September 2011

Here we go.

The Rangers limped into the playoffs in 2010, not really needing to hit the gas at any time in the last month of the regular season.  They went 8-9 over their final 17 games, winning one series out of five.  In that stretch, Vladimir Guerrero hit .255 with a .717 OPS.  Michael Young: .222/.574.  Ian Kinsler: .208/.616.  Elvis Andrus: .164/.402.  Josh Hamilton got 11 at-bats.

The pitching had been pretty good (3.71 ERA, .243 opponents’ average), but the offense was sputtering.

And yet, Texas played in the World Series.

This year, the Rangers had the best September pitching in the American League by just about any measure, and the best September offense in all of baseball.

What that means for this best-of-five is anybody’s guess.

If you think that the fact that Texas is home today – which was made possible only because the Rangers won 14 of their final 16 games, when 13 of 16 wouldn’t have gotten it done – and that the club is sending one of baseball’s hottest starting pitchers to the mound against a kid with one big league start and only 9.1 innings of any kind in what is a two-and-a-half-week big league career, playing a team that needed an impossible comeback win on Wednesday just to extend its season . . . if you think all of that means that this series is a lock, then you weren’t watching what happened to Boston and Atlanta the last couple weeks.

As Wash says, the question is not who the best team is but, instead, on any given day, who plays the best baseball.

Make no mistake: Rays rookie lefthander Matt Moore may be the game’s best pitching prospect.  He’s really, really good.  He’s never faced Texas.  (And no hitters he faced in his two 2009 appearances against Low A Hickory have reached the big leagues.)  But when a pitcher and a hitter haven’t seen each other, you know in which direction that tilts.  It’s a gutsy decision for the Rays, one that we may be talking about many years from now.  Perhaps not as eccentric a move as the Rocco Baldelli thing a year ago, but this one obviously has a lot more riding on it.

Moore may shut the Rangers down, and Tampa Bay may keep rolling offensively.  The Rays could win today, and could win this series.  They shouldn’t.  But they could.

The players the Rays ended the regular season with have hit .135/.268/.214 lifetime against C.J. Wilson, including in the post-season.  And .179/.303/.250 against Colby Lewis.

If you want to bank on Evan Longoria’s .091/.200/.091 slash against Wilson and Lewis, be my guest.  Cliff Lee won four of his 15 Texas starts before the playoffs last year, too.

I’m no more worried about the Rays’ .292/.370/.573 slash against Derek Holland or .293/.396/.537 slash against Matt Harrison than I am overconfident about the Wilson/Lewis histories.  (But, yeah, OK, that .611/.650/1.444 Longoria line against Holland and Harrison does pop a little bit.)

Adrian Beltre is the reigning AL Player of the Month.  Doesn’t mean he’ll be the Player of This Next Week.

Doesn’t mean he won’t.

A new season starts hours from now.  Every team’s record is the same.  Every batting average is the same, every ERA.

No more scoreboard watching, no more Magic Numbers, no more haiku.

And no reference to all the national writers and network analysts making Texas their pick to win the pennant, and in some cases the bigger trophy, too.

It’s now all about the next pitch.  And that’s it.

It’s been another extraordinary baseball season in Texas, much different from last year’s and exhilarating in ways that last year’s wasn’t.  Here we are again with Rays-Rangers, first to three, but it’s different now.  The rosters have changed, dramatically so in a few places.  The Rangers were a franchise that had never won a playoff series 12 months ago.  Now they’re the AL pennant-defending Texas Rangers, and the only 2010 World Series team that earned the right to play past 162 in 2011.  It’s a much different series this time around.

But again, even if the rosters were identical, and this series was being played immediately after the two teams battled over five playoff games the first time (a series in which the road team won every game), we wouldn’t be able to sit here and plot out how this matchup would go.

You play the games.

Enjoy this.  You can’t ever take the reward of playoff baseball for granted.  In football, 38 percent of the teams reach the post-season.  The number rises to 53 percent in basketball and hockey.  In baseball, it’s only 27 percent, and a grind unlike any other sport’s to survive.

It’s been said that there will never be another season in Texas like 2010, that it will never be the same.  That’s true.

But no matter how this thing plays out, there will never be another season in Texas like 2011, and while I can’t say with much confidence what I expect to happen, I can say with plenty of conviction that whatever happens, it will never be the same.

