Rangers focused on playing better on road

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The last time the Rangers traveled to Oakland for a showdown with the A’s, they were on the cusp of the AL West title. Texas ended up winning the series, clinching on a Saturday afternoon as closer Neftali Feliz got the save and the club mobbed Michael Young.

That was more than seven months ago and the smell of champagne and cigar smoke is long gone from that visiting locker room. The A’s finished second in the division but were nine games back with a .500 record. Rangers players and officials expect the A’s to be better this year and a true threat in the division.

“They are going to be tough,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington, who admits he still enjoys returning to the place he called home for 11 seasons, much of that as the third-base coach. “They’ll hang around like everybody else in the division. Their young pitching has been successful. They play well in that park too.”

Outside of that memorable September series and subsequent raucous celebration, the Rangers didn’t play particularly well in front of small crowds at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. They lost a three-game series in May and another in August.

“There’s something about that park where we don’t have the greatest offensive games there,” outfielder David Murphy said. “That just depends on the player. Everybody talks about Oakland being a pitcher’s park, but I love hitting there. But they always pitch us well and play us hard at that place.”

The Rangers actually hit .277 as a team in Oakland in 2010, mainly thanks to plenty of offense in a few games in that late-season four-game series (scored 26 runs in two of those games). But the last few years, the offense has had stretches where the bats have gone relatively silent and despite those two games of double-digit run totals, the team is averaging just 4.65 runs per game in Oakland since 2009.

“A lot of that is the pitching staff,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We know Oakland has one of the best pitching staffs in the big leagues. We know we’re going to have to adjust to that and take advantage of anything we can offensively. It’s a long season. When you can go into their house and win some games, it can matter. But it’s too early to worry much. If we go in there and struggle it doesn’t mean anything yet. They have a good team and they’ll be there in the end and we will too. You have to be ready.”

The four-game set will feature each team’s top-3 pitchers when the season began. That means Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez – all with ERAs of 2.70 or lower – against C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison. For Lewis and Harrison, it’s a chance to bounce back after some struggles in their last outings. And in Lewis’ case in particular, he’s trying to put his velocity and command together to find the form he had last year.

So not only do the Rangers need their starters to pitch deep in games and hold Oakland’s offense, but Texas has to find a way to score runs and have more production than it did on the first road trip.

The Rangers hit just .241 on that trip and averaged four runs, nearly two fewer than they have at home. Of course, that’s a small sample size of just nine road games.

“When I look back at the last road trip, we played three games in 24 hours in Baltimore, we turned around and played three days games in Detroit and then in 40-degree weather in New York,” hitting coach Thad Bosley said. “Not that weather was a factor, but sometimes the changing conditions and game times can impact you. We had some good at-bats and hit some balls that didn’t find holes or show up in the box score. We hit five balls in Detroit that anywhere else would have been home runs. Those are momentum changers. As we continue to have good quality at-bats, things will even out.”

The Rangers aren’t overlooking the Mariners, either. They face Seattle in a three-game set next week, traveling after a day game with the A’s on Monday.

“They have good pitching too and we have to play well to win out there,” outfielder Nelson Cruz said. “You have to win division games and you have to hold your own on the road. We have to battle and take the same approach we’ve taken at home.”

BTW, Seattle is now 4 1/2 games back after playing well against Detroit. The Angels sit a game back with Oakland three behind the Rangers.