MADDUX OUT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Late this morning, the news broke that the Rangers and pitching coach Mike Maddux were parting ways. It was just two weeks ago that the Rangers held their post-season press conference and announced that hitting coach Dave Magadan and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins were leaving the organization, but that all the other coaches were invited back and expected to return.

Perhaps we’ll never know what really happened over the last fortnight, but Maddux was said to be soliciting offers from other teams after receiving a contract offer to continue with the Rangers. Apparently the Rangers re-thought the situation with Maddux seeking offers rather than working to negotiate with the Rangers. Thus, the decision announced this morning was the Rangers’, not Maddux’s.

GM Jon Daniels said as much telling local media, “We made an offer to to our coaches and at that point, Mike was looking around. We took the opportunity to do so , too. We did an internal review and decided that we felt like it was an opportunity for us to get better.”

Maddux’s brother Greg has been a special assistant to the team, and he announced that with his brother out as pitching coach, he would not be returning.

Maddux for sure is the most successful pitching coach in Ranger history. The team had the worst ERA in the American League from 2000-2008, but Maddux took over in 2009, and the Rangers’ have had the sixth best staff ERA since. During Maddux’ tenure as pitching coach, six Ranger pitchers made an American League All-Star team.

With the announcement of Hawkins’ departure as bullpen coach, the Rangers started the interview process with internal candidates Brad Holman (pitching coach at AAA Round Rock), Danny Clark (minor league pitching coordinator) and Jeff Andrews (pitching coach at AA Frisco). They are now candidates for the pitching coach job too. Also at the time that Hawkins’ departure was announced, the situation was couched as Hawkins wanting to be free to pursue a pitching coach job. However, he is said not to be a candidate for the Texas job, which makes his departure look more like a firing than a mutual agreement.

Magadan, Hawkins and now Maddux were all holdover coaches from Washington’s 2014 coaching staff. Ranger fans may be seeing the growth of manager Jeff Banister’s influence in the organization. At a minimum, he will be actively involved in choosing replacements, and he may be behind the departures of all three.

As for Maddux, he should have little problem landing another job in baseball. He did well at Milwaukee before he joined the Rangers and he did well here. There are still a number of unsettled pitching coach situations around the Majors.

He told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “My time in Texas was great. I’ll miss it. I made a lot of good friends and helped develop a winning culture.”

Ranger starter Derek Holland told Sullivan, “Maddux taught me a lot about pitching. I loved working with him. To lose him will have a huge impact.. I guess (the Rangers made the decision) for a reason and have something else in mind, but it caught me by surprise.”

Banister added three coaches to this year’s staff that were hired within the organization. He is likely to make hires for the hitting, bullpen and now pitching coaches from within the organization too.

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TORONTO ENDS RANGERS’ HOPES

RANGERS DOOMED BY 7TH INNING MELTDOWN

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Toronto eliminated Texas Wednesday afternoon with a 6-3 win in game five of the American League Division Series. Texas jumped out to a series 2-0 lead, but the Jays came back to win the final three games. This game was decided by an unusual and controversial seventh inning that took 54 minutes to play.

The Rangers took the lead early with a first inning run. Delino Deshields, Jr. doubled to open the game. Two ground outs scored him, the second one coming from Prince Fielder. Two innings later, Sin-Shoo Choo extended the lead to 2-0 with a home run. Toronto came back with single runs in the third and sixth innings to tie the game. The tying run came on a Juan Encarnacion home run.

That set the stage for the fateful seventh inning. Rougned Odor started the inning with a single and moved to third base on Chris Gimenez’s sacrifice bunt and DeShields’ ground out. Choo was the next batter. During his at bat, Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin carelessly returned a throw to the mound. The toss hit Choo’s bat and dribbled away. The ever alert Odor broke for home and easily crossed the plate.

At that point confusion broke out. The question was whether the ball was in play. The umpires huddled and consulted with the review umpires in New York. The rules check took almost 15 minutes, but in the end the run counted, and the Rangers were nine outs away from advancing.

In the bottom of the inning, the Rangers’ unraveled defensively. The first three Jays’ batters reached base on errors. Elvis Andrus committed two and Mitch Moreland the third. The Fourth batter of the inning forced the runner at home to set up an inning ending double play, but Josh Donaldson hit a bloop just over the head of Odor at second base. That scored the runner from third to tie the game, though Odor got the second out of the inning with a force out at second base.

Jose Bautista was the next batter, and he crushed the Rangers’ hopes with a home run. That gave the Jays their first lead of the game at 6-3, which turned out to be the final score. All four runs in the inning were unearned.

Cole Hamels pitched great for Texas and deserved a better fate than a loss. Jays reliever, Aaron Sanchez was the winning pitcher. Toronto’s closer Roberto Osuna recorded the final five outs of the game to earn the save. He was dominant. Four of the five were strikeouts.

From the Rangers’ standpoint, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise terrific season. Texas had committed just two errors total in the first four games, so committing three on consecutive plays was totally out of character.

The Rangers weren’t given much chance to make the playoffs, much less win the division when the season began. The pre-season favorites, Angels and Mariners, fizzled to open the door for Texas to win.

