Yankees cannot take Angels lightly

The Angels team that arrived at Yankee Stadium to open a four-game series Monday night was not the team everybody expected to challenge for the American League West title. Expectations were high after the Angels signed free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year contract for $125 million to be a bookend with three-time Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols.

Like the Yankees, the Angels are a fourth-place team in their division. Unlike the Yankees, who are still above .500 and a have a shot at a wild-card playoff spot, the Angels are somewhat buried at 10 games under .500. Pujols is lost for the season to injury. Hamilton, the AL MVP just three years ago, has had a subpar season (.221, 17 home runs, 55 RBI) yet was in the cleanup spot in manager Mike Scioscia’s lineup.

The Angels traditionally have given the Yankees a hard time. They were the only club against whom Joe Torre had a losing record in his 12 years as Yankees manager. Recent years have been a bit different.

Last year, the Yankees were 5-4 against Los Angeles in winning their second straight season series and their fourth straight non-losing season series against the Angels since 2009. That came on the heels of five straight losing season series from 2004-08. The Yanks’ 56-64 record against the Angels since 2000 is their only losing mark against any AL team over the span. The Yanks are 7-6 in the past 13 games between the clubs and 11-9 over the past 20.

The Angels won two of three games June 14-16 at Anaheim. At Yankee Stadium, the Yankees have won three of their past four games and six of their past eight against the Angels. The Yanks have won each of their past four home season series against L.A. Their 12-6 record over that span coincides with the move to the current Stadium (2009-12). It follows a stretch from 2003-08 of going 0-3-3 in home season series against the Angels.

Despite the Angels’ 53-63 record, the Yankees cannot take them lightly. Since the All-Star break, the Yankees have played the AL’s current top four teams (Tigers, 69-47; Red Sox, 71-49; Rangers, 68-50; Rays, 66-50) along with the Dodgers (67-50), who are tied for the third best record in the National League. The Yankees went 7-8 in those games but were 1-5 in games against the Padres (53-64) and the White Sox (44-72).

The Angels have significance in the career of Mariano Rivera, who made his major league debut May 23, 1995 at Anaheim. He started the game and allowed five earned runs, eight hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings. Mo also recorded his first career save against the Angels May 17, 1996 in an 8-5 victory at the original Stadium. In his one inning, Rivera struck out Randy Velarde looking, gave up a single to Mike Aldrete and retired Garrett Anderson on a double play for the first of 643 career saves.

Vernon Wells played two seasons with the Angels (2011-12) and batted .222 with 24 doubles, four triples, 36 home runs and 95 RBI in 208 games and 748 at-bats. . .Alex Rodriguez has 70 career home runs against the Angels, his most against any opponent and the most by any opposing hitter against the Angels. . . Curtis Granderson has homered in nine of his past 15 games against the Angels. . .Since the start of the 2009 season, Robinson Cano has hit .333 (51-for-153) in 39 games and 153 at-bats against the Angels with 15 multi-hit games and 21 extra-base hits (10 doubles, one triple, 10 home runs).

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