On August 22, the then first place Texas Rangers thumped the Baltimore Orioles 12-3. Tommy "Five Runs All Earned" Hunter actually gave up 8 ER in 3 plus innings, Kevin Gregg gave up 1 ER in an inning, and JC Romero gave up an 1 ER in 1 inning. I apologize if you were trying to erase Gregg and Romero from your memory. Anyway, following that win, the Texas Rangers were 72-51, and had the best record in the AL. (Since then: 21-18 with a -5 run differential) At that point, they had a 5 game lead on the Athletics. And of course, with 9 games left in the season, the Rangers maintained a 5 game lead over those pesky Athletics.
So what's happened?
Well, a few things, of course. When I think of the Texas Rangers, I think of their all-star lineup led by Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre with power threats like Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz and complementary guys like Elvis Andrus and Michael Young. But a funny thing happened to them since September 1, their collective batting line: .250/.304/.448, or basically Steve Pearce's line as an Oriole. Josh Hamilton missed a week of time due to energy drinks (really!), and Adrian Beltre recently strained his left shoulder. Collectively the big culprit is the Rangers inability to get on base. A .304 OBP? For the season their OBP was .334. I really don't know why this has happened, and any guesses would likely be just that. I can tell you that Kinsler and Andrus have OBPed .276 and .285 since September 1st. Cruz has struggled in this department too. Geovany Soto has struggled in that area too, but I can't imagine Ron Washington will put him in the lineup in a do or die game.
If I were a Rangers fan, the biggest concern really is Hamilton, whose OPS had been dropping steadily since July 1st. That's something. On the plus side for Rangers are Beltre and Napoli. Since the calendar flipped to September, both are slugging over .700. I would be careful to start any pitcher who has ever been on the Angels, as Napoli turns into the Hulk against his former team (a 1.471 OPS, no joke).
On the mound, the Rangers have also tailed off, though not as dramatically as their offense. For the season, the Rangers ERA stands at 3.99, for the last month of the season: 4.39. I hope that Ron Washington over manages, because one big bright spot for the Rangers this month has been Yu Darvish, in 36.2 IP he has a 2.21 ERA, a WHIP of 0.74 and a K/BB of 39/7. How he has only managed to win 3 of his 5 starts is a mystery. (Actually, Joe Nathan blew a save in one game, and the O's chance to clinch in front of their fans. In another game Kinsler made an error that cost him a win, but the Rangers wom in extras.) So him starting could be problematic. Thankfully the Orioles have magic on their side.
The bullpen, like the lineup, has been a problem lately for the Rangers. For the season, their bullpen has a 3.67 FIP in 457.1 IP, though in 98.1 IP during September/October, their FIP is 4.04. Joe Nathan is the Joe Nathan that we all remember from his time in Minnesota, though 2 of his 3 blown saves happened in September. The hope is that we don't see him. The pitcher that is going to be tough to see is our former delicate flower. Koji Uehara has been phenomenal in September, with a FIP of .09 in 11.2 IP. The two guys who have struggled of late that are likely to pitch are Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams. Ogando has also thrown 11.2 innings in September but with different results: 5.40 ERA. Adams, set-up man extraordinaire while in San Diego, has a 7.56 ERA in 8.1 IP. Robbie Ross is another favorite reliever of Ron Washington, and struggled a bit in September, giving up 4 ER in 4.1 IP.
So in the end, what really matters is can the Orioles rattle Darvish, and will Washington go to his bullpen early? Of course, the Rangers lineup is loaded, but likely isn't showing up in the best shape of their lives. Another anecdote: I was listening to Yu Darvish's debut against the Seattle Mariners this season. He was all over the place in the first inning, and he was one pitch away from getting pulled in the first. He got himself together and get through 5 2/3 that night, but hopefully the bright lights and maybe a patient approach can rattle him.