Monday, September 16, 2013
Time to focus on wild card (and a clutch hit)
By Richard Durrett
It was an opportunity for the Texas Rangers to get right up on the rear bumper of the Oakland Athletics and wave in their rearview mirror, but the three-game weekend series instead allowed the A's to essentially lap the Rangers.
For those hoping for an amazing final two weeks to change fortunes in the AL West like the A's did last year, consider that Oakland had the big advantage of playing the Rangers, the team they were trying to catch, in the final three games. This year, the A's and Rangers don't play each other any more in the regular season. Plus, the A's have the easier schedule. With the way the Rangers are playing and staring up at a 6 ½-game deficit, it's time to worry about the AL wild card.
Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.
Texas is tied with the Tampa Bay Rays, the team they face the next four days on the road, for the top wild-card spot. But there are some teams hanging around and within range of grabbing one of those spots if the Rays and Rangers continue to falter (Tampa Bay has played just as poorly as the Rangers of late). The Cleveland Indians have the easiest schedule of any team vying for a playoff spot, and they are just a half-game back. The New York Yankees are 3 back the Baltimore Orioles are 2½ back and the Kansas City Royals are 3½ back (the Rangers head to K.C. after going to Tampa).
The reality is that the most important thing now for the Rangers is trying to somehow create momentum and get into the postseason feeling better about things. Quite simply, they won't make the playoffs unless they start playing better. So if they're in as that AL wild card, it's because they've halted this losing streak and have started to play a better brand of baseball.
There's nothing more manager Ron Washington can do. He has altered the lineup in an effort to create a spark, but this team is absolutely awful with runners in scoring position right now. They just can't find a way to get a big hit. And it's clear they miss Nelson Cruz. Texas hasn’t even led a game since last Sunday. Yeah, that's right. The Dallas Cowboys have played two games since the Rangers last led a game.
I'll be the first to admit I didn't believe these A's could pull this off. I think the fact that the Rangers had the best mark in MLB in August makes this September swoon even more shocking. But this A's team has figured out for two seasons running how to play its best baseball in the final weeks of the season. The Rangers, for a second straight year, are playing some of their worst baseball when it matters most.
Thanks to the fact that there are two wild-card teams now, there's still time to get a clutch hit or two and make the postseason. But as the Rangers saw last year, you can't limp into the playoffs and hope things work out. After the collapse in Oakland, the Rangers were out of the playoffs in the blink of an eye, losing at home to Baltimore despite a pitching matchup heavily in their favor. The difference? They couldn't get the big hits.
The Rangers have just a few weeks to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. It's up to the players -- especially those bats -- to do just that.