After nearly a month hiatus from writing, I’m back and seemingly in the nick of time. The Texas Rangers are playing some of their best baseball of the season and, after finishing their most recent homestand with an impressive 7-3 mark against three division leaders (Yankees, Giants and Astros) Jeff Banister’s club heads out on the road as serious contenders for a push into October.
I’ll be the first to admit that a month ago, I would have said the Rangers making the playoffs this year was comical; a cruel joke used only to torment the tortured fans that remember the consecutive World Series trips with no championship. After a rather disappointing July that saw the Rangers finish 10-14 and fall to nearly 10 GB the Astros in the American League West, Jon Daniels pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that brought lefty ace Cole Hamels to Arlington, days removed from throwing his first career no hitter. Despite getting a no-decision in a Rangers loss during his Texas debut, a game that was thrown away by the bullpen, Hamels remains optimistic.
Aug 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) throws during the game against the San Francisco Giants at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
“You can never count out the work ethic, belief and talent they have here in Texas,” Hamels said.
Bingo, Cole. The Rangers continue to play their best with their backs against the wall, posting the best road record in the American League and a 36-22 mark against teams above .500. Unfortunately, before this past week, Texas really struggled at home. Only Cleveland and Seattle have fewer home wins than the Rangers, who are 23-29 at Globe Life Park. Go figure.
“We have to protect our home turf,” Bannister said. “We knew we played a lot of home games the second half of the season and we have to figure out a way to consistently win at home.”
Taking nearly a month break from covering the team on a daily basis really gave me a new perspective on how I viewed the organization as a whole. Many of you know that I have long been anti-Jon Daniels, especially after the Nolan Ryan fiasco. However, this past month I have garnered a whole new respect for him, as well as the entire team. Last season, the Rangers dealt with injury upon injury. They used the disabled list more than any team in baseball in 2014 while setting a record for most players used in a season; after coming off a year finishing dead last in the West, there was reason for concern. Nevertheless, everyone came in with a positive attitude. Even guys like Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Shin-Soo Choo, who had major surgeries in the offseason were prepared for a clean slate.
Then, disaster struck. Yu Darvish underwent Tommy John surgery in spring training and Derek Holland goes on the 60-Day DL after pitching just two innings in the season opener. The sky was once again falling in Texas. Or was it? After starting the season 7-14, the Rangers turned things around, going a combined 33-24 in May and June to put them at a season high six games over .500 (37-31) on June 19th.
It seems as though Daniels and the entire organization has taken the same approach I have my entire life: control what you can control, play the hand you are dealt and do so to the best of your ability. When Adrian Beltre hurt his thumb and went on the 15-Day DL in mid-June, Joey Gallo was called up and took the majors by storm, posting a 3 for 4 debut with a home run, two doubles and a single. And even though his numbers tapered off as Beltre’s return inched closer, Gallo easily filled the void in the middle of the lineup until the cavalry arrived.
Perhaps the phrase “Never Ever Quit” really has been resonating throughout the clubhouse.
Rougned Odor, who earned American League Player of the Week honors two weeks back was sent to AAA for six weeks in May after a disastrous start to the season. Instead of tucking his head between his legs, Odor tore it up in the minors and was ready when his number was called. He has since batted a team high .342 since his return. The front office hopes center fielder Leonys Martin will do the same, after being sent to AAA on Tuesday.
Other players, like Shawn Tolleson and Delino DeShields have been key cogs to the Rangers’ success as well. DeShields, a rule five draft pick from Houston has been consistent in the outfield as well as at the plate. He has driven in runs when it mattered and made all the key plays you would expect of a veteran outfielder. Tolleson has been one of the best closers in the league, converting on 20 of 21 save opportunities (95.2%) while posting an ERA of 2.98. Even more impressive, Tolleson has shown poise and composure in many difficult situations. Take Tuesday night against the Astros, when he pitched out of a 1 out, runners on second and third jam by striking out Luis Valbuena and Jose Altuve to win the game and preserve the Rangers one run lead. It is performances like that which have made these Rangers into contenders once again.
So, why do I say all this? Well, for starters, to admit that I was wrong. Three weeks ago I remember calling for Elvis Andrus‘ head, wanting the Rangers to sell, sell, sell at the trade deadline and believed all hope was lost until at least next season. For now, this does not appear to be the case. If the Rangers want to make the playoffs, they will more than likely have to finish with 88 wins, which would require them to go 34-21 down the stretch. It won’t be easy, but with the return of Derek Holland looming, I will not count these Rangers out again. Look at it this way. For the first time in awhile, we will have meaningful baseball in Texas come September.