September 12, 2013

Texas Rangers must regroup with A’s rolling into town

There’s no panic, but Texas knows it has to get back on track.

Joe Nathan needed only a few seconds and a few words to describe the Texas Rangers’ feelings heading into their final off-day of the season.

It wasn’t a pleasant assessment, to say the least, after the Pittsburgh Pirates swept the Rangers with a pivotal series against the A’s on the horizon.

“Like [crap],” Nathan said. “There’s no other way to put it. When you get swept by a team in a big series, it’s not a good feeling. Good time for an off-day when you’re playing like this.”

September hasn’t gotten off to a promising start for the Rangers, who trail the A’s by 3 1/2 games in the division. The No. 1 issue has been from the offensive side. The lineup has rallied late in the past two games, although the Rangers were never able to take the lead.

The pitching staff has been solid, but when the team has needed a shut-down inning, it hasn’t delivered. There have also been mental lapses on defense and on the base paths.

The good news for the Rangers is that there are 17 games left to turn it around.

“We still have time, and we’ll know how far we have to dig ourselves out by Friday,” Nathan said. “We’re not going to stop. Right now, it’s about pulling ourselves out of this. We need to get back to simplifying the game and get back to fundamentals, and hopefully the day off will do exactly that.”

It won’t be easy to get back on track, though. The A’s come to town this weekend, and then the Rangers are on the road at a pair of wild-card contending teams in Tampa Bay and Kansas City.

The Rangers have the edge in the season series against the A’s, winning nine of 16 games. They also have winning records against Tampa Bay (2-1) and Kansas City (2-1).

But the A’s have played better than the Rangers of late, and have two of their best pitchers, Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker, pitching the final two games of the series. That’s not an ideal formula for a reeling offense.

“It’s never easy,” said Adrian Beltre, who is batting .205 in September after posting a .381 average in August.

“We’re not playing Little League here. It’s not going to be easy, but we believe we can do a better job than we’ve done the last 10 days or so. What better way to start than against Oakland?”

The Rangers will rival the A’s starters with their three best pitchers: Derek Holland on Fridayt, Yu Darvish on Saturday and Martin Perez on Sunday.

Holland is coming off two of his rougher outings, but feels he’s ready to move past “that bump in the road.” Darvish is fresh off his third 1-0 loss of the season, but was able to joke about being the first AL pitcher in 40 years to have something like that happen to him. And Perez is confident he can rebound after his string of six straight wins came to an end Tuesday.

“It is a big series, but we’ve just got to relax and play our game,” Holland said.

Said Darvish: “It’s an important series coming up, but every start I always take the same approach — do my best. It’s never good to think too much ahead.”

That includes reading too much into the standings. Everybody within the clubhouse is well aware of where the Rangers stand in relation to the A’s and also in the wild-card chase.

The division standings are checked upon most frequently, of course; winning a division title means more than earning a spot in the one-game wild-card round. But, for now, the focus is getting it back together on the field because, if not, there might not even be a postseason.

“We can’t even look at standings right now,” Nathan said. “If we’re focused on that, we’re focused on the wrong things. We’ve got to get back to playing sound baseball.”

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