Going into Friday, Houston needed the following seven things to happen to win the AL West:
- Beat Arizona Friday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Friday
- Beat Arizona Saturday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Saturday
- Beat Arizona Sunday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Sunday
- Beat Texas in Arlington on Monday
To win the West, Texas needed any one of those things not to happen.
With apologies to any of you who thought I might talk about Los Angeles 11, Texas 10, that’s not happening. We’ve talked about defining moments. There’s one way — really, more than one, but I’m focused on just one way — to make sure yesterday’s ninth doesn’t define anything.
Down to the final three on that list.
- Cole Hamels vs. Garrett Richards at 2:05
- Lance McCullers vs. Robbie Ray at 2:05
- If necessary, Yovani Gallardo vs. Mike Fiers or Scott Kazmir tomorrow night
Then, for Texas, it’s on the road for Game One of the ALDS on Thursday . . . or turn around and play the Wild Card Game on Tuesday against the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka — and hope to earn that Thursday Game One.
This team will play in the American League Division Series. The rotation won’t line up ideally and the pen won’t be as rested as hoped, but there’s just no way this team finishes 2015 with five straight losses, the first four and maybe all five at home.
Texas will be in Toronto or Kansas City Thursday, because I refuse to believe otherwise.
This is why, Cole. You turned down a deal to Houston, you wanted to be here.
Nine straight team wins when you get the ball, but that’s not enough.
Make the first of those three bullet points the only one that matters.
Win today, win tomorrow, or win Tuesday, and Texas is in the ALDS, best of five.
Game 162, number one on the mound.
This, Cole. This is why.
A year ago on this date, I wrote a million words wrapping up the miserable 2014 season.
Today is better.
With Shawn Tolleson now having pitched four straight nights for the first time in his career, and Sam Dyson doing so for the first time since joining the Rangers, and Keone Kela’s availability a massive Stanley Cup-level mystery — he hasn’t pitched since Tuesday despite having not allowed a run in the seven and a half weeks following his return from the minors — it wouldn’t be any surprise if the game plan for the Angels at noon is to lay off Colby Lewis’s slider, drive his pitch count, and make the bionic 36-year-old work.
Colby Lewis having to work his tail off doesn’t scare me a bit.
Today is better.
There were just seven weeks left in the season, and the Rangers, who two weeks earlier sat eight games out in the West, had won 12 of 17 since a 21-5 disaster at the hands of the Yankees.
There were seven weeks left, and someone asked Jon Daniels during the Q&A portion of our Newberg Report Night event how confident he was that Texas could hold on after actually climbing all the way back into a Wild Card position.
Always understated and chronically appropriate, JD paused. “I know everyone is all caught up in the Wild Card race,” he said without a change in expression. “Man, I think we’re gonna win the division.”
The room erupted.
I asked JD if it was OK if I led my report the next morning with that comment. No problem, he said.
The next morning he said he’d reconsidered, and if it was cool he preferred that I not put that out there. So I didn’t.
I didn’t ask this time.
There have been defining moments this season — and we all hope the true signature moments have yet to happen, of course — but it’s been one of those years in which you can’t really say one or two players put the team on their backs, or that one impossible comeback win or crazy win streak changed everything. It’s been a battle, a battle out of a corner, and one of the most exhilarating sports seasons I can remember.
With lots to go, obviously.
The prospect of Eric Nadel opening the Game 159 broadcast with the chillbump-raising words “Well, it has come to this” was, for so long this year, virtually impossible to imagine.
The Thursday lineup featured a Rule 5 pick that Houston didn’t want to reserve a minor league spot for on its off-season 40-man roster, a first baseman who was acquired for next to nothing in August, and a left fielder who was paid a lot of money to go away five months ago by the team in the other dugout.
In a game decided by two runs, Josh Hamilton — the man whose dropped flyball in Oakland was emblematic of the Rangers’ 2012 collapse — saved one run and drove in another, eliminating from the division race the team that was so desperate to get rid of him in April that they took care of almost all of his game check last night, paying him to make that impossible catch and drive in the game’s final run.
