Rangers Take a Breath, Prepare For Stretch Drive
Somehow I knew the Angels would not pack up their tents and go home after the Rangers left Anaheim last week with a seven game lead in the West, but I certainly didn't expect things to be this tight in the race again this quickly.
A bad combination of a Rangers downturn and an Angels hot streak has done just that, however, the Rangers just took two of three going through the best pitching the Angels could toss at them in the process so that's something.
No one can put a positive spin on losing four games in the standings in a week's time, especially when covering the Rangers, but there's something to be said about how the Rangers have dominated the Angels in the last two head to head matchups.
They took three out of four in Anaheim and two of three in Arlington for an overall record of 5-2; the last two wins coming against the best pitchers the Angels have on their roster.
However, as well as the Rangers have played against the Angels, a better indicator to me of which team is really the better of the two, the Rangers still have a rough schedule ahead; including three at Fenway Park against a Red Sox team that just shredded the Rangers in a four game series in Arlington.
Look, the Rangers aren't as bad as that series made them look. That was a simple case of one team playing far below their abilities running into a red hot World Series contender.
With a much needed off day in the middle of a homestand, the Rangers are going to take some time and recharge their batteries for what we all hope is another deep October run.
With three straight series against two of the best teams in the AL East coming up the Rangers are going to have to play well because the Angels will once again face sub-.500 teams while Texas lines up against two beasts from the East.
It's a dogfight for the American League West, something the Rangers did not have to deal with in September last season.
Instead of spending the month lining up the rotation for the playoffs and resting key players in anticipation for what turned out to be an additional month of games, the Rangers will have all hands on deck every night trying to lock down their spot in baseball's tournament.
Their run to the World Series last season could prove to be a huge advantage because it not only taught these Rangers how to win; it taught them how to grind out big wins against tough teams and tough pitchers.
The Rangers put this particular trait on display against the Angels both in Anaheim and in Arlington, putting 20 runs on the board against three of the tougher pitchers in the American League over the weekend.
They had situational hitting, they picked their spots, punished mistakes and worked over the three aces in the Angels rotation, something they learned how to do against the Rays and Yankees in the postseason last year.
Now if only they had worked over the pitchers in the Giants rotation, but that's a separate issue.
Much has been made lately about strength of schedule favoring the Angels going forward and on paper it certainly does, but take a look inside the schedule and two huge factors could even the playing field.
First and frankly very much underrated is the record the Rangers and Angels have against the AL West; this believe it or not is the difference in the race right now and if that trend continues the Rangers are in a good position.
The Rangers are 28-14 within the West while the Angels are 20-21, a dramatic difference when considering both teams will play within the division for half of the final month of the season.
Should the Angels continue to struggle and the Rangers excel as has been the pattern all season long, the division could be decided in a manner the league was trying to accomplish when it unbalanced the schedule in that the team who plays best against the rest of the division comes out on top.
The other factor is days off, the Rangers simply have more allowing the club to change up the rotation and give the young starters who are pitching more innings than they ever have before some much needed extra rest between starts.
For now the Rangers have to focus on their AL East foes over the next 10 days as the Rangers look to maintain and even extend their lead over the second place Angels.
Welcome to September Rangers fans, this one will be a bit more of a grind than Texas had last season, but the club is still in good shape going into the final month of the season.