GOING, GOING, ALMOST GONE!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – Sunday afternoon, the Oakland A’s completed a three game sweep of the Texas Rangers to extend their lead in the American League West to 6.5 games. The Rangers were all but mathematically eliminated for the division championship, as the A’s have 13 games remaining and the Rangers 14. Oakland’s magic number is eight – any combination of Oakland wins and Texas losses adding up to eight clinches the division championship for the Athletics.

The sweep completed an 0-6 home stand for the Rangers as Pittsburgh had swept them in three to start the week. The culprit is the offense. Two of the losses were by the score of 1-0. The Rangers never hit a home run during the week, and they never held a lead at any point in time during the six games. For the week, the Rangers hit .247 and hit .290 with runners in scoring position. The latter number is actually good, but most of those RISP hits came in Wednesday’s and Friday’s games that the Rangers lost 7-5 and 9-8.

Certainly after getting swept by Pittsburgh, winning the series with the A’s was imperative to stay in the pennant race, and even a sweep may not have been enough. The series began Friday night with Derek Holland’s fourth rough start in a row. Oakland put up three runs in the first, and extended the lead to 9-2 by the sixth inning. Holland completed three innings and was removed after the first two batters in the fourth reached base. He allowed six runs, and it was his shortest outing of the year.

With game seemingly gone, the Rangers’ offense ignited for six two out runs in the eighth inning, as they almost came back. The inning ended on a controversial call at third base. Alex Rios was called out trying to go from first to third on a single. The play was symptomatic of this year’s edition of the Rangers. While replays indicated that it was a bad call, that Rios was actually safe, the correct baseball move is to stay at second base with two outs unless it’s a slam dunk that a runner makes it to third. The play robbed the Rangers of having A. J. Pierzynski bat with the tying run in scoring position. Interestingly, it was the Rangers’ 100th out made on the bases for the season, a huge number.

The play may also have more consequences. Rios argued the call at third base vehemently and was ejected by third base umpire Andy Fletcher. In the course of the argument, Rios bumped Fletcher, which could be cause for a suspension of a game or two.

Friday’s loss put the “absolute must win” tag on Saturday’s game. Yu Darvish was the Ranger starting pitcher, and he was marvelous. He struck out the side in the first inning, but in between those K’s, he walked the second batter and the fourth batter doubled the runner home. That was the only run of the ball game. The Rangers lost by the score of 1-0 for the second time of the week, the third time this year in Arlington, and the fourth time this season; all with Darvish as the Rangers’ starting pitcher.

Oakland again scored in the first inning on Sunday, scratching out a run on a pair of singles and a double play. Josh Donaldson followed with the first of three Oakland home runs in the game to make the early lead 2-0. Texas came back with a run in the first, but never scored again. One of the two ensuing Oakland home runs came with a runner on base to make the final score 5-1. When the smoke had cleared Sunday, the ugly truth was that the Rangers scored one run in 19 innings after Friday night’s six run outburst in the eighth inning.

As dire as the Rangers season looks now, they are still actually in a good position to make the playoffs if they can start winning games. With 12 losses in the last 15 games, the latter may look questionable, but Texas starts the week tied with Tampa Bay for the top record among the teams that are not leading their division. Cleveland is only one-half game back (one in the loss column), followed by Baltimore, New York and Kansas City at 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5 games behind. It should be a very lively two weeks of play to finish off the season as these six teams battle for the two Wild Card spots.

This week, Texas plays two of those teams starting Monday night in St. Petersburg, the first of four with the Rays. The announced starting pitchers are Matt Garza against Alex Cobb on Monday, Nick Tepesch against Jeremy Hellickson on Tuesday, Derek Holland against Chris Archer on Wednesday and Yu Darvish against Matt Moore on Thursday. The Rangers then return to the Central Time Zone for a three game set this weekend in Kansas City.

That’s the final road trip of the season. Texas is home for the last week of the season – three games with Houston and four with Los Angeles. As bleak as the last two weeks have been for Ranger fans watching the Rangers lose 12 of 15 games, there is still a great opportunity to make the playoffs. If the starting pitching returns to the form displayed for most of the season, especially in the month of August, this is a team that could do some damage in the playoffs.

Follow on Twitter @rangerrap.

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