September is often the time when players on contending teams admit that they start looking at the standings to see where they fall and at the out-of-town scoreboard to see how the teams nearest to them are doing.
But most will say this early in September that there’s still plenty of time left for them to make up ground or lose ground. Anything can happen in baseball.
For the Houston Astros, though, time dwindles with each loss and each Texas Rangers win.
So, Friday was a double whammy for the Astros, which begs this question: When is it too early to start looking at magic numbers. My rule of thumb has been to start writing it only when it gets under double digits.
But it merits discussion now. The Rangers’ magic number is 19 with 55 games left among them and the Astros. That means any combination of 19 Rangers wins or Astros losses over the final 55 games will give the Rangers a second straight American League West crown.
Anybody else like their chances?
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 10-8 victory.
1. Maybe it’s a late-August/September thing. The Rangers’ offense is starting to flex its muscles, just as it did at the same time last season as it stormed to the AL West lead and hung on for the division title.
Of course, it’s just one game this month, but the Rangers have scored 6, 9, 7, 2, 6, 8, 14 and 10 runs in their past eight victories beginning Aug. 24 with a 6-5 win at Cincinnati.
That was the Yu Darvish homer game. The Rangers hit two others in that one and have launched 19 since they were shut out Aug. 23 by the Reds.
Three of those came in the fourth inning alone Friday night. Rougned Odor had one of them, giving him four homers in the past three games, six in his past 10 and 28 this season.
Newcomers Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy also homered in the seven-run inning.
Carlos Gomez, another newcomer, stuck it to the team that released him last month. Gomez doubled, singled and walked in his first three trips and scored each time.
Haters of the bunt had to be thrilled with the decision to let Elvis Andrus swing away in the fourth. He broke a 2-2 tie with an RBI double.
The thing is, the Rangers left a bunch of runs on the field.
They didn’t score in the first despite a leadoff single by Nomar Mazara and an Ian Desmond double that moved him to third.
After a three-base error in the second that allowed the Rangers to score two and tie the game with one out, Andrus was stranded at third.
When Lucroy bounced out to end the third and strand a runner at second, the Rangers were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
So, it could have been better for the Rangers and worse for the Astros. But it was good enough for a 9 1/2-game lead in the West. Keep it up, and this race could officially be over quickly.
2. The Rangers’ bullpen again wasn’t as reliable as most would like it to be. “Most” includes the Rangers themselves.
Alex Claudio, Tony Barnette, Matt Bush and Jake Diekman were all charged with at least one run, though Barnette’s should have never scored as Mazara dropped a popup that should have ended the seventh inning. Bush’s run came on a two-run double allowed by Diekman.
No one should be worried about Barnette or Bush.
Nevertheless, the bullpen’s performance wasn’t pretty, except for Sam Dyson’s 1-2-3 ninth inning on nine pitches. He’s had consecutive solid outings to make the ninth inning a little less stressful on everyone.
Maybe the performance rates as uncharacteristic as a whole, but Diekman hasn’t been as steady of late as he’d like. Keone Kela, who got the last out of the eighth as Alex Bregman batted at potential go-ahead run, has been better but still has work to do.
This team misses Jeremy Jeffress, who will be out until late this month and, depending on where he is mentally and emotionally, might not be back after complete treatment after his DWI arrest. The pitchers with the team have a month to get straightened out. They will need to ahead of the postseason.
3. A.J. Griffin is guaranteed to get one more start this season, as Colby Lewis’ return has been delayed until at least Sept. 8. Sept. 9 is more likely as the Rangers like the idea of Darvish and Cole Hamels pitching back to back.
If Griffin is closing in on the end of his run as one of the Rangers’ five starters, it’s been a good one.
He was good enough again against the Astros, though not as good as he was last week against the Cleveland Indians. He allowed three runs Friday, two of them on solo homers, and should have been out of the sixth if plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt had pulled the trigger on a 3-2 pitch that caught the outside corner.
Griffin looks to be on track to start Wednesday at Seattle. He’s 7-3 and the Rangers are 13-6 in his starts this season. That’s pretty good for a pitcher who came to spring camp as an outsider for the Opening Day roster after missing the previous two seasons.
One thing that could keep him pitching regularly the rest of the season is a six-man rotation. The Rangers have floated the idea as a way to give all starters rest as they prepare for the postseason.
The Rangers probably won’t to commit to their end-of-season pitching plans until after their 10-game homestand that starts Monday at Seattle.
But Griffin might not be done after his next start next week.