It’s been a heck of a dogfight to get to this point, but for every indelible moment that this season has provided, and there have been lots of them, the signature moments of the 2011 Rangers season haven’t yet happened.

It’s Opening Day again, the kind that’s never guaranteed.

And as much as getting treated like an opening act each day while prime time is reserved for the Yankees is a little irritating, the way I feel this second I’d be just fine if Game One started in about 12 minutes.

Galvanized.

I’ve expended more words than some would have liked on the idea that the Rangers’ bad 9-8 loss to the Angels on July 20 might have galvanized a Los Angeles club that, having lost four of five and on the verge of getting swept at home by Texas and pushed to what would have been a six-game deficit in the West, was hurtling in the wrong direction a week and a half before the trade deadline.

It’s probably unfair to suggest that game galvanized Derek Holland’s season, considering he’d fired two straight shutouts before the Anaheim disaster, but man, he’s been good in the two months since that night.

Nine quality starts out of 11 trips to the mound.  A 7-1, 2.61 record – including 3-0, 1.61 in three starts against the Angels and Red Sox.  A .239/.299/.347 slash, 61 strikeouts and 20 unintentional walks in 69 innings.

This afternoon he makes his final appearance before his first playoff start.  He’d be working on one extra day of rest if asked to go in Game Two on Saturday, three extra days if given the ball in Game Three.

I suppose there’s going to be some sentiment to decide where Colby Lewis fits once it gets sorted out whether Game Two will be in Arlington (if Texas maintains its current one-game edge over Detroit) or in New York (he’s been better on the road this year, and of course outstanding against New York last October).

And Matt Harrison was very good against the Yankees in the season’s first month and a half, and on a solid roll himself.  Maybe he gets Game Three in Arlington, and Holland gets Game Four.

And maybe Texas won’t play New York at all – until the ALCS, for the second straight year.

But the idea that Holland could, under conceivable circumstances, figure in as this club’s fourth playoff starter, considering what the other likely playoff contestants will roll out at Number Three, is, you know, pretty galvanizing.

I’m really happy for Holland, whose World Series meltdown a year ago overshadowed what had been a very good post-season in middle relief, and for Harrison, who didn’t even make the post-season roster in 2010.  Without the job those two lefthanders did this year, would we be talking about 162+ at this point?

I’m also happy for Adrian Beltre, who has stunningly appeared in the post-season only once (for the 2004 Dodgers, who got ousted in the NLDS fairly easily by St. Louis), and for Mike Napoli, whose three years of playoff experience with the Angels (2007-2009) resulted in relatively little work (36 plate appearances in 16 games, and a .194/.306/.419 slash).  Two massively huge additions here.

If Texas has to go through one AL East club to get back to the World Series, and maybe two of them, C.C. Sabathia or Jon Lester or David Price will be out there pitching a bunch of key games, having that extra right-handed firepower in Beltre and Napoli to go to battle with in place of Vladimir Guerrero feels pretty good, not to mention the colossal value added defensively.

I’m happy for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, neither of whom has been to the post-season.  Can’t wait to see what Koji’s October dugout celebration looks like.

And for Steve Busby, who’s had a tremendous, tremendous year teaming up with Eric Nadel.  Buzz makes Rangers baseball better on a daily basis.

And I’m happy, too, for the good guys on the beat in this market, and the columnists who cover the baseball team.  The stories are sometimes more provocative when the team is losing, but ultimately what they write about, for so many of us, is hope, and from that standpoint it’s more compelling (and maybe more fulfilling? – it certainly draws a bigger reading audience) when the team is winning.

My weekly MLB.com column for the 2011 season concluded Thursday, as we spent the year pegging 25 players from the Rangers’ farm system in building a hypothetical long-term contender’s roster.  The entire group, with links:

No. 1 starter: Martin Perez
No. 2 starter: David Perez
No. 3 starter: Neil Ramirez
No. 4 starter: Cody Buckel
No. 5 starter: Luke Jackson
Long reliever: Barret Loux
Right-on-right: Johan Yan
Left-on-left: Joseph Ortiz
7th-inning reliever: Justin Grimm
RH setup: Roman Mendez
LH setup: Robbie Ross
Closer: Tanner Scheppers
Catcher: Jorge Alfaro
First baseman: Chris Davis
Second baseman: Luis Sardinas
Shortstop: Jurickson Profar
Third baseman: Mike Olt
Left fielder: Engel Beltre
Center fielder: Leonys Martin
Right fielder: Nomar Mazara
Designated hitter: Ronald Guzman
Backup catcher: Kellin Deglan
Utility infielder: Leury Garcia
Corner infielder: Christian Villanueva
Fourth outfielder: Jordan Akins

If Davis had already been traded when I wrote the first base piece, and Guzman had already been signed, the 16-year-old would have been the choice at that position, and Tomas Telis would have replaced Guzman at DH.

