The Texas Rangers have been mathematically eliminated from contention in the AL West and their chances of winning the wild card are virtually done. All that remains is trying to finish this season strong.
The Rangers open a four-game series with the Oakland Athletics on Thursday night in a matchup of teams contending for second place in the division.
Texas lost 8-7 to AL-worst Seattle on Wednesday. That coupled with the Angels’ 4-2 win over the New York Yankees gave Los Angeles its fourth division title in five years.
Losers of three of five, Rangers (71-75) are close to being eliminated from wild card contention, too. Texas trails Boston by 14 1/2 games in that race.
The Rangers, though, would like to build some momentum for 2009, and they have a 3 1/2-game lead over third-place Oakland.
“I feel good that we’re capable of getting up to .500, or a little over if we play the last few games out like we are capable of playing,” Rangers manager Ron Washington told the team’s official Web site.
Having slugger Milton Bradley back in the lineup would help. Bradley, who came out of Tuesday’s game against the Mariners due to back pain, is expected to be back after sitting out on Wednesday.
Bradley is batting .343 (12-for-35) with two home runs and four doubles in 11 games versus the Athletics this season.
Dustin Nippert (2-4, 6.59 ERA), coming off his best outing in three starts since joining Texas’ rotation, takes the mound in the opener. He gave up seven hits in seven innings as the Rangers beat Seattle 1-0 on Sept. 3.
Nippert’s previous victory as a starter came on Sept. 29, 2005, when he was with Arizona. After 14 relief appearances this season, the right-hander has posted a 9.64 ERA in his first two starts.
In his first career appearance against Oakland, Nippert allowed four hits in four scoreless innings of relief in a 6-5 Texas loss on July 27.
The A’s will counter with Dallas Braden (5-3, 3.72), who is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last three starts. The left-hander gave up two runs and four hits in five innings of an 11-2 victory over Baltimore on Friday.
Braden is 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in two starts and three relief appearances against the Rangers. He’ll try to help Oakland win three straight for the first time since a four-game run from June 13-17. The A’s have won four of their last five.
“We’ve put some good games together lately,” Oakland center fielder Ryan Sweeney said.
Sweeney and Jack Cust hit back-to-back homers in the first inning to lead the A’s to a 5-2 win over Detroit on Wednesday.
The A’s have lost eight of 12 against the Rangers this season.