Although the Texas Rangers could make it awfully difficult for the Los Angeles Angels to catch them, both Ron Washington and Mike Scioscia are trying to downplay the importance of this series.
The Rangers look to open a season-high six-game lead atop the AL West when they continue their pivotal series against the Angels on Tuesday night.Texas (70-52) set the tone for a crucial stretch with an 8-4 win in Monday's series opener. It was the first of seven meetings between the top two teams in the West over the next two weeks."We can't get ahead of ourselves," Washington said. "We have to take it one day at a time."With the victory, the Rangers extended their division lead to five games for the first time since July 19. Texas had only a 1 1/2-game lead over Los Angeles last Tuesday, but the teams have been heading in opposite directions. The Rangers have won four of five, while the Angels have dropped five of six."We have 40 games left in the season, and we need to play good baseball," Scioscia said. "You can't focus on trying to catch one team now. The challenge is very clear, and it's in front of us. We need to play consistent baseball every night."Texas, a season-best 18 games over .500, is trying to take a six-game advantage atop the West for the first time since winning the division by nine games last year."We've got to come (this week) determined to win," said Nelson Cruz, who hit his team-leading 26th homer. "We know it's important to come out here and win the series."The Rangers' offense once again led the way, plating at least seven runs for the sixth time in seven games. Texas scored six runs in the fifth inning and finished with 14 hits -- four by leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler and three each by Michael Young and Mitch Moreland.Cruz left the game after the seventh inning with tightness in his left quadriceps, but felt much better in the clubhouse. He plans to go through warmups Tuesday before deciding whether to play.While Texas' offense is surging, the Angels' is sputtering.Los Angeles (65-57) has scored 33 runs while batting .218 in its last 10 games. Torii Hunter is batting .438 with seven RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak, but Bobby Abreu is batting .143 with 14 strikeouts in his last 12.Making matters worse for Los Angeles, rookie starter Garrett Richards left Monday after two-thirds of an inning with a strained groin muscle. Scioscia was forced to use four relievers, putting extra pressure on scheduled starter Tyler Chatwood (6-8, 4.07 ERA).Chatwood gave up two runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 6-5 loss at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, but didn't receive a decision. It was an encouraging outing for the rookie right-hander, who had recorded an 8.49 ERA in losing his previous two starts.The Angels have lost six of Chatwood's last seven starts, and one of those defeats came against the Rangers on July 19, when he allowed three runs, seven hits and four walks in five innings of a 7-0 loss.Texas counters with Derek Holland (10-4, 4.30), who yielded three runs, seven hits and five walks in six innings of Wednesday's 4-3 loss to Seattle before leaving without a decision.The left-hander struggled in Anaheim on July 20, giving up seven runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 9-8 loss, but escaped without a decision. He is 0-2 with an 8.80 ERA in his last three starts at Angel Stadium after throwing a three-hitter there on Aug. 9, 2009.