Big week.

Big week ahead, both in the short term and the long term.  All that Texas has before returning to town Friday for a nine-game homestand is a three-game series in Boston, but after that quick set with the Red Sox the Rangers will be anywhere from three games back in the Wild Card race to 10 games back.  Obviously a massive difference.  

Friday is also the deadline for clubs to sign 2008 draft picks, which in the Rangers’ case means we’re days away from knowing whether first baseman Justin Smoak and lefthander Robbie Ross will be part of the organization, not to mention righthanders Charlie Robertson and Jack Armstrong, shortstop Harold Martinez, outfielder John Ruettiger, and catcher Ben Petralli.  Smoak and Ross are the key negotiations, however, and in a few days the speculation will give way to resolution.

But first things first.  Scott Feldman against Michael Bowden (or Devern Hansack or Charlie Zink), Luis Mendoza against Jon Lester, Vicente Padilla against Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Big, big, big.

With the rotation, bullpen, and lineup decimated, Texas managed to score only one run on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday combined (the first time since 1992 that the club scored just once in a three-game stretch) while permitting 21 runs, but busted out for 15 runs on 20 hits today, salvaging a game in Baltimore with a 15-7 win.

The notable thing there is that, even in this afternoon’s blowout, the Rangers gave up as many runs as they did on average in the three ugly losses that preceded it.  For the Wild Card chase to continue to include Texas, the pitching has to be better, because the offense – even if it were completely healthy, which it’s not – can’t be counted on to outscore an opponent putting seven runs up each night.

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, when Texas and Florida got serious in trade discussions involving Gerald Laird near the July 31 trade deadline, Jon Daniels insisted on 21-year-old righthander Chris Volstad, a 6’8″ horse who started the season with a 4-4, 3.36 run in 15 AA starts and is now 3-2, 2.67 in five starts and a relief appearance for the Marlins.

Some have suggested that Daniels asked Florida for too much.  If that’s how you define his demand for Laird, then I’m glad he asked for too much.  Texas has a leverage point at catcher right now, and it made sense for Daniels to use the trade deadline as added leverage to see if a contending club would part with a potential rotation leader.

Take a look at the list of catchers who can be free agents this winter – there’s nobody who comes anywhere close to Laird or Jarrod Saltalamacchia in terms of ability, age, and affordability (Laird is under arbitration control for two more years, Saltalamacchia for one more pre-arbitration season and then [assuming no significant time in the minor leagues in 2009] four arbitration years after that).  And there are plenty of teams who ought to be interested in Laird or Saltalamacchia, or Taylor Teagarden or Max Ramirez, which means Texas should be in a very good position this winter as it fields calls on its catchers.

Righthander J.B. Diaz has been scored on once in 13 appearances since a promotion to Frisco late in June.  The 25-year-old’s RoughRiders numbers: 1-1, 0.87, two earned runs on nine hits (.129 opponents’ average) and three walks in 20.2 innings, 17 strikeouts, 1.75 groundout-to-flyout rate.

Just a heads-up — I’m going to wrap up “In their Footsteps” this week and then launch a new weekly column for the Rangers site in which I will rank the Top 20 prospects in the system and adjust the list weekly, as appropriate, with bullet point notes on each player.

You’ll find at least one surprise high up on the list.

But the Top 20 feature won’t show up until August 21.  While I have a pretty good sense of how that 20-deep list will look 11 days from now, the state of the 2008 season is not nearly as clear.  The Rangers’ backs are against the wall, but they’ve shown us so many times in 2008, maybe more than ever before, that it’s in exactly that situation when the best in this club comes out.  How this season is ultimately shakes out hasn’t been determined yet, but one of the ways it will be defined, no matter what happens from this point forward, is as one of the most resilient clubs in franchise history.

As Texas makes its way to Boston, it’s time for a big dose of that resilience.

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