It wasn’t the same as freezing A-Rod to end the ALCS, or the Mavs finally taking down the Heat, but Josh Hamilton (20 days post-knee surgery) accounting for two runs in Texas 5, Los Angeles 3, helping send his team to the playoffs and making his primary payor’s playoff path a little steeper, was pure sports poetry.
New Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, who was in the same role with the Angels when they rush-delivered Hamilton to Texas earlier this year, on the role Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno’s played when the club gave him $125 million over five years in the first place, weeks after he’d dropped that lazy fly in Oakland: “That was his decision to make.”
So, apparently, was the decision to excommunicate Hamilton, and essentially pay him $110 million for two years of baseball.
Two years of Angels baseball, that is.
Mike Scioscia after the game on Hamilton’s grab of Shane Victorino’s second-inning smash at the fence with men on first and third: “I’m not surprised. He’s a good left fielder with a lot of range.”
Hamilton and Elvis Andrus nearly threw Albert Pujols at the plate, but the something-year old, running like he was chest deep in a swimming pool, narrowly beat the relay.
It still really wasn’t a signature moment for this club, in a game that had less urgency attached to it for Texas than it did for LA, but it was awesome. The Rangers are in the playoffs — thanks in large part to a beast effort out of Derek Holland and 2.2 scoreless innings from the bullpen — and with one more win over these final three, or one Houston loss, they bypass the Wild Card Game and earn a berth in the ALDS, traveling to either Toronto or Kansas City to get their post-season rolling.
According to one of those playoff odds generators, the Rangers had a 1 percent chance to win the AL West as of July 22.
And a 4 percent chance as of August 26.
It’s not 100 percent this morning, but it’s just about as close as you can get.
A 95-loss team whose manager had quit went into the winter needing a new skipper and lots more than that.
And then lost its ace in spring training.
Lost its number two starter after one inning.
Didn’t have its number three starter or its number four starter for the first half of the season.
Had its closer cough up his job, leaving the role to a pitcher the club had claimed off waivers a year and a half earlier.
Finished April with the worst record in its 44-year history.
Had a $120 million shortstop and $130 million right fielder who were being labeled as untradeable throughout the first half because nobody wanted to talk instead about actual production.
Still owned Jurickson Profar, somewhere.
Optioned its standout rookie second baseman after a month because he’d become a helpless sophomore.
Stuck that Rule 5 pick in the leadoff slot.
Had what amounted to a mediocre catcher tandem — and then lost both 31-year-olds to extended injury.
Got backwards steps from the center fielder and set-up man it was counting on to take the next step.
Started 12 left fielders.
Gave 15 starts to Wandy Rodriguez, and seven to Ross Detwiler.
That team is returning to the playoffs.
With head-to-head confrontations the past week with the Astros and Angels, I wasn’t big on focusing on any Magic Numbers, but the more I think about it, this club that isn’t defined by one player, or two, is one whose identity and whose success this incredible season should be credited mostly to two men.
For me, the two magic numbers as far as the 2015 Texas Rangers are concerned are the 28 on the manager’s back, and the 162+ that belongs on the GM’s.
Cole Hamels, man!
Goes six innings, and retires the first two Tigers hitters in the first.
Retires the first two in the second.
Retires the first two in the third.
Retires the first two in the fourth.
Retires the first two in the fifth.
Retires the first two in the sixth.
Never allows a baserunner before two outs.
First-pitch strikes to 19 of 27 Tigers hitters. Gets to two strikes (at least) on 18 of them. Reaches so much as two balls only eight times.
Holds Detroit’s three beasts, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, to one total hit three times through the lineup.
Retires nine straight at one point. And 10 of his final 11. Strikes out the side in his final frame of work.
And gets three scoreless (two-hit, zero-walk) innings from his bullpen, while his teammates put up an explosive five-spot in the first and get into the Tigers bullpen in the second inning.
