Angels-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

Winning 15 of 19 games could easily boost a team into first place. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Angels, they play in the AL West.

After quickly bouncing back from a rare shutout loss, the Angels open their final series before the All-Star break against the struggling Texas Rangers on Thursday night.

The Angels (53-37) would be in first place if they were in any other division in baseball, but currently sit 3 1/2 games behind major league-best Oakland in the West.

The main thing holding Los Angeles back is its 21-22 away record. Toronto and Pittsburgh are the only other teams entering Thursday above .500 but below it on the road.

Los Angeles has also dropped eight straight against the Rangers (38-53) in Texas entering this four-game series - its longest current road skid against any team. In their last series there, the Angels concluded 2013 by being swept in four at Texas for the first time since 1978.

That series featured a Rangers team pushing for the playoffs, but they've dropped 18 of 21 entering this one after Wednesday's 8-4 loss concluded Houston's three-game sweep.

Even All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish couldn't stem the tide, allowing six runs in a loss that dropped Texas into last place in the AL West and gave it a baseball-worst winning percentage of .418.

"It's been really tough. It's been frustrating," outfielder Alex Rios said. "This is a season that I believe that we're all going to remember in a bad way."

One of the only bright spots has been All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games with an RBI single in the first and is batting .494 in his last 20 home games.

Three of the Angels' four losses since June 20 have come away from home. The lone exception was a 4-0 home defeat to the Blue Jays on Tuesday that marked only the second time they were shut out. The other came May 16 against Tampa Bay.

Los Angeles responded well Wednesday, getting a go-ahead two-run homer from Albert Pujols in the seventh inning for an 8-7 victory and a series win over Toronto.

After the Jays went ahead 7-6 in the sixth, Pujols tied All-Star Mike Trout for the team lead with his 20th home run.

"This team is finding ways to win, and we're not out of it until the game's over," said Kole Calhoun, who also homered.

Pujols tied Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews with his 512th career homer - good for 21st all-time. Next up are Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas and Ted Williams, who each hit 521.

Pujols played in only three games at Texas last season due to injuries but was 3 for 8 with a pair of home runs. Trout has one hit - a homer - in his last 14 at-bats there.

Looking to help Los Angeles to its first win at Texas since April 4 of last year will be left-hander Hector Santiago (0-7, 4.50 ERA), who hasn't earned a victory since Aug. 18.

Santiago gave up five runs over five innings against Houston on Saturday before the Angels scored eight in the eighth of an 11-5 win. He was also tagged for five runs in six innings of a 5-2 loss to the Rangers on May 2.

Texas right-hander Colby Lewis (6-5, 5.51) won that day, giving up two runs in 5 2-3 innings, and opposes Santiago again seeking his first win at home since his second start of the season April 19.

Lewis, 1-4 with a 6.54 ERA at home, gave up two earned runs with seven strikeouts in six innings to earn the decision in Saturday's 5-3 road win over the New York Mets.

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