The last time the Angels were this far out of first place on July 22, they were playing in Texas against the first-place Rangers.
It was 2004, and the Angels pounded the Rangers 11-1 that night . . . and went on to win the American League West.
It fits the stereotype, doesn't it? The Angels are AL West royalty, and can always come back. The Rangers can always fade in the late-summer Texas heat.
You wonder if it will happen again, and you wonder if the turnaround will begin one of the next two weekends, when the top two teams in the West will meet for seven seemingly crucial games.
But you also wonder if what we're seeing is less the makings of a turnaround than of a turnover, a takeover of the division by a young Rangers team that's finally ready to win.
There's a sense that this year is different, and that the Rangers' current five-game lead feels bigger than the six-game lead the Rangers woke up with six years ago today.
The Angels remain dangerous, but without Kendry Morales, they seem to lack the needed punch (despite 16 runs the last two days in New York). And while the Angels say they'll try to trade for help in the next week, the general sense around the club is that this isn't 2008, they're not one Mark Teixeira trade away from being a threat to win it all, and the farm system isn't going to be deep enough to allow a significant addition.
And the Rangers?
The Angels are convinced they're good. Torii Hunter called them "one of the top three teams in baseball right now," and another Angels player said the Ranger lineup is better than the Yankee lineup.
"They've been playing great baseball for the last month and a half," Hunter said. "They really play well in their own park. They hit for power. They just hit."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia insists that the standings don't matter in July, that individual series aren't crucial and that the only key is that the Angels "play our game."
But the Angels have "played their game" in the month and a half since Morales was lost for the season in that home-plate celebration. They were 24-27 when he got hurt, and they're 27-19 since.
The reason that the Rangers are five games up in the standings is that they've gone 29-14 over the same span.
"Five games is not a great lead," Hunter said. "If we were up five, Texas would be good enough to catch up. We have a good enough team to catch them."
If so, this weekend would be a good time to prove it.
On to 3 to watch:
1. Remember back this spring, when the Angels said they didn't really need a true ace? Well, it sure would help if Jered Weaver acts like one now, beginning with his series-opening matchup with Cliff Lee, in Angels at Rangers, Thursday night (8:05 EDT) at Rangers Ballpark . Weaver pitched seven shutout innings when the Angels beat the Rangers 2-1 on July 1 in Anaheim, but he gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in a May start in Texas. As for Lee, so far he's given the Rangers 18 innings in two starts -- and no wins. Despite missing the first month of the season, he's second to Roy Halladay in complete games (with six), and rival executives are already speculating that the Rangers will push him every bit as much as the Brewers pushed pennant-race rental CC Sabathia in 2008.
2. Like the Angels, the Red Sox seem to be at a crucial point in the schedule, as they're now seven games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and 4 1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Rays. Unlike the Angels, who lost Morales for the season, the Sox are getting key players back from injury. This week has already seen the return of Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Jeremy Hermida, and next week could see Victor Martinez rejoining the lineup. And, perhaps most crucially, Boston is getting Josh Beckett back, with his first start since May 18 scheduled for Red Sox at Mariners, Friday night (10:10 EDT) at Safeco Field . How has Boston done in Beckett's absence? A lot better than you would have thought. The Red Sox are 33-22 since he last pitched, which means they lost only 1 1/2 games to the Yankees, who are 34-20 over the same span. They gained ground on the Rays, who are 29-26.
3. Normally, there's no way I'm including a Royals-Yankees game in 3 to watch. But here goes, because there are two things that make Royals at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (1:05 EDT) at Yankee Stadium potentially interesting. It's Sergio Mitre's first start since replacing Andy Pettitte in the rotation, which means that if he fails, there's sure to be an outcry in New York for general manager Brian Cashman to trade for a starting pitcher (not that Cashman worries about outcries). It is worth remembering, as Cashman has tried to remind people, that Mitre pitched well enough this spring that some people in the organization preferred him over Phil Hughes as the fifth starter. But it's the other starting pitcher that really could make this interesting, because the Royals' Kyle Davies is the same guy who gave up Alex Rodriguez's 500th home run three years ago. A-Rod, who has been at 598 since Sunday, hit both 499 and 500 against the Royals, although those two home runs were two weeks apart.