The Champions

Cole Hamels: CG, 2 ER, 3 hits, 8 K's, 2 BB's


It was a tense Game 162 in Arlington, a matchup the Rangers trailed 2-1 heading into the bottom of the 5th. There, Adrian Beltre unleashed an opposite field two-run HR to hand Texas a 3-2 lead that it would never give up. The club followed with 6 runs in the bottom of the 7th, and Hamels did the rest.

Texas 9, Anaheim 2; Magic Number = 0

Jose Yau/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP

Jose Yau/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP

The win sends the Rangers to the American League Division Series where they will take on the Blue Jays, starting Thursday. Counting the play-in game in 2013, Texas will play at least 163 games for the 5th time in 6 seasons. 

Since 2010 Texas is 525-448 (.551) overall -- an average of 87.5 wins per season -- and that's including last year's 67-95 aberration. You could make a strong argument that the Rangers are the most accomplished American League franchise of the 2010's decade, with four postseason berths, three AL West titles and two World Series appearances. 

This season was... particularly special. I get the 2010 comparison -- mainly because it came out of nowhere to varying degrees -- but I see a stronger parallel to the 2004 team, one that stayed in the race against all odds until the last week of the season. That team won 89 games and finished 3rd in the West in what was a very different American League back then. 

Unlike 2004, this year the Rangers took advantage of a weak pool of AL clubs, going 23-11 (.676) vs. the East and 18-14 (.563) vs. the Central, a composite 41-25 (.631) record against outer-division competition. Against the West, Texas played sub-.500 ball (36-40) on the whole, but delivered a knockout blow against the Astros -- going 13-6 in 19 games -- the team they spent virtually the entire season chasing in the standings. 

It's a triumph for the Rangers organization that, in a year that felt like an extension of an abysmal 2014, it found a way to stay true to the plan. With Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo poised to send Jon Daniels straight to albatross hell, the President and GM did nothing significant last winter to add. The club was in a sensitive, desperate state, and JD essentially stood pat, adding a one-year MORP (Yovani Gallardo) and a bunch of platoon options on the bench. 

Hoping on health and bounce backs, the needle moved further against the Rangers when Yu Darvish went down with Tommy John Surgery during spring training; on Opening Day, the club's de facto #1 starter -- Derek Holland -- threw one inning, which would be his last until the middle of August. 

To balance the books, Texas somehow survived through July with Wandy Rodriguez, Nick Martinez and Chi-Chi Gonzalez in the rotation. Those three starters combined for 46 starts (almost 30% of Texas's games) and 273.1 IP, a composite +1.5 fWAR. As with many aspects of the 2015 campaign, the work of these three pitchers didn't win the Rangers the West, but since they didn't hurt the club, either, kept the team afloat for when the reinforcements arrived. 

When Cole Hamels was acquired from the Phillies the Rangers were 47-52; post-Hamels, which came with the additions of Martin Perez and Derek Holland returning from injury, Texas went 41-24, with the three starters generating a combined +3.1 fWAR. 

The makeup of the team changed in other areas, as well. Along with Hamels came Jake Diekman, who closed the year with a 2.08 ERA in 21.2 IP; Sam Dyson, whom the Rangers got for mere peanuts from Miami, finished with a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 IP. Take those two and combine them with Keone Kela (2.39 ERA in 60.1 IP) and Shawn Tolleson (2.99 ERA in 72.1 IP), and Texas carried a dynamic bullpen down the stretch, effectively shortening the game for first-year manager Jeff Banister. 

So that was the blueprint to winning, and winning they did. To help matters, the offense ramped up its production, too. During the second half alone, Shin-Soo Choo (.343/.455/.560, 176 wRC+) and Adrian Beltre (.318/.376/.509, 136 wRC+) generated +6.9 fWAR -- about 7 wins all by themselves. 