In the end, Texas took the division with just 88 wins, the fewest in the six years the Rangers have won the West. This is not to cast stones at the so called experts that didn’t pick Texas. This Ranger team was almost totally revamped over the course of the season. Newcomers such as Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli had a major impact on the team. None were Rangers when the season began, and neither were Chris Gimenez, Bobby Wilson, Drew Stubbs, and Will Venable. Others, such as Chi Chi Gonzalez, started the season in the minor leagues, while Martin Perez began the year on the 60-day disabled list.

Hats off to GM Jon Daniels for making key acquisitions, and hats off to Ranger ownership for opening the pocket book to take on salaries such as Hamels.

Manager Jeff Banister has proved to be an exceptional choice. This team could easily have gone south after the terrible April showing, and again around the All-Star break when they appeared to be sinking to oblivion. Banister kept the team focused, such that when the reinforcements arrived, the Rangers were able to capitalize in August and September.

This season may have come to a disappointing end, but the outlook for the future is much brighter now than it was a year ago. In season acquisition Cole Hamels is signed through 2018. Yu Darvish will be back from Tommy John surgery to give Texas a top one-two punch in the rotation. Martin Perez and Derek Holland are expected to fill out the rotation.

On the offensive side, DeShields and Odor have established themselves as solid contributors. Beltre, Choo, Fielder and Andrus are signed to long term contracts. Josh Hamilton still has two years remaining on his highly subsidized contract. It’s a team that should be even better in 2016.

NOTABLE:

* Monday was a record breaking day in playoff baseball. There were 21 home runs hit and 61 runs scored in the four playoff games, clearly the most ever. Derek Holland allowed three of the round trippers, but the Rangers’ batters failed to contribute to the home run total.

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TORONTO EVENS SERIES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays are set to play a winner take all game five on Wednesday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Jays came back from a 2-0 deficit in the series to take both games in Arlington and even the series at two games each. Marco Estrada held the Rangers to one run on five hits Sunday night as the Jays won 5-1. On Monday, the powerful Toronto offense jumped on Derek Holland early with three home runs in the first two innings and took a 8-4 win.

The results of this series mirror the trend in the playoffs this year. The home team has lost every game in this series, a trend the Rangers hope will hold for one more game. For the first 14 playoff games this fall, the home team is just 4-10.

On Sunday night, Martin Perez limped through five innings getting assistance from four double plays. One of those DPs came with runners on first and third and no outs in the third inning, driving home Toronto’s first score of the night. An inning later, Perez struggled with his command. He gave up three straight walks after a leadoff double and fly ball put Josh Donaldson at third. Troy Tulowitzki was the batter that walked with the bases loaded to push the Jays’ lead to 2-0.

Perez was in trouble again in the fifth inning, but a ground ball double play got him out of a jam. It was obvious that Perez was running out of gas at that point, but Ranger manager Jeff Banister sent Perez out to start the sixth. Donaldson led off the inning with a single and went to third on Jose Bautista’s single. That ended Perez’s night.

Alex Gonzalez relieved and looked like he could get out of the jam. He intentionally walked the first batter to load the bases, then coaxed a ground ball to first that turned into a 3-2-3 double play that cut down the runner trying to score from third. However, Tulowitzki was the next batter that Gonzalez needed to retire to end the inning. He didn’t. Tulowitzki homered instead to push the lead to 5-0.

Rougned Odor grounded out to short to drive home Elvis Andrus in the seventh inning with the Rangers’ lone run of the night. 5-1 was the final. Estrada was the winning pitcher, giving up the Ranger run on five hits in 6-1/3 innings. Four relievers shut out the Rangers the rest of the way. Perez took the loss.

On Monday afternoon, Derek Holland was hit hard. He gave up the three home runs, three of the five hits he allowed in two innings. He faced 12 batters retiring six, and watching the other six score. Colby Lewis was the first of five relievers that finished the game. Lewis and Jake Diekman each surrendered a run. The Rangers scored a third inning run on a wild pitch, and Robinson Chirinos drove home another in the seventh inning. In the eighth inning, the Rangers plated two more with Mitch Moreland and Andrus driving home the runs.

That was it for Ranger scoring. 8-4 was the final score. Holland took the loss. R. A. Dickey made his first post-season start ever, but couldn’t finish the fifth inning even with a 7-1 lead. Game one starter David Price replaced him and was credited with the win after going three innings.

Cole Hamels will start game five for Texas. Toronto has not announced their game five starting pitcher, but with Price surprisingly appearing in relief in game four with a big lead, the Jays obvious choice is Marcus Stroman. The game time is shortly after 3:00 PM (central), and the game will be televised on FS1. The winner will play either Houston or Kansas City in the next round of the playoffs. The Astros and Royals series is also tied at 2-2.

NOTABLE:

* The 14 inning game the Rangers played in game two of the series was the longest in Ranger post game history. The previous high was 12 innings in game two of the 1996 ALDS in New York.

* The four double plays that the Rangers turned in game three set a new team post-season record.

* When Derek Holland started and Colby Lewis relieved in game four, all 25 players on the Rangers’ post season roster had appeared in the series.

* Adrian Beltre (back stiffness) did not play in game three and was not in the original starting lineup in game four. After batting practice, he talked his way into the lineup and went 2-4 in the game.

* The Blue Jays’ three home runs in game four set a new team record for post-season play.

