AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- The Texas Rangers are sliding again in September, right into their final series against AL West foe Oakland.
A huge difference this season is that the Rangers will be home for this three-game series, and still have two weeks of games left after that.
"Yeah, we still have time," closer Joe Nathan said. "Hopefully we can turn this thing around at the right time."
Texas still has a tight hold on the AL's top wild-card spot despite losing nine of its last 12 games (2-8 in September) while dropping four consecutive series.
But remember how that wild-card thing worked out last season?
After going to two World Series in a row, then being in first place for a MLB-high 178 days last season, the Rangers ended the regular season with their worst slump of the year, losing nine of 13. That included being swept in three games the first week in October at Oakland, which clinched the AL West title by winning game No. 162.
Even with Yu Darvish on the mound at home, the Rangers lost the first one-and-done wild-card playoff to Baltimore.
"We're not going to stop," Nathan said. "Obviously we're looking to win our division. ... We've got to grind, we've got to turn this thing around. Obviously having time does help. You don't want to end like that and not have any games left."
Oakland won 8-2 in its series finale at Minnesota on Thursday, when the Rangers had their last scheduled day off before playing 17 days in a row. The closing stretch starts Friday night with the opener of the final series between the American League West's top two teams during the regular season.
In the last two weeks, including losing two of three in Oakland, the Rangers went from a three-game division lead to now 3 ½ games back of Oakland.
"Our heart is still in it. We've just got to do what we have to do to make sure we win ball games, that's all," manager Ron Washington said. "I'm not concerned. We'll be ready to play with Oakland coming to town."
There are plenty of areas of concern for the Rangers, who were just swept in three games at home by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over the past 20 games, the only starting pitchers to win games are rookie left-hander Martin Perez and rotation fill-in Travis Blackley. That's four times through the rotation without a victory for Darvish, Derek Holland or midseason addition Matt Garza, who only made it through four innings Wednesday.
Perez was the first Rangers rookie to win six consecutive starts, but that streak ended in a loss Tuesday to the Pirates.
Texas has played 12 consecutive games without scoring more than five runs, its longest such slump in more than three years.
"As a team, we're going through struggles in every phase of the game -- defensively, offensively, pitching," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "Not good enough to win games is the bottom line. ... We're positive that we're going to get better, and we have to execute."
Beltre is fourth in the AL with a .318 average, but has only three hits his last 27 at-bats overall with only one hit his last 22 chances with a runner in scoring position. He had a game-ending strikeout, on three pitches, on Tuesday against the Pirates after Texas had four consecutive two-out singles to get within a run with a runner at third base.
That came a night after Darvish, who is scheduled to face the A's on Saturday, suffered his third 1-0 loss. The last major league pitcher with more 1-0 losses in the same season was Orel Hershiser in 1989.
"We're fine," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "When we went to Oakland a week ago, it was the biggest series of the season. ... We have to play better baseball. That's the bottom line. It doesn't matter who our opponent is."
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