The Final Stand: How Will They Be Remembered?
It comes down to this. Seven games in seven days. Three against a team out of playoff contention. Four games against a team you knew was lurking, but because you focused on immediate competition, might not have looked at as closely. The Texas Rangers, as the saying goes, are in control of their own destiny.
Are the Rangers going to win out and run the table? I wouldn’t place money on that. Can they win five? Five, the magic number, represents the combined number of either Rangers wins OR Astros (and Angels, at this point) losses, for Texas to earn a playoff trip. Can they win five? (To see breakdowns of the clinching scenarios, click here)
Here’s what they’re going up against: The Detroit Tigers, out of contention in the AL Central, will throw Justin Verlander out to kick things off, followed by Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. Verlander, sporting a deceiving 4-8 record and a 3.49 ERA, has been throwing more like the Verlander of old. During the last couple of seasons when his velocity had dipped, JV was adapting his style into becoming a pitcher, rather than a thrower. Now, he’s got his velocity back and is a more versatile pitcher than before. Not to discount the two lefties, Norris (2-2, 3.88 ERA, making his third start since coming back from a strained oblique) or Boyd (1-5, 6.91 ERA, making his tenth start since being acquired from Toronto), but Verlander will be the toughest challenge for this Rangers team. Don’t be lulled into thinking the Tigers will throw a Spring Training team out there – recently renewed manager Brad Ausmus has already stated that the best possible lineup will continue to be fielded against teams in contention.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sit just a half-game behind the Astros for the second Wild Card spot and just three back of the Rangers for the AL West Division lead. They’ve lost their closer, Huston Street, for the year. They will not be pitching Garrett Richards (15-11, 3.73 ERA) against Texas, as he will be finishing out the Oakland series. Jered Weaver, who will likely pitch the second game of the Texas series (um…maybe…?), continues to decline in performance, not having made it out of the sixth inning in his last three starts and finishing out the season in a park where he tends to struggle. Yet, the Angels are riding a five game winning streak, having won eight of the last ten, and arguably, are the hungriest of the three West teams still in it. After all, at the outset of the season, Los Angeles was predicted to either be the champs or right behind the Mariners for the West crown, and now, the Angels find themselves on the outside, looking in, knocking with a purpose.
That’s what’s coming through here. Here’s what’s defending home turf.
Cole Hamels, coming off of three quality outings, giving up just four runs over those three outings, totaling twenty innings, will be making two more starts on this home stand. He was acquired for situations like this.
Shin-Soo Choo, who’s hitting .418 in September with an OPS of 1.161 and really, just performing out of his mind since the All-Star break. He was acquired, maybe not for situations like this, but definitely to perform exactly like he has been for the last three months.
Mike Napoli, the unlikely left fielder, lengthening and deepening the offensive firepower of this lineup to the tune of a 6-2 record when he starts in the outfield, rendering his defensive liabilities to a minor inconvenience. He was acquired for this stretch run.
Then there’s Chris Gimenez, the unlikely catching hero, who was only supposed to hold the fort down behind the dish, not turn into one of the Rangers’ must-see players and necessary facets of the roster. DeLino DeShields, the Rule 5 acquisition, who has played his way into being one of the biggest surprises of the year and being everything the Rangers have been wanting in a lead-off hitting center fielder. Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson, who came over as add-ons and last-minute pieces, and who now, along with Keone Kela and Shawn Tolleson, comprise the Major League’s best bullpen.
That’s just the new guys.
Mitch Moreland, maybe not 100% healthy, but showing what he can do and what he can be for this team when he’s on the field every day. He’s having a career year, and is becoming the first baseman that the Rangers have exhibited patience with over the course of the last few years, finally showcasing his full potential.
Rougned Odor, sent back down to the Minor Leagues early in the season for under-performing on both sides of the ball, who has come back as a player on a mission. He’s the kid with the permanent chip on his shoulder, the swagger of a player you would hate if he were anywhere else but on your team, and the goofiness and demeanor of a guy who is unmistakably a Texas Ranger.
Speaking of goofiness, there’s Elvis Andrus. He’s coming back around to playing as that shortstop that earned that probably ill-advised contract. Being a defensive wizard (the last weekend series notwithstanding) and showcasing more muscle at the plate than before, Andrus is once-again a crucial cog in the lineup.
Prince Fielder, who carried this team for roughly three-quarters of the season, and might be fading slightly here at the end, but is still a lethal force to be reckoned with when he steps to the dish. He has shown signs of returning to the levels he displayed in the first half, and will likely be at the center of so many clutch moments this week.
And, of course, there’s Adrian Beltre. The unquestionable leader of this clubhouse, the unquestionable leader on the field. He’s hitting a season high .313 for the month and always seems to know exactly when the team needs him to come up big.
All of these men are led by Jeff Banister. Banister, who’s had his own well-documented personal challenges to overcome, and who leads this team with a more-than-cliche mantra of Never, Ever Quit. Sure, we as a community question some of his moves, but there’s no question this team, with the problems it has had, would be in a place to win at home in front of Arlington without him.
Don’t forget about you, the fans. It hasn’t always been a fun season to watch, but here we are. You fans bought out an entire section of seats that had been designed to draw more people to the park, even if they were fans of the opposing team. You fans traveled down to that opposing team’s park to buy out your own section of seats and cheer louder than what fans existed in Houston. You fans are the atmosphere of Globe Life Park in Arlington that they want to win in front of.
Seven games in seven days. It comes down to this…but it wasn’t supposed to.
How will this team be remembered? Never, ever quit.