Last night, in the 9th inning of what was a 10-4 Rangers' lead, Tanner Scheppers retired the first two batters he faced, then gave up a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases. The next batter, Denard Span, hit what should have been a game-ending grounder to shortstop, but Elvis Andrus threw wildly to first base, allowing a pair of runs to score, before Joe Nathan came in and retired to final batter in a 10-6 victory.
Why is that notable? Those two runs that came home on the error broke a streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings pitched by the Ranger bullpen, which has been lights out over the past week or so.
18 consecutive scoreless innings for the bullpen is a remarkable streak, and as Richard Durrett notes, it is the longest since the bullpen went 28.1 scoreless from May 1-10, 2008. Injuries have sapped the pitching staff and eliminated some of the Rangers' bullpen depth, and there's been some concern that the bullpen is getting worn down, with Robbie Ross and Joe Nathan, in particular, having shown some signs of fatigue. But in this stretch where the Rangers have gotten to 22 games above .500 for the first time this season, the bullpen has stepped up and contributed significantly to the success.
And if we look at the month of August as a whole, we see that almost everyone in the bullpen has performed:
Yes, Joe Nathan has had a couple of rough outings, and Robbie Ross has way too many walks. But this is a group that is missing bats and keeping runs off the board. This group has a 2.26 ERA for the month of August while putting up a 6-1 record. We've talked about wanting another lefty in the pen, and discussed the possibility of adding someone like Darren Oliver via trade, but Michael Kirkman has shown some flashes that he could be a weapon against lefthanded hitters.
The Rangers don't have the type of dominant starters who, in the playoffs, are going to be expected to go 8 or 9 innings and shut down the opposing team. What the Rangers do have, though, is a deep bullpen that has the potential to turn games into six inning affairs...they can ask Matt Harrison or Yu Darvish or Derek Holland to go out there and give them six strong innings in the postseason, then turn over the game to the collection of power arms that are stashed in the pen.
And if the relievers pitch in October like they have in August, that would bode very well for the Rangers' playoff chances.