Opposite dugout: Rangers looking to close in on postseason berth

rangers-logo.jpgManager: Jeff Banister (1st season)

Record: 65-61

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 1B/DH Prince Fielder (.316/.380/.474 with 17 HR, 71 RBIs), 1B Mitch Moreland (.287/.335/.490 with 18 HR, 67 RBIs), RF Shin-Soo Choo (.248 with 15 HR, 56 RBIs), LHP Cole Hamels (1-1, 4.73 ERA), RHP Shawn Tolleson (26 saves, 2.78 ERA)

Season series vs. Orioles: 3-1

Pitching probables:

Aug. 28: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. LHP Cole Hamels, 8:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 29: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez vs. LHP Martin Perez, 8:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 30: RHP Miguel Gonzalez vs. LHP Derek Holland, 3:05 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Rangers:

The Rangers are one of about six teams that are making the American League playoff race so dramatic. They currently posses the second wild card, trailing the Yankees for home field advantage in the win-or-go-home game by four games and leading the Angels and Twins by half a game. They also hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Orioles. In the AL West, they trail the Astros by five games with 36 games left to make up that ground.

They've actually been right in contention for much of the season. Texas stood in second place in the AL West for most of June, but fell to third late in the month. They stayed in third, while also staying within arm's reach of a wild card spot, until last week when they jumped back to second place in the West and the wild card race. How they've managed to stay right in the thick of things relates to how rookie manager Jeff Banister is getting the most out of his roster. The Rangers' offensive or pitching numbers don't particularly stand out in the league, but they're producing enough to win.

Designated hitter and part-time first baseman Prince Fielder posses the biggest threat for the Rangers at the plate. To go along with his 17 home runs and 71 RBIs, his .316 batting average is good for fourth-best in the league. Fielder also boasts a .380 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage. Mitch Moreland also carries a big bat in Texas, and with the Orioles throwing three right-handers this weekend, expect the Rangers' lefty everyday first baseman to get a lot of at-bats. Moreland has driven in 67 runs and leads the team with 18 homers.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus have each hit well this season, batting .268 with 42 RBIs and .259 with 47 RBIs, respectively, but haven't added much power. The two left-side infielders have only combined for 18 longballs on the season. Meanwhile, rigjht fielder Shin-Soo Choo has added 15 homers and 56 RBIs, but is only batting .248.

Cole Hamels will be the first of three left-handers the Rangers will send to the mound this weekend. Hamels, acquired at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in a trade with the Phillies, is 1-1 with a 4.73 ERA in four starts with Texas. He went 6-7 with a 3.64 ERA in 20 starts this season with the Phillies. Hamels earned his first win as a Ranger in his last start, pitching six innings while giving up eight hits and two runs with two walks and two strikeouts in a 4-2 win in Detroit. He has taken the loss in both of his career starts against the Orioles with a 6.23 ERA, and his only win ever at Globe Life Park came in 2008 when he was with the Phils and the park was called Rangers Ballpark.

Martin Perez will be southpaw No. 2 to start against the Birds in this three-game series. His starts and numbers have been limited due to extra rest following his return from Tommy John surgery, going 1-3 with a 5.30 ERA in just seven starts this season. His first start didn't come until after the All-Star break, a 3-2 loss to the Astros in Houston when he gave up the three runs on nine hits and two walks. However, Perez has come along as his shortened season has progressed, going 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in four August starts. He is 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in two career starts against the O's back in 2013, with the loss coming at home.

Derek Holland will be the lefty to close out this series on Sunday's finale. Holland, too, has limited numbers this season due to injuries, with a 1-1 record and 4.73 ERA in just three starts. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a subscapular strain in his right shoulder after only one inning pitched in the Rangers' home opener. But he won his first start back on Aug. 19 against the Mariners, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up eight hits and two runs with six strikeouts. With this start against the O's, all of Holland's outings will have been at home this season. He is 4-2 with a 3.60 ERA in seven outings (six starts) against Baltimore.

The Rangers have been able to pull off wins in bunches since the All-Star break. They have two four-game winning streaks to go a long with a streak of five games. They have either won or tied eight of their 12 series in the second half with two sweeps. As they welcome the Orioles to Arlington, if they are able to make it nine out of 13 or three sweeps, they will push one competitor further from that wild card spot.

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