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Rangers need to sweep Astros to have postseason chance

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers saw their faint playoff hopes get all but extinguished over the weekend, leaving the start of a homestand against the in-state rival Houston Astros devoid of much drama or intrigue.

With the season on the line, Texas was swept by the A's in Oakland. An 8-1 loss on Sunday leaves the Rangers 5 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second wild-card spot with seven games to play.

"We are making it tougher on ourselves," Texas third baseman/designated hitter Adrian Beltre said. "This was a bad weekend for us. We expected to win this series, and it didn't turn out that way. It's not set in stone yet, but we have to go back home and win as many games as we can."

Texas (76-79) arrived in Oakland still in striking distance of the Twins, 2 1/2 games back. The three losses to the last-place A's were a crushing blow for a Rangers squad that hasn't been able to get out of its own way for most of the season.

"It has been tough the last three games," Texas catcher Robinson Chirinos said. "We came in here with a really good chance for the last wild-card spot. We still have a chance, but it depends on how Minnesota plays in their last games. We have to go home and fight. The fight is not over."

Texas likely needs to sweep its final two series at home to have any postseason shot, and that probably won't be enough. The first series is against the Astros, who have long since clinched their first American League West title and are tuning up for the playoffs.

The Rangers send Andrew Cashner to the hill for the Monday night series opener at Globe Life Park. The 31-year-old right-hander is 10-10 with a 3.44 ERA, and he has been one of the club's more consistent starters down the stretch.

Cashner is 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA since the start of July. He has faced the Astros in each of the first five series between the clubs this year, going 1-4 with a 4.06 ERA.

Cashner will be the first Rangers starter to face a single opponent six times in a season since Yu Darvish against the Los Angeles Angels in 2012.

The Astros are cruising into the playoffs after lapping the field in the AL West. Houston entered Sunday with a 19-game division lead, which was a season high and a franchise record. The Astros' largest lead to end a season was 12 1/2 games, set over the Chicago Cubs while winning the NL Central in 1998.

The Astros (95-60) must win out to match the best record in franchise history, 102-60, set in 1998. The '99 club has the second-most wins at 97.

Catching the Cleveland Indians (98-58) for the best record in the AL remains the priority. More important is setting up the rotation for the AL Division Series, and manager A.J. Hinch has yet to tip his hand.

"We're going to keep playing and try to pile up as many wins as we can," he said. "Obviously, we're going to line things up for the postseason as soon as we need to, but we want our guys to have the mentality to finish strong and finish these games."

The Astros open the Texas series with Collin McHugh. The righty's role for the playoffs is uncertain, with moving into the bullpen a possibility. McHugh (3-2, 3.44 ERA) didn't allow a run or get a decision in his only other outing against the Rangers this season.

He is coming off a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday, when he allowed one run on five hits in five innings.

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