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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Rangers must make strong stand against A's

Rangers must make strong stand against A's

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Rangers must make strong stand against A's

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

The A's and Rangers are separated by a mere 3 1/2 games in the American League West standings. So why does it feel like they're miles apart?

Maybe it's because they're two teams going in opposite directions as they open a three-game series in Arlington on Friday. Maybe it's because time is running out on the Rangers.

"We're fine," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said Wednesday.

Kinsler was speaking moments after the Pirates completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday afternoon.

If the Rangers really are fine, you wouldn't want to see them when things are going badly. Kinsler could be seeing the Rangers for what he thinks they ought to be instead of what they actually are.

Plenty of the rest of us have done the same thing. After all, no AL team has been better the past four seasons. After Texas made three straight playoff appearances, it was easy to concede a fourth to a team that had a deep pitching staff and seemingly enough offense even after an offseason in which Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli departed via free agency and Michael Young was traded.

For large chunks of this season, the Rangers have been as good as they were supposed to be. In fact, they were 20-7 in August and seemed on the verge of taking charge of the AL West.

And then September rolled around. It was around this time last season that they let a five-game lead with nine to go slip away. It feels like deja vu all over again.

The Rangers -- with all that supposed pitching, all that experience and all that firepower -- are 2-8 this month. Just like that, it came undone for them. After scoring almost six runs a game in August, they're down to 3.4 this month. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is hitting .205 with no home runs in 39 at-bats this month. Kinsler is hitting .217.

Pitching? What pitching? Texas' starters are 1-8 with a 5.26 ERA in September. Right-hander Matt Garza, acquired to shore up the rotation, is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA. He lasted just four innings and allowed three runs on Wednesday against the Pirates.

Now, the Rangers are hosting the A's in a three-game series that is the franchise's most important in a couple of years. If they can't close the gap, they'll find themselves jockeying with five other AL teams for one of the two Wild Card berths.

The Rangers have a much tougher schedule. After playing three against the A's, they've got four on the road against the Rays and three on the road against the Royals. Meanwhile, the A's play their final 13 against the Angels, Twins and Mariners.

Cue the encouraging words.

"Our heart is still in it," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "We just got to do what we have to do to win ballgames. That's all. I'm not concerned. We'll be ready to play when Oakland comes to town."

As for the A's, they're playing their best baseball when the games count the most. Their rotation is so deep that Opening Day starter Brett Anderson is working out of the bullpen, because the five starters in front of him are going so well.

If that's how Oakland manager Bob Melvin decides to play it in the postseason, he'll have a terrific additional option for a bullpen that was already pretty good.

Offensively, third baseman Josh Donaldson has been good enough to get his name on some AL MVP Award ballots. Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss have also been very, very good.

Now, Yoenis Cespedes, who showed last season he's good enough to carry a team, has gotten hot at the right time.

The A's roll into Arlington having won 13 of 18 games. After being 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers on Aug. 23, they're now 3 1/2 in front.

The Rangers have lined up their three best starters -- Derek Holland, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez -- for the series. We'll know plenty more about this team by how they rebound from the Pittsburgh sweep and whether they're capable of hanging with Oakland.

"I don't think luck has anything to do with it," Washington said. "You make your luck. We just haven't been able to get the job done."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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