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07/21/10 6:52 PM ET

Rangers unleash Lee against Weaver

If this is indeed the last, best chance for the Angels to keep up with the American League West-leading Rangers, they've got the right guy on the mound to kick things off.

Of course, so do the Rangers.

Standing five games back leading into the Rangers' Wednesday night game in Detroit, the Angels are sending their ace and All-Star, Jered Weaver, to the hill to begin this four-game series in Texas. Weaver stopped a two-game mini-skid with a strong outing in his first post-All-Star Game start.

Weaver has even thrown well against the Rangers in his career, with a 3.62 ERA in 16 starts, including a 4.59 ERA in eight outings in Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. The right-hander's one start earlier this year in Texas was not a good one, but he bounced back with a July 1 victory against the division leaders. Seems like a great way for the Angels to pick up a game and climb closer, right?

Not so fast. The Rangers have an answer in the form of the man whom many felt altered the fate of the AL West race for good: Cliff Lee. The lefty hasn't won a game in his two starts since joining the club, but he did go nine innings in both. Lee has gone at least eight innings in nine of his last 10 starts, completing four of them. For his part, he's got a 3.18 ERA in nine starts against the Angels over the course of his career. He won his lone start against the Halos back in late May, when he was still twirling for the Seattle Mariners.

None of this matters, of course, if the Angels as a whole don't show up to play. Manager Mike Scioscia was quick to warn against worrying too much about making up ground on the Rangers during these four games. That could be a recipe for disaster.

"We're going to do it better, but we're not going to change the way we play," Scioscia said. "You've got to play this game free. You can't be playing with the distraction that, 'Hey, if we lose this game, we lose a game in the standings.' It's a baseball game. You've got to play with freedom. 'If there's a chance to get to third base, I'm going for it' -- that kind of thing."

The Angels have had times this season when they've played that way, but that hasn't been consistent. Even through it all, Scioscia points out the Halos aren't too far off of last year's division-leading pace.

"We've gone through stretches this year where we could play the best team in any league and beat them. And we've played in stretches where our Triple-A team would beat us," Scioscia said. "What's our record this year compared to last year? Four or five games less?"

The Angels have won just four games fewer than they did at this date a year ago. Through 97 games, however, they are seven games back of their own pace. The main difference, of course, is in 2009, they weren't looking up at another team.

Angels: Trio of hitters is key
Without the injured Kendry Morales in the lineup, the Angels have needed to find other steady sources of production. Torii Hunter has been fairly consistent in his All-Star season, but for the Angels to have a chance at competing, they need more from Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui and Juan Rivera.

"Those guys are very important to us," Scioscia said. "If they're being productive, it gives us a deep lineup."

There have been some signs of life from the trio, particularly Rivera, who has hit .458 in six games since the All-Star break. Abreu has gone 7-for-24, a much more respectable. 292, while driving in five runs. And while Matsui is hitting just .200 (4-for-20), two of those hits have been homers and he's driven in four runs.

Rangers: Hamilton keeps on going
Perhaps no one entered the All-Star break hotter than Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. He hasn't exactly slowed down after the Midsummer Classic, either.

This month, Hamilton has hit .394 in 18 games to raise his average to a Major League-leading .353. In six games since the break, he's been even better, hitting at a .433 clip (13-for-30) with six extra-base hits.

Despite going 0-for-4 on Wednesday, Hamilton still delivered his 70th RBI of the season on a ninth-inning groundout.

Worth noting
The 5 1/2-game lead in the American League West the Rangers had heading into their Wednesday night game against the Tigers matched the largest lead they've had over the Angels all season. With a 4-1 loss in their series finale, however, the Rangers dropped a half-game, bringing their division lead to an even five. ... The Rangers lead the season series over Los Angeles, 3-2.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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