ANAHEIM, Calif. – This is how it should be.
If the Rangers have to finish this job and return to the postseason for the first time in seven years, they’ll have to do it alone. They cannot rely on help from elsewhere. He settled in Seattle. Win once in the next four days and they’re in.
On Wednesday, the Rangers moved to the brink of the playoffs with a clear 5-0 win over Los Angeles. Their next win, which will be their 90th, will at least get them into the dance. Seattle, which lost to Houston on Wednesday, can’t win more than 89 games — and only if the Mariners sweep the Rangers. Win two games and the Rangers can clinch the division over Houston, who can’t win by more than 90.
Put it this way: The Rangers have tantalizing potential. They’ll likely have champagne-filled celebrations on consecutive nights. If they win Thursday, they would have at least clinched a wild card. After that, they could pick it up and repeat with another win on Friday (or alternatively, with a win in either of the final two games).
“It’s just kind of convenient,” resident philosopher Nathaniel Lowe said Wednesday. “This team and this park have given us the biggest problem since I started wearing this uniform. We have to finish the job there. It’s nice.”
More on the aesthetics of playoff racing in a second. But first: the sarcasm. The team that invested $250 million in starting promotions over the winter reached this point Wednesday behind seven playoff runs behind the man who effectively fell out of the rotation before spring training ever began: Dane Dunning. Dunning won his 12th game, tying Nathan Eovaldi for the team lead. Eovaldi has a chance to win No. 13 this weekend in Seattle, but no one will be able to catch Dunning in the innings. He would lead the Crew with a 169.1.
Manager Bruce Bochy called Dunning the “best player” on the staff, which is saying something considering Dunning wasn’t sure he would make the team out of spring training, behind Jacob deGrom, Evaldi, Andrew Heaney, Martin Perez, John Gray and Jake Odorizzi. He didn’t move into the rotation until May.
“It says a lot about the guy,” Boushie said. “He never missed a beat, no matter the role. You’re looking at the best player on this roster; he was that guy.”
More irony: Jose Leclerc, who was eliminated a month into the season, placed ninth. He made no saves as the Rangers scored three runs in the top of the inning behind homers from Evan Carter and Marcus Semien. But Leclerc proves that what goes around, comes around. He has emerged as the guy most likely to be asked to save a postseason game.
Now about beauty and simplicity. The season stops at four matches. The Rangers end up against one of the teams chasing them in both the division and wild-card races. They have a rare opportunity: They can clinch a playoff trip, celebrate, and eliminate the team that jumped ahead of them in the AL West hierarchy in one fell swoop. Among the things they could gain with two wins: a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-court advantage for the AL Division Series as the No. 2 seed. The Rangers, on the other hand, have been in this position before. Look at 2012, where the Oakland A’s and Josh Hamilton dropped a fly ball into the sun.
The Rangers could also put more recent painful memories in their rearview mirrors as well. As the current guard with more playing experience in a Texans uniform than anyone else, Lowe knows his history. From 2020 through 2022, the Rangers went 4-22 in Seattle. They won a lot in Houston at that time. The losses were particularly depressing: of the 22 losses, eight were in one round, and six were in two. Seattle had 23 playoff wins during that three-year span. Four of them were against Rangers.
The Rangers turned the results around earlier this year, winning two of three games in Seattle in May. But they were hardly convincing. Playing without Corey Seager at the time, the Rangers won two of three. But both came in one round. Additionally, the offense struck out 38 times and walked only two.
They won behind strong performances from Gray, Eovaldi and Dunning. The starting rotation hasn’t been as sharp since. The Rangers will start with Jordan Montgomery, acquired from St. Louis at the trade deadline, Eovaldi and Gray for the first three games. After sitting out his start Monday with wrist soreness, Gray announced he was OK. Seattle has yet to decide on Logan Gilbert on Thursday.
The Rangers certainly realize the importance of their starters. They have taken extra steps to keep them within normal schedules. The three left Anaheim early to travel to Seattle. It is not unusual for a rookie player to be ahead of his team. Three days worth of starters, though? This is a bit extreme.
“They’re no use to us here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It makes sense to keep them on schedules and let them travel together.”
The Rangers also got good news regarding Seager, who left Tuesday’s game with a bruise on his right forearm. He returned to the lineup on Wednesday. The bad news: Seattle isn’t Seager’s favorite place. He may not want to outshine his older brother Kyle, who spent his entire career with the Mariners, but is just a .132 hitter in Seattle.
He can erase the bad memories this weekend by spraying champagne.
“We don’t want to go back to anything,” Bushey said. “You have to go out and win games to get it done. We all knew for a while that the two series against them were going to be huge. And they were.”
It’s all ahead for Rangers. Winning and they are in.
“We definitely have some momentum now,” Marcus Semien said. “This is a real thing.”
The tenth: @Evan_P_Grant
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