The Rays and the Rangers began this season in drastically different places.
Tampa Bay was reveling in (or suffering through) the first wave of high pre-season hopes in franchise history, coming off a trip to the World Series in 2008.
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Texas was in a more familiar spot, dismissed as ultimately irrelevant in the A.L. West, primed to score a lot of runs and not much else, certainly not playoff contention.
But it is July, and the preseason prognosticators were only half-right, if that; Tampa is looking increasingly like a contender -- as many thought -- though the route they've taken was vaguely shocking. They slipped to fourth in the division at 25-28 at the end of May; Akinori Iwamura suffered a torn ACL on the 24th of that month, and ace Scott Kazmir, after a rocky start, was sent to the 15-day disabled list on the 23rd.
Things looked bleak.
In Kazmir and Iwamura's absence, though, the Rays got hot. They went 19-7 over June, now sitting in third place in the AL East, five games back of the first place Red Sox.
Kazmir returned on the 27th, looking moderately good against Florida; he went five innings that game, surrendering four hits, two runs and a walk.
The Rangers, on the other hand, were arguably the worst team in baseball in the month of June. The usually powerful offense got ugly and even a (kind of unexpectedly) great start couldn't save them; this was seen on Sunday, as 22 year-old Tommy Hunter went 6 2/3 innings, giving up just two runs. Texas lost that game, of course, 2-0, being one-hit by Chad Gaudin and Heath Bell.
The last two games of the Angels series saw Texas' bats return to some degree, scoring nine runs in each, socking five home runs in the first and winning in walk-off fashion in the second, to take the series.
As it stands now, the series between the two will pit two potentially dangerous, immoderately hungry clubs against each other; the 2008 Rays and the 2009 Rangers have been compared ad nauseum for basically the entire season. Texas would like nothing more than to encourage these comparisons; Tampa Bay would like to quell them permanently.
Game one, on Friday night in Arlington will see the Ray's Kazmir take on the Ranger's Hunter.
Considering that Kazmir's ERA is about four runs higher than Hunter's at the moment -- and that the Rays have to jump both New York and/or Boston to even have a shot at playoff contention -- the Rangers current situation doesn't look all that pressing.
And, perhaps, neither do the Angels.
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