And down the stretch they come…

The American League West leading Texas Rangers entered their weekend series in Seattle with only 12 games left on the regular season schedule and a 3.5 game lead in the division.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had only 13 games left and if the Rangers split their final 12 games, the Angels would have to go 10-3 to pass Texas by one game. No easy task, but not out of the realm of possibility.

With Texas holding a steady lead in the AL West, New York and Boston likely going to the playoffs (although Tampa Bay is surging toward the Red Sox) and with Detroit already wrapping up the AL Central, it is time to start peaking at the deciding factor in the playoffs: starting pitching.

Texas earned its first World Series appearance last year with the help of uber-starting pitcher Cliff Lee. We have chronicled here before that the Rangers and their fans might need to be concerned that Texas is without a “Cliff Lee” or a real shut down ace.

C.J. Wilson may be able to fill those shoes (driving his free agent price even higher), but Texas may not be as bad off without a “Cliff Lee” as we think, at least through the American League playoffs.

Detroit’s Justin Verlander will be the premier pitcher in the playoffs this year and there is no reason to think that Verlander will not win two games in the division series (against Boston if the playoff began today) and two wins in the championship series. Whoever plays Detroit in the division series had better win every game Verlander does not throw.

After Verlander is 19-game winner CC Sabathia of the Yankees. Texas beat Sabathia in April and Wilson out-pitched Sabathia in the game one of the ALCS last year. But Sabathia is clearly the next best pitcher behind Verlander, though the Rangers have had some success against the big lefty in the past and will likely need to again this playoff season to get back to the World Series. 

After Verlander and Sabathia, the Rangers have the deepest staff. No other team has five 12-game winners, or five starters with over 10 wins. Texas boasts Wilson with 16, Derek Holland with 14, Alexi Ogando with 13 and Harrison and Lewis both have 12 wins.

The week that was

With the Texas heat fading, the Rangers bats did the inverse, heating up in a major way. 

After a 13-4 win last Friday against Oakland, Texas fell just short 8-7 in the second game of the series. Then in the final game the series, Wilson grabbed his 16th win of the year with an 8-1 victory.

Tuesday began a three-game series with Cleveland and Texas welcomed the Indians to town with a double-digit run output, winning 10-4 over the tribe. Josh Hamilton hit a grand slam in the second game of the series and Derek Holland picked up his 14th win of the season to win by a 9-1 score.In the final game of the series with the Indians, Michael Young’s three-RBI double after Cleveland intentionally walked Josh Hamilton put Texas out in front permanently, earning the sweep with a 7-4 win. 

The week ahead

Texas will finish its three-game series in Seattle today before heading to Oakland to finish a six-game west coast road swing. The Rangers will then return home this weekend for the final three games of the regular season at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington against Seattle.

The Angels end their series against Baltimore today and then head north of the border to Toronto for a four-game series against the Blue Jays. Los Angeles will then have to fly back cross-country to California for a three-game home series against the Oakland A’s.