Rangers pad their lead.

The Rangers found the secret to staying in first place.

Don’t play.

After losing six games in a row and watching their lead shrink, as both Houston and Seattle inched closer to the top, the Rangers had an off day. That actually needs to be reworded. Their last six games were off days.

Yesterday, the Rangers didn’t play. Okay, that needs to be reworded. Their last six games they didn’t play.

The Rangers did not have a game scheduled on Wednesday. And, in the process, they picked up a half-game on Houston and Seattle, both of whom lost.

With thirty six games remaining, now it’s a three-way battle. The next six weeks are playoff-caliber baseball. Every pitch matters, every at-bat matters, every game matters.

Yes, it’s disappointing that this team isn’t running away with the division. But they were never able to fix their bullpen and they have to live with what they have.

This late in the season, Rangers fans know what this team is. A great offensive team (present slump aside) that has zero clutch ability. From here on out, these are seven-inning games. If the Rangers are down after seven, game over.

The Rangers have the best rotation of the three teams. But, unless they can pitch deep into games, that advantage is blunted.

The Rangers bullpen is as reliable as an unemployed teenager. They will cost the Rangers at least a half-dozen losses this season in games the Rangers had late-inning leads.

If all this sounds like gloom and doom, it shouldn’t. The Rangers are in first. They have a great chance to make the playoffs. Yes, their team has big flaws. But so do the Astros and Mariners. Texas’s flaws will be overcome when their offense gets going again.