Rangers ready for old playoff foe in tiebreaker game

Rangers sweep the Angels, force a one-game tiebreaker for second wild-card spot against Tampa Bay.

ARLINGTON, Texas – Seven consecutive wins by the Texas Rangers are a huge accomplishment for a team that was scuffling a week ago.

But Sunday's 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels doesn't get the Rangers into the postseason. That will only come with an eighth consecutive win Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays, with the winner advancing to play Cleveland in the American League wild-card game Wednesday.

While happy to have seven straight wins, the Rangers know that the Rays and ace David Price stand in the way of them and a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs.

"Tomorrow we've got to come in and be prepared," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It's just one game, so it's a tough task. We've done it seven times, so hopefully tomorrow we can make it eight."

The Rangers will certainly have some familiarity with the Rays. Texas won two of three against Tampa Bay two weeks ago to secure home-field advantage in the first tiebreaker game in the majors since 2009.

The Rangers won the season series 4-3 and while the game won't technically be a playoff game, it will have that feel because it's win or go home. Texas and Tampa Bay played each other in the American League Division Series in both 2010 and 2011, with the Rangers beating Tampa Bay in five games in 2010 and four games in 2011.

While many of the key contributors for both teams will be the same as they were in the previous playoffs, there is one key newcomer: Texas starter Martin Perez.

The rookie left-hander (10-5) will get the ball for the biggest game of his career and be opposed by reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price.

Perez, who has the record for wins by a Texas rookie lefty, is looking forward to the opportunity. He's won eight of his last 11 starts, but hasn't faced the Rays this season.

"I feel comfortable because they trust me and give me that game," said Perez, who will be pitching on his regular rest. "I just have to do my job. I don't want to put pressure on myself. It's just another game and I have to focus on what I have to do and throw strikes. Tomorrow is an important game for us. Tomorrow is the game we have to win. I just have to throw strikes, keep the ball down."

Texas manager Ron Washington said the Rangers have confidence in Perez but will have plenty of pitchers ready in case he falters. The bullpen has been taxed in the seven do-or-die games the Rangers have played in the last week. Closer Joe Nathan and set-up man Tanner Scheppers have each pitched in four consecutive games.

The Texas bullpen comes into the series not having allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings.

"I feel good," Washington said of starting Perez. "He's one of the reasons we have this opportunity. It's his turn. He's well rested. We'll have plenty of guys back there to back him if things get out of control and we'll stop it quick."

The Rangers could also look a little different offensively against the Rays Monday. Outfielder Nelson Cruz, who was suspended for 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis clinic PED scandal, will be active for the game.

Texas general manager Jon Daniels said it will be manager Ron Washington's decision whether or not to play Cruz, who was an All-Star this year.

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