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23 GREAT INNINGS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The heavy underdog Texas Rangers return to Arlington with an improbable 2-0 lead in the American League Division series against Toronto. Texas knocked out Cy Young contender David Price in game one to win 5-3, and scored late to tie game two at four runs apiece en route to a 14 inning 6-4 victory. Las Vegas odds makers made Toronto the favorite to win the World Series, while Texas had better odds than just one team. The Rangers, however, took away the home field advantage with the game one win and really put the Jays in a hole with Friday’s overtime victory.

On Friday, Cole Hamels wasn’t great, but he was good enough. He gave up four runs on six hits over seven innings, though two were unearned runs. Texas had taken early leads of 2-0 in the first inning and 3-1 in the second, but Toronto tied it in their half of the second and moved in front with another run in the fifth, in what proved to be their last score of the day. Hamels and five relievers shut out the Jays over the last nine innings.

Texas tied the game at four in the eighth inning with Mike Napoli singling in the run in a pinch hitting appearance. Little used Hanser Alberto, playing third base in place of the injured Adrian Beltre, drove home the go ahead run in the 14th inning with a line single to center field. Delino DeShields, Jr. followed with an infield hit to drive in an insurance run.

Keone Kela pitched the 13th inning to qualify for the win. Ross Ohlendorf pitched the 14th for the save. 42 year-old LaTroy Hawkins, the oldest active player in the Major Leagues this season, took the loss.

Game one was noteworthy for injuries. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, the heart of Toronto’s batting order both came out of the game, though both were back in the lineup on Friday. The Rangers suffered the more damaging injury. Beltre injured his back sliding in the first inning. He stayed in the game and actually singled to drive in a run in the third inning; but he ran so gingerly to first base that it was obvious he needed to be replaced. An MRI indicated no structural damage, but he was not in Friday’s lineup, and the Rangers actually flew Joey Gallo to Toronto to perhaps replace Beltre on the roster.

Yovani Gallardo started the game for the Rangers. He had faced the Jays twice during the regular season, completing 13-2/3rds innings of scoreless baseball to win the only two games Texas won against Toronto. He made it win number three by allowing two runs in six innings. The Rangers scored two runs in the third inning on run scoring singles by Beltre and DeShields. Toronto cut the lead in half in the fourth, but Texas added two more runs in the fifth for a 4-1 lead. Toronto closed to within a run with singletons in the fifth and sixth innings, but the Rangers’ bullpen did the job, shutting down the Jays over the final third of the game. Texas added a run on a Rougned Odor home run in the seventh inning to make it a 5-3 final.

Manager Jeff Banister made a daring pitching decision in the ninth inning as he passed over closer Shawn Tolleson in favor of Sam Dyson. Bannister explained later that he preferred the sinker balling Dyson with his penchant for coaxing ground balls. It worked. Dyson gave up a lead-off single on a ground ball up the middle, but struck out Troy Tulowitski and got two groundouts to end the game.

Offensively, Odor and Robinson Chirinos were the stars. Odor scored three runs, while Chirinos hit a two run home run in the fifth.

Texas has the opportunity to close out the series at home Sunday night. They send Martin Perez to the mound instead of veterans Colby Lewis or Derek Holland. Perez has eight quality starts since August 1, the most on the staff in that span. Toronto counters with Marco Estrada. If the Blue Jays win, they’ll start former Ranger R. A. Dickey on Monday in a game that will start at 3:00 PM. Either Holland or Lewis will start for Texas.

The Jays were 3-1 favorites to win the World Series when the 10 playoff teams were set. Texas was listed at 12-1, better than just the Astros at 14-1. The Jays were heavy favorites in game one with David Price starting, and were still the favorites on the betting line at home for game two, even with Cole Hamels starting for Texas. But they play the games on the field, not in Las Vegas betting parlors. Two games into the series, Toronto is one loss from ending their season, while the Rangers are just five wins away from going to the World Series.

NOTABLE:

* Rougned Odor’s three runs scored in game one matched the Ranger post-season record. The other Ranger to score three times in a post-season game was Adrian Beltre, who hit three home runs in 2011 against Tampa Bay.

* Sam Dyson and Ross Ohlendorf became just the third and fourth Ranger pitchers to earn a save in a post season game. The other two are Darren Oliver (one save) and Neftali Feliz (six saves).

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PLAYOFF ROSTER SET

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Thursday morning, the Rangers set their playoff roster for the ALDS that begins in Toronto Thursday afternoon. The roster is:

Pitchers (11): Five starters – Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez. Six relievers – Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Alex Gonzalez, Keone Kela and Ross Ohlendorf.

Catchers (2): Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez.

Infielders (7): Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Prince Fielder, and Hanser Alberto.

Outfielders (5): Josh Hamilton, Delino Deshields, Jr., Sin-Shoo Choo, Drew Stubbs and Will Venable.

During the regular season, the Rangers routinely carried 12 pitchers. Most teams drop their staff to 11 for the playoffs as four starters are all that is needed with travel days. Many even drop the staff to 10, as with the off days, a reliever can be dropped too. The Rangers chose to carry all five starters, but at least one will appear in relief if all five pitch in the series. The Rangers will use only four starting pitchers if the series goes five games with game two starter Cole Hamels pitching game five on normal rest.

