BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Dallas Rangers of Arlington open a three game series tonight on the road against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It is the start of a schedule stretch in which the Rangers will the play the Angels seven times in their next 13 games.

The Angels come into the series reeling as they just lost three of four in Detroit and five of seven since the All-Star break. They now trail the Rangers by six games in the standings, but seven in the all important loss column. The Los Angeles faithful are already screaming about the schedule inequity of having to play every day this week, while the Rangers had two off days allowing them to set up their pitching rotation for this weekend series. Well “Boo Hoo”!

Texas will pitch Derek Holland, Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison in that order. The Angels counter with Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and a pitcher to be decided in Sunday’s finale, though there is a chance that Dan Haren comes off the disabled list to make the start. Saturday’s game will be one of the FOX telecasts, while Sunday’s is the ESPN Sunday night game. This series is the premier series in baseball this weekend.

This stretch with the teams meeting seven times over the next two weeks is critical to the Angels. They badly need to make ground. They have lost two games in the standings and three in the loss column since the All-Star break. They in fact now lead the third place Athletics by just 1.5 games, one in the loss column.

It of course is a very important stretch for the Rangers. Obviously teams don’t win pennants in July, but the Rangers have the chance to extend the lead, which would really put the Angels in a hole. On the other hand, losing five or six out of the seven really Los Angeles heartily back into the race.

And speaking of the race, it’s essentially a three team race at this point. The surprising Oakland A’s have the best record among the three teams at 26-15 since the beginning of June. Texas (24-16) and Los Angeles (24-17) follow. Oakland trails Texas in the West by 7.5 games, but trail Detroit for the second Wild Card playoff spot by just one-half game. It is entirely possible that three teams from this division go to the playoffs. Oakland has ridden extremely good pitching to get back into the race after being given up for dead at seven games uner .500 at the end of May. Oakland leads the American League in staff ERA, followed by Texas, New York and Los Angeles. There is SHOCKINGLY GOOD pitching in the West!

Oakland should be taken seriously at this point. This team obviously lacks offensively, ranking dead last in the majors in batting average and dead last in the American League in runs scored. However, A’s GM Billy Beane is a bold trader. and he is likly to pull the trigger on at least one significant transaction before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to shore up their attack.

For Texas, the schedule was very kind leading up to the All-Star break. They played 19 home games out of 25, which entailed four straight weekends at home. Included in that stretch were four series with National League teams with records under .500. In fact, all but one of the eight series were against teams with sub-.500 records at the time the Rangers played them.

Starting this week with the series in Oakland, Texas plays five consecutive series with teams that are solidly in the playoff hunt, and play just two series, Kansas City for three games and Minnesota for four, against teams that are under .500 until Labor Day.

It is time for the Texas offense to wake up. The pitching has done an admirable job all season, but especially since the end of May to rank second in the league in staff ERA. This was done with at one point in time six of the 12 opening day pitchers on the disabled list, including three of the five starting pitchers. However, the team batting average has slumped from .286 to .278 since the first of July, which is the lowest the team batting average has been since April 15. They still lead the majors in batting average and runs scored, but so far this month the offense has scored more than four runs in a game just once.

Even 90 games into the season, the Rangers are a paradox. You feel this team has not played to its potential and should be better. However, they have two more wins than they have ever had in franchise history at this point in the season,and they trail the Yankees by just one-half game for the best record in baseball. If this team ever does get its act totally together, it can be scary good!

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