ANAHEIM -- Come Thursday, the Angels will be in Texas for a season-ending four-game series against a Rangers team that's fading down the stretch and needs to win in order to grab one of the American League's Wild Card spots.
Many -- including their own general manager -- have pinned the late-season struggles on the absence of outfielder Nelson Cruz, who chose to accept a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing substances rather than going through the lengthy appeals process like Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
C.J. Wilson, who played with the Rangers from 2005-11, doesn't believe that's the case.
"They're trying to pin it on Cruz not being there, but they're scoring plenty of runs," said Wilson, whose final start of 2013 will come Friday at Rangers Ballpark. "They're scoring more runs than they did on average the rest of the season. I think the pitching has been the big question mark for them, because a lot of the relievers that they had got used up so much the first half of the year that some of those dudes might be breaking down."
"They're kind of grasping for how to get that rhythm back, I think, in the bullpen. And I don't know how their starters have been throwing; I just know that a lot of them don't have the win totals that you would expect for a playoff rotation. Like, you don't have three 15-game winners. [Yu] Darvish is obviously a really good pitcher, and has great stuff, but he and [Derek] Holland, either they haven't been getting the run support or aren't pitching as well as they should."
Indeed, the Rangers -- who essentially replaced Cruz with Alex Rios -- have averaged 4.87 runs per game since Cruz was suspended on Aug. 4. That figure ranks fourth in the Majors and is higher than the 4.28 they averaged with Cruz in the lineup.
In September, though, the Rangers have struggled in all areas -- similar to 2012, when they blew a five-game lead in the AL West with nine to play -- and must do well against the Angels to overtake the Indians for the second Wild Card spot.
On Sept. 3, the Rangers had a one-game lead on the A's in the AL West. Since then, they rank 22nd in starting-pitcher ERA (4.22), 15th in relief-pitcher ERA (3.58) and tied for 15th in runs per game (3.84) while losing 13 of 19 games.
The Angels' goal will be to knock them out entirely.
"We have four games against them, and the more wins we get out of that, the better it is for us," Wilson said. "And we're only concerned about ourselves. We're not really trying to do anybody any favors by taking it easy on them. This is the big leagues. You don't take it easy on anybody."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.