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BOS@BAL: Gonzalez tosses six sharp frames vs. Red Sox

Prior to the season, many considered the Rangers a lock to qualify for the postseason for a third straight season. Few expected the Orioles to play into October.

As the two clubs prepare to kick off a three-game set on Monday, however, it's not unrealistic to peg the series as a potential playoff matchup. Texas enters this 10-game homestand with a comfortable lead in the American League West, while the Orioles are clinging to one of the two AL Wild Card spots.

Baltimore has continued to defy its skeptics and arrives in Texas with an 11-4 record over its last 15 games, during which the Orioles haven't lost any of their six series. On Monday, they will look to build on that run as they call on right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who has been on his own roll of late.

The righty has turned in three straight quality starts, allowing just three total earned runs over 21 innings of work to lower his season ERA more than a run to its current mark of 3.38. Considering Gonzalez had played only one career game above Double-A before this season and was a late signing this spring out of Minor League camp, his 5-2 record has been as much of a pleasant surprise as the Orioles' playoff aspirations.

"It means a lot to me," Gonzalez said of contributing to the Orioles' postseason push. "For them to give me the opportunity to pitch, to start, and just do what I had to do -- I think all around we did a good job."

The Rangers will also turn to a pitcher who just recently joined their rotation, yet under much different circumstances. Veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster will make his fourth start since being acquired from the Cubs last month, and he is hoping for improved results.

Dempster is 1-1 with his new club, but has allowed eight runs in two of his three outings and sports an 8.31 ERA with the Rangers. He's conceded 19 runs in his three Texas starts after allowing just 18 in his final 10 games combined with the Cubs.

So is manager Ron Washington still confident that Dempster can regain his form and provide the Rangers the pitching boost they were looking for?

"I am. He's a pro," Washington said. "He went up against a hot Anaheim team and a pretty good New York Yankees team. He had two innings against that Yankees team he showed us real good stuff. After that, he just started elevating the baseball.

"I'm pleased with him. We got to get [his] feet wet, he has to get comfortable. We will see how it goes, but he can pitch."

Orioles: Machado contributing with more than bat
While it was Manny Machado's hitting that earned him Player of the Week honors just four games into his big league career earlier this month, the 20-year-old third baseman has also provided the Orioles with a much-needed lift defensively.

The team as a whole, in fact, has made strides defensively in the second half, something that manager Buck Showalter mentioned as a focal point coming out of the All-Star break. Though the Orioles have still committed a league-worst 93 errors, their fielding percentage has jumped from .977 in the first half to .987 since the break.

"It's improved," Showalter said. "Mark [Reynolds has] done a good job at first base, he really has. He's settled in there pretty well. I tell you, if we shore that up at the corners, and with Nate [McLouth] and [Adam] Jonesie and Nicky [Markakis] out there, we're going to have a good defensive club out there."

Rangers: Napoli recovering on time
Catcher Mike Napoli, currently on the disabled list with a strained left quad, has been progressing well over the past week and is still hoping to return to the lineup when he is eligible to come off the disabled list next Sunday.

Napoli plans to visit with team doctor Keith Meister this week to have his quad reevaluated and a decision regarding his return is expected to be made afterward.

"He's been working hard, doing a lot of medicine-ball work for his quad," Washington said. "He doesn't feel it when he bends anymore, but we just want to make sure it's gone so he can have a peace of mind."

Worth noting
• J.J. Hardy is just 2-for-27 [.074] in his career against Dempster.

• Ian Kinsler ended an 0-for-21 skid with a third-inning double on Sunday.

• The Rangers are 8-2 against the Orioles since the start of last season, including 3-1 this year.

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