The reality is that when the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's both lose this late in the season, it's a win for the Rangers. There's really no such thing as "treading water" in late September if you're the division leader. If you keep your same lead for another day, you've pushed the calendar forward and made it tougher on the club behind you.
That's what's happened the past two days. While the Rangers haven't been able to break through in Seattle, the Yankees have defeated the A's in the final at-bat two straight days. That's left the AL West lead at four games with just 11 to play. In other words: That's a nice lead, even if seven of the final 11 games are head-to-head battles between the A's and Rangers. Texas has done it, despite an odd week with injuries to key guys in the lineup.
But for Texas, this isn't just about clinching the division. It's about hanging onto the No. 1 overall seed in the AL and having some momentum heading into the postseason.
All of a sudden, the New York Yankees have closed to within a game of the Rangers for the best record in the AL (and the Baltimore Orioles are just two back now). Why does that matter? For starters, the top seed faces the wild-card game winner in the ALDS. So the Rangers could sit and watch those two teams play. And it's likely that one or both -- as long as they know they're in the wild-card game early next week -- would throw their No. 1 pitcher in that game, meaning he could only pitch once in full rest in the ALDS.
Beside home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, the top seed doesn't start its ALDS until Oct. 7. That means three days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. And it's one more day than the Nos. 2-3 seeds. That might not seem like a big deal, but considering Texas has had two off days the last month, any extra day of rest or even partial relaxation can't be a bad thing.
If the season ended today, the Rangers would face the winner of the Oakland-Baltimore game in the ALDS. That's a favorable matchup no matter which team wins. And while Texas doesn't fear anyone (and I would argue no one wants to play the Rangers in the playoffs), it's a better first-round matchup than facing the Tigers or White Sox. Of course, the standings could shift some more between now and the end of the season.
That's why Ryan Dempster needs to come in, shut down the Mariners and see if the Rangers' offense can get something going (they couldn't Saturday). If he can, it would guarantee the Rangers start a big four-games series with the A's at least four games up. It would also mean that the Yankees wouldn't be in position to tie Texas for the best overall record Sunday, either.
So while the Rangers are in a great spot with the magic number sitting at eight (a Rangers win or an A's loss reduces that number) with 11 games left, they'd like to keep the pressure on those top AL East teams and claim that top seed, too. We saw last year how important it was that the club played well down the stretch and got homefield in the ALDS and, once the Tigers got through, in the ALCS too.