Winning within the division is important in any sport, considering it's the only way a team can hand rivals losses.
The Texas Rangers know this more than anybody, and have played some of their best baseball this season against division opponents.
The Rangers are 28-14 against the American League West, and that is a good sign for them down the stretch. Five of the Rangers' final six series are against West teams, starting with a three-game series against Oakland tonight at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"You have to be able to win in your division, there's no doubt about it," manager Ron Washington said. "We understand the challenge when we play those guys, and we've been fortunate enough that we were able to take the lead."
The Rangers have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Angels with 18 games left in what has become a two-horse race. They got through a grueling five-series stretch over the past two weeks against the Angels, Rays twice and Red Sox twice, going 8-8.
Now, it seems like the road gets a little less daunting with series against .500-or-worse teams in the A's, Indians and Mariners before a final three-game series at the Los Angeles Angels. Of course, the Rangers hope the series against the Angels doesn't mean too much.
"Hopefully we can get this thing wrapped up before we head back to Anaheim," starting pitcher Matt Harrison said. "Every series is big at this point in the season, and we've got to be on top of our game."
Starting pitching is one of the reasons for the Rangers' success against the division. C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland have ERAs lower than 3.00 against West teams. Alexi Ogando has a 3.06 ERA, and Harrison has a 3.50 ERA.
Duplicating those outings the final three weeks should serve the Rangers well. The Rangers are 34-15 against their final four opponents.
The Angels, on the other hand, are 22-25 against their remaining foes (New York Yankees, Oakland, Baltimore, Toronto and Texas). But the Rangers understand a pennant won't be won on the stat sheet.
"In September, we play familiar teams, and it just comes down to execution," the Rangers' Michael Young said. "If we play five series against our division, that's obviously going to be big. But we need to focus on ourselves, and playing our game."
While winning the division title remains the priority, an interesting subplot exists in securing home field for the AL Division Series.
Detroit took a half-game lead over Texas for home-field with its sixth straight victory on Wednesday. If the Tigers stay ahead, that would mean the Rangers would be on the road for the first round against the AL East winner, which would be the Yankees if the season ended today.
The Rangers aren't getting too far ahead of themselves, though.
"We're aware of it, but we're not going to think about it," Holland said. "Why would you want to think about having home-field advantage if you're not in the playoffs? So we have to make sure we get there first."
And, as several players pointed out, going on the road didn't affect the team last season when it reached the franchise's first World Series. They won the first two ALDS games at Tampa Bay, and then lost two at home before winning it in Tampa.
There is a difference, however, between opening at New York or Boston compared to Tampa Bay.
"It's called home-field advantage for a reason, but I think it doesn't matter where you play," outfielder David Murphy said. "It just matters how well you play. Right now, we just need to keep racking up wins, and focus on winning series."
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Drew Davison, 817-390-7760