The relievers include just one lefty – Jake Diekman. Sam Freeman and Andrew Faulkner, the other two lefties in the bullpen at season’s end, were left off the roster. Toronto has a very right-handed oriented lineup, and Martin Perez may become a second left-handed relief option.

Keone Kela is perhaps a surprise. He was held out for five days during the last week of the season, when situations certainly presented opportunity for Kela. The club and Kela finally fessed up that there was soreness in his elbow. When he did pitch last Saturday, he retired a batter to end the seventh inning, but reported that the soreness was there and that he could not continue. Certainly, he was a valuable part of the bullpen during the season, and if healthy, the Rangers definitely want him available. Health is the issue here.

The position players were pretty much as expected. It’s a shame for Bobby Wilson to be omitted. He was invaluable to the Rangers in August and September when Chirinos and Carlos Corporan both went of the disabled list. Chirinos obviously showed that he is healthy in the past couple of weeks, and Gimenez has become Hamels’ personal catcher. Wilson only makes the roster if the club went with three catchers.

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WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The late Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It’s not over til it’s over.” That proved to be all too true for the Texas Rangers this weekend as they went all the way to regular season game number 162 to win the West Division championship. They appeared to have the division title in hand on Saturday when they took a 10-6 lead into the ninth inning, but the depleted bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and the drama extended to Sunday, when they finally finished off the Angels 9-2. They are now set to open the American League Division series in Toronto on Thursday and will have a home game next Sunday against the Blue Jays.

Sunday afternoon, the Angels struck early for a pair of runs with two outs in the first. Mike Trout doubled and Albert Pujols knocked his 40th home run of the season to push the Angels to a 2-0 lead. Texas answered with a run in their half of the first inning. The Rangers’ starting pitcher – Cole Hamels – was lights out from there. He pitched a complete game, shutting out Los Angeles over the final eight innings while allowing just one more hit.

The Angels’ Garrett Richards, pitching on short rest, posted zeroes on the board for the next three innings. The Rangers took the lead in the fifth inning when Richards surrendered Adrian Beltre’s 18th home run of the season into the lower level of the right field porch with a runner on base. That made the score 3-2, which lasted until the seventh inning, when Texas put the game away. They batted around sending 10 men to the plate. Six scored to run the lead to 9-2.

That was the final score. Hamels (13-8 overall and 7-1 for the Rangers) was the winning pitcher. Richards, pitching on short rest, fought command issues and certainly deserved a better fate in the end. He threw a quality start giving up three runs on six hits while completing six innings to take the loss and fall to 15-12.

To win the division, the Angels needed to sweep the series, but Texas quickly dispelled that idea in Thursday’s series opening game. The Angels had taken a 1-0 lead with a second inning sacrifice fly, but the Rangers erupted for four runs in the fifth inning en route to a 5-3 win. Delino Deshields, Jr. hit what appeared to be a routine single to center field that he hustled into a double. That drove in the Rangers’ first run to tie the game. Sin-Soo Choo followed with a walk to load the bases, and then Adrian Beltre unloaded the bases with a line drive double down the left field line.

The Angels came back with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to get within a run at 4-3. Derek Holland was reeling from three consecutive poor starts, but pitched well in this one. He went 6-1/3 innings and was charged with three runs. Four Ranger relievers shut down the Angels over the balance of the game, and the Rangers added an insurance run in the seventh inning.

The win not only eliminated the Angels from winning the division, but also assured Texas of at least making the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Holland (4-3) was the winning pitcher, while Angels’ starter Andrew Heaney (6-4) took the loss. Shawn Tolleson earned his 35th save by shutting down the Angels in the ninth inning, throwing 19 pitches to retire the Angels in order.

47,219 showed up Friday night expecting to see a ball game, fireworks and a party. Unfortunately, the third largest crowd of the season saw a great game and marvelous fireworks, but the party was put on hold. Los Angeles scratched out a run in the ninth inning off Ranger closer Shawn Tolleson to break a 1-1 tie. When the Rangers didn’t score in their half of the ninth inning, the celebration for clinching the division championship was put off for at least a day as the Astros scored three touchdowns to paste the Diamondbacks 21-5.

Martin Perez made his final regular season start of the year and pitched well. He blew through seven innings allowing a run on four hits. The Angels scored their run in the first inning when Ranger nemesis C. J. Cron singled home Erick Aybar with two outs. The outing was Perez’s eighth quality start since August 1, most on the staff in that span, and makes a strong case for Perez to be on the post-season roster as a starting pitcher.

Sin-Shoo Choo supplied the Rangers’ scoreboard damage with his 22nd home run leading off the fourth inning. Unfortunately, that was all the Rangers could muster, as they were held to three hits by Angels’ starter Jered Weaver and four relievers. Tolleson (6-4) was tagged with the 2-1 loss. Mike Morin (4-2) finished the eighth inning to qualify for the win. Joe Smith needed just 11 pitches to retire the Rangers in the ninth inning to earn his fourth save.

The party didn’t happen on Saturday either as the Rangers suffered undoubtedly their most disappointing loss of the season. The post-game celebration was set as the Rangers took a 10-6 lead into the ninth inning. The bullpen that had been so good in September when they led the Majors with the lowest ERA and opponents’ batting average, couldn’t get the job done. Tolleson, working for the fifth consecutive day, gave up home runs to the first two batters of the inning. Banister lifted him then, but the inning completely unraveled.

