The Rangers blew a massive opportunity this weekend to keep the Athletics at arm’s length in its quest for American League West supremacy; instead, the two teams stand shoulder-to-shoulder heading into this week’s critical series in Oakland.
10 days ago, Texas appeared as if they were entering the gravy-train stages of the 2013 season. Their division lead stood firm at 3.0 games, and while they embarked on a 9-game swing versus the likes of the White Sox, Mariners and Twins, Oakland was straddled with perhaps its most difficult 10-day trek of the year — through Baltimore and Detroit, before coming home to face the Rays. One could even have considered that stretch “make or break,” or some facsimile thereof.
Baseball gods are smarter than that, however, so smart that rarely do they ever make sense in reality. Or perhaps I am just too foolish to comprehend.
It’s now the beginning of September — meaning we aren’t far from the end — as the fall equinox will soon remove us from another summer of winning baseball, preparing us for the transition into the glory and misery of the postseason.
The Rangers and Athletics have played the same number of games — 136 — and with only 26 to go, one single game is all that partitions the two.
The problem for Texas is the same “problem” the A’s were supposed to, in theory, face heading into August: the schedule strength. Last month the Rangers owned a 21-7 record — their best since going 21-6 in a groundbreaking June/2010 run that transformed them from a .500 team into the AL West frontrunners — and here is the collection of teams they faced in August:
Arizona (1 game), Oakland (3), Anaheim (3), Houston (7), Milwaukee (2), Seattle (6), Chicago (3), Minnesota (3).
Aside the A’s, that is not merely a compendium of losing teams; those are mostly basement-dwellers in the American League West and Central, arguably the two weakest divisions in MLB. To that end, 21-7 is good, but it’s a mark they were expected to produce.
September is a different story. On paper, at least.
This month the Rangers will play Oakland 6 times — home-and-home — as well as a series against the Pirates (who are competing for a division title), a 4-game set on the road in Tampa Bay (who are competing for a division title), as well as a 3-game set in Kansas City (who may or may not have something to play for by the time they square off with Texas). The Rangers will get to feast on teams like Houston and Anaheim, sure, but those are the only reprieves, and the Angels have enough talent to give anyone a run for their money.
Conversely, the A’s are basically gearing up for what the Rangers experienced in August, with 4 games against Houston, 6 with the Angels, 3 with the Mariners and 7 with the Twins. The only team with a winning record Oakland has to play between now and the end of the year is the Rangers.
So I guess you could say those games are kinda, like, important.
Baseball ebbs and flows in a way that’s unpredictable, which is both brilliant and frustrating, but mostly frustrating. We want to look ahead at the schedule as if it really means something, as if it holds any intrinsic value. It really doesn’t. We take our educated guesses and run with them as far as we can, but when that day’s game comes about, when the first pitch is thrown, we realize what we know really means absolutely nothing. Because it doesn’t.
I work in the casino industry, and one of the dealers I’ve struck a relationship with is heavy into gambling. I mean, I like to play blackjack (I love to play blackjack), but this guy is a serious gamble-holic; I thought I liked to gamble until I met him. Anyway, when I told him I run a makeshift Rangers blog, he was interested in capitalizing on my (perceived) knowledge of the game. So, recently, he asked if I would be willing to pick the winner (over/under with the spread included) of every game on a specified date. He told me if I made money for him he would give me a 20% cut of the winnings.
And I told him, “C’mon, man, you can’t predict baseball, you just can’t. Even the best team in baseball can lose 10-0 to the worst on any given night.” And still, he said, “Do it. I don’t care.” That’s the typical response I would expect from an individual so deep in the art of profitting by any means necessary.
If it’s not my money, I don’t care, either.
I picked 13 games for him that night, and I won 3 of them. Three.