Seven of the Angels' final 14 regular-season games are against the Texas Rangers, who lead them by eight games in the AL West and are on the verge of ending Los Angeles' run of three straight division titles.
What happens over the next six weeks will determine whether those last two weeks will mean anything in baseball's most lopsided race.
Jered Weaver outpitched Cliff Lee with seven sharp innings in a matchup of the AL's strikeout and ERA leaders, and the Angels took the rubber game of the series with a 4-1 victory over the Rangers on Sunday.
"Every game against those guys is important, and every game for us here on out is important," Weaver said. "This is the first time since I've been here that we've been in this kind of deficit. But we've got guys in this clubhouse that know how to take care of business and know what it takes to win an AL West championship."
The Angels have won eight division titles in their 50-year history -- five in the past six years -- but have never erased a deficit of more than 5½ games to do so.
"I don't think there's anybody in here who's giving up. I'm certainly not," Weaver added. "That's not why we play this game. We play this game to win, and everybody knows it. But we have some work to do, and we've got to get some momentum going."
The victory prevented the Angels from falling below .500 for the first time this season, and slipping at least 10 games out of first place for the first time since the end of the 2003 campaign.
"We're going to have to settle with two out of three," said Torii Hunter, who ended an 0-for-15 drought with a pair of singles that helped build two rallies. "I mean, we would have loved to sweep them, but it's hard to sweep a major league ballclub -- especially a ballclub like that."
Weaver (10-7) allowed an unearned run on four hits and struck out seven to increase his league-best total to 162. The right-hander, making his fourth start against the Rangers this season, was coming off a pair of hard-luck losses -- one of which came at Texas when Lee beat him 3-2.
"He got me in Texas, and it was fun to match up with him again," Weaver said. "Obviously, when you go up against a guy like Lee, you know it's going to be a battle. I mean, the guy is pretty impressive and fun to watch. He's a proven guy. It's a weird deal to see him hop around to all these different teams. You don't understand why they don't lock somebody like that up."
AL batting leader Josh Hamilton, who wasn't in the Rangers' starting lineup for the second straight game because of patella tendinitis in his right knee, drew a walk while pinch-hitting for Julio Borbon in the seventh with one on and one out. Jorge Cantu ran for him and was erased on a fielder's choice grounder by Elvis Cantu, who stole second. But Michael Young flied out with the potential tying runs in scoring position.
"Weaver's always tough," Young said. "He throws any pitch in any count and he competes. We would have loved to score more runs and backed up Cliff a little better than we did. But if we keep getting guys out there, we like our chances. Over the long haul, we're going to find ways to push runs across."
Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect eighth and Brian Fuentes got three outs for his 20th save in 24 attempts, after the Angels scored their final run on Howie Kendrick's sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Lee (9-4) went the distance for the seventh time this season, allowing nine hits over eight innings and striking out four. The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, who has pitched at least eight innings in each of his last nine starts, is 1-2 with a 2.91 ERA in five outings with the Rangers after joining them in a trade from Seattle on July 9. Overall, his ERA is a league-best 2.51.
"Getting deep in games and giving the team a chance to win, that's a starting pitcher's job," Lee said. "All I can do is throw strikes and make the other team swing the bat. I can't control if we score runs or make plays. They found some holes and got some hits."
The Angels opened the scoring in the first with an RBI single by Alberto Callaspo and a run-scoring groundout by Mike Napoli. Hunter scored the Angels' third run on a fielder's choice grounder by Juan Rivera.
Weaver, who hasn't pitched more than 7 1-3 innings in any of his 23 starts, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third by retiring former teammate Vladimir Guerrero. But Guerrero trimmed the Angels' lead to 3-1 in the sixth with an RBI double to right-center. Young scored all the way from first after reaching on Callaspo's error at third base.
NOTES: Angels C Jeff Mathis, still feeling the effects of his collision last Sunday at Texas with since-demoted Chris Davis, sat out for the fourth straight day after starting the first two games of the homestand against Boston. ... Angels LHP Scott Kazmir, sidelined since July 11 because of shoulder fatigue, will be at the team's spring training complex in Tempe, Ariz., on Monday to throw a 60-pitch simulated game. If there are no setbacks, he might rejoin the rotation next weekend at Detroit. ... Rangers LHP Derek Holland was activated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. ... Texas RF Nelson Cruz was 0 for 3 with a walk, ending his career-best hitting streak at 19 games.