SECOND HALF KICKS OFF

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The ceremonial second half began well for the Rangers. They came back from the All-Star break with a series win over the Royals, taking two of three in Kansas City. Texas has clearly dominated the Royals over the past two seasons. They finished with six wins in seven games this season, and extending back to last year, the Rangers won 12 straight games until Sunday afternoon’s loss.

The Rangers were looking for a sweep Sunday after taking the first two games by 5-3 and 1-0 scores. They had Yu Darvish on the mound. It looked promising for breaking out the brooms.

Darvish wasn’t great, but he was certainly good enough to win. He was knocked out with two outs in the seventh inning having thrown 98 pitches. He was charged with three runs, but one was unearned, so his ERA dropped to 3.45. That third run scored in the seventh breaking a 2-2 tie, as Drew Robinson and Mike Napoli had earlier homered.

The Rangers came right back to tie the game in the eighth inning to take Darvish off the hook for the loss. In the ninth however, the Royals got Jason Grilli in hot water as they loaded the bases with one out. The gritty veteran battled though, striking out the next batter and then giving up what appeared to be an inning ending fly ball to right field.

It wasn’t to be though. Shin-Soo Choo battled the sun, and the sun won. The fly ball was in and out of his glove allowing the winning run to score for Kansas City. The official scorer generously gave Lorenzo Cain a hit on the play, but it was clearly a ball that should have been caught.

In the series opener on Friday night, Texas failed to get a hit in the first five innings, falling behind 3-0. However in the sixth inning, they not only broke the ice with base hits, they tied the game with a three run blast off the bat of Adrian Beltre. In the seventh inning, Mike Napoli came off the bench to hit a two-run home run as a pinch hitter. It was the first pinch hit home run in his career.

Martin Perez completed seven innings allowing the three runs on eight hits. He was the winning pitcher to improve to 5-6 Matt Bush shut down the Royals in the eighth inning, and Alex Claudio wrapped them up in the ninth, as the Royals went six up and six down in the final two innings. Claudio got the save.

On Saturday, there was an old time pitchers’ duel. Kansas City’s Danny Duffy and Texas’ Cole Hamels were excellent. Hamels completed 7-2/3rds scoreless innings to extend his current streak to 21 straight scoreless innings. Duffy pitched into the ninth, when the Rangers finally scratched out a run with the RBI coming on a Shin-Soo Choo bloop single that was barely fair down the left field line.

Jose LeClerc finished the eighth inning to qualify for the win, while Claudio got three outs in the ninth to earn saves on consecutive days.

After Sunday’s loss, the Rangers were still one game under .500 at 45-46. They are in a virtual tie with Seattle for second place 16.5 games (16 games in the loss column) behind the Astros in the West. They are now 2.5 games behind New York for the second Wild Card spot.

There is no question that this 10 game road trip that continues with four games to start the week in Baltimore and concludes with three games next weekend in Tampa Bay, is critical to the Rangers’ playoff hopes and the direction of the team at the July 31 trade deadline. Jon Daniels said earlier in the week that he expects his team to contend for a playoff berth and that they would make trades accordingly.

Certainly, the good start in Kansas City is encouraging. Winning the West is virtually out of the question. A Wild Card playoff berth is the team’s only realistic chance at playoff baseball. There are essentially nine teams in the running for the two Wild Card slots. All three opponents on this trip are among the other eight. Consequently, each win is really worth two, as the Rangers will be tagging a rival for a playoff berth with a loss each time they win.

In the era of two Wild Card teams in each league, the Giants and Royals have won the World Series after entering the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Realistically, though if all nine teams are even, that represents a 22% chance of winning one of the Wild Card playoff berths. That earns a one game play-in to the playoffs proper with eight teams. With a 50%-50% chance of winning that play-in game, the Rangers essentially have an 11% chance to make the playoffs.

INJURIES:

Keone Kela was not activated during the Kansas City series, but is expected to join the active roster very soon, probably in Baltimore this week. Jake Diekman has been cleared to throw off the mound this Thursday for the first time this year after multiple surgeries for a colon condition.

NOTABLE:

* Saturday’s win was just the sixth this year in which the Rangers did not hit a home run. The Rangers hit four home runs in the series which drove in seven of the nine runs Texas scored.

* Texas has two 1-0 wins this season, both against the Royals.

* Alex Claudio threw a shutout inning in each of the three games and needed just 23 pitches total to do so. He’s averaging 12.9 pitches per inning, fewest in the Major Leagues among relief pitchers.

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