BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers looked back in the saddle again this week, as they shutout Oakland Sunday 4-0 to take two of three from the Athletics on the weekend, and win six of seven for the week. It was a week the Rangers needed has it came on the heels of losing eight of ten games coming out of the All-Star break. The Rangers had gone 32 days without gaining ground on Oakland, but they cut a six game deficit to 2-1/2 games (three in the loss column) as Oakland also lost two of three earlier in the week to Toronto.

Derek Holland threw eight shutout innings Sunday, striking out 10 and allowing just four hits. The win was his ninth against six losses, and the performance lowered his ERA to 3.02. Generally, there were five good starts this week, with Holland’s other start against the Angels on Tuesday being one of the two poor ones. He allowed four runs in six innings in that game, which Texas ultimately won 14-11 in 10 innings. Texas is now 15-8 in games that Holland has started.

Matt Garza made two good starts for Texas this week, taking a no decision on Monday in a game Texas won walkoff style and losing Saturday 4-2. Yu Darvish had an overwhelming start on Thursday, and Martin Perez was very good Wednesday. The only troublesome spot in the rotation now is Alexi Ogando, who lasted just four innings on Friday night in Oakland, allowing three runs. He simply can’t command his fastball, leading to all sorts of problems.

When the Rangers failed to make a trade or trades for offensive help at Wednesday’s non-wiaver trade deadline, President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels said the team would need to rely on good pitching and hope to scratch out four runs a night to win. The formula fit fine on Sunday.

Nelson Cruz has been suffering from a quad strain in recent days that didn’t allow him to play in the field. He was the designated hitter Sunday and hit his 27th home run leading off the second inning. It drove in his 76th run of the season and gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead at the time. His home run and RBI totals lead the Rangers as he has been the most consistent and most complete offensive Ranger this season. Unfortunately for Ranger fans, Sunday’s performance may well be his last this season and perhaps ever for Texas. MLB is set to announce the results of the Biogenesis probe on Monday. Players involved have been told, and MLB is awaiting their decision as to whether they will accept or appeal the suspensions, which will be 50 games for first time offenders such as Cruz. The Rangers have exactly 50 games remaining in the season.

Losing Cruz’s bat would be a huge blow to the Ranger offense. He is eligible to be a free agent after this season. Clearly, his best economic course of action is to accept the suspension and be able to start 2014 with the Biogenesis problems in his past. He did tell reporters Sunday that he has not made a decision as to accepting or appealing. Ranger beat man Evan Grant is one that has written that Cruz is not expected to return after this season in any event, which is curious. Obviously, with the departures of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli last off season, the Rangers are offensively challenged and need Cruz’s production. His defense has slipped, but there is always the designated hitter option. But as A. J. Pierzynski said this week, “If you’ve done the crime, you should do the time.” Quite frankly, Cruz if guilty has really cheated his teammates much more than he’s cheated himself. He’ll likely get a multi-year contract well into the eight digit range, while his Ranger teammates and Ranger fans are left holding the bag on what could be a marvelous season.

Going forward, the schedule turns very favorable for the Rangers. They next play Oakland on Monday, September 2 (Labor Day) in Oakland. Until that game, every team the Rangers face currently has a losing record. Oakland on the other hand plays 15 games in that span against teams that currently have winning records. The schedule situation somewhat reverses in September, but unquestionably, August presents the Rangers with a marvelous opportunity to take charge of the division.

For Texas, that schedule stretch starts Moncay night 420 miles south of Oakland against the Angels. The Rangers will not face either of Los Angeles’ top two starters Jered Weaver or C. J. Wilson in the series, though as poorly as Wilson has pitched against the Rangers since leaving, this may not be good news. The road trip winds up in Houston next weekend.

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