ARLINGTON (CBS SPORTS) – Third straight summer, October just around the bend, the Rangers are earning all A’s. Now, if they can just hold off the Oakland A’s.

Had you told them when spring training broke that, with 16 games left to play, the Athletics would be their closest competitors in the AL West, even given Albert Pujols with the Los Angeles Angels? Get out. “I would not have expected it at the time,” Texas outfielder David Murphy said as the Rangers opened a series with the third-place Angels on Tuesday. “But when you have talented young pitchers like they have, I’m not going to say it’s a surprise, but it’s not what you expect.”

The Rangers have a little (and in places, a lot) more of everything, especially with relievers Joe Nathan and Mike Adams back on active duty after a weekend hiatus designed to give them a blow. Pacing is no small part of running the 162-game gauntlet, and the Rangers do this, as well as just about everything else, as well as anyone.

Manager Ron Washington’s bullpen was back to full-strength (at least until Tanner Scheppers suffered a bruised knee in a play at the plate on Wednesday). The Rangers survived a major scare with Adrian Beltre’s shoulder last week. Michael Young hit in 12 of 14 games heading into Tuesday (.346 during the stretch) and is showing signs of snapping out of a season-long funk. And slugger Josh Hamilton is back online after mysteriously becoming Mario Mendoza in June and July.

“Seems like I play four out of six months every season, whether it’s because of injuries or going into slumps,” Hamilton said in what might not be the best motto to carry with him into free agency this winter. “It’s cool. I still have numbers that match up with anybody else’s.” Hamilton, into Tuesday, was hitting .287 with 42 home runs and 123 RBI.

“Seems like he’s put June and July behind him,” Murphy said of Hamilton’s .223 June and .177 July (8 home runs total).

The Rangers have held at least a share of first place for 163 of 165 days this season. They’ve been alone in first for 138 of the past 154 days dating back to April 17.

Want one more testament to how hard-charging Oakland is the furthest thing from a fluke? The Rangers’ 87-59 record into Tuesday equals their best in club history through 146 games, and they have not lost back-to-back games since losing three straight August 13-15. Even at this, Oakland had chopped their lead to two games this past Saturday, and three going into Tuesday.

Yet, Washington did not want to talk Oakland. The Rangers and A’s will face each other seven times in the season’s final 10 games, and if Oakland remains within striking distance, Washington will get to them then. “My concern totally is with the Angels,” the manager said. “We’ll play Oakland when we play ’em. They’re certainly playing good baseball.”

Few would have dreamed, back in March, that Texas would be warning folks against counting out the Angels. Fewer still would have guessed that the A’s would be standing between the Angels and Rangers for first place in the AL West. “Anything’s possible,” Hamilton said. “The game is so unpredictable.”

So, onward they push, finish line two weeks away, third consecutive AL title and first-ever World Series triumph remaining within reach. Now, it’s all about the A’s — earning them, and fending them off.

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