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TEX@HOU: Lewis just misses shutout but wins fourth

ARLINGTON -- When the Angels last saw the Rangers, they were five games below .500 and eight games out of first place. Much has changed.

In the three weeks since the Rangers took two of three from the Angels in Arlington, Albert Pujols has homered seven times, C.J. Wilson has won twice and posted a 1.02 ERA in his last three starts and the Angels had climbed above .500 for the first time since Opening Day before dropping to 26-26 with Wednesday's 6-5 loss to the Yankees.

"It's not surprising," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. "They're basically playing how we and everyone else in the world expected them to play. When you spend as much money in free agency as they did and when you get off to as bad of a start as they did, you're bound to draw some negative attention. They're back on track."

The Angels committed a combined $315 million to Wilson and Pujols over the offseason but spent 36 of the first 48 days of the season in last place. Since leaving Arlington, the Angels are 11-6 and had won a season-high eight straight games before Wednesday's setback. They now sit in second place in the AL West, 5 1/2 games behind the Rangers.

"They're not going to go away. They've been a leader in the division for a long time," Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "They've got good talent. It's going to be fun playing them in their home park. We always enjoy going in there and playing."

The Rangers began a six-game homestand by winning four games in a row, including a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays that saw them score 34 runs on 43 hits. But they dropped their last two games to the Mariners by a combined score of 31-11. The Rangers allowed six runs in the eighth inning of the first of those two losses before allowing eight runs in both the second and third innings of Wednesday's defeat.

Still, the Angels are not looking at this series any different than they did their last one against the Rangers.

"Beyond the fact that they're the defending AL West champions and a pretty good ballclub, we have to approach them like any other team," Angels slugger Mark Trumbo said. "If we treat them like Goliaths, I think we're going to be defeated going into the series. I don't think you're ever going to hear anybody in this room say they're fearful of that team or think that they're a better ballclub because that's just not the case."

Pujols did not hit his first home run until a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays on May 6. After not going deep in his first 110 at-bats with his new team, Pujols has homered in eight of his last 92. His 24 RBIs in May were second in the AL only to Hamilton's 32, and 23 of those have come in Pujols' last 24 games. Since starting the season batting .190, Pujols has hit .318 over his last 21 games.

"I think it's safe to say he's the best hitter of this era," Murphy said. "You don't get a $250 million contract for nothing. He was bound to flip the switch at some point and figure it out. And he figured it out with an exclamation point. When the season's over, he's probably going to have his .300, 30 [home runs] and 100 [RBIs] like he does every year."

Until he left his last start with a lower back injury, Angels ace Jered Weaver was slated to start Sunday's series finale against the Rangers. Instead, the Angels called up right-hander Garrett Richards from Triple-A Salt Lake to replace Weaver in the rotation. Richards is 5-2 with a 4.31 ERA in 10 starts for Salt Lake this year. He went 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in seven appearances, including three starts, for the Angels in 2011.

"He's a Cy Young candidate," Murphy said of Weaver. "I'm sure they've got some young guys that can fill in, but you can't replace a guy like him. He's going to go back to contributing the way that he always does. But I think any team is going to take a hit whenever their ace goes down."

Weaver is 6-1 this year, with his only loss coming on May 13 against the Rangers. Prior to that start, Weaver was 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA while striking out 47 batters and walking nine. But a Nelson Cruz grand slam fueled a five-run third inning as the Rangers won, 13-6. Weaver allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings as his ERA climbed to 2.83.

"They have a lot of depth in their rotation," Michael Young said. "Weaver is one of the best pitchers in the league, but their other guys are really good, too."

For the second time this year, former Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson will square off against Yu Darvish and his former team. Wilson started on May 11 against the Rangers but left after two-thirds of an inning following a nearly two hour-long rain delay. Darvish stayed on the mound, improving to 5-1 in a 10-3 Rangers win, allowing three hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Wilson started the following day, allowing two hits and two runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 4-2 Angels victory. For some Rangers hitters, the novelty of facing their former teammate hasn't worn off yet.

