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Rangers-Rays Preview

AP - Sports

The Texas Rangers' stunning collapse has left them with little chance at a division title and forced them to focus on the wild card as their only avenue to the postseason.

That road may get a lot tougher heading into a visit to the other team holding a wild-card spot.

Opening a potentially vital four-game series at Tropicana Field on Monday night, the Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays attempt to improve their playoff chances while damaging the hopes of the other.

Texas (81-67) entered this month with a two-game lead over Oakland in the AL West, but a 2-11 slide has turned that into a 6 1/2-game deficit with 14 games remaining.

The Rangers' tailspin includes losing all six games of a homestand and never leading in any, including a three-game series sweep to the A's, capped by Sunday's 5-1 defeat.

Instead of tightening the division, Texas finds itself in a crowded wild-card race that has six teams separated by 3 1/2 games.

The Rangers and Rays (81-67) own the same record, but are just one-half game ahead of Cleveland with Baltimore, the Yankees and Kansas City lurking.

"Right now we're just trying to win a ballgame," manager Ron Washington told the team's official website. "I'm not thinking about no playoffs, I'm not thinking about anything. We're just trying to win a ballgame. I just want to win a ballgame. Can you help me?"

The offense certainly isn't helping, going 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position over the last two games. The Rangers stranded 10 runners Sunday and failed to get an extra-base hit.

"I'm not sure what's going on," Washington said. "I've never witnessed it before. You can have days that don't go right, but we left 10 on. Opportunities were there again, we just didn't cash them in."

Adrian Beltre is hitting .375 over the past six games, but is 4 for 28 (.143) with two RBIs in his last eight meetings with Tampa Bay.

He's 1 for 6 against scheduled starter Alex Cobb.

Improvement at the plate might be necessary with the Rangers expected to send Matt Garza (3-4, 4.46 ERA) to the mound for his first meeting with his former team.

The right-hander, a member of the Rays from 2008-10, is 0-3 in four starts and has lost his last two while surrendering nine runs in 11 innings. He's gave up three runs with four walks in four innings of Wednesday's 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh, turning in his shortest outing since being acquired in a trade from the Chicago Cubs two months ago.

The Rays failed to complete a three-game sweep at Minnesota on Sunday, squandering a two-run eighth-inning lead en route to a 6-4 loss.

"We've had way too many missteps already this year. That's what's got us in this position," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have played well enough to have a much better record."

That's not entirely true at home, where Tampa Bay has dropped five of seven while batting .196 and averaging 2.6 runs.

Cobb (8-3, 3.08) is 5-0 in 11 home starts, but he's 0-1 with a 3.91 ERA over his last four overall while being backed by six total runs. He gave up three runs over 5 2-3 innings in Wednesday's 7-3 loss in 10 to Boston.

The right-hander has no record and a 4.91 ERA in two career starts against Texas.

Rays slugger Evan Longoria has a .364 average with four homers and 12 RBIs over his last 12 regular-season meetings with the Rangers.

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