DALLAS - Imagine, if you will, that you’re a pitcher. Your repertoire is a high-octane four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball for a different look, a big breaker that is unhittable, both in a positive and a negative way, and a changeup, that at its best, looks so fat before annoyingly dropping out of the zone.
It’s been a weird season. All four of your pitches have never clicked all at the same time. Sometimes your fastball is electric, but that alone didn’t carry you through a month. Sometimes, your off-speed stuff was straight filthy, but you had no idea where your fastball was going. Your changeup has always been there, but it’s useless without the other pitches in your arsenal.
Then August comes around and you get your second wind. You change your strategy. You change how you approach hitters, how you pitch to them the second and third times through. Things start to come together and you look like you’re the most reliable member of your rotation. What’s different? You show off your fastball – big, blazing, dangerous – just to start.
Now they know it’s there. You switch to your two-seamer – moving suddenly, keeping hitters on their toes. Your off-speed stuff doesn’t always hit the zone, but it gets hitters off balance enough and frustrates them. The changeup still works its magic, looking like it should be sent to Souvenir City, but no, there it goes out of the zone just as your hands start bringing the lumber through the zone.
A steady dose of those three pitches and still the hitters wonder – where’s that fastball? It’s there when you need it. It still blows people away and lights up the radar gun, usually when the hitter thinks it’s a non-factor.
Thus has been the way of the Rangers’ lineup of late. It’s taken four months, but Jeff Banister’s squad has finally found its identity. Maybe it took the addition by subtraction of Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy to find the right pieces to gel in the bullpen and behind the plate.
Perhaps it was the stark and harsh reality of trading away Yu Darvish that woke up the rest of the team to adopt the underdog that can overcome. Maybe it’s just the sense of renewal the trade deadline brings; regardless of the moves made, it’s almost like a complete restart on the season.
Whatever the reason, the Rangers have found that sequence of offense that allows them to find multiple ways to win. Be it the consistent, ever-present and multi-dimensional offense of Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre preceded by the walk-drawing wizardry of Shin-Soo Choo. It’s the annoying explosiveness of the run of Nomar Mazara, Mike Napoli and Rougned Odor, who all look like they should be eaten alive by swing-and-miss pitches but are finding ways to hurt pitchers in the worst way.
And then there’s Joey Gallo. No, he’s not old reliable. In fact, he's currently on the concussion list. When he's healthy and in the lineup, though he’s not plodding, hidden trick you're used to from big sluggers.
Gallo doesn’t sneak up on you. He’s Joey Gallo. You know he’s there and you fear him. You know he’s going to make his presence known. He’s not going to be gentle about it either. Maybe you’ve gotten him to strike out a couple of times, maybe you’ve prevented a hit by pitching around him. And that's suddenly become a big part of the identity of the Rangers and why a game like last night in Anaheim showed how much the Rangers miss Gallo. That's not something we might have anticipated even a month ago.
That’s how it goes for the Rangers. It hasn’t always been pretty, but maybe this Texas Rangers season has come around to show that this team can’t be counted out. And that should be especially apparent once Gallo returns.
Want more thoughts on the Rangers as we near baseball's final month? Follow Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.
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