The American League West crown could very well be on the line Sept. 28 at Globe Life Park on the final day of the regular season.
The Texas Rangers play host to the Oakland Athletics in their 2014 finale, and an end to the misery can’t come soon enough. The A’s will almost certainly be heading to the playoffs, but not necessarily as division champs.
The past two games here have helped make that possible.
Albert Pujols homered in the first inning, and Kole Calhoun added a two-out, two-run single in the fourth as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Rangers 5-4 for a second straight night and moved into a first-place tie with the A’s.
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“They’re evenly matched,” manager Ron Washington said. “I hope we figure out ways to win ballgames, certainly against those guys. That’s our role.”
The Angels, who technically are percentage points ahead of the A’s, will go for a three-game sweep Sunday. Oakland, meanwhile, has lost four straight games and will try to avoid a series sweep at Atlanta.
The A’s and Angels have seven games apiece remaining against the Rangers, who moved percentage points ahead of Colorado for the worst record in baseball and lead the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft by a nose.
These Rangers are the lowly team that contenders must beat, just as the 111-loss Houston Astros were last season.
“We’re going to be a decisive part of that race,” right fielder Alex Rios said. “We can be that team that decides who wins it and who doesn’t.”
It’s tough to judge how good the Angels are simply by watching them against the Rangers. They own the Rangers and will be going for the 10th consecutive victory against them Sunday.
In a season full of deficiencies on the field, the Rangers’ offense and the pitching staff are taking turns as the least effective group, many times within the same game.
While the first nine Rangers hitters were retired, Pujols and Howie Kendrick hit homers off Colby Lewis in the first two innings, and Chris Iannetta added a two-out RBI double in the second for a 3-0 lead.
Lewis nearly pitched his way out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the fourth, but Calhoun floated a single into right field to make it 5-0.
“He made the pitch he wanted to Calhoun,” Washington said.
But the right-hander, who allowed 10 hits, also struck out 10 batters and didn’t issue a walk. All five Angels runs were charged to him, but it was a vast improvement over the 13-run disaster the last time he faced them.
“I knew I had really great stuff,” Lewis said. “The slider was working really well. I was locating the fastball. In the first couple innings I just left a couple balls over the middle with the fastball.”
Back in the good ol’ days of 2010 and 2011, the Rangers’ lineup boasted that a five-run hole wasn’t a problem. These Rangers, though, do backflips when they score five times, and they almost got there Saturday after Matt Shoemaker opened with three perfect innings.
The Rangers’ first hit was a homer by Shin-Soo Choo to lead off a two-run fourth. J.P. Arencibia had another hit in the inning, an RBI single.
Arencibia, though, hadn’t had a hit since last weekend. He had been in 0-for-19 slide. That’s the funk Jim Adduci finds himself in since his last hit, also last weekend at Houston.
It’s not just the Arencibias and Adducis of the world that are slowing the Rangers, though they aren’t helping the Rangers or themselves as they audition for roles on the 2015 club.
Choo’s struggles have been well-documented. Rougned Odor is stuck in a 1-for-14 funk.
Rios was in an 0-for-16 skid before knocking a two-run single with two-outs in the seventh to cut the Rangers’ deficit to 5-4.
But they didn’t have enough to finish the comeback, and now the Angels and A’s are tied for first place. The Rangers could very well be the team that determines who wins the West.
“That’s not something important at this time,” Rios said. “We’re just trying to find ways to win games.”