Can the Texas Rangers Avoid Another Late-Season Collapse?
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Rangers fans are hoping their team learned a thing or two from last season's meltdown that left many in Texas sick to their stomachs. That 2012 team had hopes of returning to the World Series for a third-straight year, but a tumultuous nine-game stretch to finish the season saw a five-game lead and the division title disappear.
After an uninspiring performance in the Wild Card Game with Baltimore, the Rangers front office found itself facing difficult questions in the offseason. There were many writers and critics that saw the offseason as a complete failure.
Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan and Co. failed to sign the prized free agent that was Zack Greinke, while Texas' own free agents found other homes in Los Angeles (Josh Hamilton), Boston (Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara), Philadelphia (Mike Adams) and Chicago (Scott Feldman).
No one thought Texas had lost all of its punch, but it appeared the team had some red flags as a result of all the offseason roster change. Nevertheless, the Rangers find themselves in September again with a situation similar to that of last year's team: battling the Oakland A's for the division crown with a likely consolation prize of a one-game wild-card matchup.
Who will win the American League West in 2013?
"Everything happens for a reason, and it just wasn't meant to be for us last year," shortstop Elvis Andrus said in an interview with Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram. "That's baseball. We learn from that and make sure we don't take anything for granted this year."
Here, we take a look at the three similarities and differences between the 2012 and 2013 Texas Rangers' stretch run that could make all the difference in the outcome of the season.
By the time September 2012 rolled around, the Rangers managed to put together a nice rotation with Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Ryan Dempster as the top four starters. Each of these four pitchers earned three wins in the month of September, and only Dempster had an ERA over 4.00. What absolutely killed this pitching staff was the No. 5 slot where Scott Feldman, Martin Perez and Roy Oswalt combined to go 0-4 with a 6.25 ERA for the month.
This year's starting five has only two holdovers from 2012 in Darvish and Holland, both of whom are markedly improved pitchers in 2013. After a rough start Wednesday in Oakland, Darvish still maintains a 2.91 ERA and Holland a 3.07 ERA. They had 3.90 and 4.67 ERAs last year, respectively.
Matt Garza's mediocre performance since arriving in Arlington is essentially a wash with last year's big acquisition of Dempster, but there is still hope that he will turn it around and be a major contributor.
What makes this year's rotation better, though, is the emergence of Martin Perez and the under-the-radar acquisition of former Ranger-killer Travis Blackley.
While Perez didn't contribute much in 2012, his nine wins this season are tied for second on the team. He also has a nice 3.41 ERA that shrinks every game he pitches.
Blackley has shown he can hold his own in the back of the rotation. If he can find a way to eat up enough innings in his starts and keep the score close, it would at least be an improvement from what the Rangers had in 2012 in the five-spot.
Looking forward, the most important pitcher will be Darvish. Warranted or not, Yu has received criticism for his tendency to surrender the lead late in the game. If he is able to stay focused and continue to lead this staff, it will give the Rangers a brief moment to breathe down the stretch.
Gone from the Rangers' offense are Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young. Coupled with the suspension of Nelson Cruz, the lineup is definitely missing some of that familiar pop. Texas' offense in 2013 isn't nearly as dangerous as last year's, but it is still capable of putting runs on the board.
Adrian Beltre has continued to fly under the radar. He is one of the best hitters in baseball, but he needs more help to get this team into the playoffs. Texas showed its versatility in the days following Cruz's suspension by stealing bases and putting pressure on the other team's defense. It may have to do more of the same down the stretch.
Leonys Martin, Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios have all swiped more than 30 bases this year, and Craig Gentry is another threat on the base paths.
The Rangers really just need for guys to play at their expected level in order to take some of the pressure off the pitching staff. There are plenty of guys who are capable of doing this.
David Murphy has struggled at the plate all season long and has lost playing time as a result. After a year in which he hit .304 and set career highs in other offensive categories, Murphy hasn't been the same spark this year and has an average of .222.
Lance Berkman, if healthy, could also be a source for additional offense. Berkman is likely to retire after the season concludes, but if there is any life left in his bat the Rangers could certainly use it.
As good as the bullpen was in 2012, it is even better in 2013.
Despite the departures of shutdown middle relievers Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, the bullpen's ERA is down from 3.42 to 3.02 this year. Spurts of dominance by Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts have paved the way for another stellar year by closer Joe Nathan.
Nathan has been lights out this year. He's converted on 38-of-40 save opportunities and nearly cut his ERA in half this season, down to 1.48.
Pitching Coach Mike Maddux has to be excited about the return of fireballer Neftali Feliz. After missing over 15 months due to elbow surgery, Feliz appears ready to contribute in the bullpen for the remainder of the season.
Former All-Star closer Joakim Soria could also play an important role in relief.
If the Rangers can hand the ball over to these guys with the lead, they are going to be in great shape in the playoff hunt.
All statistics are from MLB.com.
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