Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has been talking up the American League West all season.
Now with just 16 games remaining and the Rangers clinging to a three-game lead in the West, the road to the division title goes through the division as the Rangers play the West for the remainder of the season.
The march toward a third-straight division title begins Tuesday when the Rangers open a three-game series at the Los Angeles Angels. It’s just the way Washington wants it.
“The past couple of years we’ve done extremely well in our division and this year we’re .500,” Washington said. “That’s why you want to do well in your division because that’s where you win. When you can run away in your division, that’s where you win. Everything is in front of us. We’re in our division and I’m very confident we can win.”
Not only can the Rangers win the division with a strong push, they can hurt the postseason chances of their rivals. The Angels are 7 ½ games back of the Rangers in the West. Winning this series would all but eliminate the Angels from division hopes and also hamper their wild-card bid as Los Angeles is 2 ½ behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot.
Texas also still has seven games remaining against the surprising second-place Oakland A’s. The Rangers don’t play Oakland until a week from Monday when they begin a four-game series in Arlington and finish the season with seven of their final 10 games against the A’s.
The Rangers ran away late in the West the last two years by feasting in the division. Texas went 40-17 against the West last year. This season they’re 21-20.
Washington thinks a lot of that has to do with the West. The four teams in the West are a combined 56 games over .500. The National League East teams are second to the West and they are a combined 21 games over .500.
As good as the rest of the West is, it’s the Rangers who have the experience in these situations. Last year the Rangers rattled off a 14-2 run to end the regular season.
Washington isn’t sure how much experience matters right now. It’s about how a team’s playing.
“When you come into this type of stretch and you’re a team in the stretch that’s playing well, that’s mainly what it comes down to,” Washington said. “I don’t think experience plays a part more or less, I just think it’s who is playing well.”
The Rangers are doing that. They’ve won eight of their last nine series but they haven’t been able to go on a long run. The Rangers haven’t won more than two-straight games since they had a four-game streak Aug. 22-25.
It won’t be easy to get on a long roll now because the Angels will roll out Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke to pitch against the Rangers in Anaheim.
“We’re going to go there and play like we always do,” catcher Mike Napoli said of the series against Los Angeles. “They’ve got a good ballclub. We’ll take it one day at a time.”