Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rangers Pepper 9/6: The Door Cracks Open, Watch out for LAA, Tepesch Settles In

by Dustin Copening

#RangersThoughts” on Twitter can be seen by following me @dfwfanconnect, but those thoughts evolve every few days from 140 characters into what I have dubbed as
“Rangers Pepper”.

Thank you Houston! Texas begin play tonight in first place thanks to a win by the Astros over Oakland.  Athletics fans probably equate that performance from the A’s to this masterpiece, and here’s hoping to more of the same as we dive into the pepper:

Oakland’s Stumble - The final nails in the coffin of the Rangers AL West hopes in 2012 came in the form of a three game sweep to Oakland on the road in the season’s final series. Those three were added to 27 others hammered in prior to that catastrophe, as Texas finished the season with 30 losses to just 27 wins against AL West foes.

This year has played out differently for the Rangers, accumulating a 45-18 record versus the West, with 13 more matchups on the schedule against the Angels (7), Astros (3), and Athletics (3). Plus, the West bunkmate that has given them the most trouble in head-to-head games, the Mariners, won’t appear on the calendar until 2014.
On the flip side, Oakland began their final 16 games against West division opponents with a shocking loss to Houston last night. It was their third loss in four games against the Astros, and dropped Oakland’s overall record against the division to 33-24.

The A’s have also struggled against Seattle, winning 6 and losing 10 to the M’s. The final three games of the year for Oakland will be on the road at Safeco, where they are 2-4 this year.

On paper, the A’s have the far easier schedule than the Rangers (.454 opponents winning % compared to .505), but a few more slip ups like last night’s may allow Texas to edge ahead of Oakland at the finish line.

Angels Playing Well - Texas’ dominance of the Astros has been well documented (14-2 record against), but they have had almost identical success against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (10-2 record against).

It would be a mistake to write these next three games down in ink as wins, as LAA has been playing better baseball over the last few weeks.

They finished August on a 7-1 run that carried over to 9-1 after the first two games of September, before dropping 2 of the final 3 of a 4 game series against the Rays.

C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards are both coming off of effectively pitched wins in their last starts, and Jason Vargas had two consecutive starts where he allowed just 1 ER over a total of 13.1 IP before getting roughed up against the Rays his last time out on the mound.

Offensively, the Angels have put up 7 games of double digit hit totals in their last 12, and have started September hitting .290 with a .785 OPS.

Josh Hamilton has not come close to regaining his power stroke, but he did manage to hit .272 with a .339 OBP in August (both season highs in a month by a wide margin) and is off to a solid start in September (4-12 with 3 runs scored in 4 games).

Of course Mike Trout remains the preeminent threat in the Angels lineup (.335, 31 SB, and 1.007 OPS) and is 5 runs shy of 100 for the year as play begins tonight.

Tepesch Finds A Home -  A bright spot from the Oakland series was the return of Nick Tepesch from the DL.  In a long relief appearance after Derek Holland failed to pitch out of the 5th inning on Monday night, Tepesch’s work allowed Texas to rest several arms .

His 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball thrown (allowing just 1 base runner via a single) could signal that the 24 year old has found his place on the pitching staff in a vital role.

Ron Washington and Mike Maddux have been forced to shuffle the deck when they’ve needed someone to bail out of a rough outing from the rotation, but Tepesch seems perfect to hold the role of long reliever down for the season’s final 23 games.

In case you’ve forgotten, Tepesch befuddles hitters the first time through the lineup, holding them to a .152 BA and .433 OPS. The second and third time through the order is when things get unmanageable (.267/.736 and .451/.1.198 respectively).

Texas is unlikely to get 7+ inning efforts from Darvish, Holland, Garza, Perez and Blackley every night, and when one of those five does struggle, Tepesch is more than capable of saving the bullpen while also keeping the Rangers bats within striking distance.

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