Date: Saturday, October 1st, 2016
Rangers Record: (95-65, AL West Champions)
Home-Field Magic Number: Clinched. They’ve clinched everything. Home-field forever
Opponent: Tampa Bay Rays
Tonight’s Starters: Jake Odorizzi (9-6, 3.77) vs. Colby Lewis (6-4, 3.93)
Here we are. It’s October, and we are going to see the penultimate game of the regular-season tonight. Colby Lewis gets his final tune-up start, and the b-team lineup (save for Shin-Soo Choo, who needs at-bats) is on the field. No further jockeying for position can be accomplished; the Rangers are the best team in the AL and they could lose by 50 combined runs over the next 2 days and nothing would change.
Of course, that… would not be ideal. You want the team to go into the playoffs hot. They are hot right now, and it’s an exciting time to be a Rangers fan. Welcome to the October 1st Baseball Texas Daily!
Sylvan Esso was 2014’s darling, but I just realized that I haven’t recommended the band yet this season. It’s very hip-chill music; synths, but not dance music, aloof and clever, but not unapproachable. It’s a perfect soundtrack for making a salad or some home-made salsa and inviting friends over to just chill for awhile on the porch, enjoying the new-found cool weather of October.
(Spotify, Apple Music, Website)
Occasionally these recommendations 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet here.
1. The Rangers beat the Rays 3-1 last night, and in doing so, clinched home-field advantage for as long as they are in the postseason (including the World Series, should they make it that far, thanks to an All-Star win by the AL squad this year).
2. Shin-Soo Choo has a game under his belt, and feels pretty good today. He’s hitting leadoff today, even in the “give the regulars a rest” lineup. As Jeff Banister said the other day, this isn’t the time for Choo to get rest, it’s the time for him to get into sync. Choo said basically the same thing today, telling us how he adjusted, even in his first at-bat yesterday: “Last night, I saw 98-99 - I played three games (in Arizona)... I’d see 90-92, but the first time I saw the fastball last night, I swung and missed, the second time, I fouled it off, the third time, I hit it (for a single)...
“I’m not swinging and missing at three straight pitches. I have something to prove. And that’s getting better, even in the one at-bat,” he continued. “So it seems like I was catching up a little bit (even in one at-bat). So I’ll keep seeing it, and it will come quickly.”
The recognition of off-speed stuff will also be important for Choo, but first things first: catch up to the fastball. “It’s the most important to hit the fastball. At the big league level, you have to hit the fastball. At this level, if you miss the fastball, no chance. You can’t play.” The rest will come.
Choo also said he doesn’t care at all about hitting leadoff, as opposed to hitting further down in the order, other than - in a situation like today where the stakes are low, it will be nice to get an extra at-bat. But once the playoffs start, “Especially in a year like this, with a lot of injuries – I’ve played 46 games – I’m just happy to be in the lineup. Any way I can help the team.”
3. Colby Lewis is the starter today, and while home-field advantage has already been wrapped, Lewis still has something to fight for: if the Rangers win tonight, they will tie the 2011 Rangers for the most wins in one season in franchise history at 96. A win tomorrow would put them alone in that category. “I think that’d be kind of cool,” Colby told us. “The team’s motivation is not only to do that, win two out of three here and go out on a good note.”
Colby also struggled in his last start, so while the stakes aren’t high from a team perspective, and while Colby is about as grizzled a vet as exists in Major League baseball, a good final regular-season start would certainly be better than, well, a really bad one. But Colby says his last outing wasn’t as bad as it looked; the A’s just - to borrow a phrase - hit ‘em where they ain’t.
“I felt like my last start was some of the best start I’ve had. Didn’t really make a lot of mistakes they just hit the ball in spots fielders weren’t. If I do that I should come out with better results than last time. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
After tonight, if Colby is the fourth starter in the rotation, he won’t pitch again until at least Monday, October 10th in whatever city the team finds itself. But hey, take a guess as to whether Colby is worried about that or not.
Correct! He is not worried at all. “That doesn’t affect me at all. I might throw a couple touch up sides to make sure my arm stays nice and fresh and ready to go. For me, it’s like an old Japanese schedule. I used to throw sides in between and felt great every seventh day.”
4. Speaking of Game 4: Here are the Rangers’ records vs. potential first-round matchups:
Baltimore: Rangers have a 4-3 season advantage (3-1 in Texas, 1-2 in Baltimore)
Detroit: Rangers have 4-2 season advantage (1-2 in Texas, 3-0 in Detroit)
Seattle: Rangers have 12-7 season advantage (7-2 in Texas, 5-5 in Seattle)
Toronto: Blue Jays have 4-3 season advantage (2-1 in Texas, 1-3 in Toronto, 1-0 in fistfights)
5. The Rangers have not just one, but TWO finalists for Comeback Player of the Year. Both Ian Desmond and Yu Darvish are up for the award, and only one non-Ranger is competing among them: Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo. Trumbo has had a monster offensive year, and is likely the favorite for the award, but Jeff Banister is backing his center fielder for the award: “a guy who has been in the game and has had some struggles, and to completely turn things around, in Ian Desmond, for me it’s a slam dunk.”
