- Associated Press - Monday, September 17, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas — Rangers manager Ron Washington held out one hand, then the other.

Another division title is within reach for the two-time defending American League champions, and that is Washington’s way of demonstrating how they have their destiny in their hands.

As long as Texas can stay ahead of the surprising Oakland Athletics in the AL West.

Even with the AL’s best record and being a season-high 28 games above .500, the Rangers (87-59) still are in a tight division race — with the young A’s the closest chaser instead of the expected Los Angeles Angels.

“Everything is in front us,” Washington said. “Oakland, everybody thought they were going to go away. They don’t seem to be going away.”

With 16 games left after their final off day of the regular season Monday, the Rangers lead the A’s by three games. The Angels, who added slugger Albert Pujols and former Texas lefty C.J. Wilson last winter, were 71/2 games back.

“Hopefully for the rest of the season, we’ll be able to just win series,” said outfielder David Murphy, sixth in the AL with a .314 batting average after becoming an everyday player. “And we’ll be in a good spot.”

Texas has won eight of its past nine series, and 11 of 13, after taking two of three games against Seattle over the weekend. The Rangers haven’t lost consecutive games in more than a month.

And yet their division lead shrunk to two games — the smallest in more than five months, since the first week of the season — when the A’s won eight of nine games. Oakland lost at home to Baltimore on Sunday, the first time in 10 days Texas was able to add a game to its division lead that was 51/2 games at the start of that stretch.

The Rangers play seven of their last 10 games against Oakland, which is 41-19 since the All-Star break. But they play at Los Angeles and Seattle this week before coming home for four games against the A’s, then three more against the Angels. The season-ending series at Oakland is in two weeks.

“They’re feeling good about themselves and the way they’re playing,” Washington said about the A’s before pointing to the schedule on the wall in his office listing probable pitchers with an Angels trio. “On the board, Weaver, Wilson, Greinke. Come on, I certainly ain’t thinking about Oakland.”

Ryan Dempster, who has won five consecutive starts with a 1.91 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 33 innings, starts the Tuesday night series opener against the Angels and Jered Weaver (17-4).

The right-hander is 6-1 since being traded from the Chicago Cubs just minutes before the July 31 nonwaiver deadline. His first start for Texas was at home two days later against the Angels, when he gave up eight runs in 4 innings — the same number of runs the Rangers scored in 5 innings off Wilson that night in a game they eventually won 15-9.

Dempster, who also allowed eight runs in a loss at the Yankees before his current winning streak, called it exciting to be in a pennant chase with a team that has been to the past two World Series. He has a sense why the Rangers have been able to have that kind of success.

“Just a bunch of guys who work really hard to be prepared and go out there and take their job really seriously and want to win really bad, but have a lot of fun,” Dempster said. “It’s a loose group of guys that go out there and realize that really the easiest way to be successful at your job is to have fun doing it.”

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