Rangers hope to lock up the division in their last 16 games, all against AL West teams

When discussing the final two-plus weeks of the season and the inevitable drama that will unfold with an additional wild card, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington leaned back in his chair, held out his hands out and brought them together as though he were holding a crystal ball.

"It's right here," Washington said.

Yes, it is for the Rangers, who own the best record in the American League with 16 games left to play. They have a three-game lead in the AL West over the Oakland Athletics, who own the second-best record in the AL.

The Rangers face only teams within their division the rest of the way. They open a three-game series at Anaheim tonight and then head to Seattle for another three games before coming home Monday to open a four-game series against Oakland.

The heat and pressure of postseason baseball is about to pick up, and the Rangers have thrived in it the past two seasons.

"Coming down to the end of the season is really the best time of year besides the playoffs," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "You're getting closer and closer to the end of the season, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You want to finish strong."

Added closer Joe Nathan: "This is what you play for. My friends tell me this is their favorite time of the year with football starting and the playoffs coming up for baseball. As players, if you don't live for this, then you're playing the game for the wrong reason."

The Rangers are looking to end this season as strong as they did last season. They went 14-2 over the final 16 games in 2011, and that momentum carried over into the playoffs and to a second consecutive World Series berth.

As Washington said, "We gotta get hot."

How does Washington define hot?

"Hot is running the string," he said. "Rattle off 18. That's hot."

That might be necessary to hold off the sizzling A's.

Since July 1, the Athletics have gone 47-20, winning more than 70 percent of their games. The Rangers are 37-30 during that stretch but are 28-16 their past 44 games. More importantly, Texas has never had to play catch-up as it has led the division since April 9.

"Oakland is definitely a threat," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "Everything is coming together for them. But I think we're going to be fine if we do what we've been doing of late and stay focused."

The three teams left on the Rangers' schedule have a .532 winning percentage. The A's, though, face the toughest schedule of the AL contenders with their remaining opponents posting a .543 winning percentage.

The Angels seem unlikely to make a run for the division title, but they are in the mix for a wild-card spot, only 2 1/2 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card.

"We're going to go out and try to win every game," pitcher Matt Harrison said. "It's hard to do, but we've got to try and put ourselves in position to win every ballgame."

The Rangers have gone 21-20 against the AL West this season, substantially worse than their 40-17 record last season. But if they finish 14-2 as they did last year, the division record will look better than expected.

And winning the division, not simply making the postseason, has been the goal all along for the Rangers.

"At the end of the day, you're in the postseason, but we're not here just to get there or be a wild-card team," David Murphy said. "Our mindset from Day 1 is to win the division."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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