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Without Hamilton the Texas Rangers are Just Joshin'

Rangers lose. A's win.

Rangers win. A's lose.

Magic number this and first-round playoff match-up that.

It's all about as meaningless as David Buehler's too-little-too-late 47-yard field goal if the Texas Rangers have to play October baseball without Josh Hamilton. Right?

Hamilton is the Rangers' best player. He's having a Mickey Mantle-esque season, beating teams with his bat, his glove and his speed. He's been as valuable as a pitching ace, single-handedly winning games and stalling losing streaks before they commence.

Not if, but when the Rangers finally clinch the American League West - after last night's loss in Anaheim the lead on Oakland is down to eight and the magic number is stuck on six - they'll be heavy underdogs against AL East champ New York or Tampa Bay.

I know manager Ron Washington is saying all the right things about fighting and scratching with the players he has, but without a healthy, hot Hamilton, they'll limp into the playoffs and quickly hobble out of them.

Hamilton hasn't played since crashing into the wall while making a leaping catch in a 6-0 game in Minnesota on September 4. (Texas is 8-6 since.) He compared the effects of the collision to being in a car wreck and has complained of severe rib pain. Add that to this already aching back and the balky knee and all the sudden the Rangers' best player is also their most vulnerable.

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The injuries haven't kept Hamilton off of HBO (he'll be featured tonight on Real Sports), but they are stalling a long-term contract extension. And, more urgently, they're a cold compress to our Rangers' fever.

Hamilton visited a back specialist in Los Angeles on Monday for a battery of tests. Those results, more than any hollow game against the Angels, might shape the rest of the Rangers' season.

Fingers crossed.

P.S. Anyone see catcher Matt Treanor's costly passed ball in the sixth inning last night? Ball from Pedro Strop gets by him, two runners move up a base and score on a single. Just sayin'.

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