Quick aside: This is crazy-undeserved.

After Holland and his teammates take on Seattle this afternoon, they’ll get on a plane to head west, and so will I.  The next couple reports will come to you from Surprise, where I’ll be taking in a little Fall Instructional League action before the playoffs get underway.

It will be the same setting in which Holland first opened my eyes, four years ago.

That was my first annual trip to Instructs, and now I head out for the fifth time, and while this one will be different because of Mazara and Guzman and Rougned Odor, and Kevin Matthews and Will Lamb and Yohander Mendez – all six left-handed, incidentally – it will be a lot like my fourth fall trip to Surprise, in that I’m squeezing it in between Magic Letter X and the first of what we hope are several Game One’s over the next month.

This trip is always galvanizing in its own way, and I’m looking forward to getting out there and writing a little bit.

But not as much as I’m looking forward to getting back, and writing a lot.

Surprise.

Last year, at this time, I wanted to pour Gatorade over my head.

And I felt that last night, too, once Jemile Weeks came up big in the eighth in Anaheim and David DeJesus followed suit in the ninth (prompting Elvis Andrus to circle the bases himself in front of 5,000 fans in Arlington) and Vernon Wells skied to Coco Crisp in center field to lock in Oakland 3, Los Angeles 1, Texas 162+.

I felt it during the televised on-field and clubhouse celebration, and I was geared up to get some sleep out of the way and wake up this morning and fire off an emotional Ginger Ale blast of words that said almost nothing of real substance.

But while I don’t want to take any of this for granted, and don’t think that I am – the Giants are a game away from elimination from the NL Wild Card chase – I’m not that charged with adrenaline this morning.  I’m pumped up as I type this, but there’s no urge to put goggles on or tarp the furniture.

And I’m feeling good about that.

The Rangers, with some key off-season adjustments, kept themselves in the position of being the team to beat over the six-month grind.  The fact that, through 162, Texas has fended off the competition to earn the right to play on, once again, isn’t lost on me.  But, unlike last year, it feels completely like a hurdle, not like breaking through the finish line tape.

One day short of a year ago, from the moment Nelson Cruz squeezed a Chad Pennington fly in shallow left in Oakland in Game 154, until David Price’s first pitch to Elvis Andrus 11 days later, it felt like one big walkoff inside-the-park grand slam, times 100.

This year, to my slight surprise, I wake up this morning feeling like last night was a diving two-out catch in the alley with a couple runners on base, and now we’re coming up to bat in a tie game.  Very different.  I didn’t expect that.

Last year, sports cry and adrenaline rush.  This year, confidence and focus.

There’s home field on the line now, and the opportunity to get the playoff rotation lined up and some key guys off the field for a few innings here and there until Game One on Friday.  I can’t wait to take King Felix on today in front of a full house.

I might buy one of these for the kids today:

 

But for each one, I’m going to ask for three extra hangers.

Here we go.

Magic Letter.

There has been no positive mention of Magic Numbers in this space since Opening Day morning:


April 1, 2011

It’s your favorite author’s brand new book, just out of your mailbox and out of the corrugated box and out of the shrink-wrap. 

It’s anniversary reservations at that restaurant.

It’s the last day of school, May 25, 1983, and Return of the Jedi opens as soon as the bell rings.

It’s a new season of The Shield, a new Radiohead CD, a cold beverage and some Chuy’s fresca by the pool with a bunch of friends.

It’s Chuck Morgan’s voice and Eric Nadel’s voice and those smells.

The Magic Number is 163.  It’s a beautiful number.

There are no more sleeps to count off, only the aggravating crawl of the clock.  Fight through it.

Here’s to the awesomeness of a pennant-defending Page One.

