BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Friday night, the Rangers begin a three game series with Los Angeles, and the stakes include first place in the American League West.  The Angels arrive in Arlington trailing the Rangers by one game in the loss column and two games in the standings, after trailing by seven games barely a week ago. 

Indeed the fortunes of these two contenders seemed to turn in one inning.  Last week, the Rangers took a one run lead over the Angels into the ninth inning.  Texas was literally three outs away from an improbable four game sweep of Los Angeles in Anaheim, which would have extended their first place lead to eight games.  Instead of the Rangers finding three outs, the Angels needed just two batters for a walkoff win, as Mark Trumbo homered off Ranger reliever Mike Adams after a Torii Hunter single.  That home run has ignited the offensively challenged Angels to a six-game winning streak as this series opens.  Alternatively, the Rangers have reeled, having lost six of their last eight games.   

Texas just completed a series with the red hot Red Sox by losing three of four games.  Worse, they looked awful doing so.  After C. J. Wilson turned in a sparkling pitching performance to shut out the Bostons in game one, Texas starters put the team in an immediate hole by allowing first inning runs in each of the final three games.  The Rangers in fact never held a lead at any time in the series after Monday night’s series opener.  The offense showed little life, and indeed the entire team looked tired and listless. 

Perhaps the heat; perhaps the mental grind of a 162 game season, perhaps the pennant race pressure or perhaps some combination thereof is getting to them.  Matt Harrison said Tuesday night before his miserable Wednesday start, “Everybody’s tired at this point of the year.  You just have to grind through it.”  Probably true, but not the admission a fan wants to hear.  Harrison looked tired physically and mentally a day later.  His fastball was clocked in the 89-91 range, whereas he’s usually 91-94.  He gave up four first inning runs, but somehow lasted five innings, in which the Red Sox scored in four.  He ended up allowing seven earned runs on 11 hits.  That was unfortunately for Rangers’ fans fairly typical of the series.

Los Angeles opens this weekend’s series with Dan Haren (13-6, 2.98) facing the Rangers’ Derek Holland (11-5, 4.42).  Haren is on a good roll with a 5-1 record over his last 10 starts, which however includes a no-decision in a start against the Rangers in which he allowed seven earned runs.  Holland is 5-1 over his last nine starts, but has been wildly erratic in his performances.  Last week, he was one out shy of a complete game in 7-3 win over the Angels; but then lasted just 3-1/3 innings in his next start against Chicago, a 10-0 loss.   

Texas follows with Wilson (13-5, 2.77) and Colby Lewis (11-9, 4.07).  Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia has been on the fence about his starting pitchers after Haren.  There have been strong hints that the Angels will juggle their rotation to start Ervin Santana (9-9, 3.17) and Jered Weaver (14-6, 2.10).  If it happens, both will be starting on three days rest for the first time in their careers. 

All three games are night games.  Sunday’s will be the ESPN national telecast.  A three game Angels’ sweep will catapult the team over the Rangers into first place.  Even if the Angels take two of three, the teams will start next week tied in the loss column.  A three game Texas sweep will extend the Rangers’ first place lead to five games.  That’s the range of the results as each game in this series virtually counts double.  A win is not only a win, but it is also a loss for the opponent in the race.

After this series, the teams face each other three more times – the last three games of the season.

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