Before the 2011 season began, this writer gazed into his crystal ball and saw a runaway in a weak division by the Texas Rangers. For most of the season, that vision looked shaky. But after the Rangers' latest 9-1 run in their last ten games--including two against the rival Angels--their lead in the division is now up to seven full games. Is it over? Have the Rangers sealed the deal? Despite there being 38 games left on the schedule, this writer would have ventured to say yes. That is...until looking at their schedules for the next 21 games.
After a particularly lucky win against the Angels yesterday where Ian Kinsler got a broken bat base hit with the bases loaded and two out (the headlines are calling it a clutch hit. Say what?), the Rangers succeeded in making sure that even if they lose these next two games to the Angels (a good possibility facing Weaver and Haren), they will maintain a five game lead over their rivals. They have the third best record in the American League and the third best run differential. But again, the schedule is daunting.
In their next 21 games, the Rangers play the Red Sox seven times, the still tough Bay Rays six times, the Angels five times and the White Sox thrice. The Angels seem to have a softer road. Yes, they have three more games with the Yankees, three with the White Sox and five more with the Rangers, but while the Rangers are navigating that minefield, the Angels play the Mariners seven times, the Orioles three times and the Twins three times. The Angels very well could go 10-3 (or better) against those teams and if they do and the Rangers struggle to go .500 in that hard schedule, the race would tighten considerably.
A lot will ride on the next two days. If the Rangers can manage to sweep the series, then it would be a nine game advantage and that will look pretty steep. But that's a big "if" with the Angels having Weaver and Haren all lined up. Even if the Angels split the next two games to keep the lead at seven, they still have a decent chance based on the schedules.
For kicks and giggles, a quick glance at baseballprospectus.com gives the two teams this projected record for the remainder of the season: Rangers: 22-17, Angels: 18-21. If that were accurate, the race is over. But two things have to remain stated. First, Mike Scioscia has a history of thumbing his nose at his Pythagorean win-loss record. And secondly, though the Angels have an offense barely more robust than the Seattle Mariners (that was sarcasm), they have three great pitchers in their starting rotation. Combine those two factors along with the softer schedule and there is no way you can put the Angels in their coffin just yet.