Orioles-Rangers Preview

The Texas Rangers are apparently very serious about reaching the playoffs. The opposite is true for the Baltimore Orioles.

Surging Texas seeks to strengthen its grip on the second wild card Saturday night when it continues a three-game series against the plummeting Orioles.

While Baltimore, Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels have struggled, Texas (66-61) has taken advantage and surged into the second wild-card spot by winning 11 of 15 since Aug. 13, tied with Kansas City for the most wins in the AL during that span.

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Cole Hamels struck out 10 in eight dominant innings and Shin-soo Choo and Chris Gimenez homered to lead the Rangers to a series-opening 4-1 victory Friday.

''This is the part of the season where everything is and everything's focused on. This is where you have to be at your best,'' Hamels said.

Adrian Beltre continued to torment Orioles pitchers with two more hits. He's batting .422 with nine homers and 20 RBIs in his last 21 games against them.

Choo also seems to enjoy this matchup, hitting four of his 16 homers this season against Baltimore. He's reached base in 32 straight starts since the All-Star break.

The Orioles (63-65) held a wild card before losing eight of nine, and now find themselves 3 1/2 games behind Texas and struggling to inject some life into a sagging offense.

Friday marked the eighth time in that span that Baltimore scored three runs or fewer, batting .223 and averaging 9.6 strikeouts in those games. The Orioles are two under .500 for the first time since July 25.

''We just, offensively, haven't been putting much together,'' manager Buck Showalter said. ''(Hamels) was good, and we weren't very good. So, that's a bad combination.''

Adam Jones and Chris Davis - the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters - are a combined 8 for 52 (.154) with 21 strikeouts in the past seven games.

They are a combined 1 for 11 against Martin Perez (1-3, 5.30 ERA), who will make his first start in nine days for Texas.

Because he's coming back from Tommy John surgery, the Rangers skipped Perez's last start to give him extra rest.

The left-hander had recorded three consecutive quality starts before allowing three runs and six hits over five innings in a 4-0 loss at Detroit on Aug. 20.

Since allowing eight runs and failing to get an out in the second inning Aug. 2 in a 21-5 home loss to the Yankees, Perez has a 2.84 ERA in four starts. He has yet to allow a home run in 37 1-3 innings this season.

Perez is 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in two starts against the Orioles, both coming in 2013.

Baltimore pins its hopes on struggling Ubaldo Jimenez (9-8, 4.26). After entering the All-Star break with a 2.81 ERA, he has gone 2-4 with a 7.65 ERA in eight second-half starts. Jimenez has failed to complete six innings in six of those outings, including each of the past three.

The right-hander started well at Kansas City on Monday, allowing one run over the first five innings before he gave up six runs and six hits in the sixth en route to an 8-3 loss.

''He just started elevating some fastballs and they made him pay for it,'' Showalter said. ''He was really commanding the ball well and just didn't that inning.''

Jimenez hasn't faced the Rangers this season but is 3-0 with an 0.68 ERA in his last four starts against them.

Beltre is 9 for 23 with two homers and three doubles against Jimenez.