The stretch run is upon us.
It's a time when the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders. It's a time when free agents can solidify -- and add millions -- to their next contract.
And, when the hometown team is in contention, there's nothing more intriguing than the final month. Instead of getting a look at future prospects, it's about getting a look at a potential World Series team.
The Texas Rangers find themselves in that spot for a second consecutive year. Nobody cares whether Jason Botts can play in the big leagues like he did in 2007. It's about whether Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando can pitch as well as they have the first five months of the season in the final month.
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"We've got the talent and the ability to do it again," Josh Hamilton said. "We know what it takes to get there. We just need to stay on top of things. The pitchers need to be ready to pitch, and the players have got to be ready to go out and play every day."
At this point last year, the Rangers held an eight-game lead in the American League West but were in the midst of a five-game losing streak. This year, the Rangers hold a two-game lead over the Angels with 28 games remaining.
Similar to Hamilton, Colby Lewis keeps a simple approach. He doesn't see any reason for the Rangers to make a drastic change or hit the panic button any time soon. After all, they've been in first place since May 16.
"We just need to do what we've been doing all season -- pitch well and let the hitters do what they've been doing, which is scoring a lot of runs," said Lewis, who starts today. "It's just about being consistent. Nothing more, nothing less than that. We don't need to put any added pressure on ourselves. We're in a good position, and we just need to continue to win ballgames."
The Rangers went 15-13 over the final 28 games last season. If they do that this season, the Angels, who have 30 games remaining, would need to go 19-11 to win the division or 18-12 to finish even with Texas.
For manager Ron Washington, the key during this year's stretch run is how the young starters hold up. Holland, Harrison and Ogando are entering uncharted territory in innings pitched and have shown signs of faltering down the stretch.
Washington isn't going to buy any excuses such as the heat or fatigue getting to them, either.
"Our young kids have a chance to find out a lot about themselves that will give them something that no one else can give them," Washington said. "Being able to fight through some adversity. We have no doubt that they will, but there isn't a way we can give it to them. You've got to go out and earn it.
"That's going to be the key for us. Pitching is what it's all about this time of year. If our pitchers keep us in the ballgame, we're going to be fine."
Pitching, it seems, is always the deciding factor down the stretch.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760