Then there is the Yankee Factor.
The Rangers beat the Indians 2-1 Tuesday night but lost a game in the battle to have a worse record than Cleveland. The way the standings are now, that would be the key to playing the New York Yankees in the best-of-5 division series instead of the best-of-7 ALCS.
If the wild-card team comes from the AL East, it would play either the AL Central or AL West winner _ whichever has the better record. A five-game series certainly would give Cleveland, Texas or Anaheim a better shot at upsetting the Yankees than a seven-game series.
Hold on, says Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, before we get ahead of ourselves.
"The last time I heard somebody say they wanted somebody to lose because they wanted to play somebody else, it was the Yankees, and they wanted to play us," Hargrove said, referring to last year's playoffs when Cleveland upset New York in the division series. "We just want to get there, and we'll play whoever's there waiting for us."
Esteban Loaiza, plagued by lack of run support since the Rangers acquired him from Pittsburgh, got his first victory for Texas. The Rangers, without slugger Juan Gonzalez for the second straight game due to a stiff neck, had scored three runs in Loaiza's two losses.
"I don't want to hear him say we don't get him any runs," Texas manager Johnny Oates joked. "We got him two tonight and got him a win."
Gonzalez, who leads the majors with 119 RBIs, did not start for the eighth time in 13 games. Mike Simms, his replacement in the lineup, hit his 12th homer.
"With the pitching and defense we have now, we can win these low scoring games," Oates said. "We couldn't do that earlier in the year."
Loaiza (1-2) must have been wondering. Acquired from Pittsburgh on July 17 for Todd Van Poppel and Warren Morris, Loaiza had pitched well but was 0-2 with a no decision for the Rangers.
The right-hander allowed one run and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings, walking one and striking out three. He was working on his second career shutout when Jeff Manto hit a one-out, solo homer in the eighth to cut it to 2-1.
"It feels good to get the first win here," Loaiza said. "Everything is great with this club."
Pinch-hitter Mark Whiten followed Manto's homer with an infield single, and Xavier Hernandez relieved. Kenny Lofton, in a 2-for-15 slump, flied out to right, and Omar Vizquel fouled out to end the threat.
John Wetteland pitched the ninth for his 32nd save.
Cleveland's sleepwalk through the AL Central continued as the Indians dropped to 27-28 since June 9. Even so, they have picked up 2 1/2 games during that span as every other team is below .500. With Minnesota and the White Sox both losing Tuesday night, Cleveland maintained a 13-game lead.
The Indians' offense continued to struggle without All-Star first baseman Jim Thome, out with a broken hand.
"I think there was something like 275 RBIs missing from both lineups," Oates said.
David Justice and Lofton, both in danger of dipping below .270, are still badly out of sync. Justice stranded Vizquel at second in the first with a weak grounder to the mound and was 0-for-4. Lofton, 1-for-4 and batting .256 in the second half, grounded into an inning-ending double play in the third.
Lofton did make perhaps his best defensive play since returning to the Indians after spending 1997 with the Atlanta Braves. With Simms on first in the sixth, Lofton sprinted to the right-center gap to catch Ivan Rodriguez's tailing liner, set himself on the run and doubled up Simms with a perfect throw on a line to Richie Sexson.
In a sour mood about his hitting, Lofton was evasive when a reporter asked him about the catch. He said, "What catch are you talking about?"
Simms hit a two-out solo homer off starter Steve Karsay in the fourth to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Todd Zeile led off the fifth with a double and scored on a double by Tom Goodwin to make it 2-0.
Karsay allowed two runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings in his first major league start since August 5, 1997 for Oakland against the White Sox.
Notes: Cleveland right fielder Manny Ramirez crashed hard into the wall while making a spectacular catch on Zeile's shot to the fence in the ninth. ... Indians right-hander Dave Burba, nursing a sore right elbow, threw without pain Tuesday. He threw fastballs and curveballs. Burba could return to the rotation on Saturday or Sunday, depending on whether the Indians want Jaret Wright to go on six days or seven days rest.