Another big weekend of baseball action draws to a close with ESPN's weekly Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. This week's cherry-picked prime-time matchup is a clash of AL West titans in Anaheim where the Angels entertain the Texas Rangers.
Drawing the starting assignment for the defending AL champions is lefty Matt Harrison. The Angels are expected to activate Dan Haren from the disabled list to make the first pitch a little past 8:00 pm. (ET).
This is obviously a huge series for the Rangers and Angels, but it has become even more critical in the overall scheme with the recent surge by the Oakland Athletics who are suddenly closing on both teams in the division race. Texas started play Saturday with a 5-game advantage on the Halos in second place, while the A's are just 6.5 out in third.
The Angels drew first blood in the weekend set with a 6-1 triumph on Friday night as 140 favorites. Jered Weaver enjoyed another strong performance in front of the home fans, and was supported by home run power from Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout. Texas was a slight favorite in the -115 to -120 range in Saturday afternoon's contest that was still pending. Yu Darvish was slated for the Rangers opposite Ervin Santana, and the game was carrying an 8½-run total ('over' -120).
Back spasms forced Haren to the DL for the first time in his 10-year career earlier this month, and he was given the green light to get back on a major league mound following one rehab start in the minors and a short session in Anaheim on Friday. It remains to be seen how long manager Mike Scioscia will let him pitch on Sunday after back pain bothered the right-hander the first three months of the campaign.
Haren faced Harrison and the Rangers in early June, and took the loss in Texas' 7-3 decision. He labored through five innings while burning 104 pitches, and allowed two of the Rangers' runs before they got to the Halos bullpen to break open a 2-1 game at the time of Haren's departure. Los Angeles split his four starts vs. Texas in 2011.
Harrison may not be thought of as the ace of the Rangers staff, but he has certainly pitched that way this season. The southpaw leads the rotation in wins (12), ERA (2.87) and quality starts (13), with Texas backers up a little more than six units after his 5-hit, complete game shutout in Seattle a week ago. Harrison has won eight of his 10 assignments away from Texas where he has pitched to a 2.76 ERA.
One of the eight road wins came in Anaheim on June 3 at Haren's expense. Harrison worked into the seventh and allowed all three Angels runs; the Halos beat him in Texas three weeks before that when Harrison surrendered four runs in six frames. That was the same MO Harrison followed in 2011 with a winning effort on the road and a loss at home.
Texas has won this season series the past three years, but the Angels inched ahead 4-3 in 2012 with Friday's victory. The Halos took two of three in Anaheim back in early-June, their only loss coming in the Harrison-Haren matchup.
In addition to getting Haren back from the DL for Sunday's game, the Angels are closer to seeing two more injured players return. Catcher Chris Iannetta (wrist) was slated to start a rehab assignment this weekend and outfielder Vernon Wells (thumb) is already down on the farm and working his way back towards the big league roster.
Texas is also in the process of returning a few players from the injury and restricted lists. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba has been out on paternity leave and was expected to be activated in time for Saturday's contest. Right-hander Neftali Feliz (elbow) has begun his rehab assignment and could be activated by the end of the month, while first baseman Mitch Moreland (hamstring) should start his rehab activity within the next 4-5 days.