BALTIMORE -- The Texas Rangers are the only Major League team never to win a playoff series and one of only three franchises who've never played in a World Series.

That could change this year.

Mention this to manager Ron Washington and there's a long pause.

"We're just looking at the Baltimore Orioles right now," he finally said, hours before the Rangers fell to the Orioles, 4-0, at Camden Yards on Thursday night. "We cannot look ahead. Nothing has been accomplished here yet. What we've accomplished to this point is put ourselves in a good position to be successful. Nothing more."

The Rangers, running away with the American League West, are a slam dunk to make this year's postseason for the first time since 1999.

So, could this be the year they put AL Division Series losses to the Yankees in 1996, '98 and '99 behind?

"It's a great opportunity, and we're excited about it," said All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton, who leads the AL with a .353 batting average and is the leading candidate for MVP. "But we're not focused that far ahead yet. We still have a long ways to go."

There's added interest in this four-game weekend series, because the Orioles are managed by Buck Showalter, who skippered the Rangers for four seasons (2003-06) before being replaced by Washington. Showalter took over the Orioles on Aug. 3.

Plus, the last time the two teams met -- just before the All-Star break (July 8-11) -- the last-place Orioles swept the four-game series.

Showalter, who still lives in Dallas, has kept a special place in his heart for the Rangers since he left.

That changed Thursday night.

"It's the first time I won't be pulling for them, the next four days," Showalter said. "That's pretty much the way I look at it. There's a lot of people I respect over there."

That the Rangers have overcome so many obstacles and continue to dominate their division is amazing.

There was the unsettling ownership issue, the status of Washington, who in March shocked the baseball world when he admitted he used cocaine in 2009.

Ownership and the players rallied around Washington. Last week in Minneapolis, a group headed by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg gained MLB approval and took over the Rangers.

General manager Jon Daniels has waded through all the quicksand around the team and has produced a playoff contender. He's done all this with the Rangers in bankruptcy, swinging deals that include obtaining left-hander Cliff Lee from Seattle.

Washington has been a calming influence.

"I don't think he gets enough credit for the way we've played," said Daniels. "I think we're all in agreement that he's the guy we want managing this team in 2011 and beyond."

Greenberg told me last week after gaining approval: "When you see the way Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have been able to operate under such difficult and limited circumstances, it's like watching a bunch of people trying to change clothes in a phone booth.

"I don't know how they've done it. They've put the ballclub in great shape going down the stretch and in position for the future as well. We like to win and will not accept any other result. I think our competitiveness and determination during the process to get this team and our will to win showed. It's going to be a great ride."

At home games, Ryan, the team president, sits in a front-row seat as if he's overseeing all the action on the field. It was the Hall of Famer who went against baseball's ridiculous obsession with pitch counts and told his pitchers to instead build up arm strength and go later in the games.

I believe every Ranger is extremely aware of Ryan watching the most minute details of their performances. You cannot underestimate his importance to the team, especially during the ownership saga.

Washington agrees.

"I think before Nolan Ryan became president of the Texas Rangers his credibility was always there and that's what he brings," said Washington. "To me, he becomes like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks, you have to listen. A lot of things people say you may not always agree with, but you have to take validity in what they say.

"Nolan and Daniels have always asked for other peoples' opinions and then they make a decision. You can tell the difference in the attitude of the pitching staff. Nolan wants them to work harder and learn how to go deeper in the ballgames. He wanted them to work differently in Spring Training and they've done all that. He's taken a no-nonsense approach -- if you can't get it done you can't be a Texas Ranger."

Lee, arguably the best pitcher in the Major Leagues, told me he sees a lot of comparison to the Rangers and the Phillies. He helped them go to the World Series last year before losing to the Yankees.

"This is a talented young team, with a lot of potential," Lee said.

Greenberg has promised Rangers fans the team will do everything in its power to sign Lee, who can become a free agent. In July, when the trade was made, that didn't seem possible.

"The key to our success has been most of the players being together for a few years," said Washington. "The experience we had going down the stretch in September was an opportunity, but we didn't cash in. We went to Spring Training this year with a focus. You have to go out there between the white lines and do it. To this point, we've done it."

With the Houston Astros on the downside, the Rangers are in an excellent position to dominate Major League Baseball in Texas for years to come.

"We can become a dynamic organization if we can match our performance off the field with the performance on the field," Greenberg said. "If we can do that, it will become not only a great credit to the community, but also to Major League Baseball."

A good start would be to first win a playoff series and then take it from there.