Game 162 – The Biggest of Them All

3 10 2012


Here we go.

Today is the day that could lead to the reigning AL Champions reestablishing themselves as the Buffalo Bills of the MLB or simply closing out a tight race when push comes to shove. Dempster will soon step out onto the mound at the Coliseum and must pitch his best game since he put on a Rangers uniform if he wants to give his team a chance to save face. A lot of face.

The Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers are all tied up with a record of 93-68. That’s right – the AL West team that doesn’t have one player making over $10 million, compared to the team in Los Angeles that has seven of those, will be challenging the team that has been the sole leader of the division for 177 straight days. (Can you say #Moneyball?) You know that new one-game, wild-card playoff that will implemented this year? A trial run is about to take place.

Winner takes all Wednesday afternoon as the team that comes out on top between the A’s and Rangers will claim the AL West pennant. Even though Texas had a 13-game lead on June 30 and had a four-game lead with six games to go, that is just as in the past as the Rangers past two failures in the World Series. This entire six-month long season will literally be defined by one day of baseball. That one day has arrived.

Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64) will attempt to avoid pitching as he did last Friday when he allowed the Angels to rack up four earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched. Since he came down south, it has been difficult to figure out Dempster as he has been one of the more inconsistent starting pitchers. Even though he has pitched fairly well of late, he must be at the top of his game since he will be facing a stout, young pitcher that hasn’t been afraid of the limelight. A.J. Griffin (7-1, 2.71) has been one of the best rookie pitchers of late, winning 10 of his last 12 outings. He has a certain command that is not often seen from first-year pitchers and will be difficult to slow down.

The Rangers can only blame themselves for the pressure at hand. They have played nowhere close to their level of baseball during the most important stretch of the season. Losing eight of their past 12 games, including four of their last five, this would go down as one of the best representations of choking in modern-day sports.

Inconsistency seems to be the new consistent and making the crucial hit seems to be a constant struggle for everyone in this lineup – even AL’s player of the month for September Adrian Beltre (2-11, no RBIs in his last three games). Speaking of inconsistent, Josh Hamilton has decided to go into yet another slump as he has gone 1-8 in the last two losses, while failing to hit a home run in the past eight games. When he carelessly swings the bat, he again looks like the man that went through that dreadful drought midway through the season. How can the Rangers put their faith in that type of unpredictable batter?

Pitching has it’s fair share of problems. The players in the projected playoff rotation – Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Dempster – have all had recent off nights while a lingering injury to Mike Adams has put the bullpen into question. Yes, closer Joe Nathan picked up his 37th save against the Angels Sunday night, but also blew one while picking up the loss earlier in the day to the same team.

The Rangers not only want to win this game for their own dignity, but they do not want to allow an A’s team to enter the playoffs even hotter than they already are. Remember the last time they had to face a surging team in the postseason? Alexi Ogando, Matt Lowe and Neftali Feliz sure remember. If Oakland pulls this one game out and takes the division, you would have to give them the clear advantage if they face Texas later on in the AL playoffs.

Even though the Rangers’ current situation can only described as frustrating and stressful for a DFW sports follower such as myself, this is what makes sports one of the most intriguing genres on television. Most season finales do not have the ability to promise their viewers a finish that will either evoke pure joy or utter distress – two emotions all television shows dream for from their viewers. And once this intense game comes to a close, fans of the losing team will only have to wait a short time period before they get yet another one-game stress fest.

“Take one game at a time” never has seemed to be more fitting for Ron Washington and the Rangers than it does right now. Before they can begin their quest to conquer the MLB mountain known as the postseason that they have geared up for, attempted to climb and come right near the peak two years in a row, it all starts with this one game. They may have already clinched a playoff berth and will live to play another day no matter the outcome of game 162. However, game 162 will shape the mindset of every single Ranger. Game 162 will either start their playoff run with a bang or a bust. Game 162 will give Texas the AL West or give them a win-or-go-home playoff game.

Go take your third straight pennant if you want it. Or continue to crumble toward the finish. It’s all in your control, Rangers.

Ignite the Site!

Advertisements




Dirty Harri

19 06 2012

During a time when the Rangers’ pitching is in flux due to ceaseless injuries, one player has stabilized his worth to the team.

The Texas Rangers defeated the San Diego Padres 2-1 on Monday night during interleague play. Even though they could only put together five hits, a David Murphy two-run single provided the pitchers with just enough support to rack up their fourth consecutive victory.

This subpar hitting from the best hitting team in the league only could be made possible for a win by means of Matt Harrison (and another*).

 

Last year’s World Series was not nice to Matthew Reid Harrison. In fact, it bullied him off the mound. Twice. After a Game 3 performance in which he gave up six hits and five runs in only 3.2 innings, the 26-year-old followed that up in a crucial Game 7 with five hits and three runs in four innings. Going into the offseason, Harrison’s play looked to have a bigger question mark than his goatee.