"It's still fresh enough to where we'll have fun with it," Murphy said. "It's kind of like something that takes you back to Little League. You're playing against someone that you know pretty well. He's one of your friends and you're playing for bragging rights. The next time you see him you want to be able to talk trash to him."

Jerome Williams will start for the Angels in Friday's series opener against the Rangers' Colby Lewis. After going 1-1 with a 5.51 ERA in April, Williams went 4-1 in six May starts with a 3.16 ERA. Lewis went 1-3 with a 5.23 ERA in May after going 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in April. He will be making his first start against the Angels this season.

"Every team goes through spurts," Lewis said. "At some point they were going to start playing good baseball because of the talent they have. If we go in and play the type of baseball we did earlier this week, we'll be okay."

Rangers: Hamilton in a class by himself
Hamilton joined the likes of Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire and Pujols as the only players in baseball history with at least 21 home runs and 56 RBIs through the first 50 games of a season. Both figures lead the Major Leagues. His 12 home runs and 32 RBIs in May are the most in team history for that month.

"He's in a class by himself," Murphy said. "There's a lot of great hitters out there. You give Pujols the nod over the course of his career because nobody put up that great of numbers as consistently as he has over that period of time. But I would take Josh over anybody right now."

• After going 17-6 in April, the Rangers went .500 in May, going 14-14. They ended the month with two straight losses to the Mariners by a combined score of 31-10 following four straight victories. Their 3.76 May ERA was nearly an entire run higher than the 2.81 ERA they posted in April. The Rangers batted an AL-best .283 while scoring a Major League-best 159 runs in May.

• Double-A Frisco outfielder Brad Hawpe was placed on the disabled list with left elbow fatigue on Wednesday. Hawpe, an All-Star in 2009 with the Rockies, had Tommy John surgery in August. In 35 games this year, Hawpe has batted .260 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

Angels: Hamilton impressed with Trout
Since calling up Mike Trout from Triple-A Salt Lake, the Angels are 20-11. They were 6-10 before Trout joined the big league team. Trout, who ranks in the top five among rookies in virtually every major offensive category, is batting .327 in May and has 11 games with at least two hits this year. He is one of four rookies with at least four three-hit games in 2012. Trout went 4-for-11 with a home run and three RBIs in the three games against the Rangers earlier this season.

"I haven't seen him play a lot," Hamilton said. "But he seems to have all the tools it takes to be successful and it seems like he works hard and listens. He's not hard-headed."

• Trumbo homered in his fourth straight game Wednesday, marking the first time he had done so in his career. Trumbo had homered in three consecutive games last season from July 8-11. He extended the streak with a two-run home run off Ivan Nova in the fourth inning of a 6-5 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night.

Trumbo's .348 batting average, 10 home runs, 12 doubles, and .632 slugging percentage are all team highs. He has batted .367 in May with 18 extra-base hits and 13 games with multiple hits. Trumbo has batted .451 at home this year, the best home batting average in the Major Leagues.

Worth noting
• Even after taking two straight losses, at 31-20, the Rangers are off to their second-best 51-game start in team history, behind the 1996 club that began the season 32-19.

• Ernesto Frieri, who was acquired by the Angels from the Padres on May 4, has not allowed a hit in his first 12 appearances with his new team. That makes him the first pitcher in baseball history to accomplish such a feat. Frier is also the only pitcher in Major League history to strike out at least 25 batters without allowing an earned run in his first 12 innings with a team.

• Six of the 31 runs the Rangers have given up in their past two games give them a Major League-worst 24 unearned runs allowed in May. The Rangers, who allowed just three unearned runs in 23 April games, are 5-8 in games where they surrender an unearned run. Nearly 13 percent of the 212 runs they have given up this year have been unearned.

• Pujols failed to hit a home run Wednesday, marking the first time in six seasons he did not homer on May 30. Pujols went 2-for-4 in a 6-5 loss to the Yankees with a pair of singles.

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