BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The Rangers limp home from a 2-4 road trip after a come from behind 4-3 win over Los Angeles Sunday to avoid a series sweep. Texas led Oakland in the West Division by 2.5 games on August 28 when they finished a three game sweep of Seattle. Since then, the Rangers have lost three consecutive series and are 3-6, trailing Oakland by 1.5 games with 20 left to play. The Rangers are three games ahead of Tampa Bay for the number one Wild Card slot and five games ahead of Cleveland and Baltimore, which are tied for third place in the Wild Card standings. The magic numbers for Texas are 22 to win the West and 16 for winning a Wild Card playoff spot.
For most of the season, the Rangers’ offense has been inconsistent, and that was true on this road trip. Texas scored 25 runs in the six games, but could have plated a lot more as they were 12-59 (.203) with runners in scoring position. Cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre was 3-23 on the trip with no extra base hits, while Ian Kinsler has one RBI in his last 60 at bats, all but five of which were taken in the number three slot in the batting order. The Rangers have scored 640 runs this season, a pace to score 730 runs for the year, about 4.5 per game. Last year, they led the Majors with 808 about five runs per game, so this year’s run production represents a 9.7% decrease.
However, the results of this road trip are not just a reflection of the inconsistent offense. They represent a breakdown in almost every area of the game. The starting pitching has been the backbone of the success of this year’s team; but on the trip, the starters averaged less than 5-1/2 innings per game with an ERA of 5.51. The two stalwarts of the rotation have been Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. They collectively were 0-3 on the trip with a 7.04 ERA; and since the All-Star break, the Rangers are 8-11 in the games they have started.
The defense was also the culprit. They made a season high four errors on Saturday, allowing four unearned runs in the 8-3 loss to the Angels. For the trip, they made seven errors allowing six unearned runs to score.
The Rangers are home for six games this week starting Monday night with three against the Pirates, who are reeling as badly as Texas. The Bucs have lost four in a row, surrendering their lead in the National League Central to St. Louis, who leads Pittsburgh by 1.5 games and Cincinnati by two. The likelihood is that all three make the playoffs along with Atlanta and Los Angeles as the East and West division champions. Pittsburgh has secured a .500 season with 81 wins, their first season that will not be sub-.500 since 1992. They are led by manager Clint Hurdle, who was instrumental in getting the Rangers to their first World Series in 2010 as the Rangers’ hitting coach.
The Pirates are followed by Oakland next weekend, for the last three meetings of the year between the two division contenders. Those games will be of utmost importance. If the Rangers’ slide continues this week, losing the series to Oakland could all but eliminate Texas from the division championship and put them into a scramble to be one of the two Wild Card teams. This situation is tense, and on one hand disappointing with the opportunities the Rangers have had to take charge of the division. However, being in a tight pennant race with 20 games remaining in the season is far superior to five years ago when the Rangers were 17.5 games out of first place on September 8, or 10 years ago in 2003 when Alex Rodriguez was a Ranger and the team was 20 games out on September 8. This team could play great baseball, winning 16 of their last 20 and go into the playoffs with a ton of momentum. They could also stink it up and finish out of the playoffs altogether. It’s just wonderful for Ranger fans though that games on September 9 mean something.
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