July 18, 2011

Next eight weeks belong to Rangers vs. Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Simple math is all that will keep Oakland and Seattle from being officially eliminated in the American League West over the next eight weeks.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Simple math is all that will keep Oakland and Seattle from being officially eliminated in the American League West over the next eight weeks.

Considering that some of their players are said to be available before the July 31 trade deadline, the A's and Mariners seem to know that they will spend the rest of the season looking up in the standings.

Those standings show that the hunt for the AL West title is down to two teams. The race heats up tonight, as the Texas Rangers visit the LA Angels for a three-game series.

Up four games and riding an 11-game winning streak, the Rangers look like a team that could pull away. But they have 13 games remaining against the Angels, 10 of which are in Orange County.

That's a primary reason why both teams expect a tight race, and no one will be surprised if the title isn't decided until they close the season against each other late in September at Angel Stadium.

"We knew it was going to be close with the Rangers all the way down the stretch," Angels All-Star second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "We always have good games against the Rangers. It's never going to be an easy series for either team. At the end of the year, it's going to come down neck-and-neck."

Both teams played well entering the All-Star break, with the Rangers holding a one-game edge. The advantage grew over the weekend as the Rangers swept four games at Seattle while the Angels won only one of their four games at Oakland.

The Rangers aren't calling their next three games a make-or-break series, but they can make things difficult on the Angels the rest of the way starting this week.

"There's no doubt we're going to have to play them well," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We're going to have to try to make a statement to win the series. We have to separate ourselves from them, or try to. They have a good team, and we don't want to give them any momentum."

The title front-runners are the Rangers, the defending champions. They made the most of their 11-game run against Baltimore, Oakland and Seattle, winning each game as their bats came alive and their pitchers dominated much of the time.

But the Angels know how to win. They've captured four of the past six West crowns by pitching well, playing quality defense and pushing the envelope on the base paths.

They're doing those things again. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren pack the best 1-2 mound punch in the division; a speedy group of outfielders takes away extra bases, even with Peter Bourjos on the disabled list; and players like Erick Aybar and Kendrick create runs with their legs.

Meanwhile, the Rangers have been waiting for their current hot streak since opening the season 9-1. All the facets that suffered lapses and prevented another such streak have been cleaned up this month.

Offensively, the Rangers have the edge over the Angels. The key will be how well they perform on the mound and in the field.

"We have to continue to pitch and catch the ball," manager Ron Washington said. "We're going to run the bases just like they're going to run the bases. It's going to come down to who makes the mistakes and who capitalizes.

"I just want my guys to just play baseball. I don't give a darn who we're playing. If we can keep it simple like that, we'll stay on track."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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