ANAHEIM -- After having their way in the American League West for the past three seasons, the Angels clearly aren't surprised to see Texas emerging as a legitimate threat and roadblock, carrying a 4 1/2-game division lead into a three-game series at Angel Stadium starting Tuesday night.
"I watch MLB Network," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "I see what they're doing -- I've got no choice. If they're winning like this in September, then it's a problem. September shows what you're really made of. Their pitching is good, their hitting is good, their defense is good. They look totally different. You can't take these guys lightly."
With Interleague Play over, the AL West stands 4 1/2 games above .500 as a division. In 2009, it was the strongest overall division in the Majors, a distinction that belongs at the moment to the AL East, which is 10 1/2 games above .500.
"Everybody classifies it as not being a strong division," said Angels ace Jered Weaver, who starts the series finale on Thursday night against southpaw C.J. Wilson. "There are always three teams battling to win the AL West. Obviously, this year with Texas doing what they're doing, it presents a serious challenge. Oakland's playing good baseball. Seattle has some talent.
"It always seems like the AL West takes a while to get going for some reason. A lot of teams start out slow, and then they get going around this time of year. Maybe we just like the warmer weather."
Vlad back as rival but memories are fond
ANAHEIM -- Arguably the greatest player in the history of the Angels' franchise, Vladimir Guerrero, returned to his old home in a colorful Rangers uniform on Tuesday, carrying six memorable seasons worth of memories with him.
One of Guerrero's biggest hits in an Angels uniform was one of his last, a game-winning single against Jonathan Papelbon to cap a four-run ninth-inning uprising that gave the Angels a sweep of the Red Sox in the American League Division Series last October.
"I had bigger moments than that one," Guerrero said through Jose Mota's translation, reflecting back to his 2004 debut season in Anaheim when he was the AL MVP and crushed a grand slam at Fenway in the ALDS. "I remember hitting that home run in Boston with the bases loaded. Overall, I had so many great moments, but '04 stands out because I had come from Montreal where we never made the postseason. That was a great year."
Guerrero's debut season in Texas is in many ways a throwback to 2004. Virtually assured of making the AL's starting lineup for the All-Star Game on July 13 at Angel Stadium as the designated hitter, Guerrero returns batting .327 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs heading into Tuesday's game. His slugging (.538) and on-base (.374) numbers also are in line with his '04 MVP resume.
"When we talked to him this winter, that's what the purpose was," Rangers manager Ron Washington said when asked if Guerrero has tipped the AL West scales in Texas' favor. "We needed a guy of his presence, of his stature, a guy who's been there and done that in our lineup. But we certainly made sure that he knew we didn't need him to come here and put us on his back. And he's made everyone else around him better.
"Vlad is Vlad. We certainly needed a guy that we felt could be in our lineup when times got tough and could get us that big hit. And at times, he's provided us with that. It's something he's done before, so that's not new to him."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the club wanted to talk with Guerrero about returning, but his desire for a long-term deal sent them in another direction. They zeroed in on Hideki Matsui, who also has been productive coming off his World Series MVP ride with the Yankees.
"If you can't be happy for Vlad, something's wrong with you," Scioscia said. "This guy is the most unassuming superstar around. I'm just not happy he's doing it in our division, as our division rival.
"As an organization, obviously we respected what Vlad did here, and we understood his talent. But we were maybe not willing to commit to the length of contract that Vlad was looking for. That was the nuts and bolts of it. We needed to make a decision, and we signed Hideki. Then, I think about a month later, Vlad signed with Texas. It was a tough decision, but I think we're happy with what Hideki's doing for us, and obviously they're happy with what Vlad is doing for them."
Frandsen starts over Sunday's star Wood
ANAHEIM -- Brandon Wood's grand slam on Sunday against the Rockies did not produce a starting assignment on Tuesday night against the Rangers. Kevin Frandsen, who has excelled with the bat (hitting .352) and glove, got the start against the Rangers, with Wood on the bench against right-hander Scott Feldman.
"The home run, the way Brandon's played the last 10 games or so, there's a player who's more confident," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Kevin's done a tremendous job and is part of the third-base scenario along with Brandon."
Wood has hit safely in seven of his past 10 games, his .286 average during that stretch lifting his overall season average from .152 to .176.
"I had chills watching Brandon run around the bases," said Torii Hunter, who has the locker next to Wood's and has been counseling the young athlete every day. "That was the best swing I've seen him take all season. That was Brandon. I just want him to hold onto it and carry it with him up there."
Signed as a Minor League free agent in late April and promoted on May 8 from Triple-A Salt Lake, Frandsen took advantage of Wood's time on the 15-day disabled list with a hip flexor strain to show his multiple talents. The former Giants infielder carries a career-high seven-game hitting streak into the Rangers' series and has struck out only four times in 97 plate appearances, putting together a .392 on-base percentage.
Hank Conger, the Angels' premier catching prospect, has been added to the U.S. roster for the July 11 Futures Game at Angel Stadium, taking the place of the injured Pirates prospect Tony Sanchez. Conger will join outfielder Mike Trout on the U.S. roster that will face the World team, which will include the Angels' Luis Jimenez, a third baseman from the Dominican Republic. The 12th annual Futures Game is one of the featured events preceding the July 13 Major League All-Star Game. ... With seven home runs against the National League, Mike Napoli tied the Brewers' Prince Fielder and the Orioles' Adam Jones for the MLB lead in Interleague Play this season. ... Only a pair of Rangers -- Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero -- have had more RBIs over the past two months than Torii Hunter. Since April 28 heading into Tuesday's game, Hamilton has 49, Guerrero 47 and Hunter 46 RBIs. ... Hamilton is in contention in all three Triple Crown categories: Third in batting average (.346), fifth in homers (18) and third in RBIs (57). Asked about Hamilton's chances of raising a Triple Crown, a feat last accomplished by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, Rangers manager Ron Washington said, "He has to get a ton of luck, but I wouldn't put it past him. He certainly has the ability to do it, but it takes a lot of mental preparation to pull that off." ... A deep, productive bullpen has been one of the primary components in the Rangers' rise this season, and two major contributors are former Angels Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day. Oliver, who graced the Angels' bullpen for three superb seasons before signing a free-agent deal with the Rangers, is a strong All-Star candidate with a 1.27 ERA in 32 games and only seven walks against 40 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. O'Day, the side-arming right-hander, is 3-2 with a 1.78 ERA in 34 games, covering 30 1/3 innings. In 65 2/3 combined innings, the duo has yielded just three homers, two by Oliver. This has been done while working half their games in hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. ... O'Day was signed as a Rule 5 free agent by the Mets after the 2008 season when he appeared in 30 games for the Angels. Texas claimed him off waivers after the Mets released him in 2009, and he has been a mainstay since.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.