When the dust settled, Los Angeles held an 11-10 lead, and they promptly retired the Rangers in the bottom of the inning for the win which kept their thin playoff hopes alive until Sunday when the Rangers finally settled the division championship.

The Rangers will play in Toronto on Thursday and Friday, and after Saturday’s off day, will be at home on Sunday and Monday if needed. Pitching matchups have not been announced, but Hamels likely starts game two on Friday on regular rest, especially after throwing 108 pitches on Sunday. The most likely game one starter is either Yovani Gallardo or Derek Holland. Interestingly, the Rangers went just 2-5 against the Jays this season, and Gallardo was the winning pitcher in both Ranger wins. Davis Price, the leading candidate to win the A. L. Cy Young Award along with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is the probable game one starter for Toronto.

Houston finished one game ahead of the Angels to claim the second Wild Card berth. They will play the Yankees in the Bronx on Tuesday night with the winner moving on to play Kansas City, and loser being eliminated.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers became the fifth team in Major League history and the second in the American League to have the most losses in the league one year and make the playoffs the next.

* Sin-Shoo Choo matched his career high with 22 home runs this season.

* Final home attendance for the Rangers was 2,491,875 an average of 30,764 per game and a drop of 226,858 (-8.3%) from last year.

* Colby Lewis finished the season with 206 innings pitched, a new career high. It was the third time in his career to reach the 200 innings mark, and in the other two years, the Rangers went to the World Series.

* The Rangers finished the season with a 7-12 record against Los Angeles.

* On Saturday, the two teams combined to use 18 pitchers (nine for each team) to tie a Major League record.

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RANGERS DISPENSE DETROIT

WEST DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP AT HAND

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers are essentially one win away from clinching the West Division Championship after taking two of three from Detroit this week. Texas leads both the Astros and Angels by three games in the loss column with four to play. One win this weekend eliminates this weekend’s opponent – Los Angeles. Two wins or one win coupled with an Astros’ loss in Arizona will eliminate Houston.

Texas lost the first game to Detroit, but came back to win the last two to take this week’s series and win the season series against the Tigers five games to two. Houston and Los Angeles each took two of three against the Mariners and Athletics to keep their hopes alive. Assuming the Rangers clinch the West championship, the team that finishes second in the division – Houston or Los Angeles – will likely make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

On Monday night, the results could not have been worse for Texas. Detroit’s Justin Verlander is back in Cy Young form. He scattered six hits over six innings. One was a home run to Prince Fielder, which was the only run he allowed.

Ranger starter Colby Lewis did not have a good night. He gave up a run in the third inning, and the Tigers knocked him out of the game with five more runs in the fifth. 12 of the 25 batters he faced reached base – 10 hits, a walk, and a hit batsman. Four Ranger relievers held the Tigers to a run on two hits over the final 4-1/3rd innings.

After Verlander departed, the Rangers roughed up Ian Krol for two runs and Blaine Hardy for another. However, former Ranger Neftali Feliz came on to douse the Ranger rally in the ninth to earn his 10th save of the year.

7-4 was the final score in a game that didn’t feel that close. Lewis took the loss. He’s 17-9 with one more start this season. Verlander is 5-8 with the win.

On the West coast, the Angels beat Oakland 5-4 and the Astros beat Seattle 3-2, so both picked up a game in the standings on the Rangers.

Tuesday went much better. The game had a “must win” feel coming on the heels of a three game losing streak and with the Astros and Angels closing in. Cole Hamels was the Rangers’ starting pitcher, and he did not have a great day. He gave up two runs in the first, and after the Rangers struck for five in the bottom of the first, he was unable to execute a shutdown inning in the second. The Tigers plated two more to cut the lead to a single run, and the Rangers were fortunate to hold the line at two in the inning. The Tigers had Hamels on the ropes, but ended the inning with a base running faux pas.

Texas answered with a run in the second, but the Tigers tied the game at six in the third inning. The game seemed headed for a football like score, but at that point, the offense subsided. Hamels shut out Detroit over his final three innings in the game, and the Ranger bullpen of Sam Dyson, Keone Kela and Shawn Tolleson did the same over the final third of the game. Adrian Beltre doubled home Sin-Shoo Choo in the fourth inning for what proved to be the winning run in the 7-6 win.

Choo had gotten the team going with a two run home run in the first inning, but Texas was greatly aided by a poor defensive effort from the Tigers. Detroit committed four errors that led to four unearned runs. Hamels was the winning pitcher to improve to 12-8 for the season and 6-1 for Texas. The Rangers are 9-2 in Hamels’ 11 starts. Tolleson’s save was his 34th of the year. Buck Farmer (0-4) was the Tigers’ losing pitcher in relief of starter Daniel Norris.

On the West Coast, the Angels routed Oakland 8-1, while Houston lost to Seattle 6-4. At the end of the day, the Rangers’ lead was two over the Angels and the magic number was down to four to eliminate the Angels and three to eliminate Houston.

