BALTIMORE -- It's finally time to welcome the Los Angeles Angels to Arlington.
Texas Rangers fans have had to wait five weeks for one of the most anticipated rivalries of the 2012 season to get going. And while the Texas Rangers players stress that focus on winning every series -- no matter the opponent -- is the goal, the players understand the Angels are one of their top competitors in the AL, not to mention the AL West, and expect some excitement in front of sellout crowds this weekend.
"It's fun to play in front of packed houses and we've had that almost every game," Michael Young said. "When our park gets going, it's the loudest ballpark in the big leagues. I've played in the World Series twice and played in other parks. It's the loudest. The Cardinals said the same thing to us last year in those games in Arlington. Lots of parks don't seat 40,000 and we've got close to 50,000 and the just the way the ballpark is structured, it makes for a very loud place. We've been spoiled this year. We've had big crowds nearly every night. We feed off of it. We love it."
But Young and the rest of his teammates downplayed the hype surrounding what is turning into one of the biggest rivalries in the American League. While fans and media get excited about the prospect of Yu Darvish starting against C.J. Wilson, the pitcher he replaced in the rotation, the players just want to go out and try to win a series.
"I think the fans will enjoy it with everything that's been made out of it," David Murphy said. "It's ironic how everything has been built up in the offseason and the first meeting is C.J. versus Yu. It should be fun Friday night. They're a tough team. I don't think it will be any different than it has in the past. We have to play hard and try to win."
As the Rangers and Angels prepare to square off for the first of 19 games Friday night, both teams enter the contest after vastly different starts.
The Rangers come in as one of the top teams in the American League, off to a solid start to the season and full of star power. They lead the AL West by five games over the A's and seven games over the Angels. Josh Hamilton made history just days ago with a four-homer game. Darvish has made a fairly smooth transition to the major leagues from Japan. The Rangers' lineup continues to show off its depth, leading the league in runs scored (5.6 per game) and batting average (.291). They are tops in OPS and total bases. A young starting rotation has performed well, despite some trouble spots here and there from Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz. And the bullpen has solidified with Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Joe Nathan providing a formidable trio in winning situations.
Meanwhile the Angels have struggled to get things going. They fell behind the Rangers quickly out of the gate and still sit seven games behind in the AL West as the clubs begin head-to-head play against each other. Clearly, the Angels have plenty of time to catch up. But they'll need to play well against the Rangers and find some more consistency. The Angels have had trouble scoring runs, sitting 12th in the AL with just 3.65 runs per game -- nearly two full runs per game fewer than Texas. Part of that is Albert Pujols' slow start. It took him 110 at-bats to hit his first -- and only -- home run of the season and he's hitting just .198 on the season.
Still, it's a club with weapons. Pujols will certainly figure it out and the starting rotation, when clicking, is one of the best and deepest in the league. Early bullpen struggles hurt the Angels and they've made a change at closer.
"They haven't played as well as everyone thought they would this year, but we know how capable they are of putting together a good run," Murphy said. "There's way too much baseball left to be played. There's no reason for us to take them lightly. When you think about their team, you think first of all about how deep their starting pitching is, but they have a pretty good lineup too. They're a good team.
"I think everybody would be surprised if they continued to play all season the way that they have so far."
Young said the club will do what it always does: focus on how to improve and win games.
"I look at it that we have 13 rivals," Young said. "It's the American League. Every team is good. Every team wants to win the division. They are in our division and we're playing for the same prize. They're a good team. They've been good for a long time. But one thing we've been good at over the past few years is focusing on ourselves. We're trying to find ways to play better as the season goes along."