It's often said that one of the defining characteristics of a championship-caliber team is its resiliency -- a function of an immutable, organically grown drive to win that enables a team to amass clumps of wins when it's fully functional, to hold its head above water when injuries and roster-pervading slumps hit hard, and to readily overcome setbacks before it's too late. There's a lot of grousing done on a micro level about this team (which, come to think of it, also holds true with the fans/media of even the most successful professional sports franchises), but this team has been nothing if not exceptionally resilient over the last 18 months, and that particular attribute was on full display last night. Embrace it.
And what's more, embrace it even if you detest the circumstances that forced the Rangers to play from behind yet again. Colby Lewis was, in a word, terrible; his pitching line on the night (6.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR) was salvaged only by the fact that he managed to somewhat right the ship over his last three innings (reportedly due to an in-game mechanical adjustment), which was a daring enough choice in itself forced by the non-availability of long man Scott Feldman. I appreciate that he's reeled off his fair share of good to great starts this season, and that he was a borderline ace who carved through his post-season opposition last season ... but if the playoffs started tomorrow, I'd relegate Lewis to the bullpen and have very little trouble doing it. He has to be better than that.
Funny thing about that, though -- Jered Weaver needed to be better than he was even more desperately than Lewis did, and things went even more horribly awry on that front. There was a moment in the top of the third inning after Vernon Wells lashed a run-scoring single to put the Angels up 4-1 that you could sense the palpable frustration and the air draining from the Ballpark ... and then, during perhaps the three most brilliant plate appearances of the night, Ian Kinsler clambered out of a 1-2 hole to draw a lead-off walk at the outset of the next half-inning, Elvis Andrus smashed a 3-2 triple, and Josh Hamilton knotted the game up one pitch later. At the risk of falling victim to my own hyperbole, that may have been the most electric offensive sequence of the season.
And, of course, there was the series-clinching seventh-inning rally, sparked by David Murphy (yet again) and propelled along by a brilliant sequence of infield and outfield singles that sent the Rangers from down one run to up three runs for the game-ending perfection of Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz. All told, Weaver yielded seven earned runs in six innings on eight hits and four walks, with his total win probability added (-.380 WPA) on the night being his worst single-start mark since August 14th ... of 2009. Put another way, he hasn't been such a detriment to the Angels' chances of winning a game since 70 starts ago. Three days' rest giveth, and three days' rest taketh away.
Well, that and the heat. Or so the theory goes, at least. I do suspect that most -- not all, of course --people are guilty of oversimplifying the entire heat/fatigue issue, in that there exists a group of people who staunchly believe the heat doesn't have a significant effect on performance and/or isn't a valid excuse for the recently flagging performance of the Rangers' starting rotation, and then another group that believes the heat actually is a major factor. If I were to hazard a (semi-educated) guess of my own, I'd suggest that the effects of short-term and long-term exposure to excessive heat on a player's performance could greatly vary from one player to the next, depending on his level of conditioning and individual physiology. It is not an absolute given that Weaver struggled last night because of the extreme heat, nor does Ervin Santana's relative success on Saturday night mean that the heat can't still be a significant factor in a player's performance. Complex questions deserve more than simple answers.
The Rangers have prevailed in a series over the Angels ... again. They've bumped their divisional advantage to three games up with just 27 games left to play, and the scheduling inequities that gave the Angels a decent shot at roaring back into the race are due to fade away in the near future. The race to October isn't over, but it's virtually impossible for us to not feel better about the Rangers' chances of progressing to that stage than we did just 72 hours ago.