Rivalries are great for sports. The Angels versus the Texas Rangers isn't one.
At least, not yet.
The Rangers haven't won an American League West title since 1999. The Angels have won the last three and five of the last six. They beat the Rangers by 10 games last year and 21 the year before. Rivalries seldom develop when one team is flicking the other away like a fly on its shirt sleeve, which is pretty much how the Angels have treated the Rangers in recent years.
But the last month or so has painted a new picture. The Angels, as they are capable of doing, put up the best record in baseball since May 25, going 24-10 entering the weekend series with Kansas City. That kind of run usually gets them on the pedestal for good, and the rest of the division, especially Texas in recent years, puts on a frustrating and futile chase.
But this year, that spurt wasn't enough. Guess who is leading the AL West heading toward the All-Star break? You got it. The division bridesmaids, the Avis of the AL West.
That made the recent three-game series in Anaheim that ended Thursday night especially interesting. The Rangers have this new weapon, a designated hitter named Vlad Guerrero. Without him, the Rangers were good. With him, they are good-plus.
Guerrero, of course, was the American League's most valuable player in 2004. For the Angels. Through last season, he was the straw that stirred the drink in the Angels' offense. And even when he slipped last season, battling injuries at age 34 and collecting only 15 homers and 50 runs batted in, it was his big hit that exorcised the ghost of seasons past and beat the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.
Still, the consensus was that he was near the end, that the multi-year contract he wanted from the Angels, beginning this season, wasn't smart business.
"The contract level he wanted," says Angels General Manager Tony Reagins, "and our interest in bringing him back, were not aligned."
And so free agent Guerrero went shopping for a team and found one in Texas, where he had always hit well. Interestingly, he did not get his multi-year contract, but a one-year deal for $6.5 million, with a joint team/player option for the second year at $9 million.
And, lo and behold, the end for Guerrero may be further away than the Angels, and most of baseball, thought.
After the three games with the Angels in Anaheim, Guerrero had 18 homers -- three more than all of last year -- plus 68 RBIs and a .339 batting average. In the three games, he fattened up his numbers with three home runs, including a grand slam, and eight RBIs. In the middle game of the three Wednesday night, he was four for four with two homers. The Angels' good-natured center fielder, Torii Hunter, called it "The Vlad Show."
These are the kinds of things that cause general managers sleepless nights. Not so Reagins.
"I don't see a rivalry," he says. "That's not the way we look at it. How we view it is that we have to play good baseball. From there, the results take care of themselves. We focus on what we have to do. If we do that, we accomplish our goals."
Significant to what Reagins says is that, despite all the Guerrero fireworks, the Angels took two out of three in the series with Texas.
Reagins says what Guerrero is doing this year is good for baseball. He says he didn't wince one bit when he ended up in Texas, in the same division as the Angels.
Manager Mike Scioscia may not have winced, but he has a slightly different view of the clear and present danger. He says he's happy for Guerrero's success, but adds, "I'm just not glad he's doing it for a team in our division."
Were the season to end today, the Angels would not be in the playoffs, something we have come to almost assume. The Rangers would be the division winners and the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays would be ahead of the Angels in the wild-card chase.
Of course, the season is a long way from ending, and the Rangers have a way of cooling off in the late summer heat. But now there is the Vlad Factor.
Flash-forward to the last four days of the regular season. The Angels and Rangers play a series in Arlington, Texas. Guerrero is still hot and only a game or two separate the teams in the race for the division title.
Kind of must-see baseball, right? Somebody might even use the R-word along the way.
A rivalry might be born. Or at least admitted to.