Texas Rangers: 5 Reasons the AL West Race Is All but Finished
The Texas Rangers, with a four-game lead in the AL West last week, knew heading into Anaheim for a for a four-game series presented a priceless opportunity for them.
With a sweep, the Rangers would have had a commanding eight-game advantage over their most formidable AL West foe.
However, had the Angels swept the Rangers, the lead would vanish and the two teams would be tied atop the standings. Thus, the opportunity was equally as prevalent for the Angels as it was for their Lone Star State adversaries.
In baseball, it's next to impossible to predict the outcome of a series, much less forecast a four-game sweep.
The Rangers didn't get the sweep, but they settled for the next best thing: they took three of four from Anaheim to push their lead to a six-game advantage.
Since then, the Angels have recovered well, ending a six-game losing streak and cementing a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Rangers, after their game four loss to the Angels, returned to their winning ways in yet another come-from-behind victory—this time over the White Sox, 7-3.
Yet, the Rangers lost the final two games against Chicago, and now find their lead in the AL West back down to four games.
It's not time to be cocky, and it's certainly not time to panic, though, Rangers Nation. Despite the seemingly slight four-game "cushion," the Rangers still have the AL West title in the bag.
I present to you the top five reasons the American League West race is all but finished.
Reason No. 5: The Rangers' Much Improved Bullpen
The Texas Rangers' best reliever since the All-Star break was on their roster all year long.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The additions of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara have helped to anchor the team’s biggest first half weakness—finishing games.
With Uehara and Adams, the Rangers added two of the toughest right-handed relievers in all of Major League Baseball.
Mike Adams, acquired from San Diego on the last day before the major league trade deadline, is an 8th inning setup man with some experience as a closer. He already has one save for the Rangers.
Adams is almost as tough against left-handed hitters (.190 BAA), as he is against right-handed hitters (.156 BAA).
Koji Uehara, acquired from Baltimore one day before Adams, is absolutely deadly against left-handed hitters (.127) and very solid against right-handed hitters (.202). The thing with Uehara is that he rarely walks anyone—his 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the fourth best for any reliever in the big leagues.
However, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for Adams and Uehara since they've joined the Rangers.
The Texas Rangers were clinging to a one-run lead in the fourth and final game against Anaheim, and called upon Mike Adams to close out the game. He couldn't even register an out. The Rangers lost the game and the potential sweep.
Meanwhile, after being tied 2-2 for the better part of the second game against the White Sox, Uehara gave up what would eventually be the winning run when the Rangers succumbed to the White Sox, 3-2.
These two key pieces will ultimately be just what the Rangers needed, and their presence in the postseason deep in games will be a boon to the bullpen.
The Rangers' bullpen has been one of the best in the majors since the All-Star break, and it has little to do with Uehara or Adams.
Enter the Rangers' Frisbee throwing, innings-eating secret weapon: Yoshinori Tateyama.
Tateyama, a former high school teammate of fellow countryman, Koji Uehara, gave the bullpen yet another shot in the arm.
Tateyama has lowered his arm slot slightly after he noticed that his release point had gotten higher and higher in the first half. The results have been stellar, as he has lowered his ERA to 2.43 on the year, and has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ERA of 0.77 in the month of August.
Once Adams and Uehara settle into their roles—and I have no doubt that they will—the Rangers are going to make it pretty tough on teams when they're leading after six innings.
Reason No. 4: A Very Solid Starting Rotation
Ogando has emerged this season as a potential ace of the Rangers' staff.
Harry How/Getty Images
Yes, the Rangers bullpen, thanks to some savvy moves by GM Jon Daniels has gone from bad to good, and is on the brink of being great.
Let's not short-change the starting rotation, though. The Rangers' starting five have been very good all season long and if they can maintain their health, this is a staff that ranks right up there with the other top rotations in the league.
In last week’s four-game series against chief AL West rival the Anaheim Angels, the Rangers proved that their starting pitching is good enough to go against Anaheim’s best and prevail.
Ervin Santana, who had been one of the American League’s hottest starting pitchers going into Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, could not escape with the win despite being handed an early 2-0 lead.
A bases-loaded, two-RBI bloop single from Ian Kinsler gave the Rangers all the lead they would need as they held on for a 4-3 victory.
