The Most to Prove: Rangers playing with a purpose in October

When FanGraphs has conceded that the Texas Rangers are the inevitable American League West Division Champs, it’s easy for us blog writers to say “No News is Good News.” Right now, nothing terribly newsworthy is happening to negatively affect the 2016 Rangers. As a whole, the club is the American League’s best.

With that said, there are still individuals that have three weeks to show just how much of a contribution they can be, and not just for their current team.

Playoff locks

Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, Mitch Moreland, and Carlos Beltran will be on the Rangers’ playoff roster, playing for a big offseason score. Even in a small sample size of two and a half weeks, Gomez has shown that his time with Houston was a fluke. He has the ability to be a game changer, especially with his improved plate mechanics. Desmond has redefined the meaning of “pillow contract,” showing himself to be a prime candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Moreland’s enjoying the healthiest year of his career. He hasn’t hit any sort of career highs in the key metrics, but he’s been a reliable piece with incredible defensive upside at first base. Beltran’s eluding Father Time at age 39 and has another chance at an elusive World Series Championship. If he keeps this up, he might play next year.

On the playoff roster bubble

1. Jake Diekman

Before his biggest struggles in the month of September, Diekman’s last clean outing came on August 17th against Oakland. In the five appearances he made between then and the end of the month, Diekman gave up either a walk, a hit, or both. The number of pitches in each of those outings doesn’t exactly inspire confidence (18, 13, 19, 17, 11), and while he didn’t allow a run in those outings, certain signs of lack of control and confidence were there. It was reported that Diekman was working on a mechanical fix to his delivery after three straight outings of throwing more balls than strikes. That was September 3rd. Two appearances and nearly ten days later, it appears that Diekman’s gotten worse.

As much as Jeff Banister wants to keep confidence in his lefty, sooner or later the numbers and struggles will speak for themselves. After both Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels were able to recover after individual bad outings with mechanical tweaks, Diekman’s own confidence is waning the less success he has. The problem is in order to rebuild confidence in Diekman’s ability in close games, he has to pitch in close games. With several more fresh arms getting a chance to display their talents in September, Diekman needs to figure things out in the next three weeks to be considered a “winning piece” again.

2. Ryan Rua

Put the narrative of last year’s debacle surrounding Rua and his unwillingness to report to the Arizona Fall League aside. For this season, Ryan Rua has been a versatile piece for the 2016 club. He was last sent down on August 10 when Shin-Soo Choo returned to the lineup, but returned five days later when Choo suffered a fractured forearm. With the September call-ups, Rua has to prove to Banister that he can remain productive at the plate despite limited game action. Rua’s biggest asset is his versatility as both an outfielder and first baseman.

But the Rangers have a plethora of options that can fill versatile bench roles. As the team’s magic number shrinks, Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo will get more looks as Banister looks to piece together his playoff roster. The flexibility of all three of these can allow Banister to carry an extra reliever instead of an extra bench player, an attractive option. With backup catcher Robinson Chirinos and a utility infielder likely to take up two of those spots, Rua will need to at least maintain his slash-line of .257/.329/.405 to show that his offensive output and base running skills are greater than Jared Hoying‘s speed off the bench or the potential of power from Gallo.

3. Derek Holland

The “Dutch Oven” is only four starts into his return from the disabled list and they’ve been up and down. In his worst of these starts against Seattle, he looked mortal on the mound. How Holland recovers from that four-run, ten-hit outing will go a long way towards establishing his worth down the stretch.

If the rotation can get “okay” Derek Holland or even just below that, they can ride that for the rest of the season. If they can’t, then perhaps Holland’s brief bullpen stay becomes more permanent. Is that so bad? For Holland, it would be; he obviously continues to envision himself as a starter. Having a Derek Holland who can let go for 15-20 pitches and potentially go multiple innings could be a post-season boost, a la 2012 World Series Tim Lincecum.

How Holland performs from now through the rest of the post-season will impact his winter as well. The Rangers will decide whether they want to allocate $11 million for another year of Holland, or if they pay him $1.5 million to leave.

4. Jurickson Profar and Hanser Alberto

I group Profar and Alberto in one spot because they’re fighting for one spot. On the post-season 25-man roster, there will only be room for one of them. Profar has played in three times as many games as Alberto has this season; on the surface, his stats reflect a more obvious choice. Alberto can play at all four infield spots. Profar has the bonus of being able to play left field. Alberto has post-season experience, having stepped in when Adrian Beltre‘s body betrayed him during the ALDS. Profar has more Major League experience.

Whenever Texas clinches the division (which looks to be sometime in the next week and a half), these two will need to show that they can be go-to guys off of the bench during the playoffs.

5. Colby Lewis

Colby Lewis, like Adrian Beltre, seems to defy all aging logic. Just like last year, he has a postseason spot to earn. The hill is steeper for the big righty from Bakersfield this year, as he missed two and a half months with a strained lat muscle. For the Rangers’ best post-season pitcher, staying healthy and maintaining the effectiveness of the slider will go a long way towards earning October starts. Lewis’ performance from here through the post-season might also determine if the Rangers will have to bid against other teams for his services.

His first appearance back, against a Los Angeles Angels team that has owned him on several occasions in the past, was encouraging. In 5.1 innings, Lewis gave up three runs while striking out five and throwing 86 pitches. He featured a relatively sharp slider and the classic stoic presence on the mound. The most encouraging sign was the fact that Lewis walked away from the outing healthy. A healthy Colby Lewis is an incredible weapon to deploy as a number 4 starter.

Who do you think has the most to prove? Is it one of these listed? Maybe someone else on the 40-man roster? Is it someone who looks like they should have a guaranteed spot on the post-season roster and as a future Ranger?

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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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