Rangers may finally have found formula for October

Posted Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton When the weather turns and baseball treads regally into its postseason, the game changes, as the Texas Rangers can personally attest.

In October, it’s all about the pitching. And the defense. And a lineup’s ability to formulate runs.

Home runs are nice. But what if you’re playing in those ample meadows in Detroit or San Francisco?

More likely, what if you’re facing a Verlander, a Colon, or a David Price?

A team that expects to win in October has to be built for all kinds of pitchers and all manner of weather.

And thus, the Rangers welcomed outfielder Alex Rios into the fold on Saturday night. He isn’t Nelson Cruz. He isn’t Giancarlo Stanton.

But as manager Ron Washington said, “He’s a complete player. A solid outfielder. A tremendous base runner.

“And I think that’s what we needed.”

Six games with the fallen Angels and a series with the Oakland Athletics have vaulted the Rangers back into first place. The Cruz suspension, however, easily could have scuttled the entire streak.

Desperate times called for creative measures. Washington called it “raising hell” baseball when the Rangers bunted and pilfered their way to a three-game sweep in Anaheim.

But stealing bases and beating out infield hoppers is not an everyday formula for pennant race success. The loss of Cruz, the club’s leading home run hitter and RBI man, left the Rangers’ lineup with little depth.

All hell-raising aside, runs are going to be at a premium for the Rangers from now through October. Rios, in that regard, may not have been the perfect August addition to the lineup, but clearly he was necessary.

The knock against Rios, a veteran of 10 seasons, is his level of commitment, which is said to have waxed and waned over the years at various stages. Toronto let him go — for nothing but a waiver claim — in 2009 after six seasons, two of which included being selected to the All-Star Game.

And then there was this past July 19 when, in the fifth inning of a game against the Braves, White Sox manager Robin Ventura yanked Rios for not hustling to first base.

“We expect more than that,” Ventura explained.

Rangers representatives were there that night, as were scouts from several other major league teams. What kind of guy, knowing that his name had been circulating in trade rumors for weeks and was being scouted, dogs it to first base?

Washington was asked about that on Friday and responded, “I don’t know the reasons behind that, but it happens to a lot of players.

“Alex isn’t going to change our culture. Our culture is what it is, and I wholeheartedly and very confidently feel he will fit in and help us do what we need to do.”

For what it’s worth, management sought the recommendation of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a former Rios teammate in Chicago. Pierzynski was all for the deal.

As general manager Jon Daniels said, “We like players that can play both sides of the ball.”

Rios will have to. After losing Cruz, and after an off-season in which they subtracted the power bats of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, the Rangers have no other choice.

Pitching. Base running. Catching the baseball.

They may not have the clout and fireworks that characterized their two World Series teams, but the Rangers may well have stumbled into the winning October formula. Are they any worse on paper than the 2010 Giants team?

The deal for Rios was masterfully played by Daniels, who took advantage of the Rangers’ place in the waiver claiming order. The expected trade piece, Leury Garcia, may turn out to be a fine major league utility player, but he’s not as good as Alexei Ramirez or Gordon Beckham, the two White Sox infielders ahead of him.

Rios is not the perfect elixir for losing Cruz. The club’s original off-season target was blue-chipper Justin Upton, and now they have Rios.

Washington thinks he’s just what the Rangers needed.

What he’s really talking about is the team’s new formula — solid pitching, dependable defense and hell-raising base running.

Finally, even without Nelson Cruz, the Rangers may have a team made for October. They, of all American League teams, ought to know.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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