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ALOST’s MLB Game of the Week (Angels-Rangers, 07.09.17)

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Yu Darvish and the Rangers had to fight an uphill battle from the first inning on despite his quality start against the Angels. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Yu Darvish and the Rangers had to fight an uphill battle from the first inning on against the Angels despite his quality start, pitching 7.1 innings and allowing only three hits. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Andrew-Leffler – by Andrew Leffler
 A Lot of Sports Talk contributing writer

 

ARLINGTON, TX – It only took one swing – and a stellar combined pitching effort – for the Los Angeles Angels to make sure the Texas Rangers did not have it all their way in the series before the All-Star Break.

Albert Pujols launched his 604th career home run with two outs in the first inning while four Angels pitchers combined on a two-hitter as Los Angeles avoided a three-game sweep by the Rangers with a 3-0 shutout victory to close out the first half of the season. JC Ramirez pitched the first six innings for the Angels, allowing only two hits while overcoming five walks to win his eighth game of the season.

Many of the paid crowd of 28,843 at Globe Life Park expected All-Star starting pitcher Yu Darvish to shake off his recent poor run of form to polish off a sweep of the Halos, but were silenced early with Pujols’ 407-foot blast to left field with two outs in the first. Darvish only allowed two more hits after that, pitching into the eighth inning and allowing only two runs while walking four and striking out six, but he now has lost six of his last seven decisions and is sporting a 4.23 ERA in his last nine starts.

“As a whole, I managed to go seven [innings] and one third,” Darvish said through an interpreter in the postgame interview. “Despite the fact that I walked four guys, the guys that put the balls in play early in the game, I thought was a good thing. But run support wise, we have not been scoring many runs when I’m pitching, but it is what it is. It’s a part of baseball, so I don’t really think about that when I’m pitching.”

Rangers manager Jeff Banister was pleased with Darvish’s effort despite picking up his team leading eighth loss of the season.

“I felt that Darvish threw the ball extremely well, he only made to mistakes,” Banister said. “In those situations, we had two opportunities with runners in scoring position and came away with nothing. I’ll take Darvish to continue throwing the ball well, and I’ll take our chances.”

Texas had a runner in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth innings, but went 0-for-4 in those situations as Ramirez continued to get himself and the Angels into and out of jams all afternoon.

“There are times when your number one [Darvish] is matched up against, and the other guy is pretty good also,” said Banister. “That’s the difference.”

When Darvish was asked how he prevents from getting frustrated with the lack of run support, Darvish made it clear what his focus was.

“My focus to just face one hitter at a time,” Darvish responded. “That is my only focus, and I don’t look at the scoreboard at all.”

Halfway (and already) done?

Texas (43-45) missed out on a chance to reach the .500 mark at the All-Star Break and, if history is any indicator, they may already rue missing out on its chance to break even today. Only one team in the Wild Card era has earned a Wild Card spot after going into the All-Star Break with a losing record, that being the 1995 New York Yankees. With their Lone Star State rival, the Houston Astros, holding a 16.5-game lead in the American League West, winning one of the two Wild Card spots seems like the Rangers’ only avenue into the postseason in 2017.

Extended stints on the disabled list by starting pitcher Cole Hamels (oblique) and third baseman Adrian Beltre, who missed the first 51 games with a calf injury, greatly hindered Texas’s chance to win its third consecutive division crown. Banister positively reflected on the team’s first half and why the team finds itself in the place it is now in the standings.

“You can point to a number of things,” Banister said. “I like to think that we’ve got pretty much our complete team right now, with the players involved. We go into the All-Star break winning a couple games. We were able to win some series, hit the ground running, we’re where we want to be.”

As for the struggles it had throughout the first half, Banister stressed that it’s something that can’t linger once the unofficial second half begins.

“Can you look back and point to some games that got away from us? Absolutely. You have to acknowledge that, however, that part of it is done. It’s about looking forward, moving forward, and what we’re going to do after the break.”

The Rangers begin the second half with what could be a season-defining 10-game road swing, starting in Kansas City on Friday before a four-game set in Baltimore and wrapping up the trip with three games against the Tampa Bay Rays.

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