Much of the chatter heading into the postseason stretch has been the same. The Athletics will take the American League West division crown and the Angels will pull into a comfortable second for the first Wild Card position. But Sunday, the Angels will have a chance to change the conversation, if it hasn't been already.
As Oakland has sputtered, the Angels have been hitting their stride. They tied the A's for first in the standings by winning five of their last six games, which included their second straight victory over the Rangers in Saturday night's 5-4 win.
While sharing first place is a notable achievement this late in August, the Angels know there is much work to be done. That's why they decided not to line up one of their aces, Garrett Richards, ahead in the rotation to face the A's next weekend. They also know they'll need contributions from their whole starting staff, like Hector Santiago, who takes the ball Sunday.
Santiago was optioned to the Minors after starting the season 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA, but he has a 2.72 ERA in 53 innings since being called back up on June 10 and threw six shutout innings against the Red Sox his last time out. He's going to be starting every fifth day the rest of the season, now that Tyler Skaggs had Tommy John surgery.
"[I'm] commanding the zone, being in good pitcher's counts where you put yourself in situations to get guys out," Santiago said. "And I stopped giving up the free passes. That's kind of what I've been doing. When I walked somebody, it's been with either two outs or something like that. So I've been in a good situation to get out of the inning."
He'll match up with Rangers starter Nick Tepesch, who is coming off one of his strongest starts of the season, having gone seven innings and allowing two earned runs on four hits in a no-decision against the Rays last Tuesday.
He has walked no more than one batter in four of his past five starts. Tepesch said command has made the difference.
"It was just commanding my fastball and I think everything stemmed from that," Tepesch said.
Against the Angels, Tepesch has made two career starts, including on July 11 when he allowed three runs on six hits in six innings. Though the Rangers were shut out and he took the loss, Tepesch hopes to build on that outing.
"They've got a lot of good hitters in that lineup, top to bottom," Tepesch said. "It's just a matter of what worked and what didn't work and maybe trying some new things as well."
Rangers: Feliz throwing harder recently
In four outings since blowing a save at Cleveland on Aug. 3, Rangers righty Neftali Feliz has continued to improve his velocity. He's retired 12 out of 14 batters faced, including a strikeout of Josh Hamilton for the Rangers' final out in Friday's loss against the Angels.
It's a good sign for the closer who underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-2012, appeared in only six Major League games in 2013 and toiled in the Minors for the first half of the season while trying to return to the form he showed as the closer on back-to-back American League championship teams.
Feliz's fastball was hovering closer to 90 mph until recently.
"It's just a matter of him going out there trusting his arm," manager Ron Washington said. "He probably had some doubts in his mind. But the thing that I'm only concerned about is that he gets outs. His last three outings, he's been at 93, 94, but more than that has been his placement. … You don't really have to have a whole lot of velocity to get good results if you can make good pitches."
Angels: Calhoun doing leadoff things
It took an acrobatic catch by Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin to deny Kole Calhoun of extra bases at the start of Saturday's game.
An out in those situations has become a rarity for the Angels' leadoff hitter.
Calhoun -- with six multi-hit games in his last seven contests -- isn't your prototypical leadoff hitter, but he's doing leadoff things. He owns a team-leading .295 batting average, and he's a tough out to start the game. Calhoun has 25 hits in 57 at-bats when leading off a game in front of Mike Trout, good for a .439 batting average.
"You know, I'm really starting to take it personally," Calhoun said of leading off. "I want so bad to get on base, do what a leadoff guy should do. I really enjoy it now. It was extremely new when I first started the year, but I'm having fun, getting on base and trying to spark these guys up."
• Huston Street has the best ERA of any closer in the Majors this season, at 0.82 in 44 innings.
• David Freese lost an 11-game hitting streak Saturday. He has 18 hits in his last 49 at-bats.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.