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Angels go soft in the middle

Their Nos. 4, 5 and 6 hitters in the lineup are held in check by the Cleveland Indians in a 4-3 defeat and throughout series.

August 18, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- The big bat the Angels acquired to fortify their offense had a nice three-game series in Progressive Field, Mark Teixeira going six for 10 with two runs batted in against the Cleveland Indians.

But that failed to pump much life into the heart of an Angels order that delivered little in a series that concluded with Sunday's 4-3 loss, which gave the Angels no momentum going into a showdown series at Tampa Bay.

No. 4 batter Vladimir Guerrero, No. 5 hitter Torii Hunter and No. 6 hitter Howie Kendrick combined to go 0 for 31, and the Angels went three for 26 with runners in scoring position, including Sunday's two-for-13 effort, against the Indians.

A team that averaged 6.3 runs per game since the All-Star break managed nine runs here. The Angels (76-46) lost two of three to the Indians, their first series loss since dropping two of three to the Dodgers on June 27-29.

"We've been playing so well, then we came here and got shut down," Hunter said. "That hurts when the middle guys can't get anything going. . . . But it happens.

"You're going well, you set your standards so high, then you lose a series and you're like, 'What's wrong?' Even us, we're like, 'What the heck is going on?' But that's baseball. You ride that wave for so long, the wave comes down, and you have to find another one."

They should find one in Tampa Bay. Tropical Storm Fay could turn into a hurricane that impacts the series between the American League West and East leaders, so the Gulf of Mexico should churn out some huge swells this week.

Nevertheless, the Angels and Rays are set to begin a late-August series that could help determine which of these teams gets home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

You all saw that one coming, right?

The Rays never finished with more than 70 wins or higher than fourth place in the AL East in their first 10 years, but they are 75-48 after Sunday night's win at Texas, a remarkable turnaround from their 66-96 mark in 2007.

Under third-year Manager Joe Maddon, the former Angels bench coach, Tampa Bay has combined outstanding pitching and defense with aggressive base running and clutch hitting to overtake division powers Boston and New York for AL East supremacy.

"You definitely saw the talent they had the last couple of years; they've been getting some quality players," Angels reliever Scot Shields said. "You knew Joe would have them competing, but going against the Red Sox and Yankees makes that a lot tougher. You have to give them all the credit in the world."

The Angels were swept at Tampa Bay, getting outscored, 12-5, in three games May 9-11, but there should be a different -- and much more raucous -- feel in Tropicana Field this week.

Games in the domed stadium used to have a library feel to them, but the Rays are averaging 21,672 spectators a game this season, as fans jump on the bandwagon.

The Rays don't seem to mind -- they are tied with the Chicago Cubs for the best home record (45-17) in the majors and are 16-1 at home with crowds of 30,000 or more, 20-2 with crowds of 25,000 or more.

"They're playing great baseball at home, and I'm sure it's a different environment with 30,000 people in that place," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But unless they're changing the bases to 95 feet, we're going to go out there and play baseball."

Maddon spent six years as Scioscia's bench coach and has brought much of the Angels' philosophy -- the emphasis on pitching, defense, aggressive base running -- to Tampa Bay.

In many ways, managing against the Rays is like managing against himself, but Scioscia has no plans to change his approach against Maddon.

"What we do is no surprise to any team -- we don't sneak up on people," Scioscia said. "People understand the type of game we need to play to be successful. There are some cat-and-mouse situations, but for the most part, nothing we do will surprise them, and nothing they do will surprise us. It comes down to execution."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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UP NEXT

at Tampa Bay Rays

All games 4 p.m. PDT

* Today, Channel 13

Jon Garland (11-7, 4.26) vs.

Andy Sonnanstine (12-6, 4.35)

* Tuesday, Channel 13

Ervin Santana (13-5, 3.49) vs. James Shields (10-7, 3.75).

* Wednesday, FSNW

Jered Weaver (10-9, 4.47) vs.

Matt Garza (10-7, 3.63)

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