When last we checked in on the Rangers on August 7, they were taking in their first full breaths since the end of the 2013 season. Buoyed by the acquisition of erstwhile Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, they'd put together eight wins in nine games, hauling themselves from 47-52 to 55-53. Finally, after a season and a half of being an injury-riddled dumpster fire, the Rangers were kinda sorta competing for a playoff spot. They were five games behind the AL West-leading Astros and two games behind the Blue Jays, who were holding on to the second wild card spot. In its infinite wisdom, Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds model gave the club about a 17 percent chance to make the playoffs, dwarfing the 4.5 percent chance the Rangers were estimated to have on July 29. Things were looking up, but a playoff run was still decidedly a long shot.
The Rangers would lose four of their next five against the woebegone Mariners and the surprising Twins, again slipping under .500. That mini-losing streak, however, turned out to be a blip. By the end of August, the team was 68-62, having won two-thirds of their 27 contests in the month. They'd closed the gap on the Astros — it sits, Friday morning, at a measly two games — and actually held the second wild card spot by a game over the Twins (with the Twins' loss to the White Sox Thursday, that lead is now 1.5 games). After winning their first two games of September against the Padres in San Diego, the Rangers head into a stretch of 17 games in 17 days with the potential to make or break their season.
Over that stretch, the Rangers will play all four of their fellow AL West members. They get the Angels in Anaheim and the Mariners in Seattle before coming home for three games with the Athletics and four pivotal games with the Astros in Arlington.
The two series that bookend the divisional round robin should be the most fun. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, loathed by Rangers fans and geographers, are on their last legs after a disastrous 10-18 August. They're 5.5 games back in the division and trail the Rangers by 3.5 for the second and final wild card spot. They are floundering, and the Rangers can effectively end their season, which is some pretty decent motivation. As for the Astros, if the Rangers can maintain or better the deficit they now face, the math is simple: Win the four-game series and come out of it no worse than tied for the division lead.
For that to happen, for the Rangers' borderline-shocking level of good play to continue, the team must be able to continue to count on what's been a rejuvenated bullpen. The bullpen, composed largely of hard-throwing guys with inconsistent results who the Rangers pick off the scrapheaps of other teams — namely Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson — has been lights out since the end of July. What was a nightly adventure at the end of games has become boring in the best possible way. The excellent results, especially from Diekman and Dyson, are not sustainable. They are getting lucky — their peripheral stats don't support their actual results, which is something that happens over small samples. That sample could last for the rest of the season and leave the Rangers in good shape, or Dyson and Diekman could revert to being the guys the Phillies and Marlins didn't want.
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Barring a complete disaster — which, if you're familiar with the moribund history of the team's 43 years in Arlington, you understand is always a possibility — the Rangers are odds-on to make the playoffs. That same Baseball Prospectus playoff odds machine we mentioned earlier now gives the Rangers a 54.5 percent chance of getting in. At worst, if the Rangers merely hang on to their wild card spot, that would mean one game on October 6 — likely against the Yankees, who are seemingly locked in for the first wild card spot, in the Bronx — to get into the playoffs proper, which would be a ton of fun and way better than what any Rangers fan might have imagined at any point this season before the current revival. If they can catch the Astros, they won't have to worry about the wild-card coin flip. That would allow them to fully set a starting rotation that's as good as any team's that's likely to make the playoffs — save maybe the Dodgers — from top to bottom. At this point it seems as if the Rangers will continue to be a distraction through at least the first three games of the Cowboys' season. That's pretty remarkable for a team that won just 67 games last year and lost its best player, Yu Darvish, for the year before the season started.