BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers finished August with a 17-10 record for the month and an 80-54 record for the season. 26 games over .500 is the season high, and they go into September with an 8.5 game lead over Houston and a magic number of just 21. They go into the month with a five game winning streak. The last three of were victories over Seattle that all but mathematically eliminated the Mariners from the division championship. The magic number to eliminate Seattle is 18.
The 80-54 record is the best in the American League, so with the A. L. winning this year’s All-Star game; the Rangers are poised to have home field advantage in all three post-season series. The team looks to be rounding into good form in all areas. They scored 28 runs in the three game Seattle series. The Mariners left town 11.5 games out of first place with 29 left to play. They are toast as far as winning the division and almost toast for getting a Wild Card berth.
Texas now has six players that have hit at least 20 home runs this year. They also scored a run against the Mariners without a hit on a walk, stolen base, sacrifice bunt and ground out. It’s a formidable attack that can score in a variety of ways.
The starting rotation has gotten a boost from the return of Derek Holland. Holland has thrown two outstanding games since getting activated from the disabled list, going six innings and giving up one run each time. He is making a strong bid to part of the playoff rotation, which will most likely be just four pitchers as well as a case for the Rangers to exercise their team option on Holland for 2017.
Martin Perez has struggled since June, but he came back with six shutout innings this week against the Mariners. He has been outstanding at home. He has made 15 starts at Globe Life Park, with an 8-2 record and a 2.65 ERA.
A. J. Griffin has been better of late. Colby Lewis made a minor league rehab start last Tuesday and could get activated soon with the expanded rosters. The rotation appears to be coming together as the team is down to their final 28 games. There are smoke signals from Arlington that the team is strongly considering going to a six-man rotation for September. That would allow extra rest for Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and keep Perez, Griffin, Holland and Lewis engaged.
The bullpen looks sharp at this point. For sure, Sam Dyson can scare the bejeebers out of Ranger fans in save opportunities. In the end, the results are usually there. He has 30 saves, and just four blown saves. Matt Bush is up to six wins, and may be the most consistent late inning reliever on the staff. Jake Diekman has scrambled of late, but he’s still the main left-hander in the pen. Keone Kela had a fine outing this week, so hopefully is regaining his 2015 form. Tony Barnette continues to be quietly consistent.
That’s basically the back end of the bullpen at this point. Jeremy Jeffress was expected to be part of the mix, but he was arrested for DWI last week and was immediately placed on the restricted list. This week, he entered a rehab facility in the Houston area. He is expected to be out around 30 days as he deals with those issues.
Alex Caudio has been fantastic as the long man. Since his last recall from Round Rock on July 8, he has a 1.54 ERA in 15 outings. This week he relieved Cole Hamels in the fifth inning and threw 2-1/3rd scoreless innings of middle relief. Not only did he keep the game within the Rangers’ reach for a win, which they did; but he saved the rest of the bullpen. Amazingly, only three pitchers saw action in the game despite Hamels’ short start.
Reinforcements are coming with the rosters expanding in September. Two relievers from the minor leagues will be in uniform for this weekend’s series against the Astros (see below). Tanner Scheppers is also expected to join the team. More pitchers are likely to be added next week when the minor league seasons are complete.
The Rangers’ bullpen numbers don’t rank highly in the American League, but most of the pitchers responsible for the bad numbers are gone – Tom Wilhelmsen and Shawn Tolleson to name two. The ERAs of the current group of relievers is quite good.
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approached, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels decided the price for starting pitching was prohibitively high. He made the decision to forego the acquisition of a significant starter, which was his stated preference, and try to make the team better in other areas. Jonathan Lucroy, Jeffress and Carlos Beltran were the three big acquisitions he made. So far, it’s working out great!
Lucroy has probably had more impact than any player traded at the end of July. His offense has been invaluable. In 24 games, he has hit .293 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His home run total for the season is 20, a new career high.
As valuable as those numbers sound, he’s been even better behind the plate. Derek Holland has thrown his two best starts of the season with Lucroy calling the pitches. Martin Perez has made three very good starts in his last four outings. Lucroy caught two of the three. Yu Darvish has been better with Darvish behind the plate. Add to that his pitch blocking ability and his acumen at throwing out would be base stealers, and he is clearly a HUGE part of the 17-10 record in August.
Carlos Beltran is also making his presence known too. He is hitting .253 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Those are not astounding, but this team is much better with a veteran such as Beltran.
After the trade deadline, the Rangers signed Carlos Gomez. He was activated for the current home stand and has played six games, but has had a significant impact in three of them. He hit a three run home run in his first Ranger at bat. He hit a grand slam this week to break open Wednesday’s game against Seattle. He made two tremendous catches that kept Tuesday’s game against Seattle in range, a game the Rangers won in the ninth inning.
Gomez was known as a bad act in the clubhouse in Houston this year before his release. With Texas, he’s been anything but. He has mainly been a center fielder, but has willingly played left and right fields and is pleased to be in the batting order even if it’s toward the bottom. He’s playing well and he’s with a strong contending team. That may be the difference, but so far, the Rangers have not seen the problematic Carlos Gomez that hit only .205 in 89 games for Houston. There is no question about his talent. He’s got the physical tools to be a top end player.
* The Rangers announced four call-ups from the minor leagues as the rosters expand in September. They are left-handed pitcher Yohander Mendez called up from AA Frisco, and right-handed pitcher Nick Martinez, infielder Hanser Alberto, and catcher Bret Nicholas from AAA Round Rock. All four are expected to be in uniform for the Houston series this weekend.
* Reliever Tanner Scheppers is also expected to be activated from the 60-day disabled list and join the team this weekend.
* The 14-1 rout of Seattle on Wednesday put the Rangers run differential well into the positive numbers. They have scored 635 runs while allowing 613, a differential of plus 22. It was only plus five when the Seattle series began.
* After the Rangers play a three game series with Houston this weekend, they move on to Seattle for four games. The other remaining series with the two main West Division contenders is a three game set on September 12, 13 and 14 in Houston.