And I’m not going to start mentioning Magic Numbers now.

 

Oh, what the hell:

 

Ding dong.

I tweeted this yesterday:

My iPod has 3400 songs on it.  Always on random shuffle in the car.  On way in this morning: “When the Angels Fall.”  #mightyarcsofsound

I don’t understand Ron Washington’s tactical call in the bottom of the seventh, but it won’t be remembered.  The Angels did fall hours later, when original Rangers draft pick Edwin Encarnacion destroyed a 12th-inning Garrett Richards full count breaking ball, wrapping it around the left field foul pole for a 4-3 Toronto win (the Angels’ league-leading 13th walkoff loss of the season) 10 years and three months and seven days after Texas sent Encarnacion and Ruben Mateo to Cincinnati for Rob Bell.

The division lead remains five, with six games to go.

And the Angels’ shot at a Wild Card, still slightly in view even if the West title really isn’t any more, took a pretty big hit last night.

But this is about Texas.

A little carrying out of the Castle Doctrine, in front of what ought to be full houses, including tonight’s Matt Harrison-Anthony Vasquez matchup, and we got this.

Game One is a week from today.

 

Bowden picks L.A.

Did man he swapped Bell Curve for

Kill Angels season?

The finger.

The season-ending series in Anaheim is going to mean something, to Los Angeles if not to Texas, as Boston’s slide has brought the Angels (and Rays) to within 2.5 games of the Wild Card slot, while they sit a full five games behind the Rangers in the West.

So Texas will face Haren (Monday), Santana (Tuesday), and Weaver (Wednesday), with the Angels likely having everything on the line all three games.

For the most obvious of reasons, we can hope that the only meaning of that series to Texas will be to help determine who its ALDS opponent will be, but that’s a sort-out that I’ve been intentionally giving very little thought to.  All I care about – for now – is getting into the tournament.  Getting some key players a little rest would help, too.

And I expect this team to fight to get back to the World Series, which means getting through two of the three other AL playoff clubs.  Whichever one is the first draw is fine with me.

Lots of the games will be in Arlington, lots on the road.  Even if Texas travels to New York for Games One and Two – whether in the ALDS or ALCS – part of me thinks the Yankees might actually be the Rangers’ best matchup anyway.

But back to the original point.  It would be a very good thing to lock in what these first 162 are all about at some point while the Rangers are at home tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday.  That became a bigger deal after midnight.  As last night’s game ended, and I was rounding up another brilliant Eric Nadel home run call to share with you all, one added reason for a home clincher bubbled up with a nasty reminder.

C.J. Wilson told reporters after the game that he had a blister develop on his left middle finger in the first inning.  He says it’s not a big deal, that he’s used to it, that he’ll adjust.

But Wilson’s command issues last night were not all on home plate umpire Gerry Davis.  His stuff was excellent (eight strikeouts in six innings), but he threw only 61 percent of his pitches for strikes, missing badly at times.  He started only 10 of the 24 Oakland hitters he faced with a strike.  Against Boston or New York and probably Detroit, that number would have been worse.

Wilson had a blister issue in Game Five of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium last year, a bad outing, and then was chased from Game Two of the World Series in San Francisco with a blister on that same middle finger.  The score was 1-0, Giants, in the bottom of the seventh when Wilson exited.  Texas lost, 9-0.

Wilson is slated to pitch Monday in Anaheim.  I get that he’ll want to pitch that night, and that Texas will want him to pitch, so that he won’t go into the playoffs with more than a week of rest.  He needs to stay in his routine.

But if he can go short that night, even if the game is a critical one for the Angels, it could put Wilson in line to start Game One a week from tomorrow (on three days’ rest) rather than Game Two.  (Though either way, he’d be slated to come back for Game Five, unless the club wanted to run him out there for Game Four on short rest.)

Let Wilson pitch Monday, but not for very long.  Because whether he gets the ball next in Game One or Game Two, I’d feel a lot better if he wasn’t dealing with the blister problem he battled through last night, or an aggravated one brought about by 110 high-pressure pitches in a Monday game that the Rangers found themselves needing to win.

So let’s just go ahead and nail this thing down in our house this weekend, if it’s all the same to you.  Castle Doctrine.

Hot.

As a few of you pointed out to me yesterday, the fact that the Rangers can set a franchise attendance record this season is extra-remarkable considering it’s been just about the worst weather summer any of us can remember.

