When the Texas Rangers dealt ace pitcher Yu Darvish on July 31st, it was seen as the raising of the white flag on the 2017 season.
Why wouldn’t it be? They were 50-55 and after losing their third straight game, 5.5 games back of the second American League Wild Card spot.
Even after dealing the likes of Darvish, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress, pessimistic fans wanted even more names to be moved. Why were the likes of Cole Hamels, Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez still on this team? This season is over and the next few years are going to be terrible. There’s no point in watching.
While a lot of North Texas sports fans have moved their mind onto football, the Rangers have done just enough to get themselves right back into the thick of playoff contention.
Even with a mere 6-4 record in the ten games since the Darvish trade, Texas has gained three games in the standings on the revolving door of teams holding the second wild card spot. On July 31st, it was a rolling Kansas City Royals team that was six games over the .500 mark. As of Sunday morning, it’s the division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that have won five straight to get to only two games over .500 at 60-58. An underwhelming mark like that is all it currently takes to own a playoff spot.
What will make the Rangers’ playoff mountain so hard to mount won’t be merely catching the team holding the second wild card spot, it will be somehow becoming the last team standing among the seven teams currently within two and a half games of each other in the standings for the spot.
The first Wild Card spot isn’t even totally out of reach as the New York Yankees sit just 2.5 games ahead of the Angels.
A few individual performances have been major catalysts to the Rangers getting back into the thick of things.
Pitcher Cole Hamels has not allowed an earned run in 16 innings over two August starts. Joey Gallo is hitting over .300 with 7 monstrous home runs and 16 RBI this month. Adrian Beltre has not cooled down since collecting hit number 3,000 two weeks ago. He’s hitting .300 in August as well. Relief pitcher Alex Claudio has picked up the slack in the bullpen with an incredible .79 WHIP in 6 and 1/3 August innings.
Manager Jeff Banister and leaders like Beltre and Elvis Andrus deserve some major credit as well. It would have been easy to give up and create a care free locker room atmosphere once the team’s front office traded away several key contributors at the deadline. The team has dug in and kept fighting like true professionals.
The Rangers will have to do more than winning six out of every ten games to leapfrog their competition the rest of the season. They’ll need some four or five game winning streaks like the Angels are on right now or the Royals were on a few weeks ago. Their next two opponents are the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers are 53-63 entering Sunday and the White Sox are 45-69. The Rangers need to take advantage of the lower level of competition before the schedule heats up a bit.
Even though the competition quality will increase, it’s actually what the Rangers should prefer. From August 21st through September 21st, the Rangers will play 20 games against teams in front of them in the Wild Card race (ten against the Angels, seven against the Seattle Mariners and three against the Yankees). Plenty of opportunity to rise (or fall) in the standings.
That month-long stretch will likely put the Rangers in a spot where they’ll likely know their playoff chances entering the final two weeks of the season. If they’re right in it, it wouldn’t be difficult to talk yourself into thinking they could really do well in their final ten games. Of those ten games, seven are against the last place Oakland A’s and three are against the Houston Astros who have essentially clinched the American League West already and could be on cruise control at that late point in the season.
The Rangers have done enough to stick around through the middle of August. Can they finally find that consistent gear that has eluded them all season long? If they want to return to the postseason, they’ll have no choice.
If they do make it to the postseason, forget anything that happened in the regular season. The Major League Baseball playoffs have certainly proved over the years that anything can happen.
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