ARLINGTON, Texas – The 2012 Rangers will be remembered for their historic September collapse that allowed the Oakland A’s to win the A.L. West. It appears this season’s team won’t provide any of that drama.
They will likely hold onto a wildcard playoff spot. And we know quickly those series can end (see Baltimore). On Monday, the Rangers began a six-game homestand with their ace Yu Darvish on the mound. As usual, Darvish was working with no margin for error because the Rangers were being dominated by an opposing pitcher. Former No. 1 overall draft pick Gerrit Cole had been shaky over the past month for the Pirates, but he silenced the Rangers in a 1-0 win.
Darvish was equally impressive through the first six innings, but he allowed back-to-back two-out doubles in the seventh. Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez pounded a Darvish splitter to left center field, scoring former Ranger Marlon Byrd. Darvish, who was remarkably efficient, left the game after the seventh innings because of a cramp in his right leg. It was the third time this season he’s suffered a 1-0 loss.
The good news is that he seems to have put a frustrating loss to the Oakland A’s behind him. Darvish said after the game that he talked to a few people about the mental side of his game between starts. A source later told FOXSportsSouthwest.com that Darvish was referring mainly to Mike and Greg Maddux. In last Wednesday’s loss in Oakland, Darvish and catcher A.J. Pierzynski didn’t appear to be on the same page. Washington decided to pair Darvish with Soto on Monday, while DH’ing Pierzynski.
With the A’s not playing Monday, the Rangers fell two games back in the A.L. West. They have lost six of their past eight games. And the worst part is how poorly they’ve played at home. The Rangers are now 5-6 over their past 11 games at home. The team’s latest slide has coincided with an ill-timed slump from Adrian Beltre.
Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios pulled off a double steal in the bottom of the sixth with Beltre at the plate. It was the only moment in the game where the Rangers posed any serious threat to Cole. But Beltre hit a two-hopper to shortstop that extended his slump to 1-for-22.
The Rangers have twice this season come roaring back from bad stretches. But they are running out of time in 2013. They have not won a series against a non-division foe since the final three days of June (Reds). They had been dominant within the division, but that trend didn’t hold up during recent road trips to Oakland and Anaheim.
“The window of opportunity is closing, so we have to stay focused,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus. “But [Cole’s] command was pretty impressive tonight. If he could throw like that all the time, he should be the Cy Young winner.”
This Rangers’ offense has spent too much of the season “tipping their hats” to opposing pitchers. Cole (7-7) has a great pedigree, but it’s not like he’s been untouchable. In the aftermath of Nellie Cruz’s suspension, the Rangers used their running game to put pressure on opposing teams. But at this point, they aren’t generating enough baserunners to rely on that style of baseball. And other than Alex Rios on this recent road trip, no one on the team is hitting the ball out of the park.
When general manager Jon Daniels traded for Matt Garza before the non-waivers deadline, it looked like the Rangers might be able to rely on starting pitching. But Garza has been a major disappointment, and Derek Holland has fallen into a funk at the worst-possible time. The Rangers only have 19 games left to find some consistency. And it doesn’t help matters that the A’s have seven games remaining against the Twins.
“You look up and only see that we have three to four hits, it looks like you’re not trying,” Pierzynksi said. “But that’s not the case. You just have to win every game at this point. It’s not like it’s a big secret. I’ll take the guys in this room and go to battle anytime.”
That said, the 2013 season feels like it’s slipping away. Plan B would be a one-game wildcard shootout against the Rays, Orioles or the Indians. With the Rangers’ track record outside the A.L., none of those options looks appealing.
It appears that another September tailspin is underway.