One reminder to those of you planning to go Saturday: since the national network decided two days ago it wanted to prop Alexi Ogando vs. King Felix to center stage, that game’s first pitch has been changed from 7:05 p.m. to 3:10 p.m.

Texas has a five-game edge on the Angels right now.  If, after Wilson-McCarthy/Haren-McGowan tonight, Lewis-Cahill/Santana-Alvarez tomorrow, and Harrison-Vasquez/Weaver-Gonzalez on Friday, neither team gains ground on the other and the lead remains at five, then a win over King Felix on Saturday afternoon while the Angels wait to play that night would mean . . .

Nah, not going to complete the sentence.

This is going to be a great weekend at the Ballpark.

Texas has caught Detroit at 89-65 (with former Rangers 4-A Luis Mendoza silencing the Tigers in what was his first Royals appearance of the year), though in order to edge the Tigers for playoff home field the Rangers will have to finish with the better record, as a tie would go to Detroit based on head-to-head competition.  The two teams played three series of three games apiece this season, with the Tigers winning two of three each time.

Four of Detroit’s six wins over Texas were by one run, including two such games in April in which the Rangers had at least one lead but lost in walkoff fashion.

Clay Rapada, Willie Eyre, and Pedro Strop combined to face six Boston hitters and get all six out in Baltimore’s 7-5 comeback win over the reeling Red Sox yesterday.  Strop in particular has been brilliant for the Orioles since going over in the Mike Gonzalez trade (7.2 scoreless innings, two groundball singles, two walks, nine strikeouts), and that’s a very good thing.  Rangers fans should want Rangers trades to work out well for the other team, too, particularly when they involve players developed in the Texas farm system.  Bodes well for future trades.

I wrote this on January 9, regarding a Peter Gammons report that Texas had offered Tampa Bay a package including Derek Holland, Frankie Francisco, Engel Beltre, Cubs minor league catcher Robinson Chirinos (who reportedly would have cost Texas Chris Davis), and cash to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza, before the Rays shipped the righthander to the Cubs:

I’m a Garza fan. . . . He’d have been an outstanding addition to C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis atop this rotation, but removing Holland as part of the deal makes you ask the question of how much better you believe Garza will be than Holland in 2012 and 2013, the final two years of control the Rangers would have with Garza.  I’m not able to answer that question with conviction.

I left 2011 out of that paragraph.  Using most advanced metrics, Garza has been a slightly better pitcher than Holland this season, but it’s not a dramatic difference, and at this point I’ll take the 24-year-old lefthander making close to league minimum and under team control through 2015 over the 27-year-old righty making about $6 million this season with arbitration paydays ahead in 2012 and 2013 before he can be a free agent.

Texas recalled the seven minor league players on its 40-man roster yesterday, though strictly procedurally and without invitations to report to the big club.  It’s an agate-type point, but notable in that the list includes Taylor Teagarden, Julio Borbon, Eric Hurley, and Cody Eppley, who under a different set of circumstances might have been thought of as candidates to at least see some September action.

A clarification on Baseball America’s Arizona League prospect rankings from yesterday’s COFFEY discussion: I noted that lefthander Kevin Matthews narrowly missed the top 20 list, but as it turns out he didn’t qualify for inclusion as he lasted only 12 innings in Surprise before his promotion to Spokane – and BA suggested the first-rounder likely would have landed in the AZL’s top 10 had he qualified.

A round of sample shots from last night’s Twitter Sports Bar:

C’mon, Rich Harden.  Be Rich Harden.

Busby (on Beltre’s home run): “That ball would have gotten out in a hurricane.”

And @Dutch_Oven45 continues to get sick first-inning support.

Oh, how I love that this Rich Harden is still pitching in baseball games against the Texas Rangers.

There are very few opposing SP’s who I wish wouldn’t run up high pitch counts early.  Harden tops the list.  #stayinthere  #please

Rich Harden is, indeed, being Rich Harden.  #BeingRichHarden

Rich Harden is not more left-handed than you, but he’s more Rich Harden than you.  #Napoli  #BeingRichHarden

Well, among several things made clear tonight is that @Dutch_Oven45 is ready to start playoff baseball games.  He’s really matured this year.