But seriously, again: He never allowed a baserunner before two outs.
Cole Hamels, man! What a domina—
Hey, a slam dunk is still just two points.
And so is a virtually uncontested layup that bounces off your elbow and then your shoe and then your opponent’s shoe and rattles the backboard and swirls around the rim centrifugally and dings the backboard again angrily before settling happily into the twine and getting momentarily stuck before dripping through.
That’s nine straight Hamels starts that have ended up in the win column.
And a win — especially under the circumstances — is a win.
Let’s go, Yo.
Win the damn series.
Back home for the duration, facing the second-worst team in the American League, your warrior-beast on the mound, and that happens.
Meanwhile, the Astros win by one run and the Angels win by one run and, hell, even the Twins won, though by a cushiony two-run margin.
It’s a bad movie script.
Tip of the cap to Houston and Los Angeles in particular. They’re not going to make it easy on Texas, clearly, and are playing pennant race baseball. Those two teams have shaken off some really bad baseball (the Astros in September, the Angels in August) to turn it on when it’s the only way.
It’s convenient to forget that the Rangers turned it on, for nearly all of August and nearly all of September, when it was the only way, if that. Really, it didn’t even seem that tenable. The fact that Texas has a lead of any measure to protect, with less than a week to go, is flippin’ incredible and awesome.
But this team has to flip the switch back on. Yes, Collin McHugh-Dallas Keuchel-Justin Verlander is a tall order, but a team with playoff aspirations can never use something like that as an excuse.
Really, excuses of any sort are out the door this time of year, though I’m unable to resist at least pointing out that Houston is getting the three Mariners starters who aren’t Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma (and probably not even James Paxton, who is a good bet to be scratched tomorrow with a torn fingernail) and will miss Patrick Corbin in Arizona, and that Oakland is starting Barry Zito in Sonny Gray’s place against the Angels tomorrow, with at least one national writer suggesting the A’s “may be tanking a bit; they’ve moved up to the fourth pick in the draft and could rise as high as number 2 if the Reds and Braves can find some wins this week.”
No excuses. Just need to win.
And to avoid at-bats like Rougned Odor’s with the bases loaded, a 1-1 score, and one out in the fourth (following Elvis Andrus’s popout) in which Odor appeared to be trying to erase the Magic Number of 5 in one swing, and then a second swing, and then a third, all at Verlander pitches in his eyes.
I love Rougned Odor.
No time to be pressing, or playing tight.
Six left — including four here against the Angels that are now, almost inescapably, going to be huge — and if this team plays its game, the season extends. No matter who is on the mound for the other guys.
Or for the Mariners. Or for the Diamondbacks.
Texas has proven this year that it’s dangerous when playing from behind. It’s done it the whole second half, it did it in the ninth inning Saturday, it did it in the ninth inning last night, even if those two final-inning charges fell just short.
No metaphors there, please.
Not infrequently I like to say things like “Bring on the chance at more sports heartbreak, at guts spilling onto the floor. Because without it, the winning — and I mean the winning — wouldn’t be nearly as awesome.”
Give me exactly where this team is right now. It’s a thousand times better than having writers talk about sunny draft implications if you keep losing baseball games that matter more immediately to the opponent.
I also like to say, “Better keep winning, Houston.”
Well, better start winning, Texas.
The Rangers have won eight straight Cole Hamels starts. They get two more of those this week, including tonight.
Only one of those eight Hamels starts followed a Rangers loss.
One more of those, tonight.
Hopefully not another one like it Sunday.
Assuming Sunday matters, which at this point feels close to inevitable.
But again, that’s a whole lot better than how much the final Sunday and a dozen before it mattered a year ago.
Justin Verlander may no longer be a true ace, but in the tightest spots he pitched like one last night.
Your turn, Cole.
Elvis and Mitch and Derek were there in 2007, and so was a 16-year-old named Martin.
