Underdogs: Can Rangers make playoffs?

Date: Friday, August 18th, 2017
Record: 60-60
Opponent: Chicago White Sox (45-73)
Starters: James Shields (2-4, 5.90) vs. Andrew Cashner (7-9, 3.32)

So, the Rangers won again last night, and if you haven’t been paying attention for the last week, you might be surprised to learn that–thanks to most American League teams playing with the temperature of a tepid pool of three-hour-old bathwater–this team (which hasn’t been above .500 since they were 34-33 way back on June 17th) is now just a game and a half out of the second Wild Card spot. The teams ahead of them are as follows...

WC1: New York Yankees: 65-55, +3.5
Frankly, the Yankees look like they’re going to be the first Wild Card team, unless they manage to overtake the Boston Red Sox. Either way, barring a late-season collapse, it seems likely that–should the Rangers manage to get in, they’ll be making a trip to the great Northeast.

WC2: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 62-59, +/- 0.0
Mike Trout is back, which will indubitably help the Angels. But most historians agree that Albert Pujols is a product of the mid-to-late Mesozoic era, and the Angels’ rotation is headed up by #1 starter Ricky Nolasco. The Rangers will face the Angels head-to-head for four games in Anaheim next week, and another three in Arlington on September 1-3. If Texas is legitimately a Wild Card contenders, they have an opportunity to do their own laundry here.

3rd Place: Kansas City Royals: 61-59, -0.5
Kansas City has undergone a similar arc to the Rangers. Rough start, lot of strikeouts, and-- wait, hang on, it’s August and we’re in this thing, thank you career-year Whit Merrifield. The bullpen is still pretty good, but the offense has definite holes and the rotation is a mess.

4th Place: Minnesota Twins: 60-59, -1.0
The Twins were buyers, and then a week later, they were sellers, and now they’d probably be buyers again. Texas and Minnesota split a 4-game series in Minneapolis earlier this month, wherein Bartolo Colon pitched a complete game. This is perhaps the most confusing team of the lot.

T-5th Place: Seattle Mariners: 61-61, -1.5
On paper, the Mariners are probably the best team of the lot. Sure, the rotation includes Yovani Gallardo and *squints* someone named Andrew Albers, but if Felix Hernandez can stay healthy… that’s a big if, actually. The loss of James Paxton hurts as well, but their lineup is formidable: Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and the newly-acquired Yonder Alonso make them the odds-on favorite for a trip to New York in October.

T-5th Place: Texas Rangers: 60-60, -1.5
I’ve written, if my estimates are correct, around 120,000 words about the 2017 Rangers, and while I don’t feel Minnesota-Twins-level confused by them, it’s not far. They started as a team that, on paper, should have been an easy playoff contender. But look at the names that have been subtracted since: Yu Darvish, Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress, and Sam Dyson. Jurickson Profar has spent most of the season in AAA. Tyson Ross hasn’t met expectations. But somehow, they are now a team that should not, on paper, be contending, and yet they are. Guys like Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Brett Nicholas, Ricky Rodriguez, Jose Leclerc, and Jason Grilli are making significant contributions. Alex Claudio is the closer, and it took a lot of restraint not to end this sentence with an exclamation point.

Perhaps the team just needed to shed the expectations and get back to the role where they are the most comfortable: underdog.


Jeff Banister won’t confirm that he prefers the phrase (“I just like when the dog barks”, he replied), but his rhetoric for the last three seasons (and a brief history of his life: overcame cancer and a broken back to make it to the big leagues) should give you some insight as to whether he values the role or not.

OTHER BASEBALL STUFF

1. Jake Diekman threw his first rehab start last night, and says he feels good today. He expects to pitch again on Sunday, around 20 pitches, and thinks that once he gets to 25, he will require an “up and down” (finishing one inning, starting another) before he can attempt to pitch on back-to-back days. That’s the big thing you want to look for. Once he is able to pitch on consecutive days, a return to the Rangers is imminent.

“Yeah, I feel really really good,” Jake said today, but admitted that it took him a minute to settle in on the mound in Frisco. “The first two pitches were not commanded at all. It’s like I just closed my eyes and threw them up there. But the other eleven, I felt very very pleased.”

2. Carlos Gomez is still out of the lineup with a cyst on his shoulder. Jeff Banister assured us that the injury, not a change in the depth chart, was the reason for Gomez’ continued absence from the lineup card.

3. Cole Hamels hosted around 50 local kids for an autograph and question-and-answer session before today’s game as part of the Tia’s hope charity. This from the press release about Tia’s hope:

TIA'S HOPE was founded in honor of Tia Palermo. Tia was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2001 and bravely battled the disease for over 11 years. Tia always felt that there should be something special for the children who had to spend part of their youth in a hospital. She took great joy in sharing special experiences, or, as she called them, "Memory Moments" and, with that in mind, TIA’S HOPE was established by Tia’s loving family to honor her wish that children have more of these unique and positive memories.

The day’s activities are being coordinated through the Players Trust’s “Buses for Baseball” program, which provides transportation, game tickets and personal greetings from Major Leaguers to children across the country. This season, the program will make 10 Major League ballpark visits and provide over 500 children with an unforgettable experience.  At each game, players sign autographs, pose for photos and answer questions.  The children also receive free souvenirs, food and beverages.

The Players Trust also enjoys the support of the Rangers organization in providing this unique, up close and personal opportunity to share the thrill of Major League Baseball with children from the Dallas area.

Through the Players Trust, Major Leaguers contribute their time, money and celebrity to call attention to important issues affecting those in need and to help encourage others to get involved in their own communities.  For additional information, please visit http://playerstrust.org.

Here’s a short video of Hamels talking about the experience.


NOW LISTENING:

Still listening to the Weakerthans
(Spotify, Apple Music, Website)

During the regular season, these recommendations occasionally come from Rangers players, broadcasters, or other people around the team (here’s a complete list). If there’s a player or person you’d like Levi to ask for a music recommendation, shoot him an e-mail threetwoeephus@gmail.com or a tweet here.

You can follow Levi Weaver on Twitter at @ThreeTwoEephus, or for fewer puns and more straight-forward Baseball News updates, you can follow us at @BaseballTX, or download the app and get in-game updates and notifications by clicking on the logo below!

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