6. Banister also spoke at length about his co-workers today. He was asked about who was to credit for overcoming the obstacles and injuries the team has faced, and he basically went top-to-bottom, giving accolades to each group, from the players (“a tremendous core group of players who police themselves, who are able to buy into a thought process”) to the front office (“We think similarly, when you think about ‘when Armageddon hits, what kind of plan do you have?’(...) being bold and aggressive in how you structure a team. I think JD and the front office has done a tremendous job of giving us the depth that has allowed us to push through those tough situations.”) but the bulk of the conversation was in regards to his coaching staff.
“I think I’ve got the greatest coaching staff in baseball. They show up every day eager. They have something for these players every day to keep them engaged.” He then went on to talk about the thought process that went into hiring each of the guys, most of whom had little-to-no major league coaching experience. Was that a risk?
“When JD hired me, was it a risk?”
Well yeah, a little.
“I considered it a risk *not* to hire them.”
Then he began to talk about the construction of the staff. “Each one of these guys - it’s not just their skill set as a teacher or a coach, it’s moreso their foundation; where they’ve been, where they’ve come from, what they’ve overcome to get to this point. And then: do they really have a desire to make a difference in another person. Because you can say you want to make a difference, right? It’s kind of like when you step out on that platform, and you have an issue you want to talk about; that’s a lifetime event. If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, it’s exhausting, it’s tiresome, and it’s a lifetime event. So there has to be desire there. Each one of these guys has extreme passion for what they do (but) they have passion for the individual more than themselves(...) there’s an overall attitude of toughness that I like.”
“Along with that, they’ve had success in the past with individual players, actually making a difference in what they did on the field, whether it was Doug Brocail in Houston, someone who - you can still see his fingerprints on some of those young pitchers over there. That’s a pretty decent core that keeps showing up in Houston.”
“For the bullpen coach Brad Holman: he had already been in this organization, and his fingerprints were all over the pitchers who were coming up through. He was a guy that I’d known for a long time. I met him in Pittsburgh, and we worked together. I knew where his mechanical thoughts were. The same thing with the hitting guys. Justin Mashore: his fingerprints were all over these young hitters, and more of a swing guy. I didn’t want two of the same guys in those positions. I wanted them to be able to take fresh new ideas and mesh them with old, traditional thoughts(...) The contrast of Brocail and Holman is one being a delivery guy, and the other one being more of a game-planner mentality. And the same thing with the two hitting guys; one being a swing guy (Mashore) and the other one being an approach guy; an offensive coordinator (Iapoce).”
“(It was also important that) they weren’t willing to throw away any one player or hitter, and what I mean by that is: a lot of times when it gets tough, and guys are not responding, or their success is not where you want it to be, that you just kind throw your hands in the air and say ‘well, I’m not… *pshhh*’ No, they’re willing to dig in, get in the trenches with them, and say ‘hey, we’re going to do this together’.”
It was now that Banister took a breath, pointed a hand back towards the clubhouse, and waited for the eyes of the room.
He didn’t have a mic to drop, and I guess he could have grabbed one of our phones or voice recorders, but there was no need; the point was made.
POSTSEASON / ELIMINATION CHECK
(Lead, Magic # in Parenthesis)
At this point, for the AL Wild Card, it doesn’t really matter what Baltimore does. The Blue Jays are a half-game ahead of the Tigers and a game ahead of Seattle. So if you’re hoping for chaos, hope the Blue Jays lose and the Mariners win. The Tigers, I suppose, could also do either, since they’ve got a make-up game coming on Monday.
AL DIVISION LEADERS: Texas (C), Cleveland (C), Boston (C)
AL WILD CARD: Baltimore (+1.0) Toronto (0.5, 3)
NL DIVISION LEADERS: Los Angeles (C), Chicago (C), Washington (C)
NL WILD CARD: NY Mets (C) San Francisco (1.0, 1)
AL Eliminated, Wild Card: Everyone but Detroit and Seattle
NL Eliminated, Wild Card: Everyone but St. Louis
AL First-Round Matchups:
Texas (home) vs. Wild Card team, beginning Oct. 6th
Boston vs. Cleveland (home-field TBD), beginning Oct. 6th
NL First-Round Matchups:
Chicago Cubs (home) vs. Wild Card team, beginning Oct 7th
Washington (home) vs. Los Angeles, beginning Oct. 7th
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!