BACK IN FIRST PLACE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers are back in a first place tie with Oakland after completing their second three game sweep of the Angels in as many weeks. Texas has won nine of their last 10 games to make up a six game deficit, though Oakland still holds a one game lead in the loss column and is technically one percentage point ahead of Texas in the West division. Texas is back to 15 games over .500 at 65-50, only one win shy of their high water mark of 16 games over .500 on July 9. The Rangers have been out of first place since July 1, when they held a one-half game lead over the Athletics.

The just completed Angels’ series are the first three games of Nelson Cruz’s 50 game suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs. If these games are an indicator, Ranger fans are in for some exciting baseball, as Texas stole 13 bases in the series. That included six swipes on Tuesday and seven Wednesday night, only the 10th and 11th times in Ranger history that the team has stolen six or more bases in a game. In five of the six instances in Tuesday’s game, the player stealing the base went on to score. Leonys Martin led the way with six of the 13 stolen bases. There are many that call the proliferation of sacrifice bunts and stolen bases “small ball”; but the results in this series were far from small. Texas scored 23 runs against the Angels, almost eight per game for a struggling offense that had barely been averaging four runs per game.

The Rangers’ starting pitchers were the winning pitchers in all three games – Martin Perez (4-3), Yu Darvish (11-5) and Alexi Ogando (5-3). Ogando’s performance was encouraging. At this point of the season, he is the weak link in the Rangers’ starting rotation. Fastball command has been his problem. Wednesday in Anaheim, it was still a problem; but he was able to throw some quality strikes with the pitch, unlike his previous outing. He went through 97 pitches Wednesday to complete five innings. That still taxed the bullpen for four innings, but the bullpen was well rested after Darvish and Perez combined for 13-1/3 innings in their two starts, and the Rangers are off Thursday. A five run lead when Ogando exited helped too.

The off day Thursday is the first of six consecutive Thursdays in which the team is not scheduled to play. That’s all the remaining off days left in the season. Thursday’s off day ends a schedule stretch of 20 games in 20 days. The 10 game, 11 day road trip (both the longest of the season) concludes in Houston this weekend with four games against the Astros. It will be the Rangers’ third and final trip to Houston this year, though the Astros will be in Arlington twice more. The Rangers are 5-1 in the two previous series in Minute Maid Park, and 7-2 overall against the Astros this season. Matt Garza (7-2), Derek Holland (9-6), Perez (4-3) and Darvish (11-5) will be the Rangers’ starting pitchers. Friday’s game starts at 7:10, Saturday’s at 6:10, and Sunday’s and Monday’s at 1:10.

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