If the Texas Rangers, now 3.5 games behind the Oakland A's in the AL West, want to avoid the AL Wild Card Game and win the West for the third time in four seasons, they have a pretty simple short-term goal heading into the weekend, and that's to sweep the A's in Arlington — the teams' final three meetings of the year.
If the Rangers lose Friday's series opener, their hopes of winning the West are over as the A's can relax and know if they lost Saturday and Sunday they'd still leave town with a 2.5-game lead. If the Rangers win on Friday, they will put pressure on the A's to win Saturday and Sunday. A Rangers sweep would mean the teams would leave town on Sunday evening with a half-game separating them and 14 games to play — 13 for Oakland.
Let's take a look at the teams' schedules after the big, pivotal series this weekend, and as you'll see, the quality of opponents is quite a bit different.
Oakland: vs. LAA (3 games); vs. MIN (4); at LAA (3); at SEA (3)
Texas: at TB (4); at KC (3); vs. HOU (3); vs. LAA (4)
Looking at these, if the Rangers don't sweep the A's this weekend with Derek Holland, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez on the hill, the chances of winning the West are pretty much shot. Making up 2.5 games with those remaining schedules would be a tall task.
You have to imagine the A's will win four of the six against the Angels after entering the games with a 9-4 record against the Halos this year. A sweep of the Mariners is pretty likely, and that leaves Minnesota and A's killer Josh Willingham as the key. If the Twins can work a split that would mean the A's would likely finish the homstretch with a 9-4 mark.
The Rangers, well they'll have their hands full with the Rays, who are equally desperate and are clinging to the second wild card spot right now in a similar funk that the Rangers are experiencing. The Rays are always a concern with their strong pitching, but the Rangers' pitching is strong, too, and the Rangers' offense might even be better than Tampa's. The Rangers took two of three from the Rays back in April, and two of three from the upstart Royals the following month.
If you get a split in Tampa and take two of three from the Royals, then head home to sweep the Astros and take three of four from the Angels, you're looking at a 10-4 mark to close the season.
Of course, IF the Rangers sweep the A's this weekend, and IF these two scenarios play out, then we'll be left with a tie for first place after 162 games. The sweep is more unlikely than the remaining schedule's results, but boy, would that be fun.