The Texas Rangers still have work left to wrap up their third straight AL West title, but anything other than an epic collapse should ensure they're at least part of the postseason.
The Los Angeles Angels wish they could be so certain about their October fate.
A wild-card berth looks to be the Angels' likeliest path to the playoffs, and they should feel good about their chances Tuesday night with Jered Weaver on the hill for the opener of this critical three-game set against the visiting Rangers.
Texas (87-59) has a three-game lead atop the West over Oakland and is 7 1/2 games up on the Angels (80-67), but its closest pursuers will have the opportunity to make that race interesting. Of the Rangers' 16 remaining games, six are against Los Angeles and seven are against Oakland.
"That's where you win, when you can run away in your division, or do well in your division,' manager Ron Washington said after Texas took two of three from Seattle over the weekend, its eighth series win in its last nine. "I'll take our best game against any one of those teams' best game.'
But with two wild-card slots available, Texas can likely play mediocre baseball down the stretch and still find itself in the postseason. That's a luxury the Angels, who took two of three in Kansas City over the weekend, can't afford.
"Forget winning series. We're talking about winning every pitch," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's where we are. The only thing we control is how we play. We need to bring it for the last 15 games."
Three games behind Baltimore for the second wild-card berth, Los Angeles begins its final homestand of the season Tuesday before playing its final six on the road. And while facing a Texas team leading the majors in runs per game (5.11), average (.276) and slugging percentage (.449) might not seem ideal, Weaver (17-4, 2.74 ERA) has had the Rangers' number in Anaheim.
Weaver has had his share of issues in Arlington, but the Angels have won the right-hander's last 10 home starts against Texas as he's compiled a 1.72 ERA.
He returned Thursday against Oakland after missing a start due to biceps tendinitis and looked anything but rusty. Weaver held the A's to two hits over seven innings and struck out nine in a 6-0 win.
"He's in the conversation with anyone you want to talk about in our league as far as being the Cy Young," Scioscia told the Angels' official website. "It'll probably hinge on how he finishes down the stretch."
Weaver has allowed three runs over 13 1-3 innings in his last two starts versus Texas after yielding eight in his first.
Ryan Dempster (6-1, 4.11) knows all about having a poor outing in this series. The right-hander's introduction to the AL came Aug. 2 when he allowed eight runs in 4 2-3 innings against Los Angeles, but he's now riding a five-start winning streak in which he's posted a 1.91 ERA.
"I just try to do my job the same way, try to execute and make as many pitches as possible,' Dempster said after holding Cleveland to two runs over seven innings in a 5-2 win Wednesday.
Texas' offense has certainly made Dempster feel welcome, providing him with 7.69 runs of support per nine innings since he came over from the Cubs - the majors' second-most generous amount.
Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz has gone 11 games without a homer, but perhaps he can end that drought against the Angels. He's hitting .351 with nine homers in the series' last 19 games, though he's just 12 for 56 (.214) with one homer and 18 strikeouts versus Weaver.
For Dempster and the Rangers, it starts with slowing down Mike Trout. The rookie leadoff hitter and MVP contender is hitting .392 with four homers, 15 RBIs and a 1.237 OPS as the Angels lead the season series 7-6.
The Associated Press News Service
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