The Texas Rangers find themselves 10 games out of an American League wild-card spot with just 42 games remaining as they open a four-game series with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.
Even so, the Rangers have a lot to play for, according to shortstop Elvis Andrus.
"I think the next six weeks means a lot for the team moving forward," Andrus told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after Texas' 7-3 victory at Toronto on Wednesday afternoon.
Andrus went 4-for-5 with a double and two RBIs in the contest, which capped a disappointing 3-6 road trip for the Rangers.
"That's the message: to keep playing hard, keep doing our thing, don't give in, keep trusting that we can play better, we're a better team," Andrus said of what was discussed during a pregame meeting the team's hitters had with manager Chris Woodward. "And I think today was a good example of going out there and just competing."
It was the first time since Aug. 2 -- a stretch of 11 games -- that Texas had at least 10 hits in a contest, and the seven runs matche the total the Rangers had produced in their four previous games.
Danny Santana and Nomar Mazara homered for the Rangers, and 22-year-old left-hander Kolby Allard, acquired last month from Atlanta, picked up his second major league victory by allowing three runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings.
Rangers rookie right-hander Pedro Payano (1-1, 3.86 ERA) will make his fourth career start Thursday, opposing rookie left-hander Devin Smeltzer (1-2, 3.66), who will be making his fifth major league start.
Payano made his major league debut against the Twins on July 6 in Minneapolis, allowing just a walk during a scoreless inning of relief in Texas' 7-4 loss. He comes in off a 3-2 loss at Milwaukee on Saturday when he allowed two runs on five hits in three innings.
Smeltzer will be making his second career start against Texas. He had a no-decision in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on July 7 in Minneapolis, allowing five hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings. Texas went on to win the contest on a three-run homer by Rougned Odor in the 11th inning off reliever Adalberto Mejia.
Minnesota, which is just 2-6 in its past eight games, holds a half-game lead in over the Cleveland Indians the American League Central after dropping a 6-5 decision at Milwaukee on Wednesday.
The Twins had a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth before Trent Grisham hit a three-run homer off Sergio Romo.
Minnesota loaded the bases in the ninth on consecutive two-out walks by Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario against Matt Albers, who then got C.J. Cron to fly out to the edge of the warning track in left-center to end the game.
Polanco committed a pair of errors at shortstop in the loss, including an errant throw on a routine grounder by Ryan Braun to start the Brewers' eighth-inning rally. Polanco also dropped a ball at second base on a forceout, the second straight game he mishandled a routine throw at the bag.
"I think we have to stop that inning from getting to that point," Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It was kind of self-inflicted tonight, and we just have to make those plays."