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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Rangers taking AL West by storm, and not looking back

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ka-boom! The Rangers went to the fireworks on July 4 and they never stopped. Neither the Rangers nor the fireworks.

Ron Washington's club has lost just once since. The Rangers have won close games. They've won routs. They've won with pitching and they've won with their bats.

They took 12 consecutive wins into Wednesday night's game, gaining four games on the Angels in six days before finally dropping a 9-8 decision at Angels Stadium. They had gained 10 games on Seattle in 14 days -- including the All-Star break. Oakland? The Rangers had put eight more games between themselves and the Not-So-Swingin' A's since July 4.

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The Rangers swept four games from Oakland going into the All-Star break. They swept four from Seattle coming out of the break.

What they're threatening to do is what they had every chance to do in May, but couldn't: Run away from the rest of the AL West.

If there is a team in the game capable of turning its division race into a Caribbean cruise, the Rangers are it. They're at least 10 games better than everybody else in the division.

The Angels just aren't that good. The Athletics are banged up and, well, just not that good. Seattle, when Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda aren't pitching, is just not that good.

Plus, the Mariners score less frequently than the president of your local Harry Potter Fan Club.

"I still say we can play better baseball," All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton says.

"We like to think so," All-Star designated hitter Michael Young says. "As a team, you're always looking for bigger and better things. We said it this year: We want to get better every series, every week, every month."

When they started the season 9-1, the Rangers looked like they were intent on blowing the doors off of the AL West race from jump street. Then Hamilton broke an arm in mid-April. Closer Neftali Feliz was disabled 10 days later. Nelson Cruz was hurt two weeks after that. Add to that the fact that pitcher Tommy Hunter started the season on the disabled list.

And yet ... the Rangers have been alone in first in the AL West for 51 of the past 54 days.

"I don't think we're thinking separation more than putting the pedal to the metal and playing good baseball," Washington says. "All we want to do is play good baseball, and separation will happen."

Not all of his players have gotten that particular memo.

Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has 20 saves for a pitching staff that hasn't missed Cliff Lee as much as some feared. (Getty Images)  
Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has 20 saves for a pitching staff that hasn't missed Cliff Lee as much as some feared. (Getty Images)  
"The Angels have a good team," says Beltre, who spurned them on the free-agent market last winter because, among other reasons, he thought Texas put him closer to a World Series. "Torii Hunter is going to start hitting, and Vernon Wells is going to start hitting. Maybe it's taking a little longer than they want, but they have a good team, and good pitching.

"We can't get comfortable. Bobby Abreu has hit his whole life. They're going to get out of this sooner than later. Hopefully, we can create some distance before we get to the end."

Rangers pitchers combined for an astounding 1.91 ERA during their 12-game winning streak. They've produced 13 shutouts, tying Philadelphia for the most in the majors. Turns out, there is life after Cliff Lee.

As Hamilton pointed out this spring, the Rangers already were in first place when they acquired Lee last summer. Lee didn't so much win them the division as he did carry them into the World Series.

Now, sources say the Rangers are among those kicking the tires of Colorado right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. However that one turns out over these next 10 days before the trade deadline, there is a parallel there between Lee and Jimenez.

The Rockies' righty doesn't have anything close to the resume of Lee. But if he's healthy, he could be a tremendous midseason acquisition, a huge boost to C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland.

"The front office always looks at all the options," says Hamilton, who professes to ignorance regarding any Jimenez rumors. "Give them a lot of credit for that."

The Rangers' depth was on display Wednesday night, when Washington gave the slumping Cruz a night off. David Murphy made a tremendous running catch in right field in the third, then swatted a game-tying, two-run homer against Dan Haren in the fourth.

Cruz? He was hitting .162 over his past 10 games.

"We're doing things consistently, but everybody is not playing up to their capability," Hamilton says.

Still, no team in the majors had won 12 games consecutively since the 2006 White Sox. And no team had won more than 12 in a row since the 2002 Athletics streaked to 20 in a row.

The third-base coach on that A's club, by the way, was a fellow by the name of Washington, Ron.

Similarities between Oakland then and Texas now?

"Yeah, pitching and defense," Washington says.

Those A's, behind Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, had dominant pitching. These Rangers have effective pitching.

The difference, though, is clear: Those A's had to win 2-1 and 3-2.

"In Oakland, we grinded," Washington says. "We didn't have a real potent offense."

In Texas, they score ... and score ... and score some more.

Leaving them plenty of time to begin lining up their playoff rotation.

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