The Texas Rangers have 17 games remaining in their 2023 regular season schedule, and after an ugly tailspin in late August and early September, they’ve won five in a row to get themselves back firmly in the mix for a Wild Card spot (or even the A.L. West division title).
The Rangers are even with the first place Houston Astros in the loss column, are one game up on the Seattle Mariners in the loss column, and are two up on the Toronto Blue Jays in the loss column. And at 81-64, it is official that the Rangers will not have a losing record this season.
Because nothing is easy, however, Texas faces a new issue heading down the stretch — the loss of Max Scherzer. Texas had just gotten its rotation back to full strength, had the luxury of picking between Dane Dunning and Andrew Heaney for the fifth starter spot, and now the big gun they brought in to help them down the stretch and (hopefully) in the playoffs is on the shelf.
So, let’s start on the positive side — there are just 17 games left in the season. Even a fully healthy and ready to go Max Scherzer was only going to get three more starts the rest of the regular season. So while the Rangers are going to miss having him over the final two and a half weeks, we are talking about just a handful of games that he would have pitched and will miss.
(In the regular season, anyway).
Nathan Eovaldi is pitching tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays, and if the Rangers stay with the current setup, Jon Gray and Dane Dunning with pitch the first two games at Cleveland, with TBD pitching the Sunday afternoon game against the Guardians.
Texas has three pitchers in their bullpen who have spent the bulk of the season in a starting role, in Martin Perez, Cody Bradford and Andrew Heaney. Perez has been used as a multi-inning reliever since Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery were added at the trade deadline, and since a 70 pitch outing against the Brewers in mid-August, he hasn’t thrown more than 46 pitches in an appearance. Given that, it seems unlikely the Rangers would roll Perez out there on Sunday — at least, in a true starter role.
Andrew Heaney would seem most likely to get the nod on Sunday, though with Bruce Bochy prepared to have a quick hook if things are shaky for him early on. The Guardians do hit righties much better than lefties, as a team, so that would seem to be a good thing, given all three of the fill-in options are lefthanders.
The Rangers only have one off day the rest of the season — that is a week from today, Thursday, September 21, after a three game home set against the Boston Red Sox. Then they have three at home against the Mariners, three at Anaheim against the Angels, and finish things up with a four game set in Seattle. That somewhat limits the team’s ability to juggle the rotation, should they wish to ensure that their best starts get two starts apiece against Seattle.
If the Rangers keep the current rotation in place, and don’t shuffle things with the off day or use a spot starter to get guys extra rest, Eovaldi pitch the second game against Boston, the series opener in Anaheim, and Game 161 in Seattle. Jordan Montgomery would pitch the opener against Boston, the home finale against Seattle, and Game 160 in Seattle. Jon Gray would be lined up to pitch Game 162. I would say that hopefully the Rangers would have clinched and that game wouldn’t mean anything, but the flip side is that they could be eliminated by then and that game wouldn’t mean anything, which...would be bad.
If we assume that the Rangers do not pass the Houston Astros for first place in the A.L. West (and the Astros have the tiebreaker over the Rangers, so if the two teams have the same record, Houston wins the division), they will be set for the Wild Card Series starting Tuesday, October 2, with the series being three days with no days off. That means that, unless the Rangers clinch before then and can rest one of them, Montgomery, Eovaldi and Gray would all be unavailable (at least, on regular rest) to start Game One of a Wild Card series.
Now, if the Rangers want to plan ahead for a potential Wild Card Series, they could keep everyone on regular rest and push the fifth starter’s spot back due to the off day next week. If they did that, they could bring Jordan Montgomery back on regular rest to pitch the second game of the home series with Seattle, which would line him up to pitch the series opener in Seattle, and have him available on regular rest to pitch the first game of a Wild Card series. That would allow you to pitch Eovaldi in Game 160, which would line him up to go on regular rest in a potential second game of a Wild Card series.
Of course, Texas has to get there first.