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.
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.