As the pennant races start to heat up in the second half of the season, Big League Stew is there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels
The situation: This weekend features three great matchups between first and second-place teams. The Chicago White Sox bring a 1.5-game lead over the Detroit Tigers into Comerica Park (Motorcity Muckracker has a good preview), the Washington Nationals look to extend their 3.5-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in D.C. and the Angels welcome the Rangers to Anaheim for the third meeting of baseball's best budding rivalry.
Texas holds the second-biggest lead in baseball with a six-game advantage over Los Angeles. The Angels still have plenty of time to catch the Rangers, especially with 13 head-to-head games remaining, but they have to start this weekend.
Previously on: The two teams have split their first six meetings with the Angels taking two of three at Rangers Ballpark from June 1-3.
What's left: Thirteen games remain between the two teams. They'll play a four-game set in Arlington at the end of July and a three-game set there in the second-to-last series of the year. A three-game set will also be played in Anaheim from Sept. 18-20.
For starters: Derek Holland (6-4, 4.57) and Jered Weaver (11-1, 2.26) are scheduled to kick things off on Friday night, while Yu Darvish (10-6, 3.96) and Ervin Santana (4-9, 5.06) will battle on Fox on Saturday afternoon. Matt Harrison (12-4, 2.87) and Garrett Richards (3-1, 3.53) will then get the Sunday night spotlight on ESPN.
Who takes the early lead? Friday night's pitching matchup is an intriguing one. The Rangers dealt Weaver his only loss of the season back on May 13 and he sang along with "Hit The Road Jack" after exiting the game with a line of eight earned runs after 3 1/3 innings pitched. Weaver has been near unstoppable since, though, going 6-0 with a 1.63 ERA in eight starts. Weaver has been great at home against the Rangers in his career and could move his career record to 8-0 with a win Friday night over Texas.
While Holland's numbers don't look anywhere near as stellar, he's pitched well since returning after a month on the DL for shoulder fatigue. Holland is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA in six road starts this season.
Whither Josh Hamilton?: When the two teams said their goodbyes on May 13, Hamilton's line through 32 games looked like this: .402/.455/.866 with 18 homers and 44 RBIs. In the 52 games since, the Rangers slugger has posted a line of .232/.315/.443 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs. Clearly not the lofty territory he was inhabiting before.
Hamilton is hitting just .171 in the month of July but says he just got a tip from hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh that paid off. Is this the series he finally heats up again?
Trout, Trumbo and Pujols: Rangers pitching could have picked a better time to face the stars of the Angels lineup. Check out the numbers this trio has posted since July 1.
Mike Trout: .414/.455./.845, 6 HR, 13 RBI
Mark Trumbo: .268/.328/.661, 7 HR, 12 RBI
Albert Pujols: .315/.422/.630, 5 HR, 10 RBI
Yup, good luck with that, Texas.
How much lip service gets paid to winning the division? There will be three more meetings between these two teams, of course, but I'm curious to see how outspoken players from both sides will be about trying to win the AL West. Being relegated to the wild card only guarantees a coin-flip of a play-in game and I have to think the Angels at least have already started to think about that frightening possibility. And what it will take to avoid it.