On August 2nd the Rangers were 51-53, 8.0 games behind the Astros (60-46) for first place in the AL West.
Today Texas is 87-72, 3.0 games up on the division, after clinching its 4th postseason berth in 6 years last night. Over the last two months — to the day — the Rangers have gone 36-19 (.655) while Houston went 24-29 (.453), an improbable 11-game swing in the standings.
This is the greatest in-season comeback I’ve seen in my life, at least as far as the Rangers go. This wasn’t the story of a bad team that inexplicably overachieved; it was one of a team that was fully capable. It just needed everything to go right, and even then it took a downturn from Houston and Anaheim to give Texas a chance. Some credit is owed to the Rangers for capitalizing, going above and beyond any reasonable expectations, but it would be irresponsible to deny the role played by the teams Texas was chasing in the standings. In a weak American League and tepid, at best, West division, Houston and Anaheim both whiffed on an obtainable crown.
Meanwhile, the Rangers turned out to be the legitimate recipients of such good fortune. As Joe Sheehan wrote on September 15th:
I keep coming back to this, but the Rangers being in contention is another reflection of the odd state of the American League right now. With the high-payroll powers in Boston, in Detroit, in Los Angeles unable to get out of their own way, there’s a vacuum at the top of the league… Throw in the extra wild card and the lowered standards for success that creates, and it’s a time for a team that was under .500 on August 13 to maybe win its division. It’s a transitional time in the AL, and the Rangers are positioned to take advantage of that.
For much of the season I did my best, on the ESPN affiliate I write for, to explain how much mathematic luck the Rangers had on their side. That they were far from the team they appeared as in the standings.
But then, July happened. And Jon Daniels went out and traded for Cole Hamels, and relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson. Martin Perez and Derek Holland came back from injury. The roster, which up that point had been a 12-month-long patchwork, was starting to look like something real.
Still, Texas had to win baseball games. After the acquisition of the two relievers, and the insertion of the troika of left-handed starters, Jeff Banister had a new outlook on how to leverage the game: use the bullpen as often as possible. With Keone Kela and Shawn Tolleson already in the fold, Diekman (2.14 ERA in 21 IP) and Dyson (1.29 ERA in 29.1 IP) proved to be a perfect complement.
I could get into writing about Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus and Delino DeShields and many others, but let’s save that for a deep run in the postseason. Even now, Texas’s Magic Number is 1, so they’ve still only clinched a playoff spot. Any win or Houston loss over the next three days and the Rangers will be AL West Champions for the first time since 2011, and 3rd time since 2010.
Through the highs and lows of the last six years, which has seen my favorite team twice go to the World Series — losing both times — twice lose in a Game 163 scenario, and lose numerous players to injury… it’s always worth it going to the postseason. My mom was telling me the other night how painful these games are becoming, since so much is on the line. And I agreed of course, because I still live and die on every pitch like when I was a little boy, but this is what we’re in it for. The pain, the stomach knots, the butterflies. The emotional currency I invest. It’s for these moments.
Let’s go win a fucking World Series, guys.