Although the Texas Rangers have been in control of the AL West for months, officially securing a playoff berth could go down to the final week of the season.
The first-place Rangers, who have struggled mightily on the road, look to avoid dropping four of the first five contests on their 10-game trip Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Angels.
Texas (83-66) has been atop the division since June 1 and owned a 10-game lead earlier this month, but has failed to bury the competition in pursuit of its first West title since 1999.
The Rangers, who lost 7-4 to the Angels on Monday, still lead the second-place Athletics by eight games and have a magic number of six. They’ll have an opportunity to clinch the West before returning home, with a four-game series in Oakland beginning Thursday.
“Those guys are not going to lay down, Oakland is not going to lay down and Seattle is not going to lay down. So we’ve got to take care of business,” manager Ron Washington said. “They all play us tough. Yeah, we’ve got a nice lead, but I’m not comfortable.”
Texas’ play away from Rangers Ballpark is the biggest reason for its inability to break away from the A’s. The Rangers opened this trip by dropping two of three to the league-worst Mariners, and have lost eight of their last 11 road games. Most of the rough stretch has coincided with the injury to Josh Hamilton(notes) (bruised ribs), and there’s a chance Hamilton might not return before the end of the regular season.
Texas has failed to come up with clutch hits on this trip, leaving 35 men on base and batting .200 (7 for 35) with runners in scoring position. Scoring opportunities against Santana could be limited.
The right-hander allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings against Detroit on Thursday, but didn’t get much offensive help in a 3-2, 11-inning loss. He had compiled a 3.00 ERA while winning his previous three starts, and needs one more victory to surpass his personal best set in 2006 and matched in ’08.
“He’s got very, very good stuff,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Santana. “He’s evolving as a pitcher as he’s maturing. He’s definitely been a guy who’s moving to the front of the rotation.”
Santana has won both of his starts against the Rangers this season, but wasn’t particularly sharp in the last meeting July 30, allowing seven runs - four earned - and 10 hits in six innings.
In Wednesday’s 11-7 win over Detroit, Lewis gave up four hits, three walks and made two fielding errors, leading to three unearned runs among the five he allowed in total. The right-hander has not won three consecutive starts since June 8-19.
Lewis has made a career-high 29 starts this season, but this will be his first outing against the Angels since 2007. He is 3-1 with a 5.34 lifetime ERA in seven games versus Los Angeles.