Rangers are right where they hoped to be in playoff chase even though they are struggling now

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers are right where they had hoped to be in the September standings, near the AL West lead and contending for a playoff spot in manager Bruce Bochy's first season.

Expectations rose when the Rangers were on a 108-win pace in early June, even after Jacob deGrom had season-ending elbow surgery. They then had five All-Star starters and were a season-high 24 games over .500 in mid-August during a stretch when they led the division for more than four months.

They acquired Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery and hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman ahead of the trade deadline.

But now they are struggling, with injured All-Stars — the latest AL RBIs leader Adolis García — a problematic bullpen and 15 losses in 19 games following a sweep at home by Houston. If the season ended Thursday, the Rangers (76-63) would have been out of the playoffs for the seventh straight season.

“I think for us is just take a deep breath, just go out there and enjoy the game,” switch-hitting All-Star catcher Jonah Heim said. “The first half and part of the second half, we were just going out there and playing, having fun and enjoying the game, and enjoying each other. Now it just kind of feels like ... everybody’s trying to do a little too much.”

Texas led the AL West for 148 of the season’s first 149 days but dropped to third, three games behind reigning champion Astros and .003 behind Toronto for the third and final AL wild-card spot. Of their 23 games left, the Rangers play four next week in Toronto and take on second-place Seattle seven times in the season's last 10 days.

“Worm’s going to turn here, it is. It’s always a tough stretch what we’re going through,” said Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco who took the Texas job after three seasons out of the dugout.

García is the fifth All-Star to go on the IL for Texas since that game in July. The right fielder has a patellar tendon strain in his right knee after coming down hard when he leaped trying to prevent a home run in a 12-3 loss on Wednesday. General manager Chris Young said the team is cautiously optimistic he might be able to return this season, but doesn't have a timetable.

Rookie third baseman Josh Jung, voted in as an All-Star starter, has missed 27 games with a left thumb fracture.

All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi allowed four runs in 1 1/3 innings on Tuesday in his return from the IL because of a right forearm strain. That was his first start since July 18.

Shortstop Corey Seager missed 31 games early in the season with a sprained left hamstring and nine games into early August with a right thumb sprain, just last week gaining enough plate appearances for his .339 batting average to qualify as the AL leader. Heim just resumed hitting right-handed, three weeks after his return from the IL and being out 14 games because of strained tendon in his left wrist.

Second baseman Marcus Semien, the lone Rangers player to appear in all 139 games, is the their only All-Star who has avoided an IL stint. He hit two solo homers and had an RBI single to account for all of their runs in the finale against Houston, which homered 16 times and outscored them 39-10 in the three-game series.

Scherzer left his start Friday against Minnesota after six scoreless innings and 88 pitches, and said postgame he was dealing with forearm tightness. He gave up three homers and seven runs in three innings Wednesday and had some “ailments,” but said he would be fine for his next turn after extra rest.

Starters are 0-7 with a 3.88 ERA during a club-record streak to 19 games without a starter getting a win, The bullpen has a 5.00 ERA and a majors-high 29 blown save chances.

While Texas leads the AL with 762 runs, it has averaged only 3.7 per game since mid-July.

“I think you have to remind yourself a couple of things there," Bochy said. "One, who we are, what we were for the most part this season. And we’re right there, as bad as things have looked.”

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB