Answering Some September Questions

Texas Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder, right, celebrates his two run homer with teammate Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Arlington, Texas, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

By this point, you know all of the stats, percentages, and odds of the 2015 Texas Rangers reaching the Post Season. Right now, it looks pretty good, especially considering that Jeff Banister‘s club doesn’t have to dominate the month of September (and October…) to make it in. Would that be optimal? Sure, who wouldn’t love to see the Rangers go 31-0 the rest of the way? Just like Shin-Soo Choo learned to start the second half of the season, the idea is to not to try and do too much. Do the Rangers need to keep above .500? Yes. Do they need to go 31-0? Not at all. If they can play their brand of ball that they’ve been playing since the All-Star break and win the games they should win (i.e. games started by Cole Hamels and Derek Holland, games in which they obtain leads of three runs or more, etc.), then you’ll see the Rangers in the Playoffs.

But this is a forum for you, the reader. We here at SDI can tell you stats, percentages, and odds all week, but what are you feeling as this team goes into the final stretch where only FOUR games are not against familiar division foes? The rosters are expanding and new players are about to have some major roles, but who might play the biggest role? What player needs to turn over a new leaf in this month to help the team down the stretch?

1) What series/opponent ends up being the most important one to pay attention to?

While the seven games against the first place Houston Astros are vital to the Rangers’ division hopes, my eyes are still set on the six games remaining against the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim?).

The Angels had a horrible August, going 10-19, including being swept in three series (White Sox, Blue Jays and Indians) and have essentially played themselves out of mainstream media talk for the Post Season. With that said, just as the Rangers are only three games back of Houston for the division lead, the Angels are only three and a half back of the Rangers for the second Wild Card spot. Collectively, the Angels had their worst offensive month of the season in August, posting a .221/.281/.344 slash line, scoring only 86 runs. Collectively, the Angels’ pitching staff had their worst month of the season in August, posting a 5.15 ERA, allowing 158 runs. If you give up twice as many runs as you score, that’s typically not a formula for winning.

But the Angels also hold an 8-4 record over the Rangers. Their lineup, as paltry as it was in August, does its best against the Texas Rangers, with a .321 average. I believe in the law of averages, and if August was rock bottom for the Angels, then September is going to be a rough ride for anyone that plays them, including Texas. And if you believe, as I do, that the season for the Texas Rangers is going to come down to the last week – the last four games of the season are against Los Angeles. I would love to see Texas come out and take care of their business against the Angels, especially that first set, so that by the time they hit the last series of the season, the Angels are putting up some scrubs and minor league call-ups against a playoff team.

2) Which call-up/addition will have the biggest impact on the team?

While the popular answer to this question would be someone like Josh Hamilton or, oh, I don’t know, Joey Gallo, it’s my belief that the true worth of the expanded rosters comes in the relief for the relievers. If you’re just watching the games, it’s probably no secret that the Rangers starting pitchers aren’t exactly going deep into games. You’ve probably noticed that the relief corps is getting used a lot (remember the stretch Shawn Tolleson just went through?), and that that makes it harder and harder for the effective, winning relievers to be used in situations they’re best suited for.

The cavalry in question is coming in the form of Ross Ohlendorf and Luke Jackson. Andrew Faulkner already made his debut and, while it wasn’t everything one would hope out of a debut performance, Faulkner will hopefully get his legs under him and be a contributing member of this bullpen. Ohlendorf, before he went down with a groin injury, had re-discovered himself in the Texas organization. His fastball had reached the low-to-mid 90s, and his experience as a starter allowed him to be useful for multiple innings. In fact, coming out of Spring Training, if not for the injury, Ohlendorf was a strong candidate to be a member of this team’s starting rotation.

Jackson is the team’s number 8 prospect, and it’s fourth best pitching prospect. His prospect profile highlights his electric fastball, sharp curveball, and the potential and makeup to be a starter. It’s unlikely Jackson sees a lot of action in high-leverage situations (unlike Ohlendorf, who has the experience edge to deal with those situations), but seeing him get his feet wet in the Majors is going to be quite an experience for the fans in Arlington. I wouldn’t expect either to be on a postseason roster, but I’d be more than happy if they were used to give the pitchers that will be on that roster a little extra rest.

3) Who needs to turn it around?

Unquestionably, I think the answer here needs to be Prince Fielder. Whatever the reason is, whether his neck is bothering him, whether he’s feeling the effects of taking a year off, or whether he’s hit a wall, Fielder, at the moment is a big gaping hole in the middle of this lineup. He’s not the hitter he was the first three-quarters of the season, and for me, it’s gotten to the point that his at-bats are no longer must see. I actually cringe when he comes to bat in a key situation, because the contact just isn’t there anymore. His average has dropped from .339 to .266 in the second half and he just doesn’t look comfortable at the plate anymore. Instead, at times, he appears frustrated and not invested – I’m positive that that’s not the case, but the mental toll of struggling the way he has at the plate lately could be showing a little. He appears to be struggling to square balls up and his timing appears to be off. One would hope that the homer to dead center and the single through the shift in Game 2 of the Padres series helps get the big guy back on track.

The most encouraging sign for me is that Fielder is still putting the ball in play to all parts of the field. That tells me that he’s not a victim of trying too hard to pull the ball, and one can see that the shift isn’t nearly as effective on him as it is on other dead pull hitters. Regardless of whether it’s luck or an inability to square the ball up, having Prince Fielder be a contributor at the dish is going to be huge in September, especially with DeLino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo getting on base as much as they are and Adrian Beltre finding his stroke at the plate.

Now it’s your turn. Answer the three questions above and let us know what the big factors are for the Rangers as they enter a month of very, very meaningful baseball!

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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