The Rangers were set for a trip to visit the Los Angeles Angels in a series that could make or break their season. A team that was viewed as being a few years away from contending going into the season, the Rangers have proven they are a team of the present.
When Baseball America came out with their prospect handbook this offseason, Texas held many of the top prospects, and, more importantly, it held the No. 1 farm system. With many of their blue-chip prospects playing important roles for the '09 team, the Rangers are showing that their future is now.
The Los Angeles Angels entered the weekend series with a 4.5-game lead and a chance to put the Rangers out of the division race. The Rangers were hoping to go to Los Angeles and take two out of three and show the Angels that the division race will be one that will go all the way down to the wire. The Rangers did just that.
In the first game of the series, the Rangers came out and let their bats do the talking to propel them to an 11-6 win. Texas had five home runs in total, and Scott Feldman recorded his 11th win of the season, which is tied for fifth best in the American League.
With the win, the Rangers brought the division lead down to 3.5 games and put the Angels on notice that they needed to play their best baseball or the Rangers were going to leave town in better shape than they came in.
The Angels had their ace, Jered Weaver, on the mound for the second game, and he pitched like the top-of-the-rotation pitcher they need him to be. Weaver pitched into the eighth inning for the first time since mid-June and matched his career high with an 11-strikeout performance. Hank Blalock hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning, which put the Rangers up, 2-1, but two solo home runs by Vladamir Guerrero and Erik Aybar led the Angels to victory and a 4.5-game lead in the AL West.
The rubber game of the series had the Rangers' young gun Derek Holland on the mound opposing Angels veteran righty John Lackey. The Angels were hoping to put a strangle-hold on the division lead while the Rangers were looking to take two out of three and go into the week down only 3.5 games.
Through five, the story wasn't about the Rangers bats; instead, it was if the Angels were going to get a hit off Holland. The lefty threw five no-hit innings to start the game, and by game's end he'd tossed his first complete-game shutout.
Holland only would have needed one run for the win, but the Ranger offense provided him with seven. Marlon Byrd added three RBI, including a solo home run in the ninth. With the win, the Rangers are showing not only the Angels but the rest of the baseball world that they are here to stay.
The Angels have been the dominant team in the last half-decade in the AL West division. They have won the division four times in the last five years, including back-to-back going into the '09 season.
After the weekend series, the Rangers are now 9-3 vs. the Angels this year. However, this season the Rangers have used a youth movement to spark a team that could always hit, with good starting pitching, and a great bullpen arm in the 20-year old Neftali Feliz, to show that this team will contend for a long time.
After bringing up players such as Feliz (21), Holland (23), Elvis Andrus (20), Chris Davis (23), and Taylor Teagarden (26), the Rangers expected some lapses but were hoping to be competitive this year while contending next year. With Sunday's win in Los Angeles, not only did the Rangers cut into the AL West lead, but they also pulled into a tie for the AL wild card due to the Red Sox' recent collapse.
After everyone thought whoever didn't win the American League East division would win the wild card, it seems the Rangers have put doubts into most of those thoughts. With veterans such as Michael Young and Kevin Millwood keeping the young team in check, the Rangers are not only built for success in the future, but now as well.
With both teams playing each other seven times in the final 14 days of the season, the division will come down to the wire. The Rangers will have to go to Los Angeles for a four-game series before ending the season in Seattle, but they have won four of six in LA this year, and this weekend they proved they could win in Los Angeles when they need to.