Rangers-Angels Preview

The Associated Press

With their chances of making the playoffs diminishing, a start by the red-hot Zack Greinke might be just what the Los Angeles Angels need.

The trouble is, Yu Darvish has been pitching even better lately for a Texas Rangers team inching closer to locking up a third straight AL West crown.

In what could be a pitchers' duel, Greinke and Darvish square off in Thursday night's finale in Anaheim.

The Angels (81-68) picked up a big win in Tuesday's opener by crushing the Rangers 11-3 without Albert Pujols (paternity leave), but lost 6-2 the next night. Los Angeles remained 3 1/2 games back of Oakland for the AL's second wild-card spot with 13 to play.

"You can make it whatever you want to,'' said Mark Trumbo, who is 4 for 40 in his last 11 games. "I mean, if you treat it like a dire situation, I doubt that's going to do too much good for us."

Texas (88-60), which won Wednesday without sluggers Josh Hamilton (sinus condition) and Adrian Beltre (abdominal discomfort), is in a much better position to make the playoffs, leading the A's by four with 14 games remaining.

"What we do on the field trumps scoreboard-watching, but you can be aware of what's going on," said Michael Young, who is batting .464 during an eight-game hitting streak.

The Rangers and Angels have split their last 10 meetings, with the winning team plating at least six runs.

Thursday's finale, however, could end that trend.

Since Aug. 24, Darvish (15-9, 4.02 ERA) has the AL's second-lowest ERA at 1.55, while Greinke's 1.70 ERA is third best.

In Darvish's four starts in this stretch, he is 3-0 with 33 strikeouts and seven walks over 29 innings. The right-hander was 1-3 with a 6.82 ERA and 19 base on balls over 31 2-3 innings over his previous five starts, which included an outing against the Angels on Aug. 1, when he gave up seven runs and six walks in five innings.

"Overall, I have been able to concentrate and compete against the hitters," Darvish told the Rangers' official website after permitting one run and two hits in seven innings in Friday's 9-3 win over Seattle.

By striking out nine, Darvish increased his strikeout total to 205 - the most by a rookie since Kerry Wood had 233 with the Chicago Cubs in 1998.

Greinke (5-2, 3.78 ERA) was in position to win his fifth straight start Saturday in Kansas City until he was removed and things derailed. He had limited the Royals to no runs and five singles before being replaced by Ernesto Frieri after Alex Gordon singled with one out in the ninth. Frieri promptly served up two homers in just four pitches and the Angels lost 3-2.

He has a 1.32 ERA in his last six starts against the Rangers, last facing them in 2010. Texas hopes he forgot how he used to pitch to the Rangers during the long time between starts.

Ian Kinsler is batting .167 with a homer and seven strikeouts in 18 career at-bats against Greinke, while Nelson Cruz is 1 for 9 with four strikeouts and Mike Napoli is batting .182 with five strikeouts in 11 at-bats.

Hamilton, who leads the AL with 42 homers, hasn't played since the fourth inning Tuesday because of a recurring sinus condition. It might be wise to keep him out of the finale, too, considering he's 0 for 16 with seven strikeouts lifetime against Greinke.

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