The key to baseball, it seems sometimes, is to just make sure you’re not losing as often as everyone else in your division. So when Texas took 2 out of 3 from slumping Toronto this weekend, they were actually able to distance themselves a whopping nine games in front of LA in the division race, thanks to the Angels getting swept by Tampa Bay. Oakland remains five games back but somehow still doesn’t seem as dangerous as whatever they can put on the field in Los Angeles.
This idea of “not losing as much as the competition” is also why Texas survived the June and July Dark Ages (as they shall be referred to from now on); no matter how wide open they left the door, the A’s and Angels just would not step through it.
Now, Texas looks primed for another playoff run and might even be among the favorites for a third straight trip to the World Series, thanks in part to the unheralded production of David Murphy, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run in Sunday’s blowout win over Toronto. Hard to spot among the loaded Ranger’s line-up, Murphy has quietly become Texas’ best hitter since the All-Star break.
Check out his split:
.339 BA/ .392 OBP/ .505 SLG in 109 plate appearances.
In fact, during the Dark Ages, Murphy was a rare bright spot in the line-up, racking up an unholy 1.127 OPS during June and a very crisp .310/ .385/ .414 in July. All of this was during limited playing time, and usually against right-handed pitchers.
(Side note: this was an especially odd choice from Texas manager Ron Washington, since Murphy has been absolutely caning lefties this year: .383/ .434/ .468 in 47 at-bats. But no matter, since now he’s an everyday fixture).
Murphy’s play might be even more crucial during playoff time because the Rangers lack a surefire ace in the starting rotation. That means they’ll need to keep their bats cracking, in case one of their pitchers gets blown up early. Having the likes of David Murphy in the seventh spot in the lineup is the kind of luxury that only a team as loaded as Texas can enjoy. But even for the Rangers, his recent form has to be a pleasant surprise.
Other than Murphy, the team’s big storyline heading into the postseason will be nailing down their four-man rotation, which is still up in the air.
Rangers Nation is awaiting Ryan Dempster’s start tonight against Baltimore with bated breath, since the righty has yet to find the kind of form that made him so desirable on the eve of the trade deadline. Pitching in the American League is different, sure, but for him to remain a better option than Scott Feldman come October, he’ll need to dial it in—the sooner, the better.
The Rangers rotation is deep with very good pitchers, and who they could have in their bullpen come October—the likes of Roy Oswalt, Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando, etc.—could be enough to make you forget that you’re trying to forget that Neftali Feliz is done for the year. But still the team is searching that ace. The Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay–type that puts the team on his back and says, “It’s all right, go ahead and pencil in the W. No way are we losing this game.”
Pre-trade Dempster certainly has all of the tools to be that guy, and even had that kind of a stat line. But that was then, and this is now. Now, he plays for Texas. And right now, Texas is in the middle of a playoff chase.