The Texas Rangers are in first place in the AL West, holding a half-game lead on the Oakland A’s, and they have a 5 ½ game cushion on at least making the wild-card. The Rangers are a team that’s overcome a lot and not received nearly enough credit for it. But I wonder if they aren’t going to look back on the past few weeks as a time of missed opportunity.
MLB coverage in baseball is sucked up by the Yankees, so if you want a story about a team that has overcome injuries and stayed in the race, you have to get in line behind New York. But Texas saw its entire pitching staff decimated right from the start, with injuries to Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison. Unlike New York’s injured stars, the Rangers haven’t gotten any of the three back, nor will they. And yet Texas is in first place.
Texas has gotten fabulous starting pitching work from Martin Perez, who’s been their answer to Ian Nova, the Yankee starter who’s gotten hot. Perez is 5-0 with a 2.75 ERA over the last month. The Rangers even have their own injured veteran star returning from the disabled list, as Lance Berkman came back in the DH spot.
One part of me understands the media unfairness. Besides the obvious New York obsession the press has on any subject, the names I mentioned don’t have the cache of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeria. But consider how important starting pitching is in baseball, and how important those three arms were to Texas. Then factor in that the Rangers had let Josh Hamilton walk in the offseason, and were going to be even more dependent on starting pitching.
Most managers would rather deal with injuries in the everyday lineup as opposed to a wounded rotation. Washington has had to do the latter in a way Yankee counterpart Joe Girardi never has.
Texas, under the leadership of Ron Washington, just kept plugging away. They didn’t have an army of media apologists, they didn’t have anyone saying that simply being in the playoff race made for a great managerial performance by Washington, as has been said of Girardi. The Rangers just kept their nose to the grindstone.
I wasn’t a believer in Texas when the season started, picking them to finish below .500. I’m pulling for this team, at least in the AL West, but I’m also worried about them. The Rangers finished a schedule stretch where they should have opened up a lead in the division, and all but sealed a playoff berth, but instead puttered along, barely above. 500.
On August 12, Texas was sitting on 69-50 and riding high. They split two games with Milwaukee, and then lost a home series to Seattle. Since then, they’ve lost another series to the Mariners, and also dropped two of three to the White Sox and Twins. When Texas more predictably lost a showdown series in Oakland earlier this week, it meant the race was tied, rather than the Rangers having some cushion.
The road is only going to get tougher. Texas and Oakland play again next weekend. Immediately prior, the Rangers play the Pittsburgh Pirates. Immediately after, Texas has road series at Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The good news is they close at home, with seven games against Houston and the Los Angeles Angels, but what kind of shape will the Rangers be in?
Texas needs to get better starting pitching from heralded trade deadline acquisition Matt Garza, who has a 4.86 ERA in the past month. They need Ian Kinsler to start hitting, and they need to hope Yu Darvish’s bad outing in Oakland isn’t any kind of a sign of things to come. It’s also worth noting that a great Texas bullpen, with only eight blown saves all year, has coughed up half of those since the All-Star break.
I want to see the Rangers finish what’s a great comeback story. I realize the Boston fan in me perhaps does not appreciate all New York has overcome. That’s fair enough. But an objective case can still be made that the fight up by Texas in the face of adversity should get a little media love to. I just hope they didn’t miss an important chance to finish it off.