The stars are night are big and bright…Photo courtesy of daylife.com
As the Yankees and the Rays battle for the AL East division crown and the Twins fight off the White Sox, the Rangers enter September as the clear favorite to win the AL West. Barring something catastrophic, they will win wrest the division title away from the Angels and return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Rangers have been a model of playoff futility in the past. Texas is one of three MLB franchises never to appear in the World Series, with the Mariners and Nationals being the others, and is the oldest franchise of that group. They have never won a playoff series, and have only won one single playoff game in their three appearances. Yet, this year hopes in Texas are high. Texas is a club with a lot of young talent and high variance players, and mostly everything has gone right for them this year. They’re getting an MVP performance from Josh Hamilton and great results from starters CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis, and they added one of the best pitchers in the game in Cliff Lee in July. The Rangers are the American League version of the Cincinnati Reds: everything has clicked at once, and nothing major has gone wrong. Yet, not all is well in Texas.
The Texas Rangers have watched Cliff Lee struggle after snatching him out from underneath the Yankees’ nose in July. In 80 innings, Lee has a 4.79 ERA and has yielded 10 home runs. He has still maintained good peripherals with 72 strikeouts and 8 walks, but the results just haven’t been there. Recently, Lee admitted that he has been suffering from lower back discomfort, and returned to Texas to receive an injection. The Rangers are optimistic that he will start on Tuesday, but the Cliff Lee experiment in Texas has not gone well so far. Adding to the Rangers’ worries is the fact that Josh Hamilton’s knee seems to be worsening. His knee has been something that has bothered him all year, and he has received two cortisone injections already in an attempt to alleviate the pain. However, the pain appears to be getting worse. While another cortisone injection might help, most clubs don’t like to give more than two in a single season. So instead the Rangers gave him an injection of the lubricant Synvisc. Hamilton has reported that his knee feels 40-50 percent better, and he has been able to perform at peak levels all season despite the pain. However, if the pain continues to persist and the knee deteriorates further, Hamilton’s knee could be a serious problem for Texas.
These aren’t the Rangers’ only problems. Their rotation behind Cliff Lee has big questions. Derek Holland has struggled with injury and inconsistency this year, despite his immense talent and impressive minor-league pedigree. CJ Wilson has been a revelation for the Rangers, but has now thrown 171 innings on the year, 100 more than his major league high and around 40 more than his career high established as a 21 year-old in A/AA ball nine years ago. On the offensive side, the Rangers have seen Vladimir Guerrero cool off in a major way: since the All-Star Break, he is batting .238/.284/.368 with 6 HR. After fielding Cristian Guzman and varying outfield platoons, the Rangers have finally gotten reinforcements with the returns of Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz. However, neither of those players are the paragons of health and seem to be a constant risk of straining a groin (Kinsler) or hamstring (Cruz).
The futility of the Rangers franchise is somewhat sad. To have only won one playoff game in franchise history is pitiful, especially considering the kind of talent that has passed through Texas in the past decade. Yet thanks to some smart managing in the past (the Teixeira trade, in particular) and some aggressive maneuvering this season, the Rangers are set to make the playoffs this year and do so with two of the best players in baseball. Yet, there are major injury questions surrounding this club, and the absence of either Hamilton or Lee could be devastating to their postseason chances. Fortunately for them, they have a giant lead in the AL West and can afford to rest their players down the stretch. But a Texas Rangers ballclub at less than 100% might find their postseason visit cut short yet again.