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1. On back to back nights, two teams from the AL West clinched playoff spots. On Sunday night, the Rangers clinched a playoff berth with a win over the LA Angels. Last night, the Oakland A’s clinched an unlikely berth with a 4-3 win over Texas.
Sadly, we’re not surprised. As we said in yesterday’s Daily Six Shooter, the Rangers had lost the previous nine games in which Martin Perez made an appearance. Last night’s loss made it 10 in a row. And Perez didn’t last long either as all four runs the A’s scored were were in the four innings that he pitched. In five innings of work, the Rangers bullpen allowed just five base-runners and struck out four. No A’s player even advanced passed first base after the relievers took over the game.
The only problem was that the A’s bullpen was even better. Jarrod Parker gave Oakland a quality start and then the Oakland bullpen rendered the Rangers hitless. Closer Grant Balfour struck out the side in the 9th inning and the A’s went crazy, having clinched a playoff spot. This was in stark contrast to the Rangers, who celebrated their playoff berth on Sunday night like any other win (on the field, anyway) because they have bigger aspirations. They’re the two-time reigning AL champs, so they know that a playoff berth is just the beginning.
The Rangers biggest problem is their hitting. Three of their best hitters in the month of September were Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Napoli, all who spent time on the bench injured or dealing with a medical issue. Only Craig Gentry, David Murphy and Michael Young had OPS numbers over .800 and Young is dealing with an injury himself.
The one good thing is that the #5 spot in the lineup is officially gone. Even if Texas somehow loses the last two games and has to play in a tiebreaker for the last playoff spot, the Rangers won’t be forced to throw out a 5th pitcher in the order. I like the Rangers chances to clinch the division in one of the next two games. Tonight they’ll have Matt Harrison on the hill. Harrison has won three of his last four starts, had an ERA of 3.00 in September and beat the A’s last week.
2. If Texas wins tonight, at minimum they’ll keep pace with the New York Yankees for home field advantage in the playoffs. Last night the Yankees destroyed the Boston Red Sox 10-2, but the Baltimore Orioles lost a close game to the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3. So the Rangers don’t have to contend with the Orioles right now.
The Yanks, sadly, get to keep playing the Red Sox. The mess of a franchise has Jon Lester pitching against New York’s hot hand in Brandon Phelps, who will be taking Ivan Nova’s spot. The Orioles are more likely to slip as they continue their series against the Rays. Miguel Gonzalez faces Matt Shields, who has given up more than three runs just once since August (and that was against the Rangers).
Photo courtesy Mike Stone/Reuters
3. Speaking of strong starting pitching, Rangers President Nolan Ryan says that Yu Darvish should be the team’s No. 1 pitcher in the playoffs. And, I gotta say, I agree with him.
Darvish has thrown eight quality starts in a row and his September was better than any other starter’s. His ERA last month was 2.21 with a record of 3-0. Last year, it was CJ Wilson. This year it was looking like veteran Colby Lewis or breakout star Derek Holland, but struggles, injuries, and a ridiculously successful rookie season have Darvish as an easy pick to lead the Rangers in the postseason. Although Ryan Dempster is up there as well. But he’s pitching tomorrow and it would be a big morale boost for the team to have a franchise rookie rather than a hired gun take the hill for the postseason opener. Dempster and Matt Harrison would provide steady arms while Holland would hopefully find last season’s postseason magic somewhere at the No. 4 spot.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out when we figure out the matchups this week.
4. Last night the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Chicago Bears (check out our recap) and there were a lot of Bears fans at the game, including a couple of my friends whose family flew out for the game to root on Chicago. It’s a shame that they won’t be flying to Chicago to watch the Cubs in their last series of the season against the Houston Astros because the tickets are really cheap, like 19 cents cheap.
I’m not kidding. According to this story from CBS in Chicago, there are seats in the upper deck being sold on StubHub for 19 cents. Not really a surprise though considering that these are the two worst games in the majors. There certainly isn’t anyone in Chicago that will long for the days when the Cubs and Astros competed for playoff spots in the NL Central, so there’s not even a nostalgic value for these games. And with the Bears on Monday Night Football, Chicagoans were likely saving their energy for a game that matters.
Photo courtesy David Banks/Getty Images
5. It turns out there was good reason for Cubs fans to skip this game as Houston beat them 3-0 last night. The win gave Houston back-to-back shutout wins for the first time since 2010. As bad as the Astros are this season, it actually wasn’t that long ago that Houston was good enough to pull off back-to-back shutout victories.
We talk a lot about Houston’s futility. The Cubs are the very definition of futility in professional sports but, if you can believe it, this is just the first time that they’ve lost 100 games since 1966. And since the Cubs lost their 100th game, the last two games of the series will be the first time two 100-loss teams have played each other since 1962. The Cubs were involved in that game too. It was against the Lovable Losers era New York Mets.
As for the game itself, in yesterday’s Daily Six Shooter we talked about the young guys coming together on this team and look who stepped up in this game: Lucas Harrell, Jose Altuve, Matt Dominguez, and Fernando Martinez. Harrell is the old man of the group at 27 while the rest are 23 years old or younger. Harrell gave up just two hits (Chicago’s only two hits of the game) over six innings while striking out seven Cubs. He did a great job of painting the corners and his fastball had so much movement on it that it was tough to get a read on his curveball or slider… if that is what he was throwing. He was consistently hitting the gun over 90 mph.
Fernando Martinez’s solo shot in the 2nd inning held up as all the runs Houston needed. And boy did he crush it. See for yourself.
Houston is still at 106 wins. If they win their last two against Chicago, they’ll stay tied for the franchise record for losses set last year; a near miracle all things considered.
6. Finally, The Avengers came out on DVD last week. You’ve probably already seen the movie. If not… what the heck!? Go out and see it already! Before you do, check out this edition of “Honest Trailers” from Screen Junkies. It’s hilarious.