Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 4/26/12

The Wednesday Takeaway
When the Angels added Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason, general manager Jerry DiPoto and owner Arte Moreno were hoping to change the landscape of the AL West, to instantly turn a team that finished 10 games behind the Rangers in the division last year into a contender.

After a 3-2 loss to the Rays yesterday—coupled with a 7-3 Rangers win over the Yankees—the Angels are already 8 ½ games back, and their 6-12 record is the third-worst mark in the American League. Mike Scioscia’s team has lost its last three games, seven of its last 10, and 10 of its last 14. Right fielder Torii Hunter, who has yet to hit a homer in 65 at-bats, called on everyone in the clubhouse, teammates and coaches alike, to “dig deep.”

The trouble for the Angels is that while they have struggled, the Rangers have surged, and digging out of this early hole is becoming an increasingly daunting task. According to the Playoff Odds Report, Texas is now a 3-to-1 favorite over Anaheim to win the division for a third consecutive year. There are brighter days ahead for the Halos, whose .333 winning percentage entering this afternoon’s (1:10 p.m. ET) finale in Tampa Bay may well be their low-water mark for the rest of season. But is it already too late?

Pujols will break out of his .222/.282/.319 slump, and Wilson will fortify a rotation whose top two pitchers—Jered Weaver and Dan Haren—have thus far combined for an absurd 51-to-5 K/BB ratio. Ervin Santana can’t possibly continue allowing a home run nearly every other inning, and the bullpen, one of the top 10 in baseball last year, should right its ship soon enough.

But with an eighth of the season in the books, the Rangers are 15-4 and the Angels are 6-12. If Texas matches its 96-win total from last year by going 81-60 (.574 winning percentage) the rest of the way, Anaheim would need to go 90-54 (.625) just to catch up, an exceedingly difficult assignment even with the expected improvements on the horizon.

On Opening Day, many thought the Angels could give the Rangers a run for their money. Three short weeks later, the Halos look entirely outclassed, and unlikely to give their rivals more than a minor scare. A wild-card berth should still be in the cards, but it’s rapidly becoming evident that—off-season splashes notwithstanding—the changing of the AL West guard will have to wait at least another year.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • In their last outings, Hector Noesi and Rick Porcello combined to pitch 2 1/3 innings and allow 15 runs on 16 hits and three walks. The mercurial righties will meet in Detroit this afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET) with a chance to get back on track. It’s a particularly important start for Noesi, who has sandwiched an eight-inning blanking of the Athletics between two horrid starts since being handed a spot in the Mariners’ rotation out of spring training.
  • One 12-game losing streak (the Royals’) was snapped yesterday. Another will be on the line tonight, when Brian Matusz takes the hill against the Blue Jays (7:05 p.m. ET) hoping to finally end his personal skid. The lefty is 0-3 with a 7.98 ERA to date, but he showcased a crisper arsenal in his most recent trip, when he struck out six Angels over five innings.
  • Dating back to his start against the Orioles on April 16, Philip Humber has retired the last 29 batters he has faced. But after his perfect game against the Mariners, Humber now faces a much stiffer test in the Red Sox (8:10 p.m. ET), who have scored at least six runs in each of their last four games.  Humber would need to set down the first 16 Boston batters to tie former teammate Mark Buehrle’s record of 45 consecutive outs set in 2009. 
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