Coming into Monday the Rangers were 2 for their last 5 which included an ugly series tie with bottom feeding Baltimore and a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. For perhaps the first time since the All Star Break, there was unrest in the hearts of Rangers fans. The Rangers were in a slump and with Minnesota coming to town, the thought was, the there was no end in sight. But there was an importance to this series. It isn't something I suspect the Rangers decided they would play harder for, because I don't think that's how baseball teams operate, but it was an opportunity to prove they can beat a good team regardless of current situations such as injuries, slumps, and having the biggest lead in a division in baseball.
The Rangers took three of four games. They beat a team that statistically has the best offense in baseball, a very solid defense, and very strong pitching. The Twins are a very good baseball team. The Rangers didn't just feast on favorable match-ups, either. They might have been lucky to draw Nick Blackburn, but the Rangers countered with their own struggling starter in Rich Harden. Blackburn actually pitched well. Harden pitched better. The Rangers not only showed they could beat a good team; they also remained alive in what is essentially the only thing left they have left to play for, namely, home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. By winning this series, the Rangers are now a half game back from the Twins, tied in the loss column, in the race for having the second best record amongst division leaders. In terms of October success, it could be critical for the Rangers to win that battle. If they had lost this series, falling to 4.5 or 6.5 games back of the Twins, they would have essentially eliminated themselves from any hopes of opening the post season at home.
In the midst of the terrible East Coast road trip through Tampa and Baltimore the looming specter of Monday was already haunting Rangers fans and the pitching probables suggested a match-up of Rich Harden versus Francisco Liriano. It had already been decided by some that as soon as the Rangers made their way back home, they already had another "L" waiting for them. However, late Sunday word came that Liriano had been bumped for Nick Blackburn to reenter the rotation for an injured Kevin Slowey. Nick Blackburn had been bad this season. He had been almost Rich Harden bad. But suddenly, it was OK to hope for a win again. It wasn't really OK to hope for a no-hitter, though. That would have been foolish. And yet, there we were, into the 9th inning, watching Neftali Feliz try to finish off a no-hitter against the best hitting team in the league. 6 2/3 of that no hitter was Rich Harden's. And while it wasn't to be thanks to Joe Mauer being an incredible hitter of baseballs, it was still a spectacular sight that set the tone for a really great series for the Rangers.
Thanks to those 6 2/3 no-hit innings, we'll be seeing more of Rich Harden. Almost regardless of how well he pitches, he likely isn't going to make the post season roster, at least for the ALDS, but if he can continue to find the good release point and his mechanics don't blow up, there is a decent chance he could usurp Tommy Hunter for the fourth starter if the Rangers make it to the ALCS. If nothing else, he's at least had a good start at The Ballpark now.
Poor Colby Lewis. It'll all be better when you win five games in October.
Andres Blanco might be the happiest in a long line of people happy to see Joaquin Arias shown the door. In this series he was 5-12 with 2 RBI and a run scored all while playing his usual stellar defense. He even got to do it in front of his father who was in the states to watch him play in the Majors for the first time in his life. Now if he just needs to work on sliding on quick-dry.
The bullpen during this series went a combined 12 inning over the four games. In those 12 innings, they gave up 5 hits, only 1 run, and had 13 strikeouts. One of the often overlooked biggest contributors to post season success is a great bullpen. The Rangers have one. They were amazing in this series and a huge reason why the Rangers won three games.
I'm not going to pretend to know what's "wrong" with Cliff Lee other than pitchers can slump too, but I still have infinite faith in him and there are still only maybe one or two people on the planet that I'd rather have pitching game one of a playoff series. Cliff Lee is still a Texas Ranger for October and that's an amazing, amazing thing.
Vlad is hitting home runs again. If he heats up as Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz come back just in time for the last month of the season, watch out.
So what did we learn against Minnesota?
Thank the lord for three of four.