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Angels Try to Rebound

Times Staff Writer

After being swept by the Seattle Mariners in an ugly four-game series before the All-Star break, the Angels won seven of 10 games to open the second half, three of those wins coming in a four-game set against the New York Yankees.

After suffering two of their most gut-wrenching losses of the season in Oakland, blowing a two-run, seventh-inning lead Aug. 10 and a four-run, eighth-inning lead Aug. 11 -- in a game the Athletics won when Angel closer Francisco Rodriguez missed a routine throw back from the catcher -- the Angels bounced back with a four-game win streak.

The Angels pride themselves on their resiliency, on not carrying the baggage of a tough loss or disappointing series into the next game or series. But those rebounding skills will be put to the test beginning tonight when they open a three-game series against the A’s in Angel Stadium.

Oakland has won six in a row, completing a four-game sweep of Baltimore on Monday, to take a one-game lead over the Angels in the American League West after trailing the Angels by 3 1/2 games before last Thursday. The A’s have scored 47 runs in their last five games.

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The Angels have lost four in a row, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays over the weekend, and their offense, spotty in the best of times, has produced 15 runs in the last five games.

“This is a character test,” Angel pitcher Paul Byrd said. “The A’s aren’t going anywhere; everyone knows that. It’s going to be an exciting race that will go right down to the end. ... We just have to bounce back and string together some wins.”

Pitcher Jarrod Washburn said after Sunday’s loss that there is no panic in the clubhouse, that “guys are coming to the park and having fun like we do when things are going great,” but that vibe seems to dissipate shortly after the first pitch.

The Angels are having trouble stringing hits together and delivering in the clutch. Slugger Vladimir Guerrero seems a little tentative, not quite sure whether opponents are pitching to him or around him, and has chased some bad pitches. The result: a .244 average with no homers and one run batted in over 13 games.

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Garret Anderson, slowed by lower-back and knee injuries on top of the arthritic condition in his upper back that he has dealt with since last season, is not driving the ball with authority or regularity. The left fielder is batting .236 with six extra-base hits since the All-Star break.

First baseman Darin Erstad is batting .265 with six extra-base hits since the break, second baseman Adam Kennedy is batting .276 with five extra-base hits since the break after batting .347 in the first half, and Steve Finley (.215) has struggled for so long the Angels are considering moving Erstad back to center field and Finley to the bench on a full-time basis.

The Angels have hit three home runs, by Maicer Izturis, Casey Kotchman and Orlando Cabrera, in their last nine games and have only 18 extra-base hits in their last 12 games.

Not exactly the kind of momentum you’d like to carry into a three-game series against red-hot division rivals as August is turning into September.

But then, Manager Mike Scioscia is not a big believer in momentum, at least as it pertains to the Angels when they are struggling.

“Just because they beat us last night doesn’t mean they start with a 2-0 lead today,” Scioscia said before Sunday’s game. “This game is about confidence, and the confidence of playing well carries over to the next game. We can’t be playing with baggage from a tough stretch of games.”

If momentum, as they say, is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, the Angels have to like their chances of righting themselves tonight.

Bartolo Colon, who is 6-0 with a 2.61 earned-run average in his last seven starts, will open the series for the Angels against A’s ace Barry Zito, who has an 11-6 record and 3.81 ERA against the Angels.

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Angel right-hander John Lackey is scheduled to face A’s right-hander Joe Blanton on Wednesday night, and Angel rookie Ervin Santana is set to oppose Oakland right-hander Rich Harden on Thursday night.

If the Angels win two of three, the teams will be tied for the division lead. With a sweep, the A’s could take a commanding four-game lead in the division. An Angel sweep would result in a two-game edge.

The teams will face each other only one more time this season, when the Angels travel to Oakland for a four-game series Sept. 26-29.

How big is this series?

“It’s not little,” Washburn said. “That being said, if they sweep us, it’s not the end of our season, and if we sweep them, it’s not the end of their season.”

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Wild-card standings

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*--* TEAM W L PCT. GB New York 74 56 569 -- Angels 73 57 562 1 Cleveland 74 58 561 1 Minnesota 69 62 527 5 1/2 Toronto 65 65 500 9

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