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The Rangers enter conceivably their most important week of their regular season, kicking it off with the opener of a four-game series in Toronto. With an eight-game lead in the American League West over second-place Oakland, Texas' division title seems secure, so why the urgency?
Well, what lies beyond the finish line for a club which has won one postseason game
in its history? Texas' mind-set entering the playoffs could be affected by events this week, as the Rangers keep their last regular-season dates against teams from the division that will be blocking their path into the World Series -- the AL East.
Texas stands 14-23 against the East, with its poorest track record against the Blue Jays (1-5), who open up with lefty Ricky Romero taking on Tommy Hunter in a duel that sounds like it could be either between pitchers or between '70s rock icons (Ricky Nelson vs. The Who).
From Canada, the Rangers will return home for three games against the Yankees -- who have personally escorted them out of all three of their prior postseason appearances. Although in view of the manner done -- two sweeps, nine of 10 overall -- it was the way a bouncer would escort you from a tavern.
The Rangers also have to deal with a little trouble winning on the road against top-notch clubs. Sunday's defeat in Minnesota left them 0-12 in the homes of the other three AL teams holding currently postseason berths -- the Twins, the Yankees and the Rays.
While not one of those playoff-bound clubs, the Blue Jays show the most discouraging profile to teams wary of spoilers, with a combination of top caliber arms and high-caliber bats. Three home runs Sunday raised their Major League-leading total to 208 -- with the Red Sox second in the Majors with 178 homers.
Hunter is going in the regular slot of Cliff Lee, who originally was to be held back only a day and start Tuesday's game. But the left-hander's issue with a sore back will force him to hold off longer. It is uncertain whether the Rangers are merely further delaying his next start, or will skip him in the rotation altogether.
Rangers: Injuries piling up during stretch
The scratching of Lee from Tuesday's start wasn't the only discouraging news on the injury front. Josh Hamilton (ribcage) is looking at a longer absence than originally anticipated with the injury sustained running into the Target Field wall chasing Delmon Young's drive Saturday night. And Elvis Andrus (right hamstring tightness), who also came out early in that 12-4 loss, is also looking at having to miss most of this series.
Blue Jays: Home comfortable for bopping Bautista
MLB homer leader Jose Bautista is back in his domain for seven games. Bautista has banged 27 of his 43 homers out of Rogers Centre, where the record is 30. Carlos Delgado set that mark in 2000, when he had a total of 41.
Toronto could conceivably wind up as the only team in the Majors with 200-plus homers, which has not happened since two expansions ago. In 1991, Detroit hit 209 homers and Texas was second among the 26 Major League teams with 177.