(Sports Network) - The Texas Rangers attempt to move closer towards their first American League West title in 11 years when the current division leaders visit Seattle's Safeco Field tonight for the first of three straight matchups with the lowly Mariners.
Texas has a comfortable 10-game lead on second-place Oakland in the West standings and a magic number of eight to secure its first playoff appearance since 1999. The Rangers trimmed that figure some more with Wednesday's 11-7 victory over visiting Detroit, the team's seventh win in a row.
"We're playing well right now," said third baseman Michael Young. "We're happy with our style of play. We're just trying to stay focused on the task at hand."
Texas belted three homers in Wednesday's triumph, including a three-run shot by David Murphy in the bottom of the fourth inning that gave his club a commanding 8-2 lead. He finished with four RBI on the night.
Ian Kinsler also went deep and knocked in three runs for the Rangers, while Vladimir Guerrero added a solo shot to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. The former AL MVP is batting .375 (10-for-40) with two homers and eight RBI during his tear.
Colby Lewis (11-12) worked the first six innings for Texas and was reached for five runs, only two of which were earned, on four hits to win his second straight start following a string of seven consecutive losing decisions.
The Rangers seem to have a good chance to reduce their magic number further in this series. Texas has prevailed in 10 of 13 meetings with the last-place Mariners this season, including five of the six games held at Safeco Field, while Seattle comes in having lost seven in a row after being handed a 5-1 setback at home to Boston on Wednesday.
The Mariners mustered only six hits off Clay Buchholz and two Red Sox relievers, with Russell Branyan's solo homer in the first inning accounting for the team's only scoring.
Seattle did receive a solid start out of David Pauley (2-8), with the right- hander surrendering just two runs -- one earned -- on six hits over the first six innings.
"Everything was working pretty well today," said Pauley afterward. "I was throwing a lot of strikes and getting a lot of contact. It's one of those things, you go up against a guy like Buchholz, he's having a phenomenal year."
The Mariners will send out their best pitcher for tonight's series opener, with Felix Hernandez getting another shot to state his case for the AL's Cy Young Award. The Seattle ace leads the Junior Circuit with a 2.39 earned run average and ranks second in the league with 214 strikeouts, while his 11-11 record has mostly been the product of his team's anemic offense.
Hernandez didn't help his cause in his most recent outing, however, as the right-hander was roughed up for seven runs (four earned) in 6 1/3 innings in a road loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last Saturday. Prior to that poor showing, he had yielded a mere one earned run over 45 innings spanning six starts from Aug.10-Sept. 5, posting a 4-1 record and striking out 57 batters during that excellent stretch.
The Venezuelan standout hasn't fared well against the Rangers, however, both this season and over the course of his career. Hernandez is 0-3 with a subpar 6.38 ERA in four previous encounters with Texas in 2010, and he's just 8-12 with a 4.16 ERA over 26 lifetime starts in this series.
Texas will turn to the suddenly-struggling C.J. Wilson this evening. After compiling a stellar 7-0 record and 1.99 ERA over his first nine starts since the All-Star break, the converted reliever has permitted 10 runs and lasted 8 1/3 innings in his last two trips to the mound.
Wilson was tagged for six runs and walked four batters over 5 1/3 shaky innings in a loss at AL Central leader Minnesota on September 5, and wasn't any better against the New York Yankees last Friday in Arlington. The left- hander was removed after only three innings after giving up four runs on six hits and walking three in an eventual no-decision.
The 29-year-old is 1-0 with a 3.71 ERA in three 2010 starts against Seattle, though he's been touched for five runs in 10 innings in a pair of Safeco Field assignments. In 41 career appearances (four starts) versus the Mariners, Wilson is 6-2 with seven saves and a 5.08 ERA.