On August 31, the Texas Rangers won their 79th game of the 2013 season by defeating the Minnesota Twins in Arlington. At that juncture, heading into the final month of the regular season, the Rangers were 23 games over .500 (79-56), held a two-game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West and seemed poised to head back to the postseason for the fourth consecutive October.
Since that night, Texas has won six baseball games. They've long since surrendered the AL West to Oakland and sit on the outside of the postseason picture with just six games remaining in their season.
After a disastrous month (6-15 in 21 September games), Texas is limping to the finish line, possibly headed home without playoff baseball and into an offseason of questions. Yet, if they can rally to surpass either Tampa Bay or Cleveland for a wild-card spot, the American League will welcome a very dangerous contender into the postseason party.
Here are five reasons why the Rangers are a team that Boston, Detroit and Oakland should all fear.
1. The three-headed monster of Darvish-Holland-Garza
In October, strikeout pitchers rule.
The ability to miss bats, dominate the strike zone and limit big innings by keeping balls out of play is the formula pitching coaches look for to navigate through the best and most powerful lineups in baseball.
In Texas, thanks to a midseason trade for Matt Garza, the Rangers have a three-headed pitching monster that profiles as well, if not better, than the top three arms in Boston, Detroit or Oakland.
During a 2010 conversation with USA Today, Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey had this to say about strikeout pitchers in October baseball: "I think every team would prefer to go in with power arms. If you get a dominant pitcher who strikes people out ... there's no other variables."
One of the arms on Hickey's staff in 2010? Matt Garza.
2. Joe Nathan's presence
If you're a New York Yankee fan, laughter is likely ensuing. While it's true that Nathan doesn't have the most sparkling career postseason ERA (9.00), he is healthy and proven. Unlike the closing situations in Pittsburgh or St. Louis, injury or fatigue isn't a concern in the Texas bullpen.
When Ron Washington has a lead late in the game, Joe Nathan will be willing and able to shut the door down like he has 40 times this year. Plus, Nathan has actually become better with age. Barring a poor final week, the 38-year-old closer will finish with his lowest career ERA.
3. Adrian Beltre's ability to take over a series
During my time watching and covering baseball, I've probably referred to Adrian Beltre in many different ways.
Steady. Defensive wizard. Underrated. Future Hall of Famer. Today, we'll use another: Dominant.
As the unquestioned leader and best everyday player in Texas, Beltre's leadership, defense and power bat can take over a short series. As we witnessed during a postseason series against Tampa in 2011, Beltre can shine brightest on the biggest stage.
If the Rangers do qualify and make a big run through October, the star quality of Beltre will be a big reason why.
4. Nelson Cruz's potential return
Before accepting a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Nelson Cruz was having a career year. Through 108 games, the Texas right fielder was on pace to set career highs in home runs, runs batted in, walks and runs scored.
Now, with his suspension up before the start of the postseason, the Rangers must make a decision: bring him back to the team or keep him away like the San Francisco Giants did with Melky Cabrera en route to a World Series title last year.
If Texas chooses to insert Cruz back into their lineup, he can provide protection for Beltre and add another major bat to Ron Washington's order. As we saw during the 2011 American League Championship Series (6 HR, 13 RBI), Cruz can carry a lineup when he's hot.
Last, but certainly not least. Texas isn't a young team trying to make the leap or an old, over-the-hill group gasping for one last taste of October.
Although the team has gone in the wrong direction in three consecutive seasons (World Series runner-up, AL Wild Card, and, now on the outside of the postseason picture), many of the same players (Ian Kinsler, Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Holland) are still around from a team on the doorstep of a title.
From 2010-2012, the Texas Rangers played in 34 postseason games. Reaching October will be a challenge, but the bright lights of postseason baseball won't bother this Rangers group.
Due to a combination of talent, reinforcements and experience, the Rangers have a shot to do damage in October. Now, the tricky part: qualifying for a chance to make noise.
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