When you add star production to a lineup filled with mostly average to slightly above average hitters, it can work. Even Elvis Andrus, probably the weakest hitter in the lineup at any given point, hit .273/.320/.398 (90 wRC+) with 24 extra-base hits (4 HR) in the second half, which is above average for a shortstop. 

The 2015 Rangers are a story of the sum being greater than its individual parts. When you combine a decent rotation with a stout bullpen, and an offense averaging about 5 runs per game for a third of the season, that's how you go from 47-52 to 88-74 and champions of your division. Texas got help along the way -- notably a 10-18 August from the Angels, and a Houston team that leveled off down the stretch -- but it ultimately won the games it had to on the field. 

Jeff Banister is far from a perfect manager, but whatever rah-rah stuff he has going on in the clubhouse is working. After yesterday's win he said how thankful and appreciative he was for getting hired by Jon Daniels, who might be the biggest winner of all through this magical ride. 

Daniels, for reasons I've never understood, has been consistently slammed in the local media the last several seasons, whether it was for the team's ultimate demise in the postseason, somehow being the catalyst to getting Nolan Ryan removed from the organization, or being the idiot who banked on Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo in the longterm. 

Along with his acquisitions of Delino DeShields, Hamels, Diekman, Dyson, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, JD doubled down and bet on himself in 2015. And he won. If there was ever a question that this was a top-5 executive in baseball, those doubts crashed and burned this season. This franchise simply would not be where it is without him. 

So while we wait on a 2016 rotation led by Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez, in the meantime we get to watch playoff baseball. That isn't a bad consolation prize.

Math vs. Superstition: Why The Rangers Are Still Strong In The West

AP Photo/LM Otero

AP Photo/LM Otero

By the time this posts it will have been about 9 hours since the Rangers heartbreaking 11-10 loss to the Angels. 

There are so many What If avenues were could travel through, whether we're talking about Jeff Banister's questionable bullpen usage, the difficult-yet-playable 9th inning popup to Rougned Odor/Mike Napoli that fell for a double, the Elvis Andrus slide that inevitably ended the game... but I'll save the lamenting for another time.

I'm going to write this until I prove to be wrong, but, among the troika of AL West contenders, Texas remains in the most enviable position. Heading into Friday night's game -- one the Rangers ended up losing 2-1 -- the club had to win 1 of its final 4 games to be guaranteed a spot in the ALDS (any of the last 3 vs. LAA, or the theoretical home tiebreaker vs. HOU that would follow).

As it stands heading into the final day of the regular season, the Rangers must win one of its last two* games to win the West, and the Astros must win on the road in Arizona and on the road in Texas to accomplish the same feat. Of a possible 3 baseball games between now and the end of Monday -- TEX vs. LAA, AZ vs. HOU, TEX vs. HOU* -- the Rangers remain about 85% favorites to win the West. And we don't need FanGraphs to tell us that; it is the result of three weighted coin-flips, and they all have to fall against Texas's favor.

*If necessary

Even if the Rangers lose tomorrow, and Houston wins, and the Astros somehow come to Texas on Monday and win again, the Rangers will still get a crack at the postseason by playing in the Wild Card game. That guarantees Texas three more games in 2015, and, again, they need to win only one of them to reach the ALDS. Call me a broken record, but I still like this team's chances to get there. 

It's easy to look at Angels 11, Rangers 10 and try to make some greater comparisons to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but is that really the impact of what happened today? That was the World Series; that was One Strike Away. This, for how great of a game it was, was still only the regular season. It's what happens when you have a clearly desperate team scrapping for every last base against Ross Ohlendorf -- probably the Rangers' 5th or 6th option out of the bullpen -- and are granted a little bit of BABIP luck. Cheers to Anaheim for picking a good time to save their season. 

As for us: If I were to tell you two months ago that the Rangers would be in control of their AL West destiny on the last day of the regular season, you would have taken that, right? If I told you on Opening Day -- after Derek Holland pitched 1 inning before he went down for 4.5 months, with Yu Darvish already out for the season -- that the Rangers would be 87-74 heading into a season-deciding matchup with the Angels on October 4th, you would have taken that. Wouldn't you?

