Rangers' fifth straight loss puts wild-card berth in danger as Indians win again
Two weeks ago, the Texas Rangers had a two-game lead in the American League West and six games remaining against the second-place A's, whom they hoped they could eliminate from that race over the course of those two series. Instead, with a 1-0 loss at home to the A's on Saturday afternoon (the second straight 1-0 loss they have suffered in a game started by Yu Darvish, who now has four such losses on the season), they have lost ten of twelve games over the last two weeks. That stretch also includes losing four of five against the A's, to fall 5 1/2 games behind Oakland in the West. Given that the Rangers have just 15 games left, only one of which will be against the A's, and the tougher remaining schedule, the AL West race appears to be over.
For the second year in a row, the Rangers, who led the West for significant portions of both this season and last, will have to settle for the one-game wild-card playoff. Yet, not even that is guaranteed to Texas this year. Having beaten the Twins on Saturday, the Rays have now tied the Rangers for the wild-card lead and both teams are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Indians, who won their third straight on Saturday. With the Yankees and Orioles both losing Saturday, Cleveland now stands as the greatest threat to the two slumping wild-card leaders, who will face each other in St. Petersburg for a four-game set starting Monday.
The last time the Rangers took on another slumping team occupying a playoff position, they wound up rejuvenating the Pirates, who swept the Rangers in Arlington at the start of this week and once again tied up the NL Central on Saturday thanks to a win over the Cubs and a Cardinals loss to the Mariners. Indeed, if the Rays pick up the win in Saturday night's game, they will have won three straight for the first time since mid-August, putting them on the up-swing heading into Monday's opener against the Rangers.
While that series is going on, the Indians will be in Kansas City to face the Royals in what will be Cleveland's final three games against a team with a winning record this season. Cleveland then finishes with 10 games against the Astros, White Sox and Twins, while the Rangers follow the Indians into Kansas City and the Rays play four against the Orioles at home and three on the road against the Yankees.
The Indians, who are a combined 16-3 against the Astros and White Sox this season, are now 9-4 in the month of September. And Ubaldo Jimenez, who pitched scoreless ball into the ninth inning against the White Sox on Saturday night, is throwing the ball better than he has since his near-Cy Young season of 2010. Jimenez had a four-digit ERA after three starts this season, but since then he has posted a 2.82 ERA and struck out more than a man per inning over 24 starts. Over his last nine starts, his ERA has been a mere 1.70 and his strikeout rate has been better than 10 per nine innings. Perhaps most impressively, Jimenez has walked just three men in his last four starts over 28 1/3 innings and had a streak of 25 consecutive innings without an earned run that wasn't broken until after he was removed from Saturday night's game in the ninth inning.
Jimenez will likely only make two more starts this season, but if the Indians make the Wild Card Game, Jimenez would line up to start it. They have to get there first, of course, but given how the Rangers have been playing of late, that suddenly seems like a strong possibility. Post updated at 12:33 am EST to reflect the outcome of the Rays-Twins game