With one trial down, another difficult test awaits Texas

Sep 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (middle) celebrates with third baseman Adrian Beltre (29) after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-218040 ORIG FILE ID:  20150929_krj_aj6_2010.JPG

It’s June 24th and the Texas Rangers are enjoying their largest division lead at the earliest point in time in franchise history. They just finished a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, made possible by a make up game with the Orioles Monday eating a scheduled off day. Most of the local blogging and beat crew would have predicted and accepted a 12-8, 13-7, or even a 10-10 record.

Instead, the Rangers finished this gauntlet with an exceptional 16-4 record.

They won with home runs, aggressive base running, capitalizing on errors, outstanding pitching from all arms, timely hitting, stellar defense and executing baseball fundamentals while displaying an immeasurable level of camaraderie. What didn’t they win with? Luck. This Texas Rangers team isn’t a team needing to get by on luck, inches, and fortune.

This Texas Rangers team is good.

These past 20 games might be looked at in September as the season defining stretch. They won games that they had absolutely no business winning: 6/18 at STL, 6/11 at SEA, and had some fun finding a different hero practically every night.

This past stretch showed the exceptional talent and makeup of the players on this team. Now comes a stretch not as testing in terms of individual stamina, but in keeping fresh talent circulating through the heart and soul of this team until injured pieces can provide a clearer picture of how 2016 will finish.

Note that I didn’t say “until injured pieces can return.”

That’s because it’s not guaranteed that the team you saw start this stretch at the beginning of June comes back the same in another month or two.

For Adrian Beltre, who sat out seven games during this stretch after straining his hamstring, his decision to not take a full stint on the disabled list may have an impact on the lineup and defense of this club down the road.

Then again because of Jurickson Profarand because it’s Adrian Beltre,maybe it won’t.

For Profar, now that he’s shown flashes of reaching his lofty expectations, he’s been given a chance to make his manager’s life a little more difficult by forcing his way into the lineup more than twice a week. Over the next few months, he can make his general manager’s life more difficult, by making him decide whether to keep or trade him.

For the magic catchers, Bryan Holaday, Bobby Wilson and Robinson Chirinosdecision time is coming for them. This team won’t carry three catchers for the next three months. They, too, have an opportunity to give the decision makers for Texas headaches.

For Nomar Mazara, he dealt with his first Major League slump like he’s dealt with most changes in his career thus far: with an almost eerie sense of calm and poise. It still hasn’t been enough to play him out of a starting job. On top of that, his defense, specifically his arm, are proving themselves to be an everyday weapon.

For Ian Desmond, there hasn’t been a single stretch this season that he’s looked like he’s slowed down. While playing on a winning team has its benefits, you can bet he’s excited about what is most certainly coming to him in five months.

For Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder, one ending his contract, one smack dab in the middle of one, many expectations had been laid on the table. Neither man seems able to pick up where they left off last year. It’s not entirely impossible that both aren’t on the team in two months’ time.

For Yu Darvish, it may be time for this to be his final stint on the disabled list this year. With the injuries this rotation has taken since his setback, a competitive team like the one the Rangers are fielding this year can ill-afford another two or three week stint without its “Ace Number 2.” Maybe this break is what he needs to get him on the right path the rest of the year.

For Derek Holland, his tenure in the rotation and in Texas might have been defined by his up and down performance in this stretch. A couple of excellent starts, a couple of absolute wrecks, and an inability to stay healthy have been the story of the Dutch Oven’s career. What will the manager do with Holland upon his return? That may depend on the performance of the team’s depth options.

For Nick Martinez, Cesar Ramos and A.J. Griffin, they have a second audition of sorts over the next three weeks. With three rotation members down, these three fill-ins have a chance to prove simply that they can be better than Derek Holland and earn a spot in the rotation for the stretch run. If they want to up their chances, they’ll have to prove that they’re better than an external option. They say competition brings out the best in athletes. There’s a lot in front of them.

For Colby Lewis his time as a Texas Ranger may end with yet another injury. After a miraculously successful year last year and an equally impressive start to the season this year, it could be that Lewis never takes the mound in a Rangers uniform again.

Finally, for Jeff Banister and Jon Daniels, this is their time to shine. The painstakingly long to assemble puzzle they put together that has launched them to a ten game division lead now looks like a dog or toddler has walked through, forcing them to step back and look at the picture again. It’ll be up to Banister to put the right rotation pieces in the right games in order to preserve his two key pieces, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. All while juggling his bench pieces, the best the team has seen in awhile, to keep the morale, excitement and will to win alive for his team.

Daniels’ job isn’t any easier. On top of monitoring the minors to see who can help the big league team, Daniels now has to decide which future pieces to sacrifice to help the immediate needs of his World-Series-potential team.

This team will play on, Rangers fans. We had fun during these past 20-games, but now the true character of this team and organization will be put to the test as the good feelings surrounding this club have had a shadow cast over them.

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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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