The Texas Rangers are far from dead. Just 1.5 games behind the Wildcard leaders from Tampa Bay and Cleveland with seven game remaining, they are still in control of their own destiny. Just a win a bunch of games and they’re fine, right? With three games against the Astros remaining, that is not a huge ask.
But the Rangers are behind. They are behind Cleveland and Tampa Bay because they lost two out of three to the Kansas City Royals, who are nipping at the heels of Texas in the WC standings. The Rangers split four games in Tampa Bay before this weekend series in Kansas City, which stopped a losing streak but didn’t gain them any ground.
Should the Rangers fail to qualify for the postseason this year, there are many questions to ask of the front office and ownership. First and foremost: how?
How are the Rangers here, on the outside looking in at the playoffs as the season begins its final week? How did the Rangers fail to upgrade their roster beyond A.J. Pierzynski this offseason, opting instead to pay a premium for Alex Rios and Matt Garza down the stretch?
Only getting two starts out of Matt Harrison is a great place to start, as the absence of Harrison pushed the likes of Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch into making more starts than necessary. Replacing Josh Hamilton in the lineup with Craig Gentry and Leonys Martins has worked out reasonably well but the lineup lacks punch and using two players to replicate one isn’t an efficient way to fix that.
Whatever fill-ins or needs the Rangers failed to address before the season are immaterial now – they just need to win more games (at least two) than the Rays or Indians over the last week. Calling for the manager’s head of demanding the general manager (the architect of two consecutive World Series teams) doesn’t help them win more of the final seven games on their docket.
Whoever is to blame (or, more accurately, whoever gets blamed) for the Rangers second series regular season fade down the stretch, it is a peculiar chapter in club history. The old Texas Heat truism, rearing its ugly head again? Texas has seven games left to reverse an ugly trend or spend another winter pointing fingers at what when wrong. Again.
Be the Reds
The Cardinals clinched at playoff berth last night, even though they lost on Sunday night baseball. The Cardinals are guaranteed at least a shot at the Wild Card game and currently hold a 2 game lead in the exciting NL Central. That two game lead is over both the Reds and the Pirates, the two teams now sit tied for second after Cincy took two of three from Pittsburgh.
It is easy to giggle and accuse the Pirates of Pirating their way into a late-season collapse but it does the Reds a great disservice. This Reds team is well, it is very good. The Reds mounted a furious comeback on Friday night, rallying from three runs down in the 9th inning before winning in extra innings. Joey Votto delivered the decisive blow in extras, an opposite field liner that sent Pirates announcers in fits of childish whining and 40K Yinzers home unhappy.
Saturday night, Bravest Pirate Allan James Burnett slammed the door shut, even for just a day. A.J. Burnett struck out 12 Reds over seven terrific innings, allowing just two runs on four hits and three walks. Might this be Burnett’s final year? If so, he’s certainly going out on top, even if his Pirates are limping towards a still-exciting finish.
As the Pirates limp, the Reds surge. The two clubs sit even with identical 89-67 records. The red-hot Reds appear eager to at least host a playoff game, if not win the division outright. The Reds have a good rotation and a strong bullpen and a terrific, powerful lineup.
They also have, sigh, Billy Hamilton.
Billy Hamilton has only two starts in his big league career. He also has two three-hit games in his big league career. He has 12 stolen bases, more than his total number of plate appearances. He’s a freak and he’s impacting the race in ways many — myself included — never thought possible.
Will Billy Hamilton even make the postseason roster? I can’t believe they could find a way to keep him off, crazy as it sounds. The Reds are ready to make some noise. Momentum is only as good as the play-in game starter (and Pittsburgh has two fine choices) but the Reds are not a team to trifle with.
Game Chart of the Weekends
How does 18 innings of gut-churning, high stakes baseball grab ya? Playing for your very playoff lives, a complete extra game tacked on to the end of an already pivotal battle. Have to assume the Orioles felt like they lost two games when they fell to the Rays in 18 innings on Friday night.
Ranking the Celebrations
The Dodgers set a new standard for division title celebratory madness last week when they clinched the NL West on enemy soil in Arizona and befouled the sacred waters of the Diamondbacks goofy outfield pool. The antics of the Dodgers do what they want, their “gaudy new money aspirations wrapped up in old money pretensions, stadiums, uniforms” empowering new levels of self-absorbed party-preening. And we love/hate them for it.
Since the Dodgers claimed victory in the NL West, the Red Sox, Braves, and A’s all pushed their magic numbers to zero and celebrated division wins on the field. Call it a casualty of the longer-still playoff structure or the Dodgers too real to be real pool party, these on-field pig piles seem a little…subdued.
- Atlanta clinches the NL East, their (z-1)th division title in (z) seasons!
The Braves are a franchise famous for the long-standing policy against fun of any kind. Which explains why so many of these sadsacks look as though they just hearing about the concept for the first time. We could cut them some slack as they learned mid-game that the division was their’s but…nah. They knew the division was their’s in June. You’d think they might cook up something entertaining. At least inspire me, Fredi. Make me believe you give a shit.
- Oakland claims their second-straight AL West crown
While it does not match the unexpected glee of last season’s “celly”, the A’s seem genuinely excited in their on-field jumping party. That they did it on their home field counts, though the current state of their home park suggests they spent so much time milling around on the field because they didn’t want to swim to their clubhouse in fetid pisswater.
Visitor dugout in Oakland. Probably 4" of standing water/potential sewage. pic.twitter.com/kAZGQx0cfr
- The Boston Red Sox complete their improbable comeback from worst to first.
Happy Koji Uehara. Jonny Gomes punting beer cans. JONNY GOMES PUNTING BEER CANS. Nothing makes a celebration sweeter than knowing an upstart team beat the odds. Hard to believe that a team that, after a slow start and trapped under ugly contracts, cleared the deck and essentially tanked its way into a last place, 69 win season in 2012.
The lovable last-place losers from Boston — a club that won 90, 89, 95, 95, and 96 games in the five seasons preceding the 2012 blip — added one of the premier relievers in the game, a top-flight free agent pitcher, an aging outfielder who hadn’t put up a 5 WAR season since 2011 among other key depth players. Real fairy tale stuff.
Their celebration remains the weekend’s best. Who needs a drink?
S(s)ons of Jan
In the long history of baseball, four men played in the big leagues with the surname Jansen or Janssen. Two of those four men are active closers. Casey Janssen and Kenley Jansen saved 50 games combined so far in 2013.
As of Sunday, Casey Janssen’s 2011-2013 seasons are worth a combined 5.1 Wins Above Replacement on Baseball Reference. Over the same time frame, Kenley Jansen has been worth 5.0 rWAR to the Dodgers. Casey Janssen has allowed 49 runs since the start of 2011. Kenley Jansen has allowed 51 runs since the start of the 2011 season.
Which is pretty weird, considering.
Kenley Jansen 107 strikeouts in less than 75 inning en route to his 27 saves this year. Here is a list of pitchers to start 27 games while striking out the same number of hitters (or fewer) than the Dodgers closer.
The Royal Afterthoughts
Kansas City has a post-season chance, albeit a slim one. But when James Shields pitches 8 shutout innings against the team directly above you in the playoff chase before you win on a dramatic, walkoff grand slam in the final home game of the season? It is officially time to close the book on the Wil Myers/James Shields trade.
The Royals didn’t necessarily win the trade but you will have a hell of a time convincing anybody in attendance at the K on Sunday afternoon that they lost it.