Don’t look now, but with 42 games left in the regular season, the Texas Rangers have a legitimate shot at the postseason.
Now, the same can be said of the seven other teams within three games of the second American League Wild Card spot. Baseball Prospectus gives the Rangers a 20 percent chance at making the playoffs, and Fangraphs says 16.5 percent...so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
But, for a team that hasn’t looked much like a playoff team for most of 2017 and has its share of doubters, the Rangers look pretty poised to make good on those odds.
They’re playing their best baseball of the season, save for that 10-game win streak back in May that was quickly followed with a landslide back to mediocrity.
The offense is clicking, outscoring opponents by 29 runs in 14 August games -- and Joey Gallo is absolutely raking. The Darvish-less pitching staff has a 3.39 ERA this month.
And, most importantly when it comes to the standings, they’ve climbed back to .500 for the first time since July 15.
“We understand as a team that we’re where we want to be,” shortstop Elvis Andrus told the Star-Telegram. “There was a lot of up and down throughout the season, but right now, thank God, everything has kind of clicked. Right now is the best time to do it, and hopefully we can stay this way.”
The schedule is also looking up for Texas. In a way, they control their own postseason destiny. Twenty of the final 42 games come against teams ahead of them in the Wild Card standings: Seven against the Los Angeles Angels, seven against the Seattle Mariners and three against the New York Yankees.
With three more on the docket against the cellar-dwelling Chicago White Sox, 10 more against the lowly Oakland Athletics and three more against the 55-65 Atlanta Braves, there are plenty of winnable games among the other 22, too.
Another nugget of optimism:
Of the top seven teams truly in the hunt for that second Wild Card spot, Texas is the only team that can make a case that it has been somewhat unlucky in terms of wins and losses.
The Rangers’ “expected win-loss record” -- based on the Pythagorean theorem of baseball, which relates runs scored and runs allowed to wins and losses -- is actually three games better than their .500 record.
Each of the other six teams have overachieved by the same statistic. The Twins, who sat a half-game above Texas in the Wild Card standings as of Friday morning, are the biggest overachievers -- their expected win-loss record is seven games worse than their 60-59 record.
If the standings were based on expected wins, the Rangers would be firmly in the second wild card spot seven games behind the Boston Red Sox -- the Yankees’ 72-48 expected win-loss record would have them first in the AL East ahead of Boston’s 70-50 mark -- and three-and-a-half games ahead of the LA Angels.
For the Rangers, it’s a stark contrast to last year. Their 95 wins were 13 games above their expected win-loss record based on their run output, thanks in large part to their performance in one-run games.
So it’s fun to talk about expected wins and the “Pythagorean theorem of baseball,” but what does it all mean?
Things tend to regress toward the mean, and if that holds true, the Rangers can reasonably expect to win more than they lose over the final 42 games, playing at the same level they have the whole season.
Don’t get me wrong -- outplaying four teams ahead of you in the Wild Card is no easy task. But take into account the fact that almost half of the remaining slate comes against the teams they need to fall in the standings, and one-and-a-half games doesn’t seem like so wide a margin.
“Now, it’s clicking. We’re together right now,” said Nomar Mazara. “Everything is working for us. I think we can make a run. We have a lot of games left. A lot of things can happen.”
A small change of fortune just might put your Rangers in the postseason. And hey, a win in the Wild Card game and a chance to dethrone the Astros in a first-round series, effectively flipping the underdog script from the last two postseasons, has to sound good to this team and its fans.