On July 31, the Texas Rangers sat 50-52, seven games back in the American League West. Their month featured a five-game losing streak and two three-gamers. It seemed the Rangers, who had hung around the fringes of playoff contention for most of the three months of the season, were running out of gas, done in by a patchwork rotation.
When Cole Hamels was added at the deadline, it was seen mostly as a move for the future. Hamels gave the Rangers a legitimate second ace to pair with Yu Darvish when he makes his return in 2016. While seen as a good move for Texas, it was still seen as a move for the future, with Hamels under team control until at least 2018.
Apparently, the Rangers have different ideas about their 2015 season.
Texas has gotten scorching hot in August, rolling to a 14-7 record that has them in control of the second Wild Card spot and nipping at the heels of the Houston Astros. Now, it appears the move to acquire Hamels will begin paying immediate dividends for the Rangers.
As has always been the case, the Rangers have one of the more fearsome lineups in the league. Prince Fielder is having not just a Comeback Player of the Year season, but an MVP-candidate season. Mitch Moreland is dangerous, and Elvis Andrus still oozes all of the same star potential he has for years. There’s Adrian Beltre, who is seemingly the only 36-year-old hitter in the league continuing to defy the aging curve. Young players Delino DeShields and Rougned Odor bring an excitement and energy to the clubhouse everyday. Even massive disappointment Shin-Soo Choo has begun getting his act together.
The rotation on the other hand, has been a work in progress all season. Overall, 12 pitchers have started a game for the Rangers, and their rotation’s 4.33 ERA is in baseball’s bottom tier. Luminary names like Wandy Rodriguez and Chi Chi Gonzalez were called on for 24 starts, delivering only 10 quality starts in the process. The fifth spot in the rotation is still a work in progress. Martin Perez and his 5.30 ERA will take a crack at it. The top four slots, however, seem pretty settled. There’s Hamels at the top. Yovani Gallardo is in the midst of another solid season, and Derek Holland is back from injury. Colby Lewis has pitched much better than his 4.29 ERA would indicated, as that number was run up by a couple of truly awful starts. Lewis has actually delivered the highest number of quality starts — 17 of 25 — on the staff. Say what you will about the value of that statistic, but with a lineup like the Rangers possess, six innings of three-run ball is usually enough to win the game.
Hamels himself struggled off the bat in Texas, but has righted the ship in his past two starts. The 31-year-old has a 3.46 ERA in his last two outings, and the Rangers have won both. While the days where Hamels could be counted on for a sub-3.00 ERA season may be in the past, when Darvish returns next year, he and Hamels give the Rangers a very good one-two punch. That was the plan when the deadline deal was made, but things have changed. Now, Hamels will bring playoff run experience to a rotation that is sorely lacking it.
With the September schedule setting up nicely — 13 games against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s — the Rangers appear poised to separate themselves from the rest of the pack of mediocre Wild Card contenders. Hamels was supposed to be the piece that put the Rangers over the top next year, but just as has been the case for the Chicago Cubs, things change. The Rangers are ahead of schedule in what looked like a throwaway year. This is a dangerous team, and with a proven playoff winner in Hamels atop the rotation, Texas could go far in the playoffs.