The Texas Rangers are moving closer to a franchise-record third consecutive AL West title. Facing Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver could delay that from happening.
Weaver will try to become the AL's first 20-game winner Friday night when these division rivals open a series in Arlington.
With a four-game series split versus second-place Oakland, the Rangers (92-64) lowered their magic number to clinch the West to three and lead the Athletics by four games with six left. These teams close the regular season in Oakland starting Monday, but Texas would obviously prefer to have its postseason spot locked up before heading to the Bay Area.
"We just want to close it out and give ourselves a chance in the playoffs," said Ian Kinsler, whose major league-high seventh leadoff homer sparked a five-run first inning in Thursday's 9-7 victory.
Texas opens its final home series with a fifth matchup against Weaver (19-4, 2.74 ERA) in 2012. The Rangers knocked the right-hander around for eight runs and 10 hits in a 13-6 home win May 13, but Weaver has won the last three, most recently an 11-3 victory Sept. 18 when he went seven strong innings to post his 100th career victory.
The three-time All-Star will try to win his fourth consecutive start overall after throwing 6 1-3 innings of one-run ball in Sunday's 4-1 victory over Chicago.
Weaver set a career high in wins with that effort and now has a chance to become the club's first 20-game winner since Bartolo Colon went 21-8 in 2005.
"To get one more than last year is great, and now I've got a couple more starts to try and get 20," Weaver said. "... Any win right now is important, personal accolades aside. That's what we've got to do - win ballgames, no matter what it takes."
The Angels (86-70) have won 24 of 34 to make a strong push for their first postseason berth since 2009, but they missed a great opportunity to inch within one game of the A's for the second wild-card spot with Thursday's 9-4 loss to Seattle.
Los Angeles had won five straight.
"We had a chance to gain a game, but instead we're still the same," said Torii Hunter, a soon-to-be free agent who could have played his final home game with the Angels. "We have no idea if we're going to play another home game here, but we're not going to give up, ever."
The Angels will try to win for the 12th time in 16 road games as they get a third look at Ryan Dempster (7-2, 4.48) this season. Los Angeles gave the former Chicago Cub a rude welcome to the AL by scoring eight times off him in a 15-9 loss in Arlington on Aug. 2. Dempster was then denied a career-best sixth straight winning start as he gave up five runs in 3 1-3 innings while losing to Weaver on Sept. 18.
Angels slugger Albert Pujols, a .351 hitter (20 for 57) with seven homers off Dempster, will try to extend his team-best hitting streak to 10.
Pujols and Hunter went a combined 17 for 37 with four homers - all by Pujols - and 17 RBIs as the Angels split a four-game series in their last visit to Arlington from July 30-Aug. 2.
Nelson Cruz leads the Rangers with six homers versus Los Angeles this season, while Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and former Angel Mike Napoli have all gone deep four times.
These clubs have split 16 games in 2012, with Texas winning four of the last five.