Rangers not sweating upcoming heat
First-place club aims to keep 4-5 trip, visit from AL East contenders in proper focus
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington doesn't believe in measuring sticks. He's not looking at the upcoming series with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays as any kind of playoff preview or opportunity for his team to grab a psychological edge if it faces one or more of those teams come October.
"It's August," Washington said. "We're not thinking about any of that stuff. That's something to worry about in September."
The ability to stay in the moment and live by the game-at-a-time cliché is one reason the Rangers remain on top of the American League West. And as the A's showed this weekend, they plan on at least staying close enough to put some pressure on the Rangers.
Oakland won Sunday's game 3-2 by coming from behind late. It allowed the A's to close the gap to 7.5 games behind the Rangers, who face three of the top teams in the American League over the next 10 days.
"No one said it was going to be easy and it's not, trust me, I've been through this before," reliever Darren Oliver said. "It's a grind. No team is going away."
The reality is there's a lot of baseball to play and the fact this franchise has a limited playoff history -- one playoff game win, in fact -- helps keep this team from thinking ahead.
"I think that's something we do well," David Murphy said. "I feel like this is the perfect mix of young guys and veteran guys and plenty of guys in the middle. It's the type of team that we're able to joke around and have fun, but when it's time to get serious and time to play hard, we can flip that switch and do that."
The switch wasn't quite as effective on this road trip as it's been at other times this season. The Rangers left Oakland a little disappointed that they weren't able to win the series after taking the first game behind a strong showing from Cliff Lee.
But they did finish the road trip at 4-5, which means that they lost just one game off their lead to the A's in the entire West Coast swing through the division. The Angels were nine games back when the trip began and that's where they are when it ended. Clearly, this team wants to put enough wins together to pad the lead. But that's never easy down the stretch. The key is treading water. As long as they don't drown, the Rangers will be tough to catch.
"We held our own," Washington said about the trip. "I thought we could have won more games, but overall I thought we did a good job. Our heads are still high, but we can play better."
Many of his players agreed with that assessment.
"It was just OK or satisfactory," Josh Hamilton said. "We didn't lose all the games and fall way back. But we really didn't play to our abilities as a team. Hopefully, the next five games we can find that again and move forward."
The Rangers didn't hit the ball well in Anaheim, Seattle and Oakland, something they know must improve quickly. Texas hit .234 on this trip and didn't get much from Michael Young or Vladimir Guerrero. Young was 4-for-38 (.105), though he did hit a big grand slam in Seattle. Guerrero finished 7-for-31 (.226) and looked tired.
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Texas' starters were a bit inconsistent, as well. There were good performances by Lee and Colby Lewis and there were struggles from Rich Harden and C.J. Wilson. The bullpen did the job, finishing the trip with a 2.39 ERA that was inflated thanks to the late runs allowed Sunday.
Murphy emerged with a hot bat, forcing his way into the lineup. And after getting a cortisone shot in his inflamed right knee, Hamilton was 6-for-20 in the final five games of the trip. But overall, the club didn't get enough from the bats.
"We played flat at times, which we don't like to do," Hamilton said. "But that's going to happen sometimes, especially at this part of the season. We've got to make adjustments and find a way to get around that."
Perhaps three straight series against the beasts of the East will help.
"It seems like we always step up against those guys," Lewis said. "When you have the bigger name clubs coming in, you get packed houses and we play well at home. So I think it's an advantage for us."