Rangers on solid ground for Houston showdown

Texas enters series with 3 1/2-game edge atop AL West

Rangers on solid ground for Houston showdown

OAKLAND -- The Rangers are headed into a big three-game series with the Astros beginning Friday night at Minute Maid Park. The American League West title is still at stake, but the Rangers have taken some pressure off themselves and put more on Houston with their work in Oakland this week.

The Rangers completed a three-game sweep of the Athletics with an 8-1 victory on Thursday afternoon, increasing their lead to 3 1/2 games in the division. The Rangers are four up in the loss column with 10 games to go, and their magic number is down to 7.

"They've got such great energy and superior focus," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "They are on a mission. Each one of them knows where we want to go and we're not there yet. They are maintaining that focus from pitch one."

The Rangers are 12-4 against the Astros this season, including a four-game sweep last week in Arlington, and if that domination continues through the weekend, the division race will be all but over. Another sweep will assure the Rangers of at least a tie for the division title.

No matter the outcome of the series, the Rangers would still leave Houston in first place, heading back to Arlington for a season-ending seven-game homestand against the Tigers and Angels.

Despite how well the Rangers have done lately against Houston, they are still expecting a tough series. They are going up against the Astros' three best pitchers in Scott Kazmir, Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel. Also, the Astros are 51-27 at Minute Maid Park this season.

"This is a high-energy club and we know they are not going away," Banister said of the Astros. "They have some tremendous young players and some veteran players, I'm sure they'll be up for this. They have had a day off, they're refreshed, they love to play in that ballpark and they know how to play there. Their pitchers are tough there. We have our work cut out for us."

Rangers-Astros weekend preview

The Rangers took care of business against an Oakland team that has been reeling for the past two months. Thursday's loss was the Athletics' 27th in their last 40 games, and they are assured of a last-place finish.

But the Rangers didn't need any pitfalls before getting to Houston.

"We have the same mindset, take care of business one day at a time and play our style of baseball," first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "We still have 10 games to go, so we still have business to take care of."

The next stop is Houston.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.