Rangers Assume Top Spot in American League West

"I keep coming back to this, but the Rangers being in contention is another reflection of the odd state of the American League right now. With the high-payroll powers in Boston, in Detroit, in Los Angeles unable to get out of their own way, there's a vacuum at the top of the league. We're a year or two away from the Twins and Astros and maybe the Indians pushing towards 95 wins behind their young talent. Throw in the extra wild card and the lowered standards for success that creates, and it's a time for a team that was under .500 on August 13 to maybe win its division. It's a transitional time in the AL, and the Rangers are positioned to take advantage of that." - Joe Sheehan, 9/16/15

On July 28th the Rangers lost 21-5 to the Yankees, dropping them to 47-52 overall, 8.0 games behind Anaheim (55-44) and Houston (56-45) for American League West supremacy.

Since that date -- the night of the Cole Hamels trade -- Texas has stampeded to a 30-15 (.667) mark to make up 8.5 games on the division, while the Astros (21-23) and Angels (18-27) have each struggled to varying degrees. 

Texas Rangers. First place. 

* * * * * *

 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, another nail-biter till the end, the Rangers jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first by going single, SB, walk, single, single, HBP, FC, single, and just like that it appeared like Texas could waltz right on in to first place. 

In the top of the 2nd, however, Houston showed up on offense. A perplexingly ineffective Derek Holland struggled with his command of the strike zone all night -- mostly within the strike zone -- and the Astros made him pay right away. A quick 3 runs cut the deficit to 1, and in the 4th Houston took a 5-4 lead on an Evan Gattis single; by that time I was surprised Holland was still pitching, though he would go on to get 6 more outs in the contest. 

His final leads reads 5.2 IP, 5 ER, 10 hits, 2 walks, 1 strikeout. Against the most strikeout-prone lineup in baseball, Dutch managed a lone punch out, so I don't really know what's going on there but I hope it's nothing more than a little arm fatigue, or something. 

The Rangers tied it in the bottom of the 4th when, with two outs, Prince Fielder singled, and Adrian Beltre drove him in right after with a run-scoring double down the left field line. The game would remain tied at 5 until the deciding run in the bottom of the 9th. 

Post-Holland, the Ranger bullpen was nails, as they have been for much of this current run. The unlikely quartet of Ross Ohlendorf, Sam Freeman, Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson combined to throw 4.1 innings of scoreless, hitless baseball. 

In the bottom of the 9th, Prince had to grind through an AB with LHP Oliver Perez, resulting in a leadoff single to left; after a pitching change, Beltre lofted a single into Houston's deep no-doubles outfield alignment, putting runners at the corners with nobody out, setting the scene for Mitch Moreland's walkoff sac-fly to put the Rangers into first place in the AL West for the first time since April 23rd, 2014. 

Tonight's win is the culmination of many things... from Jon Daniels's best season as GM, to Jeff Banister's worldview permeating through the clubhouse, to the players buying in and having it tangibly translate onto the field. If a True Team Effort is merely a cliché, then the 2015 Texas Rangers are the picture next to the definition of what it would look like if it were real.

For at least one night, the Rangers are in first place.