The Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics play in an afternoon game at 2:35 today to decide who wins the American League West and who goes on to play in the AL's Wild Card round. With this year's new play-off format, each league will have two wild-card teams instead of just one. The two clubs will play each other in a one game play-off to determine who will advance to a best-of-five game series against one of the division winners.
The very fact that the Rangers are even in this position is ridiculous. They have been led their division for almost the entire season and now only 1 game separates them from a guaranteed best-of-five series or another one-game showdown that could kick them out of the play-offs entirely.
I don't feel that Texas has a legitimate ace that can shut down another team for a one-game playoff. Yu Darvish has shown signs of being that kind of pitcher, but his transition stage to the major leagues is still very evident at times. Ryan Dempster has been a question mark ever since coming over from the Cubs in July, and Matt Harrison (the only Rangers pitcher to throw for more than 200 innings) is a number 3 guy at-best who’s having a fluke year. Derek Holland, possibly the Rangers best pitcher in last year’s World Series, has been anything but solid. Maybe it's just me, but his goofy antics become a lot less funny when he’s carrying a 4.69 ERA and giving up seven runs in a late-season game against the Angels. The starting pitching just doesn’t seem like it’s there. If the Rangers are going to finally win a World Series, are going to have to do so with their bats and their bullpen.
Manager Ron Washington is partly to blame. The first game of this Oakland series was really a must-win, and he put the ball in the hands of Martin Perez, a rookie who has yet to find true success at the Major League level. Granted, Perez is a talented prospect and could one day be a great part of Texas’ rotation, but to put that kind of pressure on a 21-year-old is something to be considered.
After Perez failed to pitch more than 4 innings, Washington called in long-relief man Scott Feldman to shut down the Angels. He did pitch 1 and 2/3 inning of scoreless relief, but at the end of the day, he’s still Scott Feldman. I don’t know what Washington’s hang-up is on keeping him around for spot-starts and long-relief appearances, but when the sinker ain’t sinkin’, you’re in trouble, and Feldman’s hasn’t been for most of the year. I know it's the end of the season and you're bullpen guys need rest, but better to throw them out there now and sew up the division rather than force them into a one-game play-off where they can’t make any difference.
But all the blame doesn’t lie with Wash. He isn't the one out there blowing leads and striking out on pitches in the dirt. The Rangers have lost 6 of their last 10 games, and if the wild-card era has taught us anything, it's that the team with the most momentum goes the farthest in the play-offs. If Texas is going to finally win a World Series this year, they are going to have to stop playing flat and get on a role. That's pitching, hitting, defense; everything. The Cardinals do it every year, and the A’s are doing it now. It’s time for the Rangers to step it up and show everyone that they are ready to kick some butt this postseason.
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