So were Danny Clark and Josue Perez and Keith Comstock and Napoleon Pichardo, and I’m sure Mike Daly and Kip Fagg were in and out for more than the four days I spent in Surprise for Fall Instructs that October.
I went to Surprise that year because I wanted to check out all the new minor league talent the Rangers had added that summer through trades (Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Engel Beltre, Max Ramirez) and the draft (Moreland, Holland, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, Julio Borbon, Blake Beavan, Michael Main) and internationally (Perez, Tomas Telis, Leury Garcia).
I went in October because, at that time in Rangers history, baseball was predictably finished for the year.
I’ve been back to Instructs every fall since, but starting in 2010 I’ve made it a point to get out there in late September, to make sure I’d be back home in time for 162+.
If I didn’t write about watching the last three games of the 2012 season on a TV in Surprise with a bunch of Rangers instructors and scouts, it’s because it was too painful to talk about. As emotionally invested as I was in those brutal three games in Oakland, it obviously went way beyond that for the men who grind it out on the back fields and on the road for more hours and more days each year than most people probably think, because every mass infield on a 109-degree afternoon in Arizona and every 6:45 am turn in the cages and every clubhouse classroom session is done, ultimately, so that the big league team has its best chance, every year, to play ball when most other teams have gone home for the year.
Watching the Texas Rangers push for playoff baseball has to mean something extra to those guys that most of us can’t fully wrap our heads around.
Three mornings ago a team of Rangers prospects faced a team of Royals prospects on Field 1, and when Chris Garia cut a runner down at the plate from center field I won’t swear I wasn’t shaken from a daydream that those same two organizations could find themselves teeing it up on a little bigger stage in a couple weeks.
That night a bunch of us sat around that same TV as in 2012 — this time including a former nine-year big league infielder-outfielder, a former outfielder who got as close to a big league call as you can get, a onetime infielder on two NCAA champions, and an ex-college pitcher and college coach — calling pitches and calling pitching changes, sweating a fairly shaky Yovani Gallardo start but treated to Choo and Fielder and 4.1 lockdown frames out of the bullpen.
Every player who suited up in blue for Texas 6, Houston 2 on Friday probably had a turn or two at Instructs at the start of his own career, if not in Surprise then somewhere else, and many who fit in that category (Fielder, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Mike Napoli, Max Venable) are here in part because of someone else the Rangers developed on the back fields when the scoreboards were off, the concession stands were shut down, and the press wasn’t around.
The next morning — like a dozen mornings before it and twice as many yet to come — more than 70 ballplayers and dozens of instructors focused on the little things and the bigger ones, putting in tons of hours in unnatural heat to get better at baseball.
And to help ensure that the Texas Rangers are a franchise that continues to plays games in late September that mean everything.
Pitchers’ target competitions. Fungoes to simulate short-hop throws on steal attempts. Four-corners catcher drills. Hockey pucks and footballs. Rehabbing pitchers, putting in their own grind. Options-decisions-consequences, and 18 inches: head to heart.
A thousand swings and a thousand throws.
That final week in 2012, the thought that Jurickson Profar would be in Surprise as the final week in 2015 unfolded wouldn’t have made any sense, but there he was, swinging the bat from both sides without limitation, even if he’s not throwing at 100 percent yet.
Profar’s still just 22. But that’s four and a half years older than Chad Smith, a left-left outfielder (fifth round in June) who along with fellow outfielder Eric Jenkins (second round in June) probably opened my eyes as much as anyone did this weekend.
Another 17-year-old, righthander Tyler Phillips (16th round in June), was on a short list of the guys I wanted to see, but he was shockingly summoned to Houston (along with righthander Cole Wiper) to throw early batting practice to Josh Hamilton, Joey Gallo, and a few others.
They’re presumably back in Surprise now, and every minute Phillips spends around Clark, and every rep Smith puts in with Perez, and every chance any player on the back fields in Arizona gets to be around Kenny Holmberg and Corey Ragsdale and Roy Silver, there’s a chance to make themselves better, and to make the Texas Rangers better.
