Magic Number = 2010.

The Rangers came home, having just scored 11, 10, and 10 runs in a three-game sweep over Cleveland that raised their record to 79-60.  It was the first time since the 1999 playoff season that Texas had been 19 games over .500.
 
The club came home from that Indians series for its most important homestand in a decade, 4.5 games back in the division and two back in the Wild Card chase, set to face the AL West for nine straight in Rangers Ballpark.
 
And they won twice.
 
Hit .204 as a team, and scored only 19 times over those nine games, largely because the team average dipped to .135 with runners in scoring position.  Had a rotation ERA of 6.00.
 
The deficit is now 7.5 games in the division, 8.0 games in the Wild Card standings.
 
The Rangers’ Magic Number: 2010.
 
It’s easy to watch Ian Kinsler pop up time after time after time and forget that his .999 OPS after a sweep of the Angels on May 17, capping the club’s season-best seven-game win streak, was a huge reason that Texas had extended its division lead to 4.5 games.  The club wouldn’t cede its perch atop the West for another six weeks.
 
It’s hard to shake the image of Michael Young in his deactivation gear, sentenced to the role of onlooker for most of the season’s final month by a hamstring injury on a harmless 6-3 groundout, but that unjustly overshadows what he gave this club on the field, turning in one of the most productive seasons of any third baseman in the league this year, and an OPS, to date, that’s one point short of his career best .899.

Focusing on Kevin Millwood’s July, August, and September (2-5, 6.29 ERA, .303/.380/.512, averaging 5.1 innings per start) ignores his April, May, and June (8-5, 2.64 ERA, .237/.306/.390, 7.0 innings per start).

Know what?  I take that one back.  I think Kinsler can figure things out and be back next year.  I know Young will.  But I’m out of confidence that Millwood can ever be that first-half pitcher again.

As for Josh Hamilton, I’m not sure what to make of his place on the dependability scale going forward, either.

Derek Holland: 0-5, 12.38 in his last five starts?  He’s a 22-year-old rookie who also had a brilliant 4-1, 1.85 run over the preceding five starts that obviously helped keep his team in the race.  Don’t lose sight of that, and don’t lose any faith.  Draw on what you remember of Tommy Hunter in 2008 (0-2, 16.36 in three starts) and what you’ve seen from him in 2009 (8-4, 3.25 in 16 starts).  Stuff generally gets here before command, and a little aptitude helps a young pitcher put it all together.  Holland and Hunter, three months apart in age, both have it.  And accelerating things so that Holland’s (and several others’) acclimation preceded 2010 will pay off.

Yes, Young and Hamilton and Millwood and Holland factor in significantly as to why things have so epically gone south in the last week and a half — as does Kinsler, whose batting average/on-base/slug since July 1 (.231/.293/.443) looks disturbingly like lame duck Hank Blalock’s season (.237/.277/.471).  (I’m not prepared to say Kinsler is on a Blalock path at the plate, just as I’m not ready to call Terence Newman “Kevin Smith,” but I hate it that the thought has occurred to me.)

But lost for the moment in that absolute mess of a homestand is the fact — the fact — that 2009 has been a terrific, rewarding year of Texas Rangers baseball.

To deal with my disgust over a football game like last night’s, I remind myself that it’s just a game (a realization that’s taken almost all of my 40 years to accept).  I’m not there yet with baseball, and doubt I ever will be.  Don’t really want to be. 

Maybe it was an amazing weekend, lifted by the convergence of Those Who Dig and a lot of great friends, that’s helping me forge past such a demoralizing nine days of baseball.  Even though the calendar, and the math, haven’t shut things down on this season yet, September 12-20 basically ended 2009.

But it didn’t kill 2009, because to view it that way would be to disregard Scott Feldman and Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon and Young and Nelson Cruz and Hunter and Holland and Neftali Feliz and Darren O’Day and Mike Maddux, all of whom arrived or stepped things up to a new level in 2009, and all of whom are under control here for years.  It didn’t kill 2009, which still has a shot to produce 90 wins over a season that most believe is a stepping stone toward bigger things.

I’m not turning my back on the final two weeks of the season – my wiring won’t allow it – but the way Games 140 through 148 played out, a macro view of things settled in for me, not only looking ahead to what should be a better team in 2010, especially with so many young players having fought through a pennant race, but also looking back on 2009 for some perspective on what the first 139 games gave us, and how they made us care so much about the last nine days.

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

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