After surviving June, Rangers look for strong start to July against division opponents

They survived what could have been a disastrous June.

By winning 10 of the final 13 games against four teams with World Series aspirations, the Texas Rangers completed what manager Ron Washington called “a great recovery.”

Now the Rangers need to carry that momentum into July with division opponents Seattle and Houston coming to town. Winning within the division was a staple of the World Series teams in 2010 and 2011.

The Rangers were 32-25 against the American League West in 2010, and a staggering 40-17 against it in 2011.

Last season, however, the Rangers were 27-30 within the division. That, in part, explains why the Rangers didn’t win a third straight title as the A’s took the crown by sweeping the season-ending series.

This year, the Rangers have gotten back to their ’10 and ’11 form, playing well against division opponents. Having the rebuilding Astros join the division has helped the Rangers to a 22-10 mark so far, but they have winning records against all four teams.

“Division wins always mean more,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “It just separates you from the other teams in your division when you win those games. Seattle is going to come in here with their top three pitchers ready to go, and Houston is playing better. It’s going to be a challenge.”

It starts Tuesday night with rookie Justin Grimm going against Mariners left-hander Joe Saunders. Wednesday has the makings of a pitchers’ duel between Derek Holland and Felix Hernandez, and the three-game series wraps up Thursday with Martin Perez and Hisashi Iwakuma squaring off.

Grimm, who has won his last two starts after allowing three runs over five innings in each of them, understands the importance of keeping the momentum the team has built the past two weeks.

“Right now, any win is important because Oakland just doesn’t seem to go away,” Grimm said.

Oakland had a chance to pull away two weeks ago.

The Rangers were reeling, losing six straight to two sub-.500 teams at the time, Cleveland and Toronto. They had fallen three games behind the A’s, and, as closer Joe Nathan said, “It seemed like the world was crashing down around us.”

A tough stretch loomed large ahead, too, with four series against playoff-caliber teams on the horizon, starting with a four-game set against Oakland.

The Rangers could have buried themselves but didn’t. Instead, they took three of four from Oakland and then went on the road to sweep the Cardinals and take two of three from the Yankees. They returned home last weekend to win a series against the Reds, 2-1, and finish 14-14 in June.

“Best .500 month ever,” Nathan said.

“It wasn’t our best month, but we also didn’t kill ourselves in the process,” Pierzynski said. “People tend to get too high on the highs and too low on the lows. Especially the lows, it seems like everyone gets real down real fast, but it’s one of those things where you keep playing and see what happens.”

The Rangers certainly survived their toughest stretch to date, although Washington wasn’t a fan of that adjective.

“Survive sort of indicates we were dead. We were never dead,” Washington said. “No, we recovered.”

Whatever it’s called, the Rangers are back to where they want to be going into a pair of division series to kick off July. The offense is showing signs of life, the starters are keeping them in the game and the bullpen has become a strength of the team.

“That’s how we expect to be playing,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “And we need to keep it going.”

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