They’re back in Surprise, and I’m back home, as are the Rangers, about to host Detroit for three and the Angels for four, while Houston takes its terrible road record to Seattle and Arizona for three each and the surging Angels host Oakland for three before coming to Texas to round out their own effort to extend the season.
The last two days in Houston have made this next week more critical for the Rangers than it might have been otherwise, and that’s OK. Texas won a healthy four of six on the road trip to Oakland and Houston, and with a 2.5-game lead in the division and a Magic Number of 5 to secure a playoff position — and with Cole Hamels and Colby Lewis set to start four of these remaining seven games — if the Rangers somehow don’t manage to reach 162+, if the position they’re now in isn’t enough to move on, then 2015 has been a blast and bring on 2016.
But it will be enough.
There will be late nights four of these next five, as Rangers games will give way to West Coast Astros and/or Angels games that will bear watching.
Meanwhile, there will be very, very early days in Surprise, this week and a couple more, for players who have never so much as met Adrian Beltre or Rougned Odor or Colby Lewis and maybe never will.
But you can bet there’s a plan in place for 100 players and coaches in Surprise to be around a TV next week when the Rangers are playing post-season baseball, as a reward and as an incentive, and knowing how the guys in charge down there are wired, even as they’re living and dying with every Rangers playoff pitch — on a level most of us can probably only try to imagine — there will be, here and there, an added moment of instruction that will stick with some kid destined to help this franchise continue, for years down the road, to win.
Some of you have asked why I haven’t started up with the Magic Number countdown.
I suppose it’s because of the way this season has gone. It’s been an incredible six-month battle, starting with the news that Yu Darvish would be lost for the season and leading to a second straight year in which the Rangers have lost — by far — the most games to the disabled list of all 30 teams, highlighted by four months missed by the number two starter and three-plus by the number three starter, perhaps not surprisingly feeding the worst April in club history, plus a miserable gut-kick first half on both offense and defense by the $130 million right fielder and the $120 million shortstop, a closer who quickly lost his job and his roster spot in May, leading to a stretch during which he and the sophomore second baseman were sharing a Round Rock Express uniform because they weren’t getting the job done at the higher level.
The fact that Texas sits today where it is, a week and a half from 162+, makes it tough for me — at least this year — to be thinking about countdowns. This year has been just an awesome sports climb, and my eye is still on Houston, where the Rangers and Astros will tee it up for three after a Thursday afternoon on which Texas will spend one final day in Oakland and the Astros will play golf.
The Astros will never admit it, and they shouldn’t, but I bet there are folks in that uniform worried about how soon those next tee times might be.
There’s no way Houston expected before the season to be in a pennant race once the calendar turned to fall. You don’t schedule a golf tournament on a September 24 off-day if you dreamed every pitch would still matter.
But there’s also no way, in April or mid-May or late July, that the Rangers could have expected Friday and Saturday and Sunday to have this much riding on it, either.
Last year, on this date, I was writing about a search for a new manager and a new Class A affiliate.
This is more fun.
Cole Hamels has a chance to bump the Rangers’ lead over Houston to 3.5 games this afternoon, as Texas looks to sweep the A’s, and now it occurs to me that I haven’t even mentioned last night’s tremendous win.
So, hey, a list:
10: Texas runs last night, on the strength of three big innings
9: Rangers with base hits in the 10-3 win
8: The resulting Magic Number, I’m told
7: The staggering number of games Houston has lost to Texas in the standings in September alone (plummeting from a four-game lead to a three-game deficit)
6: Colby Lewis’s workmanlike warrior-beast innings last night (he went 3-0, 1.64 in five starts against Oakland this year, holding the A’s to a .153/.215/.225 slash line), giving him 196.0 frames for the year (as Eric Nadel pointed out on the radio broadcast, when Lewis logs 200 innings, Texas goes to the World Series)
4: The inning
3: The lead in the West, which is really the only number I care about now
2: The Rangers’ run differential for the season, finally a positive number; compare the Astros’ +93, which I suppose they can celebrate if they want, but going 9-29 in one-run games (including a shocking 0-8 in September) will throw the significance of those run-diff totals off
1: It’s Cole Hamels Day
Yeah, I know, I left “5” out. I guess I could have thrown in the measly number of times Rangers hitters went down on strikes last night, or the number of times the club came up with runners in scoring position (getting base hits in four of them), or a reminder of how many years Texas controls Sam Dyson after this one.
