Commentary

Rangers put on alert in West

Angels serve notice that two-team division race is heating up with series win

Updated: July 22, 2011, 1:38 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With 63 games and one quickly approaching trade deadline to go, the two-team race in the American League West is officially on.

The Texas Rangers arrived in Southern California soaking in Monday's off day and a chance to ponder yet another sweep of division mates. Such a scenario would usher a commanding seven-game lead and force the Los Angeles Angels to make a long, hard climb that the once-dominant club couldn't muster a year ago when Texas ran away with the division.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Wilson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesRangers starter C.J. Wilson was the hard-luck loser to the Angels despite allowing just two hits.
Fanciful thoughts of burying the Angels on their home turf turned to the more probable reality of a grind-it-out final two months after Jered Weaver and the Angels managed a 1-0 victory over C.J. Wilson and the Rangers on Thursday in the rubber match of this series, trimming the Rangers' lead to a manageable three games.

These two rivals will square off 10 more times -- seven times in Anaheim, with the next meeting being a four-game stand at the Big A beginning Aug. 15.

"We wanted to win the series; they wanted to win the series. They ended up winning it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Our season is still going. We're through with the Angels for now. We'll see them when we come back here."

Two scrappy, one-run victories by the Angels after losing the series opener snapped the Halos back into contention and left the Rangers feeling as though they missed a chance to pound in a nail.

The Angels erased an 8-3 hole Wednesday night after Texas knocked out Dan Haren early for their most rousing victory of the season. On Thursday, they leaned hard on their ace, Weaver, to lead them to the narrowest of wins despite getting just two hits off Wilson, the Rangers' hard-luck loser.

"We still have our confidence high enough," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "Sure, these were close games and we didn't have luck on our side the last two games, but overall it was a pretty good road trip for us. We're trying to win every series, but stuff like this is going to happen. It was a close game; forget that and come tomorrow at home and try to get another winning streak and good momentum."

So the Rangers return home to broiling North Texas after a 5-2 road trip and are still in control of the division. Their lead is not what it could have been, but it's still two games better than the lead they had entering the All-Star break less than two weeks ago.

"We just won 12 in a row. You can't expect to win all of the time, and we know that," Josh Hamilton said. "But you hate to lose the last two, especially the way we lost them. But, you know what? It's not going to be a big deal. We prided ourselves last year on forgetting about what happened yesterday."

The question now for Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and president Nolan Ryan is how they view tomorrow. How did these two losses affect their thinking to make a deadline move, if they did at all? With the lead down to three games instead of five or even seven, are they more apt to go all-in for a high-priced reliever such as the much-discussed Heath Bell of the San Diego Padres?

Do they seek another bat or trust that Nelson Cruz will break out of a funk that has him scrapping at .243? Do they go after another starting pitcher? What maneuvering might the high-payroll Angels do after springing back from losing four of five after the All-Star break?

Those questions will be answered in the coming weeks, and the questions might change again depending on how the Rangers perform on the upcoming seven-game homestand against the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins, two teams that have given Texas problems.

What does seem to be a good bet is that the AL West won't be won in a runaway. The Angels' top-end starting pitching with Haren and Weaver, plus the back end with rookie closer Jordan Walden, is solid. The Rangers have had the better overall staff and possess a more capable, powerful offense.

Texas will be favored to win the division and return to the playoffs, but the division very well could come down to 10 more nip-and-tuck games just like the past two that provided tremendous theater for July baseball.

These are two well-matched teams that have grown to dislike each other.

"Every now and then, one of us will get the opportunity to maybe run away with a game or put some runs on the board," Washington said. "Other than that, it's going to be heads-up; always has been once we caught up with them and started playing with them. Always has been."

Jeff Caplan is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES