ANAHEIM -- The Rangers have been getting pretty good starting pitching lately.

A promising outing by Dustin Nippert on Friday night left their rotation with a 2.91 ERA in the Rangers' last nine game.

The Rangers' problem is that's the kind of pitching the Angels have been getting for something like 134 games, and that's one reason why the Halos are now sitting with a 17-game lead in the American League West.

Nippert was good, but All-Star right-hander Ervin Santana was better and pitched the Angels to a 3-1 victory over the Rangers at Angel Stadium. The Angels have won two straight over the second-place Rangers, and their magic number now stands at 11.

That means the Angels won't clinch the division while the Rangers are in town, but they are the one inevitability in baseball right now. Starting pitching is at the top of the reasons why.

"You've got to pitch," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You've got to go deep in the game. Through all of that, I believe we can play with them if we match their zeros. Right now we can't match their zeros."

The Rangers couldn't on Friday night. They scored once in the fourth on a double by Michael Young and a single by Milton Bradley. That was it. Santana stopped them the rest of the way, even though the Rangers had a runner on second base with nobody out in the both the sixth and seventh innings.

Joaquin Arias led off the sixth with a single and stole second. Hank Blalock led off the seventh with a double. Both times the Rangers were unable to score.

"That was the difference," Washington said. "Otherwise we'd still be playing."

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter kept the Rangers off the board in the seventh. After Blalock's double, Marlon Byrd blasted a ball to deep center, but Hunter raced to the wall and made a leaping catch to take away a game-tying homer.

"That was a great defensive play, because it took runs off the board," Washington said. "That's not the first time he's beaten a team with his glove. That's why he has all those Gold Gloves. That was a great defensive play."

That was the only break Santana needed. He held the Rangers to one run on five hits through eight innings and walked one while striking out seven. He is now 14-5 on the year with a 3.31 ERA. He is one of five Angels starters with at least 10 wins. The Rangers had accomplished that only once previously in club history, in 1977, when they won 94 games.

"They're really good," Rangers catcher Gerald Laird said. "Back-to-back nights, their starters [including Jon Garland on Thursday] go eight innings. They have a six-man bullpen, that says a lot right there. They pound the strike zone with strikes and they all have good stuff."

Santana was better than Nippert, and he lasted longer. That's been another major contrast between the Angels and the Rangers. Angels starters have pitched 852 2/3 innings this season, most in the league. The Rangers are last with 722.

"The only team that can match the Angels' rotation is Tampa," Byrd said. "But one through five, you don't get any breaks. You can't call any of their pitchers a break because one through five they are pretty good."

Nippert, in his second start for the Rangers, was good through five innings, holding the Angels scoreless on two hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings of work.

His troubles started when Chone Figgins singled with one out in the sixth. Then Anderson jumped on a fastball and drove it into the right-field seats. Nippert then gave up a single to Mark Teixeira and walks to Vladimir Guerrero and Hunter. Warner Madrigal took over, and Juan Rivera's sacrifice fly made it 3-1.

"This gives me a little something to work for," Nippert said. "I just got a little fatigued at the end and left a pitch up to Anderson. That won the game for them."

Starting pitching won the game for the Angels. It's going to allow them to win the division and go into the playoffs. Then they'll have to drop a starter out of the rotation because most teams use a four-man staff in the playoffs. Manager Mike Scioscia will have to decide between Santana, Garland, John Lackey, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver.

Whoever gets dropped, Washington will be glad to take him.

"If they want to give him to me, I do," Washington said. "I wonder who it will be."