Lost amid the big damage several TX hitters inflicting this month is the spectacular Sept that Elvis having: .355/.459/.565 before tonight.

5.0 and holding.  #ballgame  #wegotthis  #omenatwork

Texas won 90 games last year.  Club is now at 89 with eight to play.

The Rangers haven’t been 24 games over .500 since 1999.

But more importantly, they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010, and with eight games left – and a real chance to do at home this weekend what the club did last year 1,450 miles away – the Rangers are about to put another 162 in the books and play on.

Money.

It’s the final day off for the Rangers before the one that follows Game 162 and precedes Game One.  Some players might find a spot in the Bay Area to pull Angels-Blue Jays up this afternoon at 4 p.m. Pacific, but Ron Washington will apparently attend the Oakland premiere of “Moneyball,” the semi-true story of the 2002 A’s season.

A look at the IMDB cast credits for “Moneyball” curiously reveals no mention of Brent Jennings, whose portrayal of Wash was key enough that it shows up prominently in the movie trailer, and no mention of Barry Zito or Mark Mulder or Tim Hudson or Cory Lidle or Aaron Harang, though middle relievers Chad Bradford (understandably) and Jim Mecir are credited characters.

The absence of Oakland’s starting five probably means that there is less mention in the movie than there is in this morning’s local papers about the fact that Oakland, in that 2002 season, threw 19 shutouts, a mark that no American League staff has exceeded since 1989, when Wash was last a big league ballplayer.

The reason that number is getting play in today’s papers is that, yesterday, the Texas Rangers equaled those 19 shutouts that the 2002 A’s fired.

The signature of that Oakland team, which won the West before getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round, was its starting pitching.  When Texas starts its series on TBS in a week and a half, the studio analysts and game announcers are likely to credit the Rangers’ potent offense for the club’s return to the post-season, but compare the numbers that the Texas rotation has put up this season to those of the 2002 A’s.  They’re very close.

And while A’s starters completed five of those 19 shutouts in 2002 (Hudson twice, Lidle twice, Mulder), Texas has authored seven such games so far this season (Holland four times, Wilson, Lewis, Ogando).  Matt Harrison hasn’t joined the party, but three times he’s carried the heavy oar in a team shutout, once against Philadelphia’s Roy Oswalt, another time against Oakland’s Trevor Cahill, and yesterday against King Felix.  Money.

They’re not going to make a movie about the 2011 Rangers, and that’s OK.  The real story is compelling enough.

But if they did, you can bet that the central characters would be the transcendent left fielder, the lightning rod second baseman, the flashy left side of the infield that can beat you in all sorts of ways, and the catcher that the Angels didn’t think could play.  Whoever would play Wash would never get it right – but he’d still get a film credit, at least.

The number one pitcher would be one of the lead actors, but unless he were also the screenplay writer and director (not out of the question), his rotation-mates probably wouldn’t show up on IMDB.

Wilson, Holland, Harrison, Lewis, and Ogando ought to be a big part of the story that the folks at TBS are probably working up right now, but I’m not holding my breath.

Braun.

We’ve talked a lot in the last two months about the possible impact the Rangers’ awful 9-8 loss to the Angels on July 20 had on this pennant race, not because the blown 8-3 lead was anything that would have lingered in the Texas clubhouse but because some (myself included) believed it had the potential to galvanize a flagging Los Angeles season a week and a half before the trade deadline.

I’m not going to revisit that discussion, but would point out that it was the only time that Dan Haren and Tommy Hunter have ever pitched in the same game.  Haren (seven runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings) was long gone by time Hunter (two runs plus an inherited runner scored in his two-thirds of the brutal sixth inning) relieved Derek Holland, but it either sets up a dramatic rematch between the two righthanders or doesn’t, as Haren and Hunter face off tonight in what is not only the opener of the Angels’ three-game set in Baltimore but also the third straight game pitting a former Rangers righty against Los Angeles.

Hope it goes better for Hunter than it did for Guillermo Moscoso and Rich Harden, each of whom put up zeroes outside of one three-run inning, which turned out to be enough for the Angels.

Speaking of former Rangers righthanders, Blake Beavan has faced Texas once and did the same thing – yielding a three-spot (on a Mitch Moreland jimmy-jack) and nothing else in what was a solid 6.2-inning effort.  He takes the hill tonight against C.J. Wilson, who is a brilliant 6-1, 1.89 (.205/.261/.327) in his last seven starts – four against division opponents plus two against the Rays and one against the Red Sox – and 3-0, 1.57 (.207/.253/.256) against the Mariners this season.

