Rangers continue division domination, close in on playoffs

Sep 19 2011 - 5:22pm

SEATTLE -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was scheduled to spend Monday evening at the Oakland premiere of "Moneyball," the true story of how Brad Pitt smote the ground, discovered advanced statistics and waved his magic visor over a ragamuffin group to turn the Oakland A's from misfits to winners.

Among lots of details bound to be omitted for the art of filmmaking: the A's ability to help themselves by owning AL West opponents in head-to-head competition.

Maybe they can adapt that for the Rangers' movie, if that story ever gets told.

With a 3-0 win over Seattle on Sunday, the Rangers enter the final 10 days of the season with a commanding 4 1/2-game lead in the AL West. They do so because they have pummeled their intradivision opponents. Sunday's win was the Rangers' 32nd inside the division, the most for the team since the AL realigned into three divisions in 1994.

"This is how you win the division," said Washington, who watched the A's post the best intradivision winning percentage (.565) among West teams over his last six seasons in Oakland. "You dominate in the division. That's how you get to the playoffs. I said it to these guys in spring training and I didn't need to say it again. They know what they need to do."

The difference in record vs. the West accounts for the difference in the standings. While the Rangers are 32-16, Los Angeles is only 26-25. Virtually all of the difference can be accounted for in second-half play. The Rangers, who started the second half by winning five straight against AL West teams, are 19-7 vs. the division since the break; the Angels are 13-14.

The Rangers play each of their final nine games within the division, including the last three at Los Angeles. Those three are the Angels' only three intradivision games remaining.

The reason for this domination was on display again Sunday. It's all about the pitching. The six-hit shutout on which Matt Harrison, Koji Uehara, Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz combined lowered the Rangers' ERA within the division to 3.12. It is the lowest season ERA by an AL West team in the division since the 1994 realignment. The previous best? Well, that would be last year's Rangers at 3.27.

Harrison pitched around a first-inning jam created by a Michael Young error and a single, then used what he said was his best curveball of the season to smother the weak Mariners, and in particular their left-handed hitters, over six innings. A two-run homer by Adrian Beltre, his seventh home run in his last eight games (32 at-bats), provided all the offense necessary.

When Harrison got into trouble in the seventh by allowing a leadoff single, a one-out walk and a two-out infield single to Ichiro Suzuki, homer-prone Uehara came in to get Luis Rodriguez to strike out on an effective split-finger fastball. The single by Ichiro was the only hit Harrison allowed to lefties in 13 at-bats. Uehara got the splitter to drop after weeks of trouble with it staying up in the zone.

Adams and Feliz combined for the final six outs, giving the bullpen 22 consecutive batters retired over the three-game series.

It put away another West team.

"I think we expect to play well against everybody," Young said. "You want to rack up wins in your own division because it will have a lot of say in how your overall record ends up."

In the Rangers' case, those wins keep adding up to what seems an inevitable second consecutive AL West title.

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