Wednesday night was another good night, though it didn’t start so well for Yovani Gallardo. He gave up a pair of runs in the top of the first on a single, a double and a single after he struck out the first two batters. The two run deficit proved to be no problem. Adrian Beltre homered with a runner aboard in the bottom of the first to tie the game. The Rangers put four on the board in the third inning as Robinson Chirinos homered to lead off the inning. Fielder later singled home Beltre with the second run of the inning, and Mike Napoli hit a majestic home run high and deep into the left field seats to wrap up the four run inning and the game.

6-2 was the final score as neither team scored again. Gallardo lasted 5-1/3rd innings to get the win in what could well have been his last Arlington appearance as a Ranger. He’s 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA. He’s been at least as good if not better than the Rangers hoped he would be when they acquired him from Milwaukee last winter. Matt Boyd gave up all six runs in 2-2/3rds innings to fall to 1-6 after taking the loss for Detroit.

The Angels saw their eight game winning streak come to an end as they lost their final home game of the season 8-6 to Oakland. Houston beat Seattle 7-6 to keep their hopes alive. Both Houston and Los Angeles need to sweep their series this weekend to have a chance to win the division championship.

The Angels now come to Arlington for four games to finish the season. The announced pitching matchups are: Derek Holland (3-3) against Andrew Heaney (6-3) on Thursday, followed by Martin Perez (3-6) against Jered Weaver (7-12), Colby Lewis verses Hector Santiago (9-9) and Cole Hamels (6-1 and 12-8) against Nick Tropeano (3-2). Hamels however only pitches if the Rangers need to win the game to win the championship. Otherwise, he’ll be saved to start the first playoff game. Thursday’s and Friday’s games have the usual 7:05 PM start time, but Saturday’s game has been switched to 12:05 PM to be televised nationally by FOX. Sunday’s game has the usual 2:05 PM start time.

NOTABLE:

* On Monday night, Josh Hamilton made his second start in left field since being activated from the disabled list. He played the entire game and is running well. Ranger manager Jeff Banister said after the game, “I believe he’s definitely an option for us if he’s healthy and continues to feel good.”

* The Rangers have scored 119 first inning runs which ties Colorado for second most in the Majors. 119 also ties the 1979 team for fourth most in club history. Texas has won 15 of the last 17 games in which they have scored in the first inning.

* Colby Lewis reached the 200 innings pitched mark for the season on Monday night for the third time in his career.

* Adrian Beltre led the American League with 29 RBIs in September.

* Detroit’s Daniel Norris threw 56 pitches in the first inning Monday night, the most pitches thrown by one pitcher in an inning since 2010.

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ASTROS TAKE A STAND

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Houston took two of three from the Rangers this weekend in a series that could have knocked the Astros almost completely out of the West Division race. Instead, they cut the Rangers’ lead to 2.5 games, three in the loss column. The Rangers’ win on Friday night reduced the magic number to five, but it stayed at five as the Astros won Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, the Angels took three from Seattle this weekend to make it a three team race. They are tied with Houston in the loss column, and trail Texas by three games in the standings.

Houston has six games remaining – all on the road – with three in Seattle and three in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks. Los Angeles and Texas have seven games remaining including a four-game set against each other to conclude the season next weekend in Arlington, a series that could well decide the division champion. The Angels start the week by hosting Oakland for three games, while the Rangers are at home against Detroit.

The Astros have not played well on the road this year, but in Seattle, they will not face the Mariners’ top two starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle’s rookie sensation Taijuan Walker has been shut down for the season. Despite their road woes, the Astros are in position to have a good week. The Angels are also hot having won five games in a row, and eight of their last 10. Their Monday through Wednesday opponent – Oakland – has won just three of their last 10 games, so the Angels have a good chance of arriving in Arlington Thursday in the thick of the pennant race.

The bottom line is that the race to win the American League West is far from over.

In the Wild Card race, New York, which is four games behind Toronto in the East, has all but wrapped up the first Wild Card spot and thus is the probable host of the Wild Card play-in game. Houston currently holds the second Wild Card position, one-half game ahead of the Angels and 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota.

Texas got iffy starting pitching this weekend. They won game one of the series 6-2. The Rangers built a six run lead by scoring one in the first, two in the second, and three in the fourth. Prince Fielder drove in the first and sixth runs; and in between, Sin-Shoo Choo hit a home run with a runner aboard. The Astros answered with two runs in the fourth inning and threatened again in the fifth to drive Ranger starter Yovani Gallardo to the showers before he could complete five innings to qualify for the win.

Ross Ohlendorf (3-0) was awarded the win in relief. Houston’s Scott Kazmir was knocked out in the fourth inning to take the loss. He’s 7-10.

On Saturday, the Astros out-slugged the Rangers. They hit six home runs, one shy of the club record, including three off Ranger starter Derek Holland. Holland was staked to leads of 3-0 and 4-1, but couldn’t hold them. He exited in a tie game after five innings. Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez followed Holland and surrendered a home run to Chris Carter, a monstrous shot of almost 450 feet to center field. Texas never caught up, so Gonzalez took the loss. He’s 4-6.

Houston starting pitcher Collin McHugh gave up four runs in 6-2/3rds innings to win his 18th game of the year against seven losses. Will Harris, the last of five relievers that followed McHugh retired the last batter of the game to earn the save, his second, as the Rangers’ comeback fell short. 9-7 was the final score.

