Right now, this team just needs to win a game, and it all starts tonight against Jered Weaver and the Angels. The Rangers have had some success against Weaver in recent history, so here's to hoping it sparks this team to go on some fantastic run.
At the risk of seeming uncouth, I wanted to start by highlighting the above comment I made in a post on July 29th, less than 24 hours after the Rangers had been swept in Cleveland. As of that morning, the Texas Rangers were 6.0 game back of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West, and found their odds of winning the division as low as 11.9%.
At the time, it seemed a daunting task for the team to play even the most fundamental baseball. It reached such a low point that Ron Washington closed the doors and had a meeting with the team. In my mind, it's what he did after the meeting that really had the most impact. He switched the lineup around.
Ron Washington has long been known as a creature of habit. He's been known to stick with a guy in the lineup too long, or in some cases, leave him in the same position for too long. Sure, he made some minor changes in the middle of the order, but on the whole, Ian Kinsler was his guy to bat leadoff, and Leonys Martin would be at or near the bottom of the order.
Generally, lineup changes don't have much (if any) affect on a team's performance in the short-term. Long-term, you can see trends and offensive tendencies, but on a whim, there usually must be an underlying reason behind any major change. I'm not sure if Washington went with his gut or if he used some data to assist him in the decision, but this time, it was the right call.
This season, Ian Kinsler's on-base percentage (.339) hasn't been quite up to par with seasons such as 2011 (.355), when he was one of the most valuable players on the ball club. Regardless, this season, he's been mired in a stretch of bad baserunning, a stretch in which we've continued to wait for him to break out to no avail.
So far in 2013, Kinsler has 8 stolen bases and has been caught stealing 7 times. In 2011 and 2012 combined, Kinsler had 51 stolen bases and was only caught 13 times altogether. In and of itself, that's not a startling revelation, as there are many factors that contribute to success or failure on the bases. He's had 5 OOB (Outs on Base), being caught between the base paths more times than last season already.
More than anything, moving Kinsler down the the third spot in the lineup was more about Leonys Martin. Martin, who now has 27 stolen bases on the season, is more valuable at the top of the lineup than the bottom. With Martin and Elvis Andrus in the top two spots, it gives Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre more opportunities to drive in runs. With Engel Beltre and Craig Gentry also platooning near the bottom of the lineup as well as Jurickson Profar playing a more regular role, it also gives some speed opportunities to wrap back around to the top of the order.
Since making the lineup change that became effective on the evening of July 29th to open a series against the Angels, the Rangers have won 11 of 12 games, erased a 6-game deficit in the AL West, and as of this morning, find themselves atop the division by a full game. After yesterday's win, a tweet from Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball caught my attention in particular.
So far this season, TX has gained 5.5 games on OAK in 12 days, lost 7.5 games in 22 days, lost 4 more in 8 days, then gained 7 in 12 days.— Adam J. Morris (@lonestarball) August 11, 2013
Despite all of that, this morning, the Texas Rangers find themselves with a 63.7% chance of winning the division, as well as being on top of every wild card team, giving them a playoff percentage of 88.6%.
As bad as Texas looked two weeks ago, the most interesting part of it all is that Oakland wasn't faring much better at the time, and in actuality, is a ball club that finds itself mired in a slump of its own. The Athletics are but 10-11 since the All-Star break, and by the end of th emonth, faces a schedule that gets significantly tougher with matchups against Baltimore, Detroit, and Tampa Bay, all before opening up September with a series against Texas.
Coming into this season, there was a cautious optimism that this ball club could still find a way to make it to postseason play, and while that remains to be seen, things look better now than they did two weeks ago. Furthermore, there was a line of thinking that if the roster could hold up long enough for Jon Daniels to make a trade or two as opposed to overpaying for free agents, this team could be a legitimate contender late in the season. As of August 12, those things have come to pass.
Texas didn't overpay for Josh Hamilton, Zach Greinke, or any other of the free agents that were available during the offseason. Instead of trading Elvis Andrus for Justin Upton -- who has had a streaky season of his own -- the Rangers extended Andrus, an investment that looks better by the day as Andrus continues to string together good games after a rough start, all without mentioning his defensive value.
In the last few weeks, Texas added Matt Garza and Alex Rios, and did so without parting with names like Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez, Jorge Alfaro, Luis Sardinas, or Rougned Odor. Lance Berkman began a rehab assignment over the weekend, and there's a chance he could come back to make a significant contribution before the season is done.
While the pitching injuries have piled up, the Texas Rangers find themselves right where they want to be: in contention. The club has stood by Ron Washington, and he's shown an ability to change just enough to make a difference. Whether or not this team makes a deep playoff run, this could end up being the best job Ron Washington has done at pulling a roster together, and with players such as Jurickson Profar only expected to get better with age, he may be in position to manage an even stronger ball club over the next few seasons. For now, he's made the current roster fun and exciting to watch, and that's night and day from what we saw following the All-Star break.