This is becoming an ugly, old hat for the Texas Rangers.
For the second straight September, the team finds itself playing its worst baseball of the season, and its hopes for the playoffs, well, Slip Slidin’ Away.
Seven straight losses heading into tonight’s contest against the Tampa Bay Rays. During that seven-game losing streak, the Rangers have not led once, not even for a single half inning.
They’ve stopped hitting, stopped scoring runs, they’ve lost nine out of their last ten games. And now they find themselves 6.5 games back of Oakland in the American League West and tenuously clinging to just a half game lead for the final Wild Card berth.
By the start of September last year, Texas sat on top of the AL West with a comfortable three-game lead. They built that lead to five games with just nine left to play, and a division crown for the team that had just appeared in back-to-back World Series seemed all but inevitable.
That’s when the unthinkable happened. The wheels fell off for the Rangers, and the A’s got red hot at just the right time. Two games separated the two teams by the time the final series of the regular season rolled around, one that fittingly pitted them against one another. Oakland erased an early 5-1 deficit in game three to sweep the series, take the division, and force Texas into the one-and-done Wild Card Game, which Texas lost.
The Rangers entered this September with a 79-56 record, a two-game lead over Oakland in the division, and a 5.5-game lead over the potential final Wild Card berth. Having now lost 12 of their 14 games this month, there are no more leads and no more room for error. The danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons is real and imminent.
It seems the loss of All-Star outfielder Nelson Cruz – who was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the performance enhancing drug investigation into the Biogenesis Clinic – has had a snowball effect on the rest of the offense. Other guys had been expected to pick up the slack left by Cruz’s offense. Not only has that not happened, but many of the other major cogs in the Rangers’ lineup have regressed since that suspension.
Jurickson Profar, the former top-ranked prospect in all of baseball, has batted just .226 in August and .233 in September so far.
Heading into last night, Adrian Beltre was just 13-for-51 (.596 OPS) in September, Ian Kinsler 12-for-57 (.513 OPS), and Mitch Moreland 3-for-29 (.602 OPS).
All starters not named Yu Darvish have been getting knocked around as of late as well. In his last two starts, Matt Garza has thrown 11 innings and given up eight earned runs on 14 hits. Derek Holland’s last three starts have been a struggle; he has allowed 13 earned runs, 21 hits and five home runs over 13.1 innings during that span.
Texas does have a favorable end to their schedule. They close the regular season with home series against the Houston Astros (51-99) and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (73-77). But that’s no guarantee they’ll be able to salvage a Wild Card berth. The Rangers have already dropped on series against the Angles this month, along with a series against the Minnesota Twins (64-85). And they’re facing stiff competition from the Indians, Orioles, Royals and Yankees who are all within 2.5 games of that last playoff spot.
The AL Wild Card race continues to do the Tighten Up.
With so many competitors nipping at their heels, the Rangers are running out of time to right the ship. Momentum, and recent history, just does not seem to be in their favor.