Pennant races are a lot more fun than talking baseball it the winter. So here is one from the archives, back on September 27, when the Rangers were trying to wrap up the division, but trying to give it away at the same time. These were the games when fans’ hearts were pounding and more than once you had to question your faith in baseball.
The last road trip of the season was at Houston. The Ranger won the first game of the series on Friday night 6-2 to take their biggest lead of the season at four and a half games.
The next game the Rangers took an early 4-1 lead, but Derek Holland, in brilliant foreshadowing, couldn’t hold it and the Astros shaved a game off the Rangers lead. The big question was, did the Rangers have enough pitching to hold off the Astros?
SOMETHING TO KEEP AN EYE ON.
Here are a couple things to think about as the Rangers stare down the final eight games of the regular season.
This thing is far from over and far from won. It sure is nice to have a three-and-a-half game lead with eight to play. But the Rangers had a five game lead with nine to play in 2012, and we all know what happened then.
What’s troubling are the recent starts made by everyone but Cole Hamels and Colby Lewis. The starters are leaving early. The bullpen is having to work overtime. It helps that, with September callups, the bullpen is as crowded as a Manhattan apartment. But in the games the Rangers have a chance to win, and there have been many lately, we are seeing the arms we should be expected to see past October 4. Assuming there is a past October 4.
Yesterday, Derek Holland had a 4-1 lead after the Ranger had batted three times, and he couldn’t hold it. Worse, he couldn’t go longer than five innings. The game before, he made it only four-and-a-third innings. Before that, five innings.
What’s troubling is, he is pitching scared, like he did at the end of 2013 when he was sort of pitching batting practice. Every time he releases the ball, the throws his hands up in the air to protect his face. He’s not attacking hitters as much as he is defending himself from them.
Yovani Gallardo never met a pitch count he couldn’t inflate. In his last five starts, he hasn’t gotten past the fifth inning. He hasn’t given up as many runs as Holland has, but when you can be trusted to pitch only half a game, your value as a starter is greatly diminished.
Martin Perez has done a bit better, but not much. Last time out, he could last only four innings. A couple times before that, five innings. He always seems to have the bullpen warming up by the third inning.
Up until now, the Rangers rotation has been the real surprise of this team. When the offense was only Prince Fielder for the first half of the season, and the bullpen was as flammable as Chinese-made pajamas, it was the under-rated and under-the-radar rotation that kept the duct tape from peeling off and kept this team within striking distance.
So, are these last few rounds of bad starts just temporary cracks in the fuselage? Or is the Rangers rotation running out of gas and real cause for concern?
Whatever it is, thank goodness for Cole Hamels.
These next eight games are going to reveal a lot.