We are in the final week of the 2023 regular season. Your Texas Rangers are currently sitting at 88-68, 2.5 games up on the 86-71 Houston Astros and 4 games up on the 84-72 Seattle Mariners. Texas is also a game up on the 87-69 Toronto Blue Jays, who are currently in the Wild Card 2 slot. Texas holds the tiebreaker against both the Mariners and the Blue Jays, so if they end the year with the same record as either Toronto or Seattle, they advance.
Fangraphs has the Rangers with a 98.8% likelihood of making the playoffs, and an 86.6% chance of winning the division. Baseball Reference has the Rangers with a 98.3% likelihood of making the playoffs, and an 87.2% chance of winning the division. Texas plays their next two games against the Anaheim Angels, who are 13-37 in their last 50 games, and are without Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Anthony Rendon, as well as Taylor Ward, Luis Rengifo, Tyler Anderson and Mickey Moniak, all of whom are on the injured list. If Texas can win their next two games against Anaheim, they have the possibility of clinching either a playoff spot or the division before they even go to Seattle for the final four games of the regular season.
So we are all feeling relaxed and at ease, right?
Of course not.
This is the 2023 Texas Rangers we are talking about. A roller coaster of a team. A team that had a losing record (11-13) in July before winning 8 in a row, and 12 of 14, to start August, before promptly losing eight in a row. Texas is currently on a six game winning streak. Prior to that, they lost four in a row. Prior to that, they won six in a row. Prior to THAT, they had lost four in a row and seven of their last eight.
So, yeah. They could kick much ass the next few days, clinch, and allow the weekend to be pseudo-exhibitions while regulars get some time off. Or they could shoot themselves repeatedly in their collective dick and be facing the possibility of elimination this weekend, or needing to win on Sunday to take the division and avoid a three game Wild Card series starting on Tuesday. Neither would be surprising.
With 88 wins, the Rangers have the tenth most regular season wins in franchise history, tied with the 1998 Rangers and the 2015 Rangers. The 1998 team was in first place most of the first couple of months, was in second place most of the next few months, then went into the final week of the season tied with the Anaheim Angels for first place in the division. They had three in Anaheim followed by four in Seattle and swept the Angels by a combined score of 25-3, giving them a three game lead in the division heading to Seattle, and allowing them to clinch on that Friday.
The 2015 season...we remember that one, right? The “Come And Take It”/”We Came And Took It” season? Texas trading for Cole Hamels at the deadline despite being below .500? Being 55-57, 5.5 games back of Houston and sitting in third place in the division on August 12 after an 11-1 stomping by the Twins? Then going on a 24-10 run that was polished off by a four game sweep of the Astros in Arlington, putting the Rangers up in the division?
Then, of course, almost blowing it at the end. A four game series against the Angels, at home, to end the season. Sam Dyson and Shawn Tolleson each pitching five straight days in that final week, because Jeff Banister trusted no one else in the pen. Shawn Tolleson giving up a run in the ninth of a 1-1 game in Game 160, resulting in a 2-1 Rangers loss. Then, in Game 161, with a 10-6 lead in the ninth, a clearly out of gas Tolleson being brought in for the ninth, giving up a pair of homers to make it 10-8, and being replaced by Ross “The Dorf” Ohlendorf. Ohlendorf gives up a double to Mike Trout between a pair of outs, needing just one more out to end the game, and instead gives up four straight singles. Anaheim wins, 11-10.
Ah, the panic. We were so freaked out. Texas was up just one game, and a Houston win combined with a Texas loss would mean a tie, a Game 163 against the Astros, all sorts of potential drama of the bad kind.
Cole Hamels pitched Game 162. With two outs in the first inning, Mike Trout doubled, and then Albert Pujols homered, making it 2-0 Angels.
The sky was falling.
I remember Cole Hamels coming off the field after the third out, yelling, at himself. He was fired up. He was intense. And even down 2-0, it felt like he wasn’t going to let Texas lose this game.
And he didn’t. Texas scored one in the bottom of the first. Adrian Beltre hit a two out, two run homer in the bottom of the fifth. And in the bottom of the seventh, the floodgates opened up, the Rangers scored six more runs, and a tense game became a blowout. A blowout finished up by Cole Hamels, who allowed a double in the second inning with one out, then didn’t allow another hit the rest of the way. Cole Hamels, who retired the final eight batters he faced, needing 108 pitches for a complete game to clinch the division for the Rangers.
That was an intense weekend. And there was much joy when the Rangers won Game 162. Cole Hamels’ performance that day was one of the all time great outings by a Rangers pitcher.
But you know what? I hope things are easier this year.
Given how 2023 has gone, that may be asking too much. We could see the bats go silent, could see the bullpen self-immolate, could see all sorts of chaos that would make the final game of the season, in Seattle, all too important for the Rangers.
I hope that’s not the case. But I gotta be honest...I’m preparing myself mentally for that possibility.