Staff ace C.J. Wilson once again showed the world why he is a true No. 1 starter. He was hit early on, and surrendered two runs in the first frame. Wilson calmed down and didn't allow another run the rest of the way.
Wilson’s performance is indicative of a Rangers staff that is solid and confident. They know they don’t have to be perfect with one of the league’s best offenses backing them up.
The Angels offense showed that they don’t have what it takes to put together enough runs to make a serious play for the AL West title.
They can't beat the Rangers head-to-head, so they'll have to hope the Rangers hit a skid. The Angels will also have to take advantage of their weak season-ending schedule if they want to stand any semblance of a chance of postseason play.
Reason No. 3: The Rangers Will Get Even Better Come September 1st
Might Rangers' super-prospect Martin Perez be making his Major League debut soon? If you're an Angels fan, you'd better hope not.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
On September 1st, the major league rosters expand to 40 players. The Texas Rangers will improve more so than any other team in the AL West.
They can call up any of a number of pitching prospects to add a spot-starter, should Holland or anyone else in the rotation falter. They’ll simultaneously boost their bullpen as well with the addition of a young pitcher or two.
The bench will be improved by adding some speed, like a playoff savvy Esteban German, or a key prospect that has been doing well, like a Tommy Mendonca or a Mike Olt.
The Anaheim Angels have already called up almost all of their prospects that are ready for the big leagues. Tyler Chatwood, a pitcher who has ace potential, was roughed up by the Rangers last week and optioned back to AAA.
Mike Trout, a true five-tool player, is an elite talent, but has struggled at the plate in the big leagues. It's hard for the Angels to find room for the future phenom, as he has been beaten out in center field by Peter Bourjos.
The Texas Rangers are the better team right now, and thanks to a deep minor league farm system, they’ll improve even more when rosters expand.
The Angels will remain static—there's nothing else they can do.
Reason No. 2: The Return of Adrian Beltre
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Talk about a boost. When you're already a first place team, and the player who was the leading run producer returns to a potent offense after a month off, how could you not be anything but super-psyched?
The Rangers' nuclear-level offense will improve dramatically when it gets cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre back.
The Rangers, somewhat amazingly, have been very solid even without Adrian Beltre, who was the team’s leading RBI man when he went down with a hamstring injury on July 22nd.
Beltre has been rehabbing his hamstring, and once he hit a hiccup in his recovery, the Rangers have been treating him with the kid gloves on.
As of now, though, Beltre has started running again, and if he doesn’t suffer another setback he’ll be back on the big league team by Ausgust 28th, or September 1st at the latest.
A healthy Beltre improves not only an already formidable offense, but it also shores up the Rangers’ defense, which is somewhat suspect with Michael Young playing third.
Reason No. 1: The Angels Can't Do It, the Rangers Will Have to Beat Themselves
Jered Weaver, staring down Mike Napoli, wishing he were still his catcher.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Hey Anaheim, how's that Vernon Wells trade going? How's Mike Napoli doing up in Toronto?
It has become fairly obvious that the Angels simply cannot hang with the Texas Rangers head-to-head. The addition of Mike Napoli is one of the key reasons why the Rangers are so much better than the Angels.
Forget about Anaheim; the Rangers’ biggest enemy down the stretch is their own schedule.
The Rangers return home to play a banged-up Boston Red Sox team in a four-game series. The Anaheim Angels will play the Chicago White Sox, who are fresh off a series win over the Texas Rangers.
The Angels, having swept the lowly Baltimore Orioles, can only hope that they stay hot against the White Sox and that the Rangers succumb to a Red Sox team that has one of the finest rotations in Major League Baseball.
The Red Sox will certainly be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, looking to avenge their sweep in Arlington that started their season off in an 0-4 funk.
Final Analysis: The AL West is all but wrapped up for the Rangers. It would take a monumental collapse and a key injury for the Rangers to lose their stranglehold on the division.
To be honest, the Rangers are so deep that even a prolonged slump from a star or two wouldn't even guarantee that the Angels could catch them.
I definitely look for this division race to last until at least mid-September, though, as the pesky Angels continue to play much better than their talent should allow.
The Texas Rangers will do something they haven’t done since the conclusion of the 1999 season—they’ll win their division for the second year in a row.