Rangers-Angels Preview

Although the Texas Rangers have been in control of the AL West

for months, officially securing a playoff berth could go down to

the final week of the season.

The first-place Rangers, who have struggled mightily on the

road, look to avoid dropping four of the first five contests on

their 10-game trip Tuesday night against the Los Angeles

Angels.

Texas (83-66) has been atop the division since June 1 and owned

a 10-game lead earlier this month, but has failed to bury the

competition in pursuit of its first West title since 1999.

The Rangers, who lost 7-4 to the Angels on Monday, still lead

the second-place Athletics by eight games and have a magic number

of six. They’ll have an opportunity to clinch the West before

returning home, with a four-game series in Oakland beginning

Thursday.

“Those guys are not going to lay down, Oakland is not going to

lay down and Seattle is not going to lay down. So we’ve got to take

care of business,” manager Ron Washington said. “They all play us

tough. Yeah, we’ve got a nice lead, but I’m not comfortable.”

Texas’ play away from Rangers Ballpark is the biggest reason for

its inability to break away from the A’s. The Rangers opened this

trip by dropping two of three to the league-worst Mariners, and

have lost eight of their last 11 road games. Most of the rough

stretch has coincided with the injury to Josh Hamilton (bruised

ribs), and there’s a chance Hamilton might not return before the

end of the regular season.

Nelson Cruz, who drove in two runs in the series opener against

Los Angeles (74-76), has been doing his best to carry the offense

in Hamilton’s absence.

He is batting .380 with five homers and nine RBIs during a

12-game hitting streak and is 2 for 6 with two homers against Ervin

Santana (16-9, 3.93 ERA), the Angels’ scheduled starter

Tuesday.

Texas has failed to come up with clutch hits on this trip,

leaving 35 men on base and batting .200 (7 for 35) with runners in

scoring position. Scoring opportunities against Santana could be

limited.

The right-hander allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings

against Detroit on Thursday, but didn’t get much offensive help in

a 3-2, 11-inning loss. He had compiled a 3.00 ERA while winning his

previous three starts, and needs one more victory to surpass his

personal best set in 2006 and matched in ’08.

“He’s got very, very good stuff,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia

said of Santana. “He’s evolving as a pitcher as he’s maturing. He’s

definitely been a guy who’s moving to the front of the

rotation.”

Santana has won both of his starts against the Rangers this

season, but wasn’t particularly sharp in the last meeting July 30,

allowing seven runs – four earned – and 10 hits in six innings.

The Rangers counter with Colby Lewis (11-12, 3.84), who has won

back-to-back starts after losing his previous seven decisions.

In Wednesday’s 11-7 win over Detroit, Lewis gave up four hits,

three walks and made two fielding errors, leading to three unearned

runs among the five he allowed in total. The right-hander has not

won three consecutive starts since June 8-19.

Lewis has made a career-high 29 starts this season, but this

will be his first outing against the Angels since 2007. He is 3-1

with a 5.34 lifetime ERA in seven games versus Los Angeles.