Rangers Enter Regular Season Homestretch

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Team Tries to Hold Off Angels in Last Two Weeks.

By Dic Humphrey

Correspondent

dic.humphrey@yahoo.com

 

Thursday night the Rangers commence the final two weeks of the season by completing the current series with Cleveland. They play 13 games and have one off day to wrap up 2011. The dozen games after Cleveland are all against American League West foes – four three-game series. Seattle is the team the Rangers play twice. Thursday’s matchup with Cleveland and the three games with the M’s in Arlington are the only home games remaining for Texas in the regular season.

 

This is literally the first September pennant race for the Rangers this century. A year ago, the Rangers beat Los Angeles on July 25 to extend their lead to seven games and never led by fewer than seven the rest of the season. There wasn’t much tension last September. Texas was marginally in a September pennant race in 2004, when they won 89 games and weren’t eliminated until the final week of the season. However, they were never higher than third in the standings and really never had much chance of winning the division with two teams to pass.

This year, Texas is on pace to win 92 games, even more than last year, but the Angels simply have not gone away. Los Angeles has already won more games this year than in 2010. They are in close pursuit largely on the arms of three outstanding starting pitchers – Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Los Angeles is 55-27 in games started by that trio, and 26-30 in all the other games.

Speed abounds in L.A.

Offensively, first baseman Mark Trumbo has made the difference. He replaced Kendry Morales who is still recovering from a broken leg that happened in a freak accident in 2010. Trumbo, the likely American League Rookie of the Year, leads the Halos in home runs (26) and RBIs (80), and has the chance to be the first Angels’ rookie to lead the team in both categories for an entire season.

 

It is also an offense built on speed. The Angels have stolen more than 100 bases for the 11th consecutive season, and earlier this week, their 155 infield hits and 39 bunt hits led the Major Leagues. Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Peter Bourjos are exceptionally fast and late season call-up Mike Trout may be the fastest of all. Trout is generally regarded as the best or second best minor league prospect in all of baseball. Manager Mike Scioscia has said that this team has more overall speed than any team during his tenure.

 

While the challenge from the Angels is making this September a real pennant race, the Rangers’ position as the team being chased is far better than being the team that is doing the chasing.

 

Manager Ron Washington was asked about the difference between this year with a much tighter race and last year. “None. It’s all about mental toughness. We got that. Bottom line, we still in first place.”

 

Team President Nolan Ryan echoed the same sentiment earlier this week on ESPN radio saying, “It’s in our court. It’s what we do with it. We’re in the driver’s seat.” Ryan did admit to concerns about the starting rotation. “I’d like to have a higher comfort level.”

 

C.J. Wilson has been solid, and the Rangers are planning their rotation around Wilson getting a start every fifth day. Derek Holland has come on strong. He’s 5-1, 3.73 in his last 10 starts and recently turned in three consecutive quality starts for the first time in his career. After those two, the starting five is iffy, but still very capable of turning in an outstanding performance.

 

Still offensive

The offense is definitely clicking though. After Tuesday’s win, Texas had tallied at least a dozen hits in six straight games. Nelson Cruz was activated before that game, but Washington made it clear that he would be easing Cruz back into action. “Probably DH him out of the shoot to get him going. He’s available, but we have to give him some more days.”

 

David Murphy’s recent strong showing has eliminated the need to rush Cruz back. Over the last 10 games alone, he is hitting .419! He slugged two home runs Tuesday night, and Washington said after the game, “When Nelson comes back, it’s not going to affect David’s playing time. How am I going to keep him off the field?”

 

Texas starts the six-game road trip with three games this weekend in Seattle before journeying to Oakland. With the return of 100 degree days to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area this week, Washington is definitely looking forward to the cooler temperatures in Seattle and northern California. “You can see the bodies energized,” he predicted.

 

Ranger fans undoubtedly wish the lead was larger than the three games Texas led by Wednesday morning. The next two weeks will likely be agonizing, but hopefully joyous in the end. In any event, it’s a far better September baseball-wise than the first 10 years of the 21st century, when Texas pretty well hogged the A. L. West basement.

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