more reason the wild card probably doesn't come from the West."

That doesn't mean the West race won't be wild. Oakland, Texas and the Angels have prolific lineups that should score runs in bunches, and only Oakland and Seattle appear to have outstanding rotations, so there should be plenty of offense, especially on those nights the Nos. 4 and 5 starters match up.

"There's going to be a lot of games where a lot of runs are scored," Angel closer Troy Percival said. "As a pitcher, you have to realize you're going to give up runs and just try to keep the score as low as you can and give your offense a chance to win the game."

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