And fellow former Rangers righthander Brandon McCarthy draws Detroit righty Max Scherzer tonight.  An Oakland win in that game would be appreciated, though by choice I haven’t really focused much on what Detroit or Boston or Tampa Bay is doing, just as I haven’t calculated any Magic Numbers this year.  It’s all about winning the game in front of you right now, reclaiming this division, hoping to make the season’s final three in Anaheim meaningless, and taking care of head-to-head business against the Angels if they’re not.  I’ll think about home field when I’m no longer thinking about getting into the tournament.

Texas has gone 9-4 in September, holding opponents to a .227/.291/.377 slash while hitting .328/.390/.578 as an offense.

Stated another way?

The Rangers’ September attack has been Ryan Braun (.329/.395/.579 in 2011).

Rangers pitchers have turned the club’s September opposition into Gordon Beckham (.229/.293/.330), with a tick more power.

The offense and pitching don’t need to maintain those levels these next two weeks for Texas to push the season past 162, and Dan Haren doesn’t need to be as bad tonight as he was the last time he was opposite Tommy Hunter.  But while the talk shows reclaim their daily spot on the edge of their seats waiting to see if the Cowboys can save their season in Week Two, I couldn’t be any more fidgety waiting for tonight’s, tomorrow’s, and Sunday’s baseball games in Seattle, with an eye on what’s going down in Baltimore as well.

This weekend’s slate is reward for caring a lot about baseball.

 

My omen at work?

Or Scioscia Darwinism?

Angels flickering

 

*          *          *

Yes, Brandon McCarthy actually faced Max Scherzer last night – not tonight – and beat him, busting up the Tigers’ win streak.

See how much I’m not paying attention to Detroit?

Have a great weekend.

The fight.

On the morning of August 22, Texas had seen its lead over the Angels whittled from 7.0 games down to 4.0 in the space of four games, with these two stretches of schedule awaiting each club:

TEXAS: Red Sox (4), Angels (3), Rays (3), @ Red Sox (3), @ Rays (3).  All playoff contenders.

LOS ANGELES: White Sox (2), @ Rangers (3), @ Mariners (4), Twins (3), Mariners (3).  One playoff contender – the one that the Angels wanted on their schedule.

The Rangers emerged from that run seeing its 4.0-game lead reduced to 2.5 games, a result that both teams probably felt sorta OK about, Texas from the standpoint that it maintained an adequate lead going into a stretch in which schedule strength would turn around, and Los Angeles from the perspective that it had Texas within striking distance as the dogfight continued, headed toward a season-ending three in Anaheim in which the Angels would be able to send Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Jered Weaver to the hill.

But since then, Texas is 4-1 and Los Angeles is 4-2.  Trading punches doesn’t do the Angels much good at this point.  The separation is three games today.  The Angels are off for the final time, and the Rangers will get their last off-day of the regular season on Monday.

Mike Scioscia confirmed that Weaver will go on short rest at some point to allow him to pitch that Game 162, and as we discussed yesterday, common sense would suggest that the Angels would make that adjustment this weekend, sending their ace out Sunday in Baltimore rather than Monday in Toronto.  Oakland and Rich Harden managed to force Weaver to throw 115 pitches yesterday, however, and the only other time he’s pitched on short rest in his career was on August 28, when Texas put seven runs up on him in six innings.

But the Angels have to pull out all stops at this point.

Christina Kahrl (ESPN) doesn’t think moving Weaver up one day – when Game 162 may end up not mattering at all – is enough.  She suggests that Scioscia ought to not only start Weaver on three days’ rest, but also move Haren and Santana up a day, and Weaver again, so that the Angels can go Haren-Santana-Weaver in Baltimore this weekend and Jerome Williams-Haren-Santana-Weaver in Toronto.

That’s a lot to ask of Weaver in particular, but given the way Texas has battled through these last three weeks, that’s where Los Angeles finds itself right now.

Call it desperation or turning the temperature up, but the Angels are in that position because of the way Texas has been hitting and pitching and catching the ball lately, playing like a team poised to defend its AL West title by claiming another one.

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