On Sunday, Dallas Keuchel continued his record breaking season. He won his 19th game by allowing a run on two hits over seven innings. He’s a perfect 15-0 at home. He struck out 10 Rangers to run his season strikeout total to 213, a new Astros record for a left-hander. Martin Perez was shaky early as he allowed a pair of second inning runs. Both runs were unearned and both scored after the first two batters were retired. Perez righted the ship to complete six innings. It was the best starting pitching performance of the weekend for the Rangers, but he took the loss to fall to 3-6. Houston’s Luke Gregorson pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his 29th save.

The pitching matchups for the three contenders on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are Texas – Colby Lewis (17-8) vs. Justin Verlander (4-8), Cole Hamels (5-1 and 11-8) vs Daniel Norris (1-1), and Yovani Gallardo (12-11) vs Matt Boyd (1-3); Houston – Lance McCullers, Jr. (5-7) vs. Roenis Elias (5-8), Mike Fiers (7-10) vs. Vidal Nuno (1-5) and Scott Kazmir (7-10) vs. TBA; Los Angeles – Hector Santiago (9-9) vs. Felix Dubront (3-3), Nick Tropeano (2-2) vs. Chris Bassitt (1-7), and Garrett Richards (15-11) vs. TBA.

NOTABLE:

* The six home runs that Ranger pitchers allowed on Saturday were one shy of the club record. It was the sixth time in club history that the Rangers have allowed six in a game, the first in nine years. The most home runs allowed in a game this season is eight, done twice by Philadelphia.

* The Rangers finished with a 13-6 record against the Astros this year.

* The Rangers are 42-25 (.627 winning percentage) since the All-Star break. They are tied with St. Louis for the second best record since the break behind Toronto’s 45-19 (.703).

* The Astros duo of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have combined for 37 wins, the most by any pair of teammates on any team in the Majors. With two home runs on Saturday, Houston shortstop Carlos Correa set a club record for home runs by a shortstop (21 to Dickie Thon’s 19) and tied Lance Berkman for the most home runs by an Astros’ rookie.

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RANGERS GAIN GROUND IN OAKLAND

Magic Number Down to Seven

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Texas swept Oakland in three games to start the week, while Houston lost two of three to the Angels enabling the Rangers to solidify their grip on first place in the West Division. Texas leads the Astros by 3.5 games in the standings and four in the all important loss column. The Angels are in third place 4.5 games behind Texas in the standings and five in the loss column.

The series opened on Tuesday after the Rangers enjoyed their final scheduled off day of the regular season. It was a very good night. After falling behind 5-1, the Rangers rallied for an 8-6 win. Meanwhile in Houston, the Angels held off a late Astros’ charge to win 4-3.

Martin Perez was the starting pitcher Tuesday night, and it was not one of his better performances. He was charged with five runs on six hits in four innings. Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez followed and halted the Athletics’ charge. He pitched two innings giving up no hits or walks and earned the win when Texas came back to take the lead in the sixth inning.

On the other side of the ball, the Rangers pecked away to take the lead and padded it with a pair of eighth inning runs. Three runs scored on sacrifice flies, and they had three more sacrifice bunts. Mitch Moreland had three hits including a home run.

Gonzalez ran his record to 4-5 with the win. Drew Pomeranz (5-6) in relief of starting pitcher Sean Nolin, took the loss. Shawn Tolleson earned his 33rd save, despite allowing a run on two hits in the ninth inning.

Wednesday was another very good day for the Rangers. The Houston bullpen coughed up a late lead in the afternoon finale of their series with the Angels to lose 6-5. Later that night, the Rangers routed Oakland 10-3, as Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus hit three run home runs to seize the early lead. Rougned Odor added a solo shot later. Colby Lewis tossed his 20th quality start of the year, which leads the team, as he completed six innings allowing two runs on five hits. He earned his 17th win, easily a career high and the team leader.

Texas changed their pitching rotation for Thursday’s game. Cole Hamels, who was originally announced as the starting pitcher for Friday’s series opener in Houston, was moved up to Thursday. By doing so, Hamels will be available to start the last game of the season on normal rest if needed. If he’s not needed, he’ll be available for the first post-season game.

He pitched another good game for Texas, which won for the eighth consecutive time when Hamels started. He took a 2-0 lead to the mound in the bottom of the first inning as Delino Deshields singled to open the game and scored on Sin-Shoo Choo’s double. Choo then scored on Adrian Beltre’s single. Texas added a single run in the second inning, and blew the game open with three more in the sixth inning.

8-1 was the final score, with Hamels getting the win. He allowed a run on four hits over six innings to improve to 5-1 in 10 starts for the Rangers and 11-8 overall for the season. Oakland’s starting pitcher Chris Bassitt struggled with command issues and lasted just three innings. He took the loss to fall to 1-7.

This weekend, Texas plays their final road series of the year in Houston. Unbelievably, this is a showdown for the American League West championship between teams that both lost more than 90 games a year ago. Texas has won the Silver Boot trophy as they lead the season series 12-4. The Rangers have swept three of the five series with the Astros so far this year, including the last two. Friday’s game is a night game, but the Saturday and Sunday games are day games, after the FOX network picked up Saturday’s tilt for a national telecast. The starting pitching matchups are Yovani Gallardo (12-11) against Scott Kazmir (7-10) on Friday, Derek Holland (3-3) faces Collin McHugh (17-7) on Saturday, and Martin Perez (3-5) verses Dallas Keuchel (18-8) on Sunday.

