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Rangers-Mariners Preview

AP - Sports

The Texas Rangers are struggling at the plate with Josh Hamilton out, but feel fortunate not to have lost any ground in the AL West race.

The Rangers will try to avoid being swept in a three-game series for just the second time this season Sunday against the Seattle Mariners.

With Hamilton back in Texas undergoing tests for a sinus infection that has led to vision problems, the Rangers (89-62) have dropped the first two games of this series, wasting a stellar outing by starter Matt Harrison in a 1-0 loss Saturday.

Harrison's only mistake was a second-inning home run to Michael Saunders. Texas, which grounded into three double plays in a 6-3 defeat Friday, went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position Saturday as it fell to 3-5 in Seattle this season.

While Hamilton's absence hasn't helped, the Rangers have struggled all season at Safeco Field, averaging 2.1 runs while hitting .211.

Despite suffering consecutive losses for the first time since a three-game skid in mid-August, Texas remains four games in front of Oakland in the AL West with the A's having lost back-to-back games in extra innings in New York.

"It happens. We're not going to win every series. You do the best you can to do that and win every game,'' Harrison said. "I guess if we're going to lose, it's good the A's lose too."

Still holding a fairly comfortable lead, Texas will try to avoid being swept by Seattle (72-80) for the first time since 2007 before it begins a critical homestand that includes four against Oakland and three versus the Los Angeles Angels.

However, with Hamilton out again Sunday, breaking out of this offensive slump could be difficult. Texas has scored three or fewer runs in five of its last six games, including three straight.

"Something we feel is a big strength of our offensive game is being versatile enough to do little things when called upon to do it," said Michael Young, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games. "Tonight we didn't do it."

The Rangers, who were swept in a two-game set against Kansas City in mid-May, have only been swept in a three-game series against the White Sox from July 3-5.

They'll hand the ball to Ryan Dempster (6-2, 4.70 ERA), who looks to bounce back after being knocked around in his last start.

Dempster gave up five runs, six hits and three walks over 3 1-3 innings of an 11-3 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday. He had allowed two or fewer runs in his previous five starts while going at least six innings in each of them.

"It got out of control," manager Ron Washington said. "We just couldn't get any outs. Dempster struggled from the beginning."

The right-hander is facing the Mariners for the first time since completing a 2-0 loss at Safeco Field while with the Cubs on July 22, 2010 - his only previous start against Seattle.

The Mariners counter with Jason Vargas (14-10, 3.92), who has a 6.35 ERA in his last five starts. He gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-6 win over the Rangers on Sept. 15, but didn't factor in the decision.

Despite his recent struggles, Vargas is 5-4 with a 2.62 ERA at home - including 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the last six.

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