ARLINGTON, Texas — Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington held out one hand, then the other.
Another division title is within reach for the two-time defending American League champions, and that is Washington’s way of demonstrating how they have their destiny in their own hands.
As long as they can stay ahead of the surprising Oakland Athletics in the AL West.
Even with the AL’s best record and being a season-high 28 games above .500, the Rangers (87-59) are still in a tight division race – with the young A’s playing chaser instead of the expected Los Angeles Angels.
“Everything is in front us,” Washington said. “Oakland, everybody thought they were going to go away. They don’t seem to be going away.”
With 16 games left after their final off day of the regular season Monday, the Rangers lead the A’s by three games. The Angels, who added slugger Albert Pujols and former Texas lefty C.J. Wilson last winter, were 7 1/2 games back.
“Hopefully for the rest of the season, we’ll be able to just win series,” said outfielder David Murphy, who is sixth in the AL with a .314 batting average after becoming an everyday player. “And we’ll be in a good spot.”
Texas has won eight of its last nine series, and 11 of 13, after taking two of three games against Seattle over the weekend. The Rangers haven’t lost consecutive games in more than a month.
And yet their division lead shrunk to two games – the smallest since the first week of the season – when the A’s won eight of nine games. Oakland lost at home to Baltimore on Sunday, the first time in 10 days Texas was able to add a game to its division lead that was 5 1/2 games at the start of that stretch.
The Rangers play seven of their last 10 games against Oakland, which is 41-19 since the All-Star break.
But they play at Los Angeles and Seattle this week before coming home for four games against the A’s, then three more against the Angels.
The season-ending series at Oakland is in two weeks.
“They’re feeling good about themselves and the way they’re playing,” Washington said about the A’s before pointing to the schedule on the wall in his office listing probable pitchers with an Angels trio. “On the board, Weaver, Wilson, Greinke. Come on, I certainly ain’t thinking about Oakland.”
Ryan Dempster, who has won five consecutive starts with a 1.91 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 33 innings, starts the Tuesday night series opener against the Angels and Jered Weaver (17-4).
The right-hander is 6-1 since getting traded from the Chicago Cubs just minutes before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. His first start for Texas was at home two days later against the Angels, when he gave up eight runs in 4 2-3 innings — the same number of runs the Rangers scored in 5 1-3 innings off Wilson that night in a game they eventually won 15-9.
Dempster, who also allowed eight runs in a loss at the Yankees before his current winning streak, called it exciting to be in a pennant chase with a team that has been to the last two World Series. He has a sense why the Rangers have been able to have that kind of success.
“Just a bunch of guys who work really hard to be prepared and go out there and take their job really seriously and want to win really bad, but have a lot of fun,” Dempster said. “It’s a loose group of guys that go out there and realize that really the easiest way to be successful at your job is to have fun doing it.”
When asked what most satisfied him about the way he is pitching now, Dempster talked about making adjustments and doing a better job of executing pitches. Then came the follow-up question about his most significant adjustment, and his answer that showed just how well he fits in with this team.
“Probably changing my underwear,” he said. “They were definitely really unlucky.”
Derek Holland (10-6) is scheduled to face Wilson on Wednesday and Yu Darvish (15-9), the Japanese rookie who surpassed 200 strikeouts during his last start, goes against Zack Greinke on Thursday.
The Rangers have made one change in the rotation, replacing struggling Scott Feldman (0-5, 6.99 ERA his last seven starts) with rookie Martin Perez (1-1, 3.38) for the opener Friday night in Seattle. All-Star lefty Matt Harrison (17-9) pitches again Saturday.
Texas had only 1 1/2-game division lead at the same point last season, then won 14 of its last 16 games to finish 10 games ahead of the Angels. The Rangers were 40-17 against division opponents last season; they’re 21-20 this year.
“That’s where you win, when you can run away in your division, or do well in your division,” Washington said. “I’ll take our best game against any one of those teams’ best game.”