As humans we're conditioned to look for parallels from past years to explain how the Rangers are on the brink of another perceived "collapse". It's why people use the word collapse, specifically, when referring to the Rangers, because of what happened in the World Series in 2011 and losing a 5-game lead with 9 to play in 2012. To many, that 10-game sample defines this franchise for the last half-decade.

But that's not at all what this is, and it's an assault on your intellect if you buy into it. Not only are there hardly any carryovers from the last World Series team, but this 2015 team was never supposed to go anywhere in the first place. This was supposed to be a bridge year to 2016, not a pennant chase season. Rather than seeking meaning from a bunch of superstitious bullshit related to the past -- with no predictive value whatsoever -- as Rangers fans we should all be on our hands and knees saying Thank You. Because we are not supposed to be here right now.

As for tomorrow, this is why the Rangers acquired Cole Hamels. This is why Texas altered its rotation a couple weeks ago. Just in case

Because Jeff Banister has used both Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson five days in a row -- an unconscionable workload for one reliever, let alone his two-best -- there is every reason to expect Hamels to throw 120-130 pitches tomorrow. This is contingent on (a) the Rangers not blowing out the Angels, (b) the Angels not blowing out the Rangers, and (c) the Astros not getting blown out by the Diamondbacks.

Cole is more of a necessity than an ace at this point, as the stark reality is the Rangers do have a game to play on Monday if the worst-case scenario unfolds tomorrow afternoon. Unless he wants a bunch of bloggers writing about how he's abusing his bullpen arms, Banister has zero incentive to use Dyson and Tolleson for a 6th straight day.

All that said, this team has captured our imaginations this summer, and it's this writer's opinion that they are entitled to some benefit of the doubt. On August 14th I wrote an article about what it would take this team to get to 88 wins and a division title, and tomorrow they have the opportunity to do both. 

We shouldn't ask for more. 

One Strike Away

For as long as I have the mental capabilities to understand baseball, those words will haunt me. 

Not one game, not one inning, not one out. 

One Strike. 

One strike away from a World Championship; more than once. 

Today, those words came back in a frightful manner.  Sure, the stage was not as big as the first time that quote came back to bite us, but the missed opportunity still resonates within the Texas fan base.  

How do the Rangers recover from that?  How does a team show the resilience to fight through the mental challenges presented by a gut-punch loss?  How does the bullpen perform tomorrow while at the point of exhaustion?  How does Tolleson perform moving forward?  How much does Banister question himself after throwing Tolleson to the wolves for the fifth straight day?

Today's game provided so many questions which will be answered within 24 hours. 

Assuming the Astros hold on tonight; tomorrow is the real deal. 

One game for the AL West title.  One game, against your biggest rival, with your ace on the mound, for a division title. 

As much as I want to have a feeling of despair following today's game, I cannot.  The 2015 Texas Rangers are playing with house money.  

They aren't supposed to be here. 

Yet here they are; and tomorrow, here we will be, wearing red, and hoping for the best. 

162+ is already guaranteed, so, regardless of outcome, the magic does not stop tomorrow. In all reality, today's loss matters just as much as July 29's Yankees 21, Rangers 5: they all count as only one game in the standings.   1/162 of the season.  That's it. 

Tomorrow is a new day, and the playoffs mark a new season, whether it be as AL West champions or as the second wild car. 

Cole Hamels is on the mound tomorrow and he is in a Rangers uniform for only one reason. 

Shove tomorrow, Cole. 

Never ever quit. 


The AL West remains up for mathematical grabs, at least for one more night. 

With the Rangers 2-1 loss to the Angels, conflated with the Astros 21-5 stomping in Arizona, nothing materially changes in the standings; Texas is still one win -- or one HOU loss -- from securing the #3 seed in the American League playoff picture. 

Today Colby Lewis takes on Hector Santiago, as Texas takes its second shot at clinching the division outright.