Hello, September. Hello, baseball’s stretch drive.
Hello, football season, too, but the boys across Randol Mill Road don’t start their journey for almost another two weeks.
Residents of Globe Life Park, however, are five weeks from knowing if they will be among the five playoff teams in the American League.
There’s no doubting that the Texas Rangers, currently in possession of the second wild card, are playoff contenders, and all of those prognosticators who doubted the Rangers’ worth five months ago are wondering how that happened.
“We’re not a bad team that had a hot streak and all of the sudden got into it,” closer Shawn Tolleson said. “It’s been a slow process, but I think that says a lot about our team. We’ve worked our way back and played good baseball.”
This is a team that went 7-14 in April, after all, and was further behind its division leader than any other team in baseball. The Rangers won only 10 games in July but picked themselves up off the mat.
Yet, after Monday’s 7-0 loss at San Diego to begin their 10-game road trip, the Rangers are six games over .500, four games behind Houston in the AL West and 1 game up on Minnesota for the second wild card.
Rookie center fielder Delino DeShields has brought speed to the top of the lineup with 22 steals along with plate discipline (43 walks).
Here’s how it happened.
Major league rosters are constantly evolving, so the evolution of the Rangers’ roster didn’t just begin at the July 31 trade deadline.
The 25 players who lined up for the April 6 season opener aren’t the same 25 players winning games of late for the Rangers.
Twelve of them are either on the disabled list (two), in the minors (five) or out of the organization. Included are two members of the starting rotation (Ross Detwiler and Nick Martinez), the leadoff hitter (Leonys Martin) and closer (Neftali Feliz.)
Martinez was a solid contributor in the first half, and losing his roster spot was more due to a numbers crunch than a lack of performance. The Rangers, though, needed to improve in other areas.
Tolleson replaced Feliz as closer and has been one of the league’s best in his new role. Detwiler was awful and was moved out just as Martin Perez was set to come off the disabled list. Martin wasn’t good offensively, and Delino DeShields pushed him out.
The trade deadline, of course, was critical. Cole Hamels appears to have found a groove with his new team, solidifying the rotation, and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson have transformed the back of the bullpen into a strength.
“You don’t realize their influence on the team until you get here and watch them pitch,” Tolleson said.
“There have been a lot of games this season where the outs they’ve gotten the last few weeks, if we had gotten those outs earlier, we would have more wins.”
Also new to the roster July 31 were catchers Bobby Wilson and Chris Gimenez, who have softened the losses of Opening Day catchers Robinson Chirinos and Carlos Corporan to injuries.
The rotation currently features Perez, who made his 2015 debut July 17 after recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Derek Holland, who injured his shoulder in the April 10 home opener and missed the next four months.
Prince Fielder wasn’t on the disabled list to start the season, but many wondered what kind of production he would provide coming off neck surgery. The Rangers aren’t complaining.
Adrian Beltre suffered a torn ligament in his thumb May 31 and scuffled at the plate after returning in late June. He found a swing that works in August.
The Delino Factor
As big of a surprise as the Rangers have been, the biggest surprise as a key to their success has been DeShields. The Rule 5 pick barely played (14 at-bats) in April, but emerged in early May after an injury to Martin and eventually pushed Martin to the bench and later the minors.
DeShields’ speed at the top of the lineup (22 steals) overshadows his remarkable plate discipline (43 walks) for a rookie. He doesn’t have the arm of Martin, but he’s just as adept at chasing down fly balls in the gaps.
We’re not a bad team that had a hot streak and all of the sudden got into it.
Closer Shawn Tolleson
“We knew he had those tools,” Beltre said. “It’s just a matter of him getting the chance to play more often and be himself.
“He’s been really good for us in front of the lineup, getting on base and creating situations for us to score runs.”
▪ After struggling in the first half, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus have been two of the Rangers’ top offensive players since the All-Star break.
▪ Rougned Odor found what he was missing early in the season and has been right there with Choo and Andrus.
▪ The rotation has allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of the past 15 games.
▪ Mitch Moreland is enjoying the best — and healthiest — season of his career.
▪ The Rangers, 16-28 at home after a 21-5 loss to New York on July 28, are now 32-32 at home.
Add up all the factors, and the Rangers are a contender. It’s September — baseball’s stretch run — and they will know in five weeks if they are one of the five playoff teams in the AL.