Even as the playoff race grows more complicated, the math and the motivation for the Rangers remains simple: Just win. Texas, having fallen out of a race for first place in the American League West, is now trying to outlast both Tampa Bay and Cleveland for one of the league's Wild Card berths.
Texas now trails Cleveland by 1 1/2 games and Tampa Bay by two games with a week remaining.
And if the Rangers needed a boost in their race for the playoffs, they may get it in the form of their intrastate rival. Texas will play host to Houston over the next three days, and the Rangers will take the field with a 14-2 edge in the season series and wins in 13 consecutive series against the Astros.
"Our season has definitely been up and down, but we have to put that behind us and finish strong," said outfielder Craig Gentry of the Rangers' turbulent push to the postseason. "Right now, every game means something. Hopefully we can get something going and finish it off."
The Rangers, at 5-15 in September, are not taking anything for granted against Houston. Left-hander Derek Holland will be matched against Jordan Lyles in Monday's series opener, and Texas manager Ron Washington said Sunday that he was impressed with how the Astros had played.
"They've come a long way this year," Washington said. "They have a pretty good young starting pitching staff. They certainly have to shore up their bullpen. That's what has been killing them. But their youth got a year under their belts. You just can't throw your glove out there. You've got to go out and play."
The Astros have lost seven straight games to the Rangers, and Lyles is coming off a start in which he allowed seven earned runs without escaping the fourth inning. The right-hander posted a 3.44 ERA in his three starts before that outing, and manager Bo Porter would love to see him finish strong.
"I think it's very important," Porter said of closing out the season. "You're going to look at your body of work, but finishing positive would be good for all these guys the last time through the rotation."
Holland is two-thirds of an inning from crossing the 200-inning barrier for the first time in his career, but he has won just once in 12 starts after the All-Star break. Holland has gone 2-6 with a 3.67 ERA in 14 starts at home, and he knows the stakes each time his team takes the field.
"Every start is big now; we've got to win from here on out," Holland said of the unmistakable mathematics at the end of the season. "Every game you win makes it that much easier."
Astros: Houston gets good look at Villar
The Astros have gotten to take a long look at shortstop Jonathan Villar, who is batting .266 in his first 52 games of big league action. Villar, acquired from Philadelphia in the 2010 trade for Roy Oswalt, has made 13 errors over 52 games as second baseman Jose Altuve's double-play partner.
Villar, a native of the Dominican Republic, batted .277 with 31 stolen bases in 91 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City prior to his promotion to the Astros. Villar has gone deep just once for the Astros, but he has 17 stolen bases and 11 extra-base hits in his first 180 at-bats.
Rangers: Martin has room to meet potential
Leonys Martin has had a modest first full season in the Major Leagues, hitting .259 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 139 games. Prior to this season, Martin, a native of Cuba, batted .323 with a .388 on-base percentage in 128 games in the Minor Leagues, providing a glimpse of his talent.
• The Astros beat the Rangers on Opening Day and on July 6.
• The Rangers shut out Kansas City for eight innings before yielding a ninth-inning grand slam in Sunday's 4-0 loss.
• Joe Nathan notched his 40th save Saturday; Nathan is just the fourth pitcher age 38 or older to have a 40-save season. Mariano Rivera (three times), Trevor Hoffman (twice) and Jose Mesa are the other members of the club.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.