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Monday, October 1, 2012
Week ahead: Oakland series, playoffs

By Richard Durrett

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Texas Rangers will face the Oakland A's for the final three games of the regular season. And there's still plenty on the line. Here are some things to watch for this week:

* Playoffs. Yes, the Rangers are going to the postseason no matter what happens in Oakland. But who are they playing? When? Where? We don't know the answers to those, but will as the week unfolds. The bottomline: Texas' win on Sunday night against the Angels clinched at least a wild card spot.

* AL West standings. The AL West is on the line in Oakland. If the Rangers win one of the three games, they win the West for the third consecutive season. If the A's sweep the Rangers, Oakland would win the AL West and the Rangers would get one of the wild card spots. But because the Rangers have a 2-game lead with three to play, we know there won't be a 163rd game to determine the champion.

* Seeding. That still remains up the air, too. Texas has the best record in the AL, but by only one game over both the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, who are tied for the AL East lead. The Yankees face Boston for three games while the Orioles travel to the Tampa Bay Rays. If the division is still tied, they'll play each other to decide it on Thursday. The No. 1 seed faces the wild card winner. The Orioles and Yankees have clinched at least a wild card spot. The A's are likely the other team, assuming the Rangers win the division. If Texas is the top seed, they'll wait to see who wins that wild card game and then open at the wild card winner on Sunday. If they are not the top seed, they'll head to the AL Central champion's home, likely the Detroit Tigers (up three on the White Sox with three to play) and start on Saturday.

* Nelson Cruz. He heads into the Oakland series playing well. He really hasn't had one of his typical red-hot streaks this season, but appears ready to do so at a big time. Cruz hit home runs in two of the three games against the Angels and had a very productive homestand, with two homers and five RBIs. He's hitting the ball to all fields and looking very comfortable at the plate. The timing would be good for Texas.

* Game 1 starter. Assuming the Rangers secure the division in Oakland, they'll have a decision to make in regards to a Game 1 pitcher. Yu Darvish made his final case on Sunday and pitched well, getting his eighth straight quality start. It's Matt Harrison's turn on Tuesday. He's been solid as well and is looking for his club-high 19th win.

* The bullpen must make adjustments with Mike Adams out with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and a neck strain. It's unclear how long he will be out. In his absence, Koji Uehara and Alexi Ogando will handle the load. Uehara is in the middle of an incredible streak. He has retired 23 batters in a row, 15 of them via strikeout.

* Mike Napoli. The catcher hit two home runs on Sunday and admits he's feeling better at the plate. Could this be the start of a hot streak? Napoli was sensational the second half of 2011, but hasn't been able to repeat that performance in 2012. Is now the time?