Rangers top AL West despite injuries, distractions

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers have been without at least one of their sluggers every game. Their opening day starter and the rotation's prized offseason acquisition have both struggled.

Off the field, the pending sale of the team drags on without resolution despite a deal struck 3½ months ago. There is scrutiny on manager Ron Washington after his shocking revelation during spring training that he used cocaine during the season last year.

Yet somehow, the Rangers (18-14) were in first place in the AL West on Monday, their first day off in three weeks. Their modest four-game winning streak after a weekend sweep of the Kansas City Royals was the longest in the majors.

"I like where we're at right now," said third baseman Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger in his 10th season. "The biggest positive for this team is we're not focusing on where we are in the standings. ... We know that to win this division, we're going to have to get better."

Texas has gone 13-7 in moving from last to first in the division. Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels, the defending division champ which finished 10 games ahead of Texas last season, have unexpectedly struggled.

The Rangers have a one-game lead over Oakland (17-15), which opens a three-game series Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark after taking two of three at home against Texas last week.

"We're looking forward to the challenge of playing Oakland," said outfielder David Murphy, who had three hits Sunday but likely won't have a regular spot in the lineup when slugger Nelson Cruz returns this week.

Cruz, an All-Star last season when he had 33 home runs, was hitting .323 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 19 games when he went on the disabled list because of a recurring right hamstring strain April 27.

That came three days before All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler made his season debut after missing the first 22 games with a high right ankle sprain.

Texas is 8-2 since Kinsler got back.

"We're starting to get a little momentum. We're starting to get comfortable with how our lineup is set," Kinsler said. "We miss Nellie. Our projected opening day lineup hasn't been together much, so we haven't gotten close to reaching our potential. Hopefully we can get there by September."

Washington hasn't yet been able to post his planned lineup with No. 2 hitter Young followed by Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Kinsler and Cruz.

"We'll finally have the lineup we thought we were going to open the season with," said Washington, in his fourth season. "It certainly will make us look like we're a murderer's row. Now we just have to go out there and perform."

Guerrero, the 35-year-old slugger not re-signed by the Angels after an injury-filled 2009 season, is hitting .339 with six homers and 26 RBIs. He had homers in three consecutive at-bats last week, the blasts coming in a span of four pitches.

Texas has improved its record each season under the 58-year-old Washington, though he doesn't have a contract past this year.

After the cocaine revelation this spring, Washington called it a "huge mistake" and one-time incident.

The Rangers knew about his indiscretion last summer, and refused Washington's offer then to resign. They stuck with him again when it became public and players say the manager has been himself this season.

"Same old Wash, same guy. ... There's always people that want to see guys in position of prominence fail, but there's just as many people out there pulling for him to succeed," reliever Darren O'Day said.

Said Young: "It hasn't bothered Wash. We had that day or two where we had to address the issue. Once we wrapped that up, it hasn't been an issue."

The Rangers were 5-9 after a six-game losing streak. That included being swept by the Yankees and two consecutive losses in Boston that started the uninterrupted three-week stretch.

The weekend sweep of the Royals was capped by a 6-4 victory Sunday when Scott Feldman (1-3, 5.84 ERA) needed 100 pitches to get through four innings before leaving a tie game.

"I'm just not pitching well," said Feldman, a 17-game winner last year whose only win this season was April 11. "I've got to get better. I'm in a bit of a slump and I've got to get myself out of it. We've got a good team here and I know I can do better than this."

Free agent addition Rich Harden (2-1, 3.53) had more walks than strikeouts in his five April starts. But the right-hander pitched seven shutout innings last week in Oakland and has 12 strikeouts and two walks in 12 innings in May.

The best starter has been converted reliever C.J. Wilson (3-1, 1.51), the left-hander whose ERA is best in the American League. He threw a complete game in a 4-1 win Friday over the Royals.

"He had the stuff," Washington said. "But we didn't know how he'd handle starting."