The Rangers have one roadblock standing between them and a potential playoff spot. And it's a familiar opponent.
One game back of the Indians for the second American League Wild Card spot, the Rangers will host the Angels on Thursday to open a four-game series that will decide their fate of a 162-game season.
"This is a situation that every ballplayer should look forward to -- playing games with the intensity that we're playing," Rangers outfielder Alex Rios said. "When you play meaningful games, it's so exciting. It's just fun to play like this."
The Rangers are 11-4 against the Angels this year, but the Angels have looked like a different team of late, going 23-9 since Aug. 23 and winning nine of their last 10 series.
"I expected them to play the way they are a lot earlier than this," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Those young kids they have been running out there have been playing good baseball, and their starting pitching has been good. They're playing Angels baseball. But I still think we can beat them."
The Angels took two of three against the Rangers earlier this month.
"We're going to try our best to beat them and try to get some momentum and some positive notes going into the offseason and Spring Training," Halos outfielder Mike Trout said.
Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson said the club has its sights set on knocking the Rangers from the playoff hunt.
"I think we have enough guys that understand the importance of playing our best to give Cleveland and Tampa the best chance at [the playoffs]," Wilson said. "And also, if Texas beats us, then they have to earn it. We don't want to just roll over and give it to them.
"You want to win. There's no better feeling than to go on the road and beat somebody. If you can beat somebody in front of their home fans, that's even better. Because you expect to win at home. But if you win on the road, that's even better."
The pitching matchups appear to favor the Rangers, who start off with Matt Garza on Thursday before throwing three starters -- Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish -- with ERAs of 3.33 or less.
Garza finally looked like himself in his last start against the Royals, throwing eight innings of one-run ball while striking out five. He had previously allowed 10 homers in his last nine starts with the Rangers while posting a 5.72 ERA and allowing an .828 OPS against.
The Angels, meanwhile, are still unsure if Jerome Williams will be able to make his scheduled start Thursday after taking a ball off his foot while throwing with Dane De La Rosa during batting practice on Monday, so they're closely monitoring him.
"We'll see where he is, but we'll have some time to look at it tomorrow, and if he's able to do the things he needs to do, he'll pitch," manager Mike Scioscia said.
One option if Williams can't go would be Matt Shoemaker, who started in place of Jered Weaver on Friday. Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton could also start.
Rangers: Cruz's status for postseason play uncertain
The offense in Texas hasn't looked the same this September, as the Rangers have averaged fewer than four runs per game, ranking 20th in the Majors. If they do qualify for the postseason, Nelson Cruz would be eligible to return from a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Basic Agreement and Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program.
But Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said it's not definite that the team would allow Cruz to play in the playoffs, if Texas qualifies.
"We haven't made a call," Daniels said. "I don't think it's in anyone's interest to start talking about playoff rosters. We just got to win tonight and go from there. We're right in the middle of this pennant race. We just got to play our best baseball one night at a time."
Angels: Trout gets rest in chase of 200 hits
The Angels rested Trout on Wednesday against the A's, limiting his chances to reach 200 hits.
"He's played a lot -- this day off is long overdue for him," Scioscia said. "He's just out of sync and he's been grinding it, he just needs a day."
Trout has 187 hits on the season but is hitting .173 (9-for-52) over his last 15 games.
"In the batter's box, he's pressing, I think, a little bit," Scioscia said. "It's obviously a long season and he's tired."
• With 36,226 fans at Wednesday's home finale, the Angels eclipsed the 3 million mark in attendance for the 11th consecutive season. This season's total was 3,019,505.
• Rangers veteran Lance Berkman, bothered by inflammation in his left hip as well as a chronic sore right knee, will be available only as a pinch-hitter for the rest of the regular season.