NOTABLE:

* Alex Gonzalez became the first Ranger pitcher to win a game this season as both a starting pitcher and as a reliever when he earned the win in game one of the Oakland series.

* Elvis Andrus’s home run on Wednesday night was his seventh of the season, a new career high.

* The Rangers lost the season series to Oakland nine games to 10, but was 6-4 in the games played at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum.

* Colby Lewis’s 17 wins rank second in the American League to 18 game winners Dallas Keuchel (Houston) and Felix Hernandez (Seattle). 17 is the most that a Ranger pitcher has won in a season since Matt Harrison won 18 in 2012.

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SEATTLE SLOWS RANGERS’ CHARGE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Seattle Mariners took two of three from the Rangers this weekend, while the Houston Astros took two of three from Oakland. Texas lost a game in the standings to the second place Astros, who now trail the Rangers by 1.5 games in the standings and two games in the loss column. Texas has 13 games remaining, while the Astros have 12. The Rangers; “magic number” to eliminate Houston is 12. Third place Los Angeles is four games behind, and the Rangers’ magic number to eliminate the Angels is 10.

Seattle got off to a good start in the first game of the series. They scored three runs off Ranger starter Yovani Gallardo in the second inning to take the early lead. The big blow was a two run double from the bat of Ketei Martei. Texas scored a run in the fifth inning when Prince Fielder walked with the bases loaded. That was the only scoring on the night.

Seattle starting pitcher James Paxton couldn’t complete five innings, so reliever Danny Farquhar (1-4) earned the win. Farquhar was the first of five relievers for Seattle. The last to appear was Tom Wilhelmsen, who struck out two Rangers in pitching a perfect ninth inning to record his 12th save. Gallardo (12-11) took the loss for Texas.

On Saturday, the Rangers scored in their first at bat, their last at bat, and three at bats in between as they routed the Mariners 10-1 with a 14 hit attack. The Rangers scored a run in the first on a Mike Napoli single. Seattle tied it in the second when Franklin Gutierrez homered. The Rangers came back with two more in the bottom of the second to take the lead for good. Seattle starting pitcher Vidal Nuno was knocked out of the game in the third inning. He took the loss to fall to 1-4 on the season.

One, two and three hitters in the Ranger batting order, Delino Deshields, Jr., Sin-Shoo Choo and Adrian Beltre had multi-hit games. Deshields scored two runs and drove in two more, while Beltre drove in three on the night.

Cole Hamels was the Saturday night starting pitcher, and turned in a better than usual performance. He struck out 12, while scattering seven hits over seven innings. The Gutierrez home run was the only one that caused scoreboard damage, and only one other Mariners’ hit went for extra bases. Hamels improved to 4-1 as a Ranger and 10-8 overall. Texas has won seven straight games that Hamels has started.

Felix Hernandez pitched for Seattle on Sunday. Enough said. Actually, King Felix was not his usual overpowering self. He did allow just four hits, but walked four and failed to complete six innings. Still, he gave up just two runs and earned his league leading 18th win of the year.

Derek Holland started for Texas and turned in his third sub-par outing in a row. He had location problems from the beginning, and after four innings, he had thrown more balls than strikes.

Texas scored first on a second inning Mitch Moreland home run. The Mariners came back with two runs in the fourth inning to take the lead. Fittingly with Holland’s mound woes, the second run scored on a wild pitch. Texas tied the game at two with a run in their half of the fourth inning, but the roof fell in on Holland in the fifth inning. A leadoff double was followed by a sacrifice bunt. That proved to be the only out of the fifth inning that Holland would record. A double scored one run, but the big blow of the inning was a three run home run from Robinson Cano. Franklin Gutierrez also homered.

When the dust had cleared, Seattle led 8-2. Holland was in the Rangers’ dugout having allowed seven runs on seven hits. He also walked five as 12 of the 22 batters he faced reached base.

9-2 was the final score. Holland took the loss to fall to 3-3.

Despite losing the series to Seattle over the weekend, it was a very successful week for the Rangers. They went 5-2, while Houston went 2-5 allowing Texas to take over first place after picking up three games in the standings.

Texas now has their last scheduled off day on Monday. On Tuesday, they open a three game series in Oakland, which will be followed by a three game series in Houston next weekend. It’s the final road trip of the year for Texas. The announced starting pitchers for the Oakland series are: Martin Perez (3-5) against Sean Nolin (1-1) on Tuesday; Colby Lewis (16-8) verses Felix Doubront (2-1) on Wednesday; and Yovani Gallardo (12-11) faces an Oakland starter to be named later.

Houston opens a three game series against the Angels on Monday night. Jered Weaver (7-11) pitches the opener for L. A. against Dallas Keuchel (17-8). They’ll be followed by Lance McCullers, Jr. (5-6) verses Hector Santiago (8-9) on Tuesday and Mike Fiers against TBA on Wednesday.

NOTABLE:

* The Mariners won the season series with Texas 12 games to seven.

* The Ranger bullpen pitched 21 innings this week, allowing just four runs on 14 hits, for an ERA of 1.71.

* Texas has scored 104 first inning runs, second most in the Majors behind Toronto’s 124. 104 is the most runs the Rangers have scored in any inning.

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