07/18/11 10:00 AM ET
Rangers, Angels ready to clash as race heats up
AL West rivals line up rotations for first of four remaining series
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
"I don't look to sweep the Angels," Washington said. "I'd like to win two of three. If we lose two of three it's not the end of the world. I don't consider it necessarily a big series but I consider it a series we need to go in and play well."The Angels take the same view. This is still July and the Trading Deadline hasn't even arrived yet. But what is clear is that the Rangers and Angels will clash head-to-head having separated themselves from the two offensively challenged teams in their division. As the season heads deeper into the second half, it appears that the American League West is headed for a two-team donnybrook right down to the end between the defending champions and the team that has won the division in five of the past seven years. The Rangers have a four-game lead over the Angels but these two still have 13 games remaining between them, beginning with the three games at Angel Stadium, where the two will end the regular season with three games. There is also a four-game series in Anaheim on Aug. 15-18 and a three-game set in Arlington on Aug. 26-28. "That's one reason I came here, to have this opportunity," Angels left fielder Vernon Wells said. "It's going to be a learning experience. At the same time, it's what you play this game for -- to play some meaningful baseball. That's what this game is truly about, and I'm looking forward to it." Wells is one of the reasons why the Angels have kept the Rangers from pulling away from everybody. The Angels lost three of four to the Athletics in Oakland over the weekend but are 21-10 since June 11. During that stretch, Wells hit .276 with 10 home runs, 22 RBIs and a .569 slugging percentage, helping to spark the Angels offense. "We're playing good baseball," Wells said. "We're scoring runs when we need to, and the pitching is doing what they've done all year. It's especially important that we continue playing good defense now. You don't want to give a team like Texas, with all those weapons, any favors." Pitching remains the Angels' biggest strength and they will have their heavyweights going in the series. Rookie Tyler Chatwood will open the series for them on Tuesday and then be followed by veteran All-Star right-handers Dan Haren and Jered Weaver. The Rangers will have a pair of All-Stars pitching in the series as well. Alexi Ogando starts on Tuesday night and C.J. Wilson goes on Thursday. Derek Holland, who has pitched two consecutive shutouts, is to take the mound on Wednesday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the pitching in the AL West was terrific in 2010 and has been even better this season. The Rangers staff has allowed two runs in the past 47 innings, although the Angels figure to be a bigger challenge than the Mariners, outscored 17-2 in a four-game Texas sweep. "It's the best pitching in our league," Scioscia said of the division's hurlers. "You're going to face tough pitching intradivision, which can impact offenses. In the American League West, you're facing a legitimate arm every night." The Rangers set their rotation for this series. Wilson was pushed up one day ahead of Colby Lewis so he could pitch on Thursday. Wilson is 3-1 with a 3.29 ERA in seven starts against the Angels over the past two seasons. Ogando hasn't started since July 6 against the Orioles, although he did pitch to two batters in the All-Star Game. The Rangers used the break to give Ogando some extra rest. Having him open a three-game series against the Angels had some appeal as well. Ogando beat the Angels, 5-1, on May 13 at the Ballpark in Arlington, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings.
"I recognize it is an important series but I will do what I normally do and not add too much to it," Ogando said.The two teams have split six games at the Ballpark in Arlington this season, leaving 10 of 13 to be played in Anaheim. The Rangers are 40-42 against the Angels since Washington took over as manager in 2007, including 16-22 in Anaheim. They were 10-9 against them last season in winning the division, although the Angels won six of nine at their own park. "It will be fun," Rangers infielder Michael Young said. "Big games are always fun. That's what we play for. I don't think it's anything we haven't done before and we've played well in big games before. Anything that's a challenge we look forward to doing."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.