Date: Sunday, September 10th, 2017
Opponent: New York Yankees (76-65)
Starters: Jordan Montgomery (7-7, 4.14) vs. A.J. Griffin (6-5, 5.09)
Wild Card Situation: 2.5 games behind Twins
Still Behind: Angels
At some point, we’re going to have to at least consider the tiebreaker hell that might be rained down upon us from a punitive and mischievous sport. But not today. Today, we will simply ponder the importance of today, which–for a sport in which nothing moves quickly–has a pretty broad difference between best-case and worst-case scenarios.
Best case: the Rangers could be the third-place Wild Card team, trailing the Twins by just 1.5 games. For this to happen, they need to beat the Yankees, the Mariners need to beat the Angels, and the Royals need to beat the Twins.
Worst case: there’s not a clear worst-case, since the Mariners and Angels play each other, and so do the Royals and Twins, but I think the worst case probably looks like this: Texas could be the 3.5 games out of a playoff spot and in sixth place in the Wild Card chase. For that to happen, you’d need a loss to the Yankees, plus MIN>KC, CLE>BAL, and weirdly, still Seattle over Anaheim.
Maybe we’re not there yet. Maybe we’re still just in the “win today’s game and reassess in the morning” mode. It’s the September 10th Baseball Texas Daily!
1. Matt Bush is back! The flame-throwing right-handed reliever has been activated from the disabled list today after suffering a concussion and a slight tear of his MCL in a collision with Joey Gallo on August 20th. “I feel ready to go,” Bush said this afternoon. “I think at first (the bullpen sessions were) a little tentative, just testing it out, but I did a lot of flat-ground, so some of the pitches were up, but the next day I came back and threw about ten (pitches at) about 90% and everything went well. I was throwing strikes, good breaking balls… I came back Friday and threw a full-on bullpen, about 30-35 pitches, no issues, everything went well.”
Bush will wear a knee brace for extra support, saying that there is a little soreness and pain once he stretches to a certain point, but that his pitching motion doesn’t ever put him in that particular position, so he feels ready to go, except, maybe, for one small lingering issue from the Gallo collision: “I still have his nose and teeth in the side of my temple,” Bush joked.
2. Bush’s return gives Jeff Banister one of his primary bullpen arms back, which will not only affect how he is able to deal with situations like yesterday’s late-innings situation (to be blunt: Matt Bush will pitch. In the late innings of a close game, you’ll see Matt Bush just like always. “We don’t have time to massage him into the bullpen,” as Jeff Banister put it). But the bigger effect may be, as the manager said “...how you approach the *earlier* innings. It kinda backs some of those guys back. That allows a couple of those power arms to be moved back, too. You can use Rodriguez earlier, Gardewine earlier, Tony Barnette…”
One name still missing is…
3. Keone Kela. Over the course of the last few weeks, there has been something of a flip-flop as to who would be back first: Kela or Bush. But behold! I have been given clarification.
Originally, Bush was supposed to be back first, but there was a time in the middle of the process when his knee wasn’t responding the way he expected it to. That pushed him back, behind Kela on the ETA timeline. But when it began to respond properly to treatment, he moved back up to when they expected him to return. Kela, on the other hand, was never expected to be back today. His shoulder / biceps issue is getting closer, but he still has to throw a bullpen today. The earliest we can expect to see him back is probably Wednesday.
4. Carlos Gomez, on the other hand, will not be back Wednesday, and is still on crutches and in a boot. “We had him with the doctor yesterday,” Banister told us. “The thought is to keep it as weightless as we possibly can. He’s in the boot. Obviously sore this morning, but it’s one of those things, we have to give him a couple of days to see where he’s truly at. Hopefully time will be good to him.
Banister declined to give a straight answer as to whether any other players would be called up to take Gomez’ spot on the roster, but he did say definitively that the center fielder while Gomez is out would be…
5. Delino DeShields, not Drew Robinson. That makes sense on its face, since Robinson–with Jurickson Profar still in baseball purgatory–is ostensibly the backup shortstop. But it’s not just a lack of options, according to the manager. “DeShields has been playing very well. He’s been a spark for this offense. His routes have improved. You put the combination of the offense, the defense, the base running together, it points to Delino playing out there for the most part because of the consistency of play. This is not a spot that I want to platoon in or anything like that. I don’t know that I want to balance (bouncing) Delino back and forth between center field and left field. If we’re gonna do it, let’s put him out there and let him play.”
6. Robinson Chirinos has reached base in 23 straight games. So with two outs in the ninth inning yesterday afternoon and the left-handed Aroldis Chapman on the mound, I was not surprised to see Jeff Banister pinch-hit for Drew Robinson. I was surprised that–with the score 3-1 and the Rangers in dire need of a baserunner–it was Mike Napoli, not Chirinos, who emerged from the Rangers’ dugout. My default is to assume that the manager has more information and is better prepared to make the decision than I am. But Napoli has an on-base percentage of .287 this season. Chirinos’ is .376. They both walk about the same amount (11.6% of plate appearances for Napoli, 11.7% for Chirinos), but Napoli (37.9% of plate appearances) strikes out a lot more than Chirinos (23.8%). Lifetime against Chapman, Napoli was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a walk. Chirinos was 0-for-0 with a walk in his only appearance.
So I asked Banister what factors led him to make that decision, telling him I had guessed wrong as to the decision he would make.
“You guessed though?” he replied. “Go play blackjack and guess for me. This is not a guessing business.”
Clearly, we were off to a good start.
“Who pinch-hits more, Nap or Chirinos?”
I found myself guessing again. Napoli. I was right: Mike Napoli has 67 pinch-hit appearances in his 11-year career with a .158 batting average and a .284 on-base percentage. Robinson Chirinos has just nine in his seven seasons, hitting .250 with a .333 on-base percentage.
“So, when you look at a veteranized pinch-hitter, there is an element to that. Do I trust Chirinos with a bat in his hand right now? Yeah. But you also… look: (Chapman has a) 101(mph fastball) with a pretty decent changeup, pretty decent breaking ball. Yeah, he’s scuffled a little bit in spurts, but the options aren’t good with whomever you send up there. And the next guy up is, what?
I took a breath and exhaled as I silently tried to remember. Let’s see… Robinson was in for Gomez, who has been all over the lineup this year. Where was he yesterday? Fifth? (correct). Who hit sixth yesterday, was it…
“Gallo?” the manager asked.
Before I could definitively answer, he continued. “Yeah. I know exactly where we’re at. So I’m gonna take my shot with a guy who is more experienced in that spot.”
I always assume that the manager has more information and is better prepared to make the decision than I am, and I suspect that won’t ever change. There are some who make a career out of second-guessing, and doing it well, but that’s just not me. My default is always to instead try to learn why a decision was made, not pontificate about how I’d have done it differently. In this particular instance, knowing the answer doesn’t convince me to agree with the decision, but I do understand it a little better.
And hey, if I decide that understanding isn’t enough and I want to make those decisions, well, I have a video game at home I can play.
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