ARLINGTON, Texas— The Oakland A’s didn’t make up any ground on the Rangers after four games at the Ballpark, but the series still served as a bit of a reality check. If you haven’t noticed, these Rangers aren’t exactly sprinting toward the postseason.
It would take a complete collapse for them not to win the A.L. West since they have a four-game lead over the A’s with six games remaining on the schedule. But Thursday’s 9-7 win aside, this Rangers team has had a difficult time producing runs lately. It took a heroic effort by Adrian Beltre for the Rangers to take the first game of the series, and then the bats fell silent for the next two games before they battered A’s lefty Travis Blackley for five runs in the first inning Thursday. The Rangers were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position in the finale, which was a major breakthrough for a team that just came off a 6-for-59 stretch.
“As long as there’s baseball on the schedule, we’ll play,” Washington told reporters after Thursday’s game. “It’s not always the best team that wins. It’s the team that plays the best. They played two games better than we did, and we played two games better than they did. We know it’s a 162-game schedule. We wish we could have gotten some games earlier, but you can’t look back. You can only look forward.”
From a national standpoint, the Rangers may be the most feared team in baseball. But those of us who watch them on a nightly basis notice all the warts. And you didn’t have to look too hard to see reliever Mike Adams, a reliable set-up man for much of the season, get shelled for three home runs in the eighth inning. Adams should’ve been treated for whiplash following the game. Spotted a 9-4 lead, Adams couldn’t even finish the inning. His velocity was down Thursday, as evidenced by Josh Reddick crushing an 89-mph fastball. The three homers were completely out of character for Adams, who’d only given up one other home run all season. But as you might respect, Washington had his back.
“Just a bad day,” Washington said. “Prior to today, Mike Adams has been nails.”
The bullpen was a huge weapon for the Rangers in last year’s postseason. Alexi Ogando overwhelmed hitters in the ALDS and ALCS before running out of steam in the World Series. The good news for the Rangers is that Koji Uehara has been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list, and Joe Nathan is a definite upgrade over last season’s closer, Neftali Feliz.
We’ve spent a lot of time fretting over how the Rangers will set up their rotation in the postseason, but it’s important to remember that games become condensed in the playoffs. If a starter can hold a team at bay for five innings, that’s almost the equivalent of a “quality start” in the regular-season. It’s also a good sign that veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt has pitched well recently and could be effective as a middle reliever in the postseason.
As long as Rangers manager Ron Washington doesn’t let Mark Lowe anywhere near a mound in the playoffs, the bullpen should be in pretty good shape. Even though Buck Showalter’s bullpen, which includes a few ex-Rangers, has been impressive this season, I’d still rank the Rangers’ bullpen as best in the American League.
It’s interesting that we’re a little more than a week away from the first game of the ALDS, and the Game 1 starter for the Rangers is still a mystery. Nolan Ryan told our “Galloway and Company” radio show that he could see one of the two lefties taking the ball in Game 1. But he said that before Derek Holland had a poor outing against the A’s. I tried to ask Washington about his playoff rotation late Wednesday evening, but he wasn’t tipping his hand.
“We still gotta get through Oakland and we still gotta get through Anaheim,” Washington told me. “Ain’t nothing set in stone at this point.”
But the smart money at this point is on right-hander Yu Darvish as long as he pitches well against the Angels on Sunday after missing a start due to neck pain. He would be pitching on five days’ rest when the Rangers open the playoffs on the road. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie to start the first game of a playoff series, but as David Murphy noted, Darvish has pitched in a lot of playoff games in Japan. There’s a belief that he wouldn’t be spooked by the increased intensity that comes with playoff baseball.
If Darvish does start Game 1, I would expect for the Rangers to throw Harrison, Holland and Dempster in that order. Dempster will start Friday’s game against the Angels. If he has a dominant outing, maybe it will be time to rethink that order.
But the good news is the Rangers now have some breathing room in the division race. And they can shut the door on the Angels’ wildcard hopes by taking the next series.