For the first time in the past four Septembers, the Texas Rangers entered a game as pursuers in the playoff race.
Their loss Friday and wins by Tampa Bay and Cleveland left the Rangers third in the race for one of the two wild-card spots. The deficit to the Rays was just one game, and the Indians were only a half-game clear.
Tampa Bay’s victory Saturday over Baltimore added a half-game to its margin over the Rangers.
The Rangers haven’t missed the playoffs since 2009.
“We have nine games left,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said before Saturday’s game against Kansas City. “If the season ended today, we’re out of the playoffs. But we have a lot of opportunities ahead, and we’re going to try to take advantage.”
Manager Ron Washington has said that he has never seen a team go through a collective slump in all facets of the game as the Rangers have this month. No one area — offense, rotation, bullpen, fielding — has been immune from costing the Rangers a September game.
But the Rangers have continued to stay in the hunt.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Washington said. “As long as there are games left on the schedule, you’ve still got a chance.”
Kinsler said he has theories for the 4-14 start to September, but sees no point in diving into them now.
“Right now, the focus is to get to the playoffs,” he said. “Regardless of the problems with this team or the things we’re doing well, we have to find a way to get in the playoffs.
Cotts’ shrinking ERA
Left-hander Neal Cotts entered Saturday as the American League leader in ERA among relievers, with a minuscule 1.04 figure since joining the Rangers on May 21. In any other year, he might be the front-runner to be Comeback Player of the Year.
That award, of course, will go to Mariano Rivera, the retiring Yankees closer who once again has cleared the 40-save plateau in his first year after tearing a knee ligament. That trumps the three years of injury problems Cotts has had.
“That’s about the only similarity we have as far as our careers,” he said.
As for his on-field success, Cotts chalked a lot of it up to luck. He said that he has been picked up by relievers behind him who have cleaned up some of the runners they inherited from him.
But he should finish with the best ERA by a reliever in club history, topping the 1.57 ERA Jim Kern posted in 1979.
“I don’t really pay attention to that,” Cotts said. “I’m focused on what’s we’ve got going on here.”
Left-hander Martin Perez said that his left forearm is fine after being struck there by a line drive Friday night just above the area where he took a liner in spring training that broke his arm.
Perez flashed back to that March day, but knew he was fine as soon as he squeezed his hand without any issue. He finished the fifth inning after Billy Butler’s drive caught him, and worked into the sixth.
“When I felt the ball hit my arm, I was like, ‘Again?’” said Perez, who is scheduled to pitch Wednesday.
Utility man Jeff Baker has a sports hernia, but he is hoping to become the rare exception among past Rangers to have the same injury. Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton each had to undergo surgery, but Baker is trying to avoid it.
“Hopefully, I’m the first.”
Baker said he was injured Sept. 1 against Minnesota, but doesn’t remember one moment that caused the injury. He recently received a cortisone injection and said that he feels better than he has in three weeks.