Rangers have been there, done that
Pennant-tested squad keep its cool as red-hot A's make charge in AL West
That includes the clubhouse, where televisions were tuned to Oakland's games last week as Rangers' players kept an eye on the team that has refuses to give up the chase.
"Everybody said that they were going to go away," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They don't seem to be going away."
The A's have won eight of their last nine series, including four sweeps, to turn what was once the largest deficit of any division in the American League into a fight with a few weeks left in the season. They have done it with timely pitching from a starting rotation that includes four rookies, unexpected power from a lineup void of huge names and an ability to win close games.
"Hopefully their hot streak cools off a little bit, because it's been since the All-Star break," Rangers closer Joe Nathan said. "There's hot streak and then there's good teams. We have to start leaning toward a good team. They've been playing some good baseball. They're a good team."
Don't mistake the respect for the A's as panic.
"We're only worried about the Texas Rangers," Washington said, "and we've got games with the Angels and Seattle first."
That's exactly the attitude you would expect from a team leading the division by three games with 16 to play, one with experience in executing down the stretch in winning the AL West the past two seasons. And it's the right one.
There's no reason to be consumed by what Oakland may or may not do.
"They're real," Washington said. "If they continue this for the rest of the year, whatever they get they truly deserve. But this is where you want to be. We're playing our division. Everything is in front of us.
"I think we're playing well. We just have to play good baseball."
You go through what we've gone through the last two seasons, it teaches you a lot.” -- Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler
With 16 games remaining in the 2011 season, the Rangers had a 1½-game lead. It was the closest the division got in the final 44 games of the season.
The next day, the Rangers gained a game with a win over Oakland and never looked back, building the lead and clinching with less than a week left.
In those final 16 games, the Rangers went 14-2 and earned home field in the ALDS as a result.
This season, there's even more on the line with the addition of the second wild card in each league. The team with the best record in the AL will get a chance to rest and watch the wild-card game. It also gets a better opportunity than the wild-card winner to set up its ALDS rotation.
So, does the Rangers' experience give them an edge over the A's in the AL West race?
"I believe we have an advantage," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "You go through what we've gone through the last two seasons, it teaches you a lot. You learn how to be patient with the game and your teammates and what's going on around you."
This is not a clubhouse that lets a bad game or series turn into a rough few weeks. When the offense wasn't clicking for two months this summer, the Rangers still clawed and scraped for wins, avoiding the long losing streaks that can doom a team.
There's a good mix of veterans who can help the club stay focused combined with a youthful energy that keeps things light.
Some teams might see seven head-to-head matchups against their closest competitor as a chance for things to slip away. The Rangers look at it as an opportunity to stake their claim to a third division title without worrying about watching the out-of-town scores.
That's not to say they're overconfident or expecting an easy road. But pennant-race experience the past two seasons has them comfortable with where they stand.
"We have to go out and win series," Nathan said. "This is the exciting part of the year. You go out and do what you have to do."
That starts with trying to hit Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke in Anaheim for three games as the Angels try to stay in the mix for the postseason too. Then the Rangers head to Seattle. When they return to Arlington, they'll get four games against those pesky A's.
"That's going to be fun," Nathan said of the matchup with the A's. "Oakland has been here and done this before. People always kind of count them out, and they tend to find a way to get into races and get themselves in the mix.
"They're obviously playing with a lot of confidence. Any team like that is going to be dangerous, especially down the run. So we're going to have to be on our A game and go out and win as many as we can. We have them seven of the last 10, and it's going to be exciting. But we're not at that point yet. We've still got work to do first."
Sounds like a team that's done this before, doesn't it?