It’s no terrible surprise that the Rangers offense ran into a buzz saw of three ace-like performances from a troika of elite-level Rays pitching talents this weekend in Tampa Bay. Texas’s Friday and Saturday starters, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish, did their due diligence in compiling back-to-back masterful outings themselves, culminating in a collective 16 innings pitched, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on a meager 4 hits, eliminating 19 batters via the strikeout. It was good for just one win (Darvish’s start), but it’s the type of direction you’d like to see your two most talented, most inconsistent starters to be heading through the middle stretch of the final month of the season. Roy Oswalt and the Texas bats laid an egg on Sunday, with Rangers hitters tallying as many hits (2) as their starting pitcher produced innings. I think any talk of Texas’s prorated $5M man, Roy Oswalt, delivering any meaningful October innings probably died yesterday, and I’m not all that disappointed by that notion.
As for the series, well, maybe I’m in the minority in saying this, but I’m quite satisfied in taking just 1 game of the 3. When you factor in that we had a fairly substantial lead in our own division (given the context of what stage in the season we’re at), there’s no real shame in losing 2 of 3 on the road to a team like Tampa, who’s actually facing a two-game deficit themselves in the East. It’s a desperate team that needs wins, and we — to be realistic — just weren’t in the same position.
That said, we’ve reached the point in the season where things could all of a sudden become fascinating, at least mildly. I’ve written on numerous occasions of the relative stranglehold we’ve possessed on the West, but there is fair reason to be worried right now, again, at least mildly. The strength of the division lead took a blow this last weekend when the Rangers failed to take the series in Tampa, especially when factoring in that Oakland and Anaheim just won’t stop winning. Not only winning, but sweeping. The Angels have gone 15-3 in their last 18, winning every game in their last two series, both on the road in Oakland (one of the teams they’re chasing for a Wild Card berth) and at home against Detroit (a team looking up at Chicago in the Central). Oakland, on the other hand, has won 18 of their last 23, sweeping Cleveland, Boston, and Seattle, wedged around the series in which they themselves were swept against the Angels.
Basically, it’s nice having the best record in the league, and it’s not like the Rangers are playing bad baseball, but the two teams behind them in the standings have distinctly demonstrated they have no intentions of going anywhere. This will be a dogfight until the last week of the season.
Okay, so we’re caught up? Sweet. Now I can inject a little reality into the situation. The only thing that can quell the heatwave building up between the two California teams is that they are playing a four-game series against one another this week in Anaheim. As it stands tonight, Oakland trails Texas by 3.5 games, the Angels by a full 6. If Oakland inflicts damage by way of taking 3 out of 4, or, god-willing, a sweep, Anaheim is essentially eliminated from any chance they have of claiming the Western division, and will have a hell of a time (because they’re Angels, get it?) catching Oakland in the Wild Card standings. On the flip side, the Angels control their own destiny in this situation, because if they sweep, they leapfrog the Athletics in the standings; if they take 3 of 4, they are two games closer, and give team’s like Tampa Bay and Baltimore some needed help if they handle business in the impending series they’ll be playing this week.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Rangers are at home this week, against 4th place Cleveland and last place Seattle. Sure, Seattle is nothing to sneeze at; they’ve actually been one of the better teams in the American League during the second half. But these are two home matchups the Rangers will be expected to win, and given the current climate of the division, expected to sweep — especially when considering Texas will be missing Felix Hernandez. All six games, on paper, are winnable, but let’s be normal with our expectations and simply wish for two series victories, with 5 out of 6 being completely reasonable.
It’s a long season, so it’s a mistake to succumb to an irrational level of recency bias. Yes, the offense stunk it up against Tampa bay, but we just captured 6 out of 10 in the last extended road trip of the season, and the old adage of splitting on the road is still a valuable benchmark. The Rangers have been a league-best 40-32 on the road, and, as you would guess, a league-best 43-25 at home.
The games are getting more important, probably more important than many of us expected them to be at this stage in the season, but the Rangers remain as the prohibitive favorites to win the West, and now it’s just a matter of handling the division schedule ahead of them.