Rangers, Mariners still eyeing wild-card spot

(TSX / STATS) -- SEATTLE -- To Texas manager Jeff Banister, the playoff chase remains exciting. That his Rangers are sitting at 75-76 isn't dampening his enthusiasm at all.

More important: The Rangers are just 2 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the race for the second American League wild card, so the possibility of the playoffs is still very much alive.

"Ultimately, it's about getting into the playoffs, then how you play in the playoffs," Banister said. "It's not always clean in the record. I don't think you chase a record as much as you play to get into the playoffs."

The Rangers meet the Seattle Mariners (74-78) on Thursday in the final game of a three-game series, the last meeting between the teams this season. Texas won the first two contests this week, 3-1 and 8-6.

The Mariners are riding a five-game losing streak but are just four games back of the Twins. Both Seattle and Texas are still eyeing that wild-card spot, admittedly some distance from where they would like to be.

Just don't try to tell Banister that earning a playoff berth would mean less with a record that is treading water around .500.

"So, if you finish .500 and win the World Series, is the World Series tainted?" Banister said with some incredulity. "Is there going to be an asterisk by your name or the year? 'They won the World Series but they only had a .500 record?' Just win the World Series."

On Thursday, the Mariners will send left-hander James Paxton (12-4, 2.98 ERA) to the mound for his second start since he came off the disabled list last week after recovering from a strained pectoral muscle. Paxton, who has 138 strikeouts and 35 walks in 121 innings, stumbled in his return, pitching 1 1/3 innings and allowing three runs in 50 pitches at Houston on Friday.

However, Mariners manager Scott Servais said Paxton's health isn't a concern going into the Thursday game.

"Pax was more of a mechanical thing," Servais said. "I know he had a bullpen (session) with Mel (Stottlemyre Jr., the pitching coach,) the other day, felt much better coming out of that. I hope it translates to the game. We certainly need him to be on top of his game. No health issues at all."

All the same, Servais will be watching the lefty closely, ready to go to the bullpen early if the need arises.

"We'll keep a close eye on him," Servais said. "There's no doubt. He's a very valuable guy for us going forward. The injury bug got him a couple of times, but you don't to do anything with him that could be an issue in the offseason or going into next year."

In Paxton's only home start against Texas this season, a 5-0 victory April 15, he pitched eight shutout innings, gave up two hits and struck out nine.

Adrian Beltre (8-for-14) has hit .571 against Paxton. The veteran slugger, who is nursing a strained hamstring, is 3-for-8 with a walk through the first two games of the series.

The Rangers' Thursday starter will be southpaw Cole Hamels (10-4, 3.96 ERA), who has posted quality starts in his past two outings. In three starts against the Mariners this season, Hamels is 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA in 17 innings.

Most recently against the Mariners, Hamels earned a win on Sept. 11, pitching six innings and allowing three runs.

"Kind of what makes him go is when he's fresh, he stays with the delivery and the rhythm, he's got tremendous command and control of his pitches," Banister said. "His fastball is a little fresher, he's able to use the cutter a little more effectively."

Hamels has done a good job through his career limiting the damage done by Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz (6-for-24, .250). Robinson Cano has touched Hamels for three home runs, and Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger each have two homers off the lefty.


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