Monday, September 23, 2013
6 Rangers who could decide a playoff berth
By Richard Durrett
If the Texas Rangers are to make the playoffs, they'll need contributions from just about everybody. But with one week to go in the season and the Rangers right in the middle of a fight for an AL wild-card spot, let's try to narrow that group down to six Rangers who could determine if there will be postseason baseball in Texas in October (this is listed in no particular order):
1: Ian Kinsler. With his offense struggling in September, manager Ron Washington tinkered with his lineup trying to create a spark. In the process, he moved Leonys Martin out of the leadoff spot and inserted Kinsler back in that No. 1 role. Kinsler, as in the past few seasons, has to be a sparkplug for this offense. He has to be the one that gets things going so that it trickles down from there. Adrian Beltre is this team's MVP, if you ask me, but he needs Kinsler to help set the table so Beltre has opportunities to drive him in. Since Kinsler switched back to leadoff two weeks ago, he has six multihit games and eight RBIs. Kinsler can make things happen on the bases, and the Rangers will need that this week.
2: Derek Holland. He pitches tonight in Arlington, Texas, against Houston, a series against the league's worst team that the Rangers must use to their advantage. Holland struggled to start September but allowed just two runs in six innings in a no-decision against the Tampa Bay Rays in his most recent start. He's in a key spot in the rotation this week with his start tonight, and he's slated for Saturday, the penultimate game of the season. Every game this week is big, but it's up to Holland to set the tone tonight and then possibly be in position to keep Texas in it, or give them a chance to claim that wild-card spot, on Saturday. He should have a big say in what happens to this team.
3: A.J. Pierzynski. This is the time of season that having Pierzynski could be even more important. He has postseason experience and knows all about pennant races and playoff chases. He's the guy that must keep this pitching staff calm (it will be Geovany Soto's job to do that with Yu Darvish) as they attempt to navigate through three games with Houston and four with the Angels to try to make the playoffs. Pierzynski's bat, of course, will matter, too. He was one of the few guys actually hitting when the Rangers couldn't buy a run at points this month. They need that stick now, along with his game-calling abilities.
4: Tanner Scheppers. Obviously, Joe Nathan is a key to this team's success as the closer. But he's done the job solidly all season. What matters just as much is getting the game to Nathan, and Scheppers is critical to that. He wasn't able to pitch on Friday in Kansas City after pitching in three straight games, and the Rangers couldn't close out that game after falling behind in the eighth inning. Scheppers has an ERA under 2.00 and has thrown the ball well in key situations. He's going to get some of those this week and must execute.
5: Elvis Andrus. He's becoming a critical leader for this team and also one of its most important hitters. Like Kinsler, the opponent does not want Andrus to get on base because of his speed and baserunning ability. Andrus is one of the few Rangers whose September split is solid. He's batting over .300 for the month, and it seems that when the Rangers do score runs, Andrus is somehow involved (either scoring it or driving it in). He'll need to continue that this week.
6: Gary Pettis. It might seem odd to see the third-base coach on this list, but the reality is that he's already had an impact on several games this month to help this team create runs. The club's issues with scoring runs with regularity this month has been documented constantly. But for a team that has had a power shortage, pushing the envelope on the bases matters. Pettis isn't afraid to get aggressive with runners. He must be smart about it, but that attitude could make the difference in the Rangers getting that extra run they need. Don't overlook his importance as the Rangers run the bases like crazy.