Rangers send Astros home empty-handed

First-place Texas completes four-game sweep; Angels remain in Wild Card hunt

Rangers send Astros home empty-handed

Thursday's Major League slate was light on games but heavy on playoff implications. Three of the nine contests featured clubs battling head to head for postseason positioning, while several other contenders were in action.

Here's a look into how it all played out:

Texas completes sweep of Houston
The last four days saw the balance of power in the American League West shift dramatically, as the Rangers swept a pivotal four-game series against the Astros in Arlington.

The Rangers, who won, 8-2, on Thursday, entered the series down a game and a half in the division and now exit 2 1/2 games ahead. Texas outscored its intrastate rival 33-13 in four games and improved to 11-5 this month.

"September is never easy," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Chasing a pennant is never easy. It takes supreme focus. It's not looking up, you can't exhale. You celebrate the win, but you have to get up the next day and do it all over again. You can't look back because somebody is coming after you."

The loss was the Astros' eighth in 10 games. They currently reside in the AL's second Wild Card spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota and 2 1/2 games in front of the Angels. Houston and Texas will meet once more this season, when the Astros host the Rangers for a three-game series at Minute Maid Park next weekend.

Moreland's three-run homer

Angels take opener vs. Twins
The Angels remain very much alive in the AL playoff hunt. They bolstered their postseason chances with an 11-8 win over the Twins at Target Field, closing to within 2 1/2 games of the Astros in the Wild Card race.

Angels tally six runs in the 2nd

The Angels overcame an early 5-0 deficit in the first inning to secure their 31st come-from-behind victory this year. They've dominated the Twins over the last two seasons, winning 10 of 11 since the start of 2014.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has lost three straight for the first time since Aug. 17-19. The Twins, however, still remain a game ahead of the Angels and 1 1/2 back of the Astros for the second Wild Card spot.

Cubs clinch season series with Pirates
The Cubs chipped away at Pittsburgh's lead for the National League's top Wild Card spot, winning, 9-6, at PNC Park on Thursday to pull within two games.

Chicago ended its season-long 11-game road trip on a high note, posting a 7-4 record, including the 3-1 series win vs. the Pirates. The Cubs improved to 10-6 against the Bucs in 2015, clinching the season series for the first time since 2009, with one more three-game series scheduled for next weekend.

"We come ready to play," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Mission accomplished in the sense that our guys went out and played the same game all year."

With three straight losses to Chicago, the Pirates have stumbled in their pursuit of the NL Central pennant. After a rough stretch that had the Cardinals losing eight of 10, St. Louis has won four straight and leads Pittsburgh by five games in the division.

Other things to know
• The Royals' magic number to clinch the AL Central is down to six over the Twins. Kansas City remains two games ahead of the Blue Jays for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

• The Jays shut out the Braves, 5-0. They've now won 34 of their last 45, and they lead the AL East by 3 1/2 games over the Yankees, who were off Thursday.

If the postseason began today ...
Wild Card: Astros at Yankees
Division Series: Wild Card at Royals, Rangers at Blue Jays

Wild Card: Cubs at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Cardinals, Mets at Dodgers

AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 6
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 7
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 8
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 9
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 16
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 17
World Series begins: Oct. 27

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.