Rangers at crossroads as trade deadline approaches
ARLINGTON, Texas – It was the rarest of sights for a team that runs the risk of being buried in the A.L. West. The Rangers had not won a game when trailing after eight innings in their last 40 tries, which might explain the wild celebration following a 4-3 walk-off win over the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.
Just the sight of Angels closer Ernesto Frieri on the mound seems to awaken the Rangers. Manager Ron Washington has tinkered with the batting order the past two months more than any time in his career, but he may have hit on something Monday. With Leonys Martin in the leadoff spot and Ian Kinsler hitting third, this offense finally showed signs of life. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who hit the game-tying homer in the ninth, said that pushing one run across against Jered Weaver in the sixth inning felt like a huge breakthrough for the team. In fact, it ended a streak of 26 scoreless innings for the Rangers offense that threatened to overtake the 1972 team's dubious record.
"You don't have to remind me how long we'd gone," said Pierzynski. "I kept seeing it on TV just like everyone else."
As Wednesday's trade deadline approaches, the Rangers' season is at a major crossroads. General manager Jon Daniels and CEO Nolan Ryan both indicated Monday that help, in the form of a right-handed bat, is probably not on the way. And complicating matters is the looming suspension for right fielder Nelson Cruz, who has been this team's most productive hitter for much of the season. The Rangers' contingency plan for losing Cruz is probably a lot more ABs for rookies Jurickson Profar and Engel Beltre. That certainly doesn't seem to point toward a late-season rally, but there is one potential lifeline that has been extended to the Rangers. They will have the opportunity to feast off what appears to be an incredibly favorable part of the schedule in August.
They begin the month with a make-up game at home against Arizona and then travel to Oakland for a three-game series Aug. 2-4. From Aug. 5-Sept. 1, the Rangers will not face a team that currently has a .500 record or better. That stretch includes seven games against the dreadful Houston Astros. The A's have dominated the Astros this season (11-1), which is one reason they currently have a six-game lead over the Rangers. Before the season, I said that any loss to the Astros would feel like two. That's why the Rangers need to win at least six of those seven games. The A's have tremendous pitching and timely hitting. But they are running off with the division right now, in part because of their dominance of the Astros.
While the Rangers face a relatively easy schedule in August, the A's will see five teams that currently are above .500. They will end the month with back-to-back road series against the Orioles and Tigers before finishing up with the Rays at home.
This is not to say that Oakland will suddenly collapse like the Rangers did last September, but August does offer somewhat of a reprieve for Texas. All the Rangers have to do is look at how the A's erased a 13-game deficit in the A.L. West last season.
On Tuesday, the Rangers' front office remained in a "hermetically sealed bunker," as one executive explained to me, working to add another bat. But even if that doesn't work out, perhaps help will come in the form of a soft August schedule.