It's a big series, again

When the Angels were in Texas three weekends ago, the Rangers drew more than 142,000 fans for a three-game series at the Ballpark in Arlington.

"I remember going to Texas and they barely had fans in that nice stadium," Torii Hunter said. "They're selling out every game. It brings that intensity, that adrenaline rush for us."

Which is why Hunter is hoping for a raucous environment at Angel Stadium this weekend with the first-place Rangers in town.

"I would love to see the fans come out and represent us to the fullest -- 47,000, 48,000 fans, screaming 'Angels,' screaming at different players on the other team. That’s what makes us," Hunter said. "That’s why we call that homefield advantage."

Hunter might run afoul of the Orange County fire marshal with his pleas, considering the Angel Stadium capacity is 45,050, but the Angels are expecting good crowds, especially considering some of the problems they've had drawing customers this season: around 40,000 for Friday's game and probable sellouts for Saturday and Sunday.

That's not bad when you consider that, a couple of weeks ago, it was looking like this series might not mean all that much. The Angels left Texas after being badly beaten in a three-game series, outscored 27-13 and trailing Texas by eight games in the AL West. The Angels couldn't get on base. They couldn't string hits together, their bullpen was a mess and Texas looked like an unstoppable force.

Momentum sometimes shifts unexpectedly during a baseball season. The Angels got on an eight-game winning streak before their rally fell inches short against the New York Yankees Wednesday night and Texas lost its past two games at home to the Seattle Mariners by a combined score of 31-11.

Now, the stage is set again. The Angels have a chance to shift the whole AL West paradigm. They trail Texas by 5 1/2 games.

To eat away at that still-substantial lead, however, the Angels will have to do something they haven't done since last July 19-21: win a series against the Rangers. The divide between these teams has been most glaring in head-to-head games lately. Since Jered Weaver out-dueled C.J. Wilson 1-0 in that July 21 game, the Angels have gone 3-10 against the Rangers, often losing by lopsided scores.

The Angels might need to win this weekend's series just to prove to themselves they're good enough to hang with these guys.

"I think we’re kind of in a rut a little maybe. It’s been quite a while since we took a series from them," said Angels slugger Mark Trumbo. "What better time than now?"

That seems to be the question. Since last the Angels saw Texas, they have gotten several issues sorted out. They're 16-10 since fixing their bullpen mess by acquiring Ernesto Frieri from the San Diego Padres. You almost can't be better than Frieri has been. He still hasn't allowed a hit in 12 innings and he's striking out more than two batters an inning.

They're 14-9 since Albert Pujols hit that first home run on May 6 and, if you haven't heard, he's hit seven more since. Probably the biggest spark has been the addition of rookie Mike Trout, who has a .366 on-base percentage and has scored 21 runs in 30 games. The steadying influences have been the starting rotation and Trumbo's consistent power.

Add up all those trends and you get a talented team that's finally playing consistently well. They are who we thought they were even if we started to doubt in the early days of May.

Hunter said he sensed it immediately upon his return from two weeks on the restricted list, where he had gone to be with his teenage son, Darius, as he dealt with sexual-assault allegations back home in Texas. When Hunter got back, the air wasn't as thick in the Angels clubhouse, the mood not as tense.

"I could look around and see some positive energy," Hunter said. "Me coming back from something negative, I came back into something positive. It actually helped me out. It was awesome."

But just as quickly as the team's mood improved, it could darken again if the Rangers leave town with another demoralizing series victory. And just as quickly as it ramped up over that eight-game winning streak, it could spike if the Angels finally take one from these guys.

In other words, big early-June series.

"I take every game just as seriously as the next, because they all count, but they are the defending champions and basically the team to beat," said Trumbo.