The Texas Rangers are back in the postseason after a two-year absence, but there’s still one goal left to reach.
After eliminating the Los Angeles Angels from the AL West race, the Rangers can clinch the division when this pivotal four-game series resumes Friday night.
Texas (87-72) earned a playoff spot and reduced its magic number to one with a 5-3 victory in Thursday’s opener. The Rangers can complete a worst-to-first turnaround by winning one of the final three games or if Houston loses one of three at Arizona.
”We still have a mission to accomplish. And something that as a group of players we all talked about in spring training, when nobody else was talking about it but us," said Texas first-year manager Jeff Banister.
The Rangers captured back-to-back AL West titles and advanced to the World Series in 2010 and ’11, then reached the wild-card game with a 93-win 2012 season. They slipped to 67-95 during an injury-riddled 2014 campaign that prompted the dismissal of Ron Washington and Banister’s hiring.
Los Angeles (83-76) was denied a second straight AL West title and a chance to pull even with the Astros for the second wild card. The Angels and Minnesota trail Houston by one game.
"Your goal is still there," Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. "It might be a little harder route right now, and as of this moment we’re going to need a little help."
The Rangers surged past Houston by going 13-5 since Sept. 13, a run fueled by Adrian Beltre’s torrid hitting. The veteran third baseman is batting .431 with 27 RBIs during the stretch and delivered again Thursday, snapping a 1-all tie with a three-run double off Andrew Heaney in the fifth inning.
Texas is 14-4 at home since Aug. 27, though the Angels are 14-3 in Arlington since the start of 2014.
The Angels, who climbed back into the race by winning seven straight prior to Wednesday’s 8-7 loss to Oakland, hope Jered Weaver (7-12, 4.76 ERA) can solve his road struggles in a virtual must-win game.
Weaver is 1-7 with a 7.47 ERA in eight road starts since June, including consecutive defeats at Seattle and Houston on Sept. 16 and 21 in which he allowed eight runs and 15 hits over 10 1-3 innings. The right-hander bounced back with a gritty five-inning effort Sunday, limiting the Mariners to a run and four hits while battling a stiff shoulder in an eventual 3-2 Angels’ win.
The three-time All-Star has pitched well in recent meetings with the Rangers, compiling a 2-0 record and 2.06 ERA in his last five starts and holding them to a run in six innings during the Angels’ 2-1 home loss Sept. 5.
Beltre is hitting just .232 in 82 at-bats against Weaver, but Shin-Soo Choo (.385 in 39 at-bats), Mike Napoli (.344 with three homers in 32 at-bats) and Mitch Moreland (.324 with two homers in 34 at-bats) have all had success.
Martin Perez (3-6, 4.77) gets the call for Texas seeking to build on a solid start. The 24-year-old left-hander yielded two unearned runs over six innings in a 4-2 loss Sunday in Houston, capping an up-and-down September in which he went 1-3 with a 4.18 ERA in five outings.
The first of those starts came Sept. 4 in Anaheim, where Perez permitted three runs and walked four over six innings of a 5-2 defeat. He’s 1-1 with a 2.75 ERA in three overall starts against the Angels and 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his last four at home.