No team should have a more relaxing final month of the season than the Los Angeles Angels. That, however, doesn’t mean they will have nothing to play for in September.
The Angels continue their pursuit of the best record in the American League on Sunday when they seek their first four-game sweep of the Texas Rangers.
While every other division winner is still uncertain, the Angels (83-52) are virtually assured of winning the AL West for the fourth time in five years. They lead the division by 18 games over Texas (66-71) and have reduced their magic number to nine.
Los Angeles is likely to clinch at the earliest date in franchise history, surpassing last season when it wrapped up the West on Sept. 23. The fewest games the Angels took to win a division title was 153 in 1986.
Torii Hunter stole a home run from the Rangers for the second straight game and the Angels rallied twice for a 4-3 victory Saturday night.
“I think I may have been done it back-to-back a couple of times, but that’s exciting, man,” Hunter said. “How does that happen? The ball goes 5-10 inches over the wall two days in a row. That’s pretty impressive. I’m just happy to be able to use that glove. That’s what (owner) Arte (Moreno) got me over here for.”
Francisco Rodriguez earned his 53rd save in 58 chances, tying Mariano Rivera’s 2004 total for the second-most saves in a season. Rodriguez is within four of the major league record set by Bobby Thigpen in 1990 with the Chicago White Sox.
Saturday’s win kept the Angels one-half game behind Tampa Bay in the race for the league’s best record and home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Los Angeles also needs to win 17 of its final 24 games for the first 100-win season in team history.
The Rangers could be without All-Star center fielder Josh Hamilton after he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning Saturday because of pain related to the root canal procedure he had to fix an abscessed tooth on Wednesday.
Hamilton, who leads the majors with 116 RBIs, said he was taking antibiotics and has an appointment for Monday to get it fixed.
“I’m going to try and get some sleep tonight, if it’ll let me, and I’ll assess the situation tomorrow when I get to the ballpark,” he said.
Angels ace John Lackey (11-2, 2.95 ERA) has been outstanding in his past two starts, allowing two runs and 12 hits over 17 innings. He didn’t receive a decision against Minnesota on Aug. 21 before coming within two outs of a shutout in a 5-1 victory over Oakland on Tuesday.
Lackey threw 73 of his 98 pitches for strikes in his 13th career complete game.
The right-hander had his worst start of the season against Texas on July 10, giving up six runs and a career-high 15 hits in 5 2-3 innings, but escaped without a decision. Lackey, who has won 10 straight decisions against AL West teams, is 9-8 with a 5.39 ERA in 24 starts versus the Rangers.
The right-hander beat Detroit with a complete game in his previous start, then threw a nine-hitter in a 2-1 victory at Kansas City on Tuesday. Millwood is 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA in nine career starts against the Angels, including 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two outings this season.