By Mark Miller
Despite their worst week in more than a month and without their best hitter for more than four games, the Texas Rangers still put themselves in a position to win their third straight American League West division title this week.
Thanks to a 3-2 victory Sunday in Seattle, the Rangers entered the final full week of the regular season four games ahead of the Oakland Athletics with four games between the teams at home through Thursday. Should the Rangers sweep, they will be the best in the West again.
“We’re not looking too much further ahead than Monday,” third baseman Adrian Beltre told mlb.com Sunday. “We just want to finish with a nice push.”
Texas reverted to its July form last week with only three hits in 36 at-bats with runners in scoring position. It didn’t help that A.L. home run leader Josh Hamilton missed the final four games with sinus-caused vision problems.
But Texas received a two-run home run by Beltre to break a 1-1 tie last Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Strong starting pitching from Derek Holland, Yu Darvish. Ryan Dempster and Matt Harrison also helped the team split its six games.
By so doing, the team won for the 90th time in 152 games, the third straight year with at least that many victories but the fastest in team history. It also kept Texas two games ahead of the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League.
Even though the Rangers won two of three games in Anaheim, they clearly missed Hamilton’s output as they scored just six runs in the three games at Seattle.
“Without him in there, we get pitched differently,” manager Ron Washington told mlb.com. “Pitchers are always aware of where he is in the lineup. And he puts more stress on them when he walks to the plate. Having him out of the lineup makes a big difference.”
Trying their best to make up for Hamilton’s absence was Michael Young, who hit .435 for the week, Nelson Cruz with seven hits including three doubles, and Craig Gentry with a .308 average.
On the mound, Holland yielded two earned runs in seven innings and Darvish a run on four hits with one walk and nine strikeouts in eight innings in wins over the Angels. Dempster gave up just two runs in 6.2 innings Sunday after being roughed up by the Angels last Tuesday. Harrison should have won after giving up just a run in eight innings and closer Joe Nathan earned saves in both of his chances.
Angels loom on the horizon
If the Rangers are unable to end the division race against the A’s, they can still do so at home this weekend against the Angels. What they don’t want to do is wait until they finish the regular season in Oakland next week.
“These are big games,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “We’re ready. We’re glad to be playing at home.”
Oakland stumbled into Texas after losing two of three at Detroit and at the Yankees last week. The A’s did salvage the final games of each series to keep their chances alive.
The Angels are hanging around after sweeping the Chicago White Sox, staying 2.5 games behind Oakland for the second wild-card spot and trailing Texas by 6.5 games. Seattle will play in Anaheim before the Angels travel to Arlington. Even if the Rangers have clinched, there’s still the top record in the league which guarantees home field advantage for two rounds of the playoffs.
“It’s not about the wins now; it’s about getting to the playoffs,” Washington said.
9/26 Athletics 7:05 p.m.
9/27 Athletics 1:05 p.m.
9/28 Angels 7:05 p.m.
9/29 Angels 7:05 p.m.
9/30 Angels 2:05 p.m.
10/1 @Athletics 9:05 p.m.
10/2 @Athletics 9:05 p.m.
10/3 @Athletics 2:35 p.m.
End Regular Season