The AL West race starts now.
The first third of the season was simply about staking out spots. The Texas Rangers jumped to leads of as big as 8 1/2 games as the Los Angeles Angels stumbled through the first month of the season, then righted things in May. Now, the teams prepare for their second meeting of the season, the Rangers have put themselves at the forefront of the pack. The Angels, one of the hottest teams in baseball, have set themselves up in second place and in perfect stalking position.
The teams play three games in Anaheim over the weekend, then won't meet again until just after the All-Star break. The teams also meet six times in the final 16 games of the season.
"I think everybody knew they weren't going to stay in the cellar," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They've got too many good players. That's a good team ... but so are the Texas Rangers."
The Rangers won two of three from Los Angeles in Arlington in mid-May. It was after that series that the Angels really awakened. Since the end of that series, only the White Sox have a better record than Los Angeles, who have won 11 of 17 since facing Texas. The Rangers, feeling the effects of playing 20 games in 20 days, have muddled along at 8-8.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the Rangers over the past two-plus weeks is the lack of consistent pitching. The Rangers have a 4.48 ERA in that time, which ranks sixth in the AL but is nearly two runs higher than Los Angeles' 2.65 ERA.
"No doubt we're a different team now than we were two weeks ago," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters after his club's winning streak ended at eight games Wednesday night. "We're more confident, and the guys are playing at the level they can. We have to keep this moving forward."
The Angels have their chance to push onward this weekend.