The truth is I skipped “5” because, at least at this moment in baseball time, I’m just not very good at countdowns.
Los Angeles 4, Houston 3 and Texas 8, Oakland 6 were two excruciatingly difficult games to watch and endure, relentlessly tense and intense.
The mathematically satisfying result of those two final scores: a two-game Rangers lead in the West.
So tired, and unremittingly uneasy, but I was glued.
Both games were the sports embodiment of “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” I phrase we’ll hear a lot today as Yogi Berra is mourned.
Berra is best known, at least by the last couple generations, as one of the great American characters, but he was unquestionably one of the Great Game’s players, a three-time MVP and 10-time World Series champion.
He was a catcher who occasionally played in the outfield, but after the most momentary of consideration I think that’s a topic we’ll avoid further discussion on, in present context (perhaps leaning on a little Berra advice in doing so: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”).
Rest in peace, Yogi.
One final episode of late night West Coast Baseball tonight, but this time Astros-Angels (1:10 start) will be well over by time the Rangers and A’s get going. Which could make watching tonight’s game better. Or worse.
The range of outcomes going into this weekend’s Rangers-Astros series in Houston, thanks to last night’s nerve-racking and awesome results, is now a half-game Rangers lead in the division at worst, a 3.5-game Texas edge at best.
The Rangers have decided not to start Cole Hamels in that series, instead giving him tomorrow’s finale in Oakland on regular rest so that he’d be available for Game 162 if needed, but the fact is the Astros series will get rolling with Texas atop the division, regardless.
Colby Lewis and Hamels have a chance in Oakland, late tonight and then tomorrow afternoon, to push the lead closer to the high end. While Hamels has been pushed up to Thursday’s start, the A’s have decided to go with righthander Chris Bassitt rather than Sonny Gray. That’s good. I think.
First things first. Lewis and Felix Doubront tonight.
We’ll watch tired, and it will be super-tense.
And if all goes well, both in Houston and in Oakland, maybe we’ll be treated to a little deja vu all over again, cut generously into six slices rather than four.
Because we’re hungry.
There will be disappointing and maybe ominous nights, and Monday was one of those, unless your prevailing desire is to see the sorry Angels keep digging toward six feet.
The lead in the West is now one game. The cushion for the fallback right to travel (most likely to New York) for a one-or-done Wild Card matchup is four games.
But the lead in the West: One.
And if they’d come away with anything other than that four-game sweep over Houston last week, the Rangers would be second in the division right now.
A one-game lead.
It’s one game narrower than what the Rangers took with them to Oakland on Monday, October 1, 2012, with three games left on the schedule.
Martin Perez got the ball in the opener of that series, and lost.
Texas faced ordinary lefthander Travis Blackley in the second game, and lost.
In the third game, Ryan Dempster couldn’t hold a 5-1 lead and Josh Hamilton couldn’t hold a lazy fly ball and Texas couldn’t hold onto its division lead, and what had been a five-game edge in the West with nine to go ended up with Texas out of first place after Game 162 for the first time since Game 3.
It’s a similar story line in some ways to Houston’s in 2015, but the Astros have more time to right their ship, and Texas finds itself heading back to Oakland, three years later, with Perez once again entrusted with series opener duties.
He’ll face lefthander Sean Nolin, whose only Major League win in four tries came last week. Against the Rangers.
This isn’t a Mavs-Heat-level redemption opportunity, but Texas needs to go to Oakland and exorcise that 2012 demon (or at least tase it) while Houston fattens up at home on the super-sorry Angels.
