09/26/10 1:27 PM ET
Rangers return home for first time since clinch
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
And before he takes the ball, the Rangers will give their fans a chance to cheer. Prior to Monday's opener, the 2010 AL West championship flag will be raised on the top of the center field office building in a pregame ceremony.
The Rangers are 49-26 at home and 29-21 against division rivals this season, and they'll close out with seven games against the Mariners and Angels. Texas has held sole possession of first place for 110 straight days and has owned a lead between seven and 10 games for 63 straight days, so winning the division became more a matter of timing.
And now that it's done, you can see what the accomplishment means to the Rangers. Texas has posted a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1998 and '99, and it's playoff absence was the sixth longest in baseball. The Rangers are 12-4 since Sept. 8 -- the best record among AL teams -- and will hope to continue their momentum.
Wilson, who's closing in on 200 innings for the first time in his career, will also start on Saturday against the Angels, which lines him up to pitch Game 2 of the American League Division Series. But first the converted reliever will have to get past the Mariners, who are motivated by needing to win four of their last seven games to avoid 100 losses.
Seattle has posted the worst record in the league this year, and it may be walking into a buzzsaw of circumstances perfectly suited to its weaknesses. The Mariners are 24-54 away from Safeco Field this season, and they've managed a 15-35 record against AL West opponents.
Seattle has lost 13 of its last 17 and 25 of its last 35 road games, putting pressure on starter David Pauley to pitch a good game. Pauley has thrown three straight quality starts but is just 3-8 with a 4.32 ERA as a starter this season.
The Mariners haven't hit much this season, so they've had to do extra work on the basepaths. Seattle has two players (Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki) with more than 40 stolen bases, and Franklin Gutierrez came through with his 25th stolen base of the season Sunday to give the Mariners three players with 25 thefts for the second time in franchise history.
The Rangers are still without center fielder Josh Hamilton, who has missed 22 straight games after bruising his ribs in a collision with an outfield wall. Hamilton, who leads the Major Leagues in both batting average (.361) and slugging percentage (.635), had been streaking when he got hurt, batting safely in 12 of his last 14 games at a .431 (22-for-51) clip.
Mariners: Branyan to have back checked out
Corner infielder Russell Branyan -- who has 15 of Seattle's 96 home runs this season -- will return to Seattle on Monday in order to have ailing back examined. Branyan has missed 10 games and could miss the rest of the season.
"You are looking at a guy who is an obvious power threat," said interim manager Daren Brown. "When he can't play, you have to put guys in different positions. You can look at the lineup. Is [Jose Lopez] a three-hole hitter? Is [Gutierrez] a four-hole hitter? Sometimes you've gotta do what you've gotta do with what you have. You would like to have Branyan in the middle there somewhere. But I don't worry about what I don't have, I worry about what I do have. I try the best with what I have right now."
Rangers: Young, Kinsler to play Monday
Manager Ron Washington had both third baseman Michael Young and second baseman Ian Kinsler out of the lineup on Sunday, and he had planned to give them both off Monday in the wake of clinching the division. The manager's mind was changed, though, after some good-natured lobbying from the players in question, who wanted to play the series opener.
"They both came into my office and said they wanted to play Monday in front of the fans," said Washington.
Young, interestingly enough, has played in 1,502 career games without playing in the postseason, the second-longest drought of any active player. Only Randy Winn (1,713 games) has played in more games without making the playoffs.
When Matt Mangini and Greg Halman made their big league debuts for the Mariners last Thursday, it marked the first time that two Seattle position players have started and debuted on the same day since 1993, when Brian Turang and Greg Pirkl achieved the feat. ... Kinsler served a one-game suspension in Sunday's game. ... Former Texas prospect Justin Smoak -- who moved to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal -- went 2-for-4 Sunday to raise his season average to .200.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.