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Baseball

The Rangers Are Alive, Somehow. Can They Thrive Again, Too?

They lost their new ace. The bats are still banged up. But Texas is back in playoff position after looking dead in the water just a week ago. Now what?
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The Rangers are back to celebrating big wins. Nick Turchiaro, USA Today Sports.

Losing 16 of 20 ballgames was brutal and quite possibly the worst three weeks of Rangers baseball I can remember in my 41-plus years. Things were so very bad and put many of us in a dark yet familiar place. 

The offense dried up while the bullpen continued its season-long pattern of failing to protect leads. The starting pitching also hit the skids by not going deep into games, further exposing the most untrustworthy bullpen in Major League Baseball. To make matters worse the starting right fielder for the American League in this summer’s All-Star Game injured his knee while banging into the wall in an eventual sweep to the rival Astros in Arlington. It was an absolute massacre of a series. Historically bad even, yielding 50 hits and 16 home runs to Houston—the first time that has occurred in big-league history. The Rangers followed that up for good measure with an equally disheartening 6-3 home loss last Friday night to the lowly Athletics. After spending 99 percent of the season atop the A.L. West, the club had fallen all the way out of a playoff spot, passed by the Blue Jays with a pivotal four-game series in Toronto looming. This was rock bottom with no signs of pulling out of the nose dive. College football and the NFL kicked off, and many North Texas sports fans skipped right off the once-fun Rangers bandwagon and set their sights in Pavlovian fashion on the annual autumnal distraction that is football.

Three weeks stretch of putrid baseball was to be yet another chapter of heartache and frustration that the fan base won’t soon forget. Luckily, there were still games on the schedule and professionals throughout the organization whose faith didn’t wane. The Rangers have since responded with six straight wins, including a sweep of the Blue Jays. They are back—not just jockeying for a wild card spot, but also on the heels of Houston for a division crown that felt unattainable just last week.

That’s not to say everything is hunky-dory and we need to keep our calendars clear in late October. The stench of the back half of August and the first part of September lingers. We know this team is capable of prolonged terrible form. Bruce Bochy and his staff also have another round of injury adversity to navigate over the final 16 games. We got word this week that deadline acquisition and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer has been lost for the season with a muscle strain in his pitching arm. The saving grace is that he won’t need surgery. 

Thankfully Nathan Eovaldi is slowly getting stretched back out after missing nearly two months with elbow soreness. His ability to build back up and be effective over his final starts could dictate just how deep the Rangers can push into the postseason, provided they make it. Jordan Montgomery logging seven scoreless innings in Toronto on Wednesday night was a needed bounce-back. Jon Gray and Dane Dunning need to find a level of consistency, as do Andrew Heaney or Martin Perez when one re-enters the rotation. The bullpen is a real workaround, with a staggering save rate south of 50 percent on the year. 

Perhaps the bats getting on track will continue to paper over any problems that will likely arise on the bump. Texas has piled up 47 runs during its six-game win streak. An offense that carried the club over the first four-plus months of the year will have to do the heavy lifting if there is to be any success in October. 

Corey Seager has been remarkable when healthy. Despite missing 40 games due to injury, the shortstop is leading the majors with an OPS of 1.070 and the American League with a .344 batting average. Over the past week, the dude has eight extra-base hits and has scored 10 runs. Seager deserves MVP votes. I still find it hard to believe that we get to watch this guy play baseball with a ‘T’ on his cap. 

While he’s not the sole reason for the lineup producing once again, it’s no coincidence that things have improved since Evan Carter was brought up from Triple-A last week after Adolis Garcia was sidelined with a patellar tendon strain. Carter has done what he’s done at every level as a pro: see pitches and get on base. He has a .435 on-base percentage thanks in part to drawing five walks in seven games. Oh yeah, and he mashed his first big-league homer, stole two bases, scored five runs, and logged two assists as an outfielder. Carter sparked the bottom third of the lineup, which had been floundering for the better part of a month. Go ahead and purchase that 32 jersey. The 21-year-old is never returning to the minors. 

Recent surges from Robbie Grossman (.353 in September), Mitch Garver (12 homers since the start of August), and Jonah Heim (9 RBIs in September, including a grand slam) have helped illuminate a path to success. It’s also significant that Heim’s wrist issue has improved enough that the switch-hitter can now swing from the right side of the plate. And there are murmurs that Josh Jung, the starting third baseman in the All-Star Game, could be back next week from the hand injury that has sidelined him for a month.

The Rangers still have plenty of work to do not only to secure a playoff berth but also to recapture the attention of the North Texas sports fan now that Saturdays and Sundays are mostly spoken for. Texas begins a winnable series in Cleveland on Friday before heading back to Arlington for the final homestand of the year against the Red Sox and Mariners. The regular season ends with a seven-game road trip: three games against the Angels and four against the Mariners, who are on the heels of the Rangers in the tightly bunched A.L. West.

We should be appreciating the ride more than we probably are. Before the season, all we hoped for was winning baseball and meaningful games in September. Bochy’s bunch has delivered on both fronts. With 82 wins, Texas has snapped a skid of six consecutive losing seasons (a franchise record) and we get the ice cream headache that is tension-filled innings in the final month of the regular season. Injuries to All-Stars and a dramatic tailspin killed a lot of the good vibes of this Rangers summer. But we are on the cusp of fall, which will be memorable no matter the end results. It has been a long time coming.

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Sean Bass

Sean Bass

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Sean Bass covers the Rangers for StrongSide. He's lived his entire life in North Texas and has worked for Sports…

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