You know, I'm completely and fully aware of the Rangers' still-existent advantage in this division race over the Angels, the fact that they still have post-season odds in excess of 75 percent (and are thus likelier to make it to October than not), and the upgrades that they made while the second-place Angels failed to complete a trade of even minor consequence ... but when you're on the other side of August 1st and the competition is only one game back, you can't help but get the feeling that this division race is headed for a far more dramatic final showdown than any of us would prefer to see:
● Want a nasty statistic on Colby Lewis? No? Well, here goes anyway: out of 2,367 individual seasons in the post-integration era (1947-present) where an American League starting pitcher qualified for the ERA title, Colby Lewis's current homer rate of 1.75 blasts aper nine innings is tied for the 12th-worst mark, and is actually so bad that it eclipses Rick Helling's 1.68 home runs allowed per nine innings back during the offense-crazy 1999 season for the worst homer rate in franchise history. When you consider that most of those 11-12 other pitchers sealed their notoriety in far less forgiving run environments, it really helps underscore the fact that, uh, well, this ultra-homer-prone bit he's running with absolutely sucks.
If there's any kind of upside here at all, it's that Lewis has still mustered a decent ERA this season and hasn't been such an unmitigated disaster (or injured) that he doesn't have enough innings to qualify for an ERA title. One could also point to the fact that he's managed to straighten himself back out several times this year after hitting several discrete rough spells with his command, but now we're in the midst of yet another one of his rough spells right when the Rangers are trying to kill off the still-surging Angels with little success. I don't question his work ethic or desire to revert back to his No. 2-caliber 2010 form, and I'm still deeply appreciative of what he gave Texas last season, but the Colby Lewis problem is flaring up yet again at a very inopportune time, and I have to wonder what, if anything, the recurring Jekkyl-and-Hyde act has done to rattle organizational confidence in him.
● I suppose I really should say something about that exasperating Elvis Andrus sacrifice bunt last night (on a 2-0 count with two men on base and nobody out in the fifth inning, mind you -- and by the way, Andrus is a career .313/.535/.404 hitter after attaining a 2-0 count), but I don't think I can work up the energy this morning to go through all of that again. Instead, I'll point to Evan Grant saying that the bunt is part of how the Rangers play, that "it's worked for them on offense when players execute," and that the Rangers don't use the bunt to play for 1-2 runs in the middle innings, but instead use it to "ensure the maximum amount of pressure on opposing pitchers at all times" and "open up big innings." How about we take a quick look at the last five times the Rangers deployed the sacrifice bunt before the seventh inning?
06/24 vs. NYM, BOT 1, tied 0-0, runner on 2B, 0 out: sac bunt, RBI single, two-run home run, ground out, strikeout (three runs scored; Rangers win 3-0)
06/25 vs. NYM, BOT 1, down 3-0, runner on 1B, 0 out: sac bunt, strikeout, ground out (zero runs scored; Rangers lose 14-5)
07/07 vs. OAK, BOT 1, tied 0-0, runner on 2B, 0 out: sac bunt, RBI ground out, ground out (one run scored; Rangers win 6-0)
07/10 vs. OAK, BOT 1, tied 0-0, runner on 1B, 0 out: sac bunt, fly out, ground out (zero runs scored; Rangers win 2-0)
07/20 vs. LAA, TOP 5, tied 3-3, runner on 1B, 0 out: sac bunt, RBI single, single, RBI double, single, wild pitch, RBI double, pop out, BB, K (five runs scored; Rangers lose 9-8)
This is only a small selection of pre-seventh inning sacrifice bunts, of course, and not even I'm inclined to try to make very much out of it, but I think I would generally question how much of the "pressure" added to opposing pitchers with the sac bunt is offset by the reality that they're being gift-wrapped a free, one- or two-pitch out. Throw in the fact that these games are sandwiched between last night's debacle and this one (where Texas went double-double-single to start an inning in Anaheim, then went scoreless after the sacrifice bunt and ultimately lost by a run), and then throw in everything else that we know about optimizing sacrifice bunt usage, and ... whoops, I already said too much. In any event, just consider me a huge skeptic, and let's leave it at that.
● I'm going to go ahead and make a few assumptions about the public's understanding of what went down with Mike Adams last night, beginning with the facts that (a) that Adams, by his own admission, was a bundle of nerves, having been summoned into a knotted late-inning affair in a hostile road environment for his first major league appearance outside of the National League, (b) the ball was rendered slick by steady late-game precipitation, which no doubt made the going even tougher (he also acknowledged his inability to nail down any kind of feel for his pitches), and (c) every single great pitcher in the history of the game has dealt with his fair share of bad nights. Once you dig beneath the initial heap of largely sarcastic overreaction, I do believe you'll find that most people understand how the "s--- happens" principle was in full effect last night.
And with all that being said, now I can point to a real oddity: Brennan Boesch's game-winning solo jack in the eighth inning was clubbed on an 0-2 change-up that caught far too much of the plate. I knew that offering didn't have a place among the devastating fastball-cutter-slurve mix that he's built his reputation upon, but what I didn't realize was that he hadn't thrown a change-up -- or, to be more precise, a pitch categorized by Pitch f/x as a change-up -- since May 22nd. That's 371 total pitches thrown between that game and last night where there wasn't a single change-up to be found in the bunch. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's going to be a good while before we see another one.