Regardless of how this story plays out, it’s been an extraordinary baseball season. It’s crazy-remarkable that the Rangers have a lead to protect with less than two weeks to go, and that they’ve made it so these next three in Oakland as huge as they are. 2015 has been a blast.
When the Rangers arrive in Houston for the weekend, they could have as much as a 3.5-game lead.
Or a 1.5-game deficit.
Or some x.5 variable in between.
Dallas Keuchel predictably improved to 14-0 at home last night, and his next start will come in Sunday’s series and (scheduled) season finale between the Astros and Rangers. In Houston.
He’s the first pitcher in big league history to go 14-0 at home. I’m not sure how many have gone 14-1.
But before the weekend, there are three huge games for Texas in Oakland, and two more Angels games for the Astros to host.
Since that brutal three-game spit-up to finish the 2012 schedule, Texas has actually been pretty good (15-10) in O.co Coliseum.
West Coast baseball for the final time this year. Two late nights and a mid-afternoon contest, just like October 1, 2, and 3, 2012.
I’ll be exhausted. Lose a late one, and I’ll go to bed grumpy and won’t sleep well. Win a late one, and I won’t be able to fall asleep through the adrenaline, and won’t sleep well.
I’ll be exhausted, and that’s exponentially better than not having anything meaningful to watch other than next June’s draft order.
When I think of O.co, I think of #poopdugouts and the disastrous three days of the 2012 season that preceded Joe Saunders 5, Texas 1 and a shockingly immediate off-season.
Time to redefine. One at a time. Let’s go, Martin.
No more off-days.
Here comes the sprint.
Play hurt, watch tired, let’s go.
Today’s the final day off for Texas within the scheduled 162.
The Mariners are off as well, which could enable them to give their starters an extra day of rest. If they do that, Felix Hernandez — who sits at 18 wins and has never won 20 — will face the Angels on Saturday and then Oakland on Friday the 1st. He’d miss the Astros, whom Seattle hosts for three starting a week from tonight, by one day.
Considering that Hernandez left his start against the Rangers yesterday with elbow stiffness, there would seem to be added incentive for the Mariners give King Felix that extra day between starts, assuming they let him pitch at all. They control him through 2020.
Maybe it’s a stroke of luck for Texas that Hernandez probably won’t face Houston again, considering the Astros chased him with one out in the first inning of his lone start against them this season, scoring eight runs (single-walk-double-E1-walk-strikeout-homer-single-homer) in what would be a 10-0 hammering.
The thing about it that jumped out at me is Hernandez has faced Texas five times in 2015, logging a win each time (5-0, 1.83, Rangers slash line of .168/.267/.269). It’s mathematically only a little unexpected for a starter to face a division opponent five times out of a scheduled 19 match-ups. It’s crazy for him to face a division opponent just once in that many games.
Again, it might be a good thing that the Astros didn’t draw Hernandez another two or three times this year, considering how they jumped all over him on June 12, but I’d bet they’d be less than 10-6 against Seattle this season if Hernandez did get another shot or two or more at them.
Perhaps more to the point, if the Rangers saw Hernandez three or four times in 2015, rather than five times in the clubs’ six series, maybe their unsightly 7-12 record against the Mariners wouldn’t be quite so unsightly.
Anyway, here we go. Travel day today, then three in Oakland and three in Houston, followed by the final seven at home, three with Detroit and four with Los Angeles.
For the Astros: Angels and Rangers for three each at home, and then on the road for three in Seattle and three in Arizona.
A game and a half separate Texas and Houston.
After tonight that margin will be one game, or two.
Dallas Keuchel against Jered Weaver, in Minute Maid Park, where Keuchel never loses (13-0, 1.49 this year).
It’s the Rangers’ final day off.
Unless you want to count two weeks from today, when the hope is the club is making preparations for that Thursday’s Game One in Toronto or Kansas City, or possibly New York.