ARLINGTON, Texas -- Good-bye National League cellar-dwellers, hello Halos.
Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers bid farewell to a fruitful month against NL teams well out of contention and now head west for a showdown against the American League West rival Los Angeles Angels toting the franchise's best record after 75 games. Texas improved to 46-29 after pounding Astros ace Roy Oswalt for seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in a 10-1 victory Sunday night.
Tommy Hunter earned his fourth win in five starts and Hamilton closed the six-game homestand with the second-longest home run ever hit at Rangers Ballpark. The two-run blast in the second inning traveled 468 feet and landed in the upper deck of the right-center field bleachers.
"It looked like it would clear the whole stadium," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
The Rangers took two of three against their Texas foes and five of six in the season series. The damage done against the NL proved extraordinary: 10-2 against three of the four bottom teams in the NL Central (Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Houston), plus 3-0 against the Florida Marlins. That's a 13-2 run against the NL, a stretch that's allowed the Rangers to take a 4.5-game lead over the Angels as the two teams begin a three-game series Tuesday night.
Michael Young, ever steady in his approach, played down the anticipated series.
"I’m sure a lot will be made about these next three games, but that’s exactly what they are, three games -- before the All-Star break," said Young, who homered Sunday in the third inning. "We have a long way to go. We have a lot of improving we have to do still. We want to make sure we’re getting better, just like we have been all season long, so we want to go there and just keep playing well. Simple as that."
Texas won the only two games played so far against the Angels in Arlington. Seventeen of the Rangers' final 87 games are against the Angels, so things are just heating up. Washington said this series won't make or break his team, but he knows the Angels, the dominant team of the past decade in the division, aren't taking Texas lightly.
"They already know we can play with them. I think there’s no doubt about that," Washington said. "But, talking about it is not what it’s about. It’s about going between those lines and getting it done. But I think they know we can play. Just as we know they can play. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes in the series is the team that’s going to come out on top."
Sunday night the Rangers won their eighth consecutive series and did so by pounding out 11 hits, including three more from the bottom of the lineup. Julio Borbon contributed an RBI single and Matt Treanor went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, including a bases-loaded single in the three-run fifth to give Hunter an 8-1 lead.
"It stretches our lineup out," Young said of the bottom three's improved hitting. "The first six guys in our order have proven what they're able to do up there. They [the bottom three] have done a great job. They deserve a lot of credit for making some good adjustments and becoming a big part of our offense."
The Angels haven't seen a Rangers club that's this tough to pitch to in maybe forever. A big reason is designated hitter and former Angels slugger and Rangers killer Vladimir Guerrero. He heads to Anaheim with a .327 average, 15 home runs and 60 RBIs.
With Elvis Andrus, Young and Ian Kinsler at the top of the order and the bottom three also producing, the Rangers' 4-5-6 hitters in the lineup -- Hamilton, Guerrero and Nelson Cruz -- enter the Anaheim series boasting 43 homers and 156 RBIs (and that includes Cruz missing significant time with injuries).
The Rangers have belted at least 11 hits in nine of 11 games. Suddenly, the Angels' pitching staff, always a strength going head-to-head with the Rangers, will be put to the test.
"It's going to be fun. We love playing the Angels, we look forward to it always," Hamilton said. "It sounds like they're playing good right now, we're playing good, so it should be fun."
*Hamilton's 468-foot homer is the second-longest ever at Rangers Ballpark. Only a 480-foot blast by Jose Canseco in 1994 traveled farther. Hamilton said there's only one major difference between his bomb and Canseco's: "I'm au natural, man."
*Treanor has hit safely in six of his last nine games and is batting .300 (9-30) in those games. He's knocked in 13 runs over his last 18 games.
*At 46-29, the Rangers are off to their best start ever after 75 games. The previous best was 45-30 in 1996. The Rangers are a major-league best 20-5 in June, marking just the third 20-win month in club history.
*Tommy Hunter (4-0, 2.15 ERA) has held opponents to two earned runs or less in all five starts this season.