ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are leaving town on Thursday afternoon and will be gone for 11 days to the West Coast. They won't be back at the Ballpark in Arlington until Sept. 27, when they play the Seattle Mariners. When they do return, they will almost assuredly be the American League West champions. If they continue to play like this, there will be no doubt about it: The clincher will come sooner than later.
The Rangers inexorable march to their first division championship since 1999 continued unabated on Wednesday night as they wrapped up an undefeated five-game homestand with an 11-7 victory over the Detroit Tigers before 34,964 fans. With two victories in Toronto before the homestand started, the Rangers have now won seven in a row and have a commanding 10-game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the AL West. Their magic number is eight. "We obviously know, but you can't give up anything in the big leagues," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "If you do, somebody will take advantage of it. We've still got a ways to go." Actually, it isn't that far. The Rangers have three games in Seattle, three in Anaheim and four in Oakland on the next road trip. This is the trip that everybody has been waiting for and somewhere out on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the division race should come to an official end. "This is an opportunity to go out and play well," third baseman Michael Young said. "The last couple of games on the road we made some good adjustments and we want to continue. But this thing is not over. We need to stay focused on the task at hand." A seven-game winning streak would certainly seem to suggest they are doing just that. Lost in all this was the Rangers earned their 82nd victory on Wednesday, assuring themselves of a winning season for the second straight year. It's only the third time in the last 11 years that the Rangers have had a winning record. But as their prescient marketing slogan -- "It's Time" -- suggests, the Rangers aren't thinking about just a winning season. "We're playing well," Young said. "We realize this is the time of the year you want to step up and play your best baseball. We've done a good job of focusing on what we have to do and when we need to make adjustments...tightening it up. We're happy where we're at but we're not there yet." Wednesday didn't find the Rangers quite at their best. They committed three errors on defense and there were a couple of other balls hit in the air that could have been caught even though they were scored hits. But the Rangers have been rolling offensively during this winning streak and that carried them on Wednesday night. The Rangers are hitting .318 with 51 runs scored in their last seven games. "This was one of those nights we had to swing the bats to win this thing and we were able to do just that," manager Ron Washington said. Colby Lewis earned the victory despite allowing five runs in six innings. Only two of the runs were earned as his own throwing error led to three unearned runs in the fifth. Lewis, who has won his last two starts after snapping a seven-game losing streak, is 11-12 with a 3.84 ERA on the season. Darren Oliver pitched the eighth inning for the Rangers -- setting the side down in order -- and it was his 59th appearance of the season. That automatically -- according to his contract -- guarantees his option for 2011 at $3.25 million. The Rangers had 12 hits, including three home runs. All three were crucial blasts. The Rangers trailed, 2-0, going into the bottom of the second, but Vladimir Guerrero got them rolling with a leadoff home run off Tigers starter Armando Galarraga. The Rangers pummeled Galarraga for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings and David Murphy finished off the punishment with a three-run home run in the fourth. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected after the inning for arguing with home-plate umpire Jerry Layne. Leyland didn't talk about the ejection after the game but was complimentary about the Rangers. "They're really a good team," Leyland said. "That's why they're in first place by several games. They have a lot of weapons. They have a nice offense. They didn't play exceptionally well defensively this series, but they've played much better defensively all year. They run the bases real good. They're playing good." If Leyland was trying to get his ballclub fired up, he seemed to have succeeded to a degree. The Tigers, down, 8-2, rallied to cut the Rangers' lead to 9-7 going into the bottom of the seventh. But Kinsler squelched the Tigers comeback by hitting a two-run home run off reliever Ryan Perry. "They were starting to get a little momentum and you always want to respond to that," Kinsler said. "We were able to do that." The Rangers went on to win. Just over an hour after they were done, the Athletics lost to the Royals in Kansas City. The division title draws near and now it seems just a matter of where they will clinch on the West Coast. "I'm not thinking about clinching," Washington said. "I'm thinking about going to Seattle and not letting our guard down. Win a series and see what happens. You can't get ahead of yourselves."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.