This season has shown a goatee-trimmed Matt Harrison and a confident Matt Harrison. Other than Colby Lewis, whose nickname is workhorse for a reason, no other Ranger has put in more innings pitched than the 4-year pro. He has made it through five innings (the usual amount of innings required for a starter to qualify for a win) every game except for May 2 when he struggled through 3.1 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The past month has showcased an even sharper Matt Harrison, one that can stand tall right alongside some of the best in the league. Monday not only marked Harrison winning his fifth straight decision and fifth win in six starts but also tied him with New York Yankees’ pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova for most AL wins (9 wins). During this hot streak, Harrison has dropped his ERA from 5.21 to 3.41 while making it through at least seven innings four times and eight innings two times. He might not be a strikeout machine like Yu Darvish or Lewis, but he sure does his job – he always gives his team a chance to win the game.

Harri’s ability to consistently throw first-pitch strikes – 93 of 145 batters have faced this hole during his recent superior outings – has set him up perfectly and prevented men at the plate from having the ability to wait for the pitch they want. He often follows this up with either a solid sinker or cutter that hits the target. Since this organization decided to trade with the Atlanta Braves in 2008 up to this point, the Rangers have never seen their lefty pitcher like this.

This is the Matt Harrison we should now expect. Proclaiming him an elite MLB pitcher should start to become the norm as he continues to pitch exactly how he wants to night in and night out. Yes, other pitchers on this team are better at exciting the crowd, filling the seats or scaring the batter. However, if the Rangers find a way to buy into “three times the charm” this season and make it to the World Series, there will be a new and improved Matt Harrison for all to see.

 

 

*Joe Nathan has arrived and is here to stay. As the Rangers closer picked up his 14th save of the season, he achieved a provisional career-defining milestone. Nathan now holds the highest save percentage in MLB history (200 or more saves) as he passes Mariano Rivera, the best closer ever. Even though the Texas native had many critics early on questioning if his best days had passed, Nathan has finally settled down (his ERA has dropped from 9.00 on April 11 to 1.63) and looks to be one of the premiere closers in the game. His 33 strikeouts and 2 walks on the season speak for themselves. When Nolan Ryan brought in this pitcher that wanted to play in Arlington, this is exactly the type of productivity he expected. As stated earlier, if the Rangers make it to the World Series this year, Nathan will be a key, veteran component toward prohibiting this franchise from becoming the next Buffalo Bills.

Ignite the Site!





Next Up – Nathan

22 11 2011

Joe Nathan Minnesota Twins

Even though a lot of Rangers fans still have a bit of a World Series hangover and don’t want to talk about the team, General Manager Jon Daniels is already making moves for the future.

Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan was signed to a two-year, $14 million contract with the Rangers. There is an option for a third year worth $9 million.

Nathan went through a lot of ups and downs with the Twins. Because of the Tommy John Surgery he had to undergo in 2010, he was unable to pitch that entire season. After posting a 7.63 ERA in 15 1/3 innings through the first two months of the 2011 season, he lost his job and was placed on the disabled list because of a flexor muscle strain. When he came back from the injury, he had a solid 3.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 31 games. This strong finish to the 2011 season hopefully bodes well for the future of this 37-year-old.

Aside from all the statistics surrounding Nathan, there’s one thing about him that will definitely be a plus for the Rangers organization. Nathan has made it clear he wants to put on a Texas Rangers uniform. This deal is not solely about money or about how many years are on the contract; it is about one man’s desire to play for a team. As Richard Durrett from ESPNDallas.com reported, Joe Nathan’s comment made it clear that he knew he wanted to be in Texas after only one dinner meeting with Rangers executives Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, and Don Welke.

“I think we ate just about everything in that restaurant… we were there about four hours and I was completely comfortable. I knew I wanted to play here.”

This move will have a lot of consequences for the Rangers organization. Daniels and Washington have already made it clear that the signing of this veteran means current closer Neftali Feliz will move into the starting rotation. Since Feliz is moving into the starting lineup, the Rangers have six possible starters in C.J. Wilson (for now), Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, and Neftali Feliz.

There are many different opinions about what the Rangers will now do with free agent C.J. Wilson. Some have pointed out that Wilson could still be re-signed as a starter and then Ogando could be moved back to his previous spot in the bullpen. However, I believe this is the closing chapter of C.J. Wilson with the Texas Rangers. Unlike Nathan, even though Wilson does have a laid back personality, he has never shown that much passion about being a Ranger. If you’re going to be the #1 pitcher for an MLB team, you should crave to pitch for that club every single night. (Just look at Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers for a prime example.) Furthermore, with his agent’s discussion of wanting to find a $100 million contract, money is obviously a large factor. With Feliz’s move to an already stable starting lineup, the Rangers are in a position where they don’t have to throw the big bucks at Christopher John.

Joe Nathan used to wear a jersey with #63 on the back and finished up his tenure with the Twins wearing #36. He has made it clear he would like to wear #36 if Wilson doesn’t return to Texas. I believe that will be his number on opening day of the 2012 season.

Ignite the Site!

Save the Season!