How the Texas Rangers Suddenly Became a True Postseason Contender
A few weeks ago, the Texas Rangers had their eyes on 2016.
Yes, the Rangers traded for Cole Hamels, but that was more to provide next year's rotation with a left-handed ace that they could pair with the returning Yu Darvish. No one, including Texas themselves, really believed they were going to compete for a playoff spot, even though they were five games behind the second wild card team at the time of the trade.
On July 24, one week before the deadline, our algorithms put the Rangers' chances at making the playoffs at 2.9%.
That is not a typo.
Entering play Tuesday, their chances had improved significantly, now at 31.4%, the 10th-best odds in the Majors. That's slightly better than the San Francisco Giants, and significantly better than the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins, holding a 1 1/2 game lead over the Angels and Twins for the second wild card spot coming into Tuesday.
So what in the Sam Hill is going on in Arlington?
The Rangers are 14-7 since Hamels' arrival, which coincided with the turning of the calendar to August. They are outscoring their opponents 100-82 this month and greatly helped their cause by sweeping the Houston Astros a few weeks ago, who they trailed by just 3 1/2 games in the AL West going into Tuesday's games. Their team batting average of .269 is third-best in the American League this month, their 100 runs scored is tied for fifth-most, and it's clear the team has played a lot better since the trade deadline.
|Runs per game||4.39||4.76|
Offensively, a rejuvenated Shin-Soo Choo has turned on the turbo jets this month, hitting .266/.440/.453 in 84 plate appearances, with a team-best 150 weighted runs created (wRC+). He's walking in 19.0% of his plate appearances in August, with two homers and 15 runs scored, tied with Adrian Beltre for the most runs scored this month. Beltre leads all Rangers batters in fWAR this month at 0.7 (Choo is at 0.6), hitting .293/.330/.476 and three homers and a wRC+ of 115.
Rougned Odor is batting .312/.329/.468 with a 114 wRC+, newly-acquired Mike Napoli is hitting .318/.400/.636 with a wRC+ of 182 (in just 25 plate appearances, however), and Mitch Moreland is slashing .300/.342/.429 with a team-leading 15 RBI in August.
Interestingly, Hamels had not pitched all that well since coming over to Texas until his most recent outing in which he went six innings and gave up two runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and two walks. But in four starts since being acquired, Hamels has an ERA of 4.73 with a FIP of 4.85, with his strikeout rate down and his walk rate up. It's more likely than not that Hamels will kick it into gear sooner rather than later, so don't worry about him in a pennant race.
Martin Perez has had an outstanding month, with a 2.84 ERA and a 2.57 FIP in 25.1 innings pitched, and Yovani Gallardo, who the team considered trading at the deadline, has a 2.45 ERA and 3.62 FIP in four starts in August. They've been the two best starters for Texas since the trade deadline. Colby Lewis has posted a 3.67 ERA in four starts, but with a 5.09 FIP.
And the bullpen has kicked it up a notch too, with the third most fWAR of any 'pen this month. Their 3.25 ERA is seventh-best in the AL, but their 2.91 FIP is third-best, thanks to an increase in their strikeout rate and a big decrease in their walk rate.
Closer Shawn Tolleson has a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings this month with seven saves, Sam Dyson's ERA is 2.13 in 12 2/3 IP, and Jake Diekman, who was the little talked-about throw-in in the Hamels deal, has been outstanding since arriving in Texas, with a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings.
Will it keep up? Based on the strength of the competition behind them, it's looking good for Texas. While they are outperforming their Pythagorean Won-Loss record by quite a bit (59-64, based on their run differential of -23), the three teams right behind them in the standings don't have the talent that the Rangers do.
And if Hamels, Fielder and Hamilton are able to heat up over the last five weeks, the Rangers could even catch the Astros and win the American League West.
Looks like 2016 is going to have to wait.