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AL West Turning into Wild Wild West Down the Stretch

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2015

Los Angeles Angels' David Murphy, third from right, is mobbed by teammates after hitting a walk-off single to win in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The American League West is completely invested in and totally behind the implementation of the second wild card. It has to be. 

If it were not for that spot, two of its postseason contenders would be left out of the tournament, fighting solely for first place in the division.

As things stand, the Texas Rangers are looking down at the others. The Houston Astros are chasing the Rangers while also trying to kick back the Los Angeles Angels, a team with six consecutive wins as of their Monday night walk-off victory over the Oakland A’s and hanging just a half-game behind the Astros.

The Rangers lost their third in a row Monday, and the Astros won their third consecutive contest. Texas now leads the division by 1.5 games, with the Angels lurking two back. That bunch-up will cause plenty of scoreboard-watching and tense times over this final week of the season.

Let’s get weird. AL #WildCard is shaping up towards a crazy finish: http://t.co/F4gJ07DHcE pic.twitter.com/RadGhxNTru

MLB (@MLB) September 29, 2015

“We’re hanging in there,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. “We’re hanging in there.”

That is because of that second wild-card berth. It also means this division is going to keep an entire baseball-watching country interested in late-September baseball. It’s going to be a good time.

Meanwhile, Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" plays on the stadium speakers. Fitting -- and fun!

— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) September 29, 2015

Making it better is that the Rangers host the Angels for a four-game, season-ending series starting Thursday. All games count for the same number of wins and losses, but that series, depending on what happens over the next two days, could do more to determine who participates in the postseason than any other for any team this year.

The fact that it might very well affect four clubs, all within whispering distance of each other, makes it the series to watch for all fans. The Houston Astros, who oddly finish their season with three games in Arizona against the Diamondbacks, and Minnesota Twins will be paying close attention as well.

The Twins have been a little overlooked because of this western ordeal, but they are maybe the most surprising playoff contender of the bunch. They also won Monday, their third consecutive victory, and are 1.5 games back of the Astros for that second wild card. They finish off with the Cleveland Indians and then the Kansas City Royals, who may very well be resting some regulars by the time that weekend series is played.

"It feels good but we're obviously not finished yet," Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe said, per Jordan Bastian and Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com. "We've been battling all season. We've put ourselves in a good position and we're looking forward to these last six games. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Astros, Angels, and Twins all won. Lots of moving parts in the AL wild card race and Houston is only 1.5 games behind Texas in the AL West.

— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) September 29, 2015

The Rangers are giving the ball to Cole Hamels on Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers, and this is the kind of start an ace is made for. He has to stop the bleeding, and based on his recent outings, he is the perfect bandage.

Since missing a start because of a groin injury in mid-August, Hamels is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in eight starts. The Rangers have won all of Hamels’ turns in that time, and the only other occasion during that run he started a game after a Rangers loss he pitched seven innings, allowed one run and struck out 12 against the Seattle Mariners. That is the definition of a “stopper.”

“We’ve got our guy going tomorrow,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said after his club lost Monday, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

The Rangers desperately need Hamels to produce a win, because the Astros are playing in Seattle and will not have to face ace Felix Hernandez in their next two before heading to Phoenix. And once there, Houston will throw ace Dallas Keuchel, while the Diamondbacks have the inconsistent Rubby De La Rosa and Jeremy Hellickson scheduled to pitch the first two games, though Hellickson has a 2.49 ERA in his last five starts. 

The Angels have two more against the A’s before that big Rangers series, and they face Chris Bassitt on Tuesday and Barry Zito, who allowed four runs in two innings in his only start this season, on Wednesday. Garrett Richards, the Angels ace, who has five quality starts in his last six outings, opposes Zito, making him available to pitch the season finale against Texas on short rest if needed.

Texas manager Jeff Banister pushed his club throughout the second half to get into playoff position.
Texas manager Jeff Banister pushed his club throughout the second half to get into playoff position.Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

With all three teams seemingly set up well, none of the leads are secure or safe.

"Safe? There's nothing safe in baseball," Banister said Sunday, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "You've got to continue to play. It's about competing. These guys, they've never taken that approach. We've been playing from behind all year long. We've worked way too hard to get to this point to think that anything is safe."

Thank you for that and this entire week, second wild card.

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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