The Turning Point

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As the Texas Rangers boarded their flight home from Cleveland on the evening of Sunday, July 28, things did not look good.  They had just been shut out by the Indians for the second straight game, completing a sweep and emphatically punctuating a putrid 15-game stretch in which the Rangers went an abysmal 3-12.
In many ways, the Rangers had hit rock bottom – at least in the context of the 2013 season.  They had fallen to just seven games above .500 at 56-49, which dropped them a full six games behind the AL West-leading Oakland A’s.  At the time, those six games almost seemed more like 16.  But as the cliché goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

For the Rangers, that dawn came on Monday, July 29 in the form of a visit from their arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Angels.  The same Angels who most pundits coronated AL West (and in many cases, World Series) champions before the season even began, based in large part on Arte Moreno having thrown a Walter White storage unit-sized booty at former Ranger slugger (and I now use that term extremely loosely) Josh Hamilton.

But not even Heisenberg himself could have predicted the Angels’ season-long “trip to Belize” (if you don’t watch “Breaking Bad,” most of these references are whizzing past you faster than the Angels are plummeting in the standings).  Fortunately for the Rangers, the Angels did not manage to slow their Draperesque free fall (oops – right network, but wrong show) when visiting Arlington at the end of July.

In the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of that series came what has to be considered the turning point of the Rangers’ 2013 season.  Trailing the Angels 3-2, the Rangers tied the game on a 379-foot home run over the right field fence by designated hitter A.J. Pierzynski, then won it in shocking fashion with a walk-off home run from one of the unlikeliest sources imaginable: catcher Geovany Soto.

The next night, the Rangers again won on another walk-off home run from a somewhat surprising source: outfielder Leonys Martin.  Even more surprising was the fact that what had earlier seemed headed for a blowout at the hands of the Angels had been returned to winability by virtue of a home run from Soto for the second-straight night.  This one was a critical three-run shot that closed an 11-7 deficit to 11-10 in the eighth inning.

In the third game of the series, the Rangers finished off their season-changing sweep of the Angels with an extremely improbable third-straight walk-off HR win – this one a majestic 413-foot bomb off the bat of third baseman Adrian Beltre, giving the Rangers a 2-1 victory and unmeasurable amounts of momentum heading into August.

Since the sweep at Cleveland on July 28, the Rangers have gone 19-4, including a jaw-dropping 10-1 on the road.  Their six-game deficit to the A’s in the AL West has become a 3.5 game lead.

On the morning of July 29, Oakland’s run differential for the season (+67) was 59 higher than the Rangers’ (+7).  As of this morning (August 24), Texas has raised their run differential for the season to +78, fifteen more than the A’s (who have dropped four in that same timeframe to +63).

Some detractors point to the fact that during this 19-4 stretch by the Rangers, they have played only one game against a team with a winning record (Arizona, who was 55-53 at the time of their single-game rainout make-up series against Texas).  But what should hold equal weight, if not more, is the fact that the last 16 games of the stretch have taken place since the Rangers’ biggest source of power, Nelson Cruz, was suspended.

The Rangers do not have a playoff spot locked up yet by any means, but what they have managed to accomplish over the past month of baseball is truly amazing.  After losing that last game of the Cleveland series on July 28, there were six teams in the American League with better records than the Texas Rangers.  As of right now, there are none – the Rangers are currently tied for the best record in the AL with the Detroit Tigers (percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox).

If they do make the playoffs this year, we’ll be able to look back and know exactly when the turning point of the Rangers’ 2013 season took place.  It was the moment Geovany Soto hit that home run to beat the Angels on July 29.

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Bob.Bland@ShutDownInning.com or  on Twitter @SDIBob.
Bob Bland

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