Rangers know AL West far from over

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The conversation -- at least for now -- is silly.

The American League West race is not over. If you think it is, you're fooling yourself.

The offensively challenged Oakland Athletics have won 21 of 27 games and 39 of 57 since the All-Star break. They should've earned your respect by now.

Sure, the Texas Rangers still have a three-game lead over the Athletics after their 5-4 loss to Cleveland on Thursday night, and they've had the American League's best record for more than three weeks.

All it takes is one bad weekend and that lead will be gone.

The Athletics are playing free and easy. They have no pressure. They're not supposed to be here.

They're having a blast, and that's what makes them dangerous.

"The A's just keep finding ways to win every night," Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison said. "It's wild. We're just three games ahead. That's not a lot since we have so many games against them left."

So can we stop this silliness about finding time for Mike Olt -- at least before he suffered a foot injury that will keep him out for at least a couple of weeks -- and demanding playing time for Jurickson Profar.

Profar gives every indication that he will achieve the stardom so many have predicted for him. And the kid has already produced a couple of game-winning hits for the Rangers.

But if manager Ron Washington wants to go with the veterans who have produced the AL's best record and consecutive trips to the World Series, then so be it.

This season isn't about Profar's development or anything other than winning the championship that has eluded the Rangers the past two seasons.

Everything else is a distant second.

The best teams take a boring approach. They assume nothing. They mute their professional arrogance.

After this week, the Rangers will play 13 of their final 16 games against the Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels. Seven against Oakland and six against the Angles.

That's when the race will be decided.

"I chuckle when I hear people talking about the race is over," Washington said. "The race is not over. You can't take anything for granted -- and I don't. We don't."

So Washington isn't interested in talking about the playoff roster or the playoff rotation because there's still work to do in the regular season. The Rangers own the AL's best home record -- 45-26 -- so getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is important.

While they're in a great position, we saw Tampa Bay make the playoffs last year after trailing the Boston Red sox by nine games in the wild-card race Sept. 3. We saw the St. Louis Cardinals win 23 of their last 32 games and ride the momentum to a World Series title.

And in 2007, we saw Colorado win 21 of their last 22 games and advance to the playoffs.

Do you understand now?

Sports is so much about confidence. Oakland has a ton of it right now, and the A's aren't going away this season. Their pitching is too good for an extended slump and the Athletics do all of the little things it takes to win close games.

Understand, this ain't Chicken Little running around talking about the sky is falling.

This is reality.

Go ahead, ask any Rangers player you want if the division has been wrapped up. Those who don't roll their eyes will stare at you in disbelief. Then they might even curse to emphasize the stupidity of the question.

Ask first-base coach Gary Pettis. Ask Washington. Heck, even public relations guru John Blake will look at you like you're crazy for insinuating the AL West race is over.

Folks aren't just being politically correct. The Athletics have the Rangers' full attention. Some players are even scoreboard watching.

The Rangers have been favorites in each of the past two World Series, but they're 0-for-2. Hey, take a look at the American League standings.

If the playoffs started today, the Angels wouldn't make it, despite adding Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson if the offseason. Neither would the Detroit Tigers with Justin Verlander, the game's best pitcher, and thumpers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

The past two years should have taught us just how difficult it is to win, and why the Rangers can take nothing for granted.