They couldn't have drawn it up or executed it any better if they had tried. Alexi Ogando temporarily stifled some of the emergent questions about his late-season effectiveness by dialing up a seven-strikeout, no-walk, two-run showing over 6.1 innings in Detroit, and then -- to steal a Ron Washingtonism -- when the Tigers' hitters let the Rangers know that it was time to pull the plug, Texas unleashed the Oliver/Uehara/Adams/Feliz quadumvirate. So began the procession of Tigers hitters who could muster hardly even a whisper of offense, as Oliver and Uehara extinguished the seventh-inning flames while Adams and Feliz easily locked down the eighth and ninth innings.
That was how it's supposed to work. I've been slower than some to buy into the very tantalizing (and somewhat exaggerated) concept of the six-inning game -- that is, Koji Uehara, Mike Adams, and Neftali Feliz joining forces to seal up any game where the Rangers hold a lead after six innings -- because it's premised on Feliz being the dominant late-inning monster that he was last season. Feliz, to this point in the season, hasn't been a dominant pitcher for any meaningful period of time, and it really does undermine the whole concept of the six-inning game if Feliz is merely a decent reliever the rest of the way and still prone to nasty ninth-inning foul-ups ... but if Feliz continues to look that good over his next few appearances, I'll be quite prepared to change my tune.
That really isn't what I wanted to talk about, though. What I've actually been ruminating on the most over the last several days has been the question of just how closely the expected value added to the bullpen by Uehara and Adams will approximate the value that we would have expected to have seen added by, say, an upper-tier starter in the vein of John Danks or Anibal Sanchez or Ubaldo Jimenez. I made little secret of my yearning for the acquisition of a rotation asset of their caliber during the lead-up to the trade deadline, and though it's now far clearer why such a trade wasn't/couldn't be made, I'm still left wishing that something could have been worked out on that front. In Uehara and Adams, however, you have two premium late-inning assets who will save runs and create ample value for the pitching staff ... but how much, exactly?
Both Uehara and Adams had been on pace to record approximately 70 innings this season with their previous employers at the time they were dealt to Texas Texas; however, such an innings total would have signified a new career high in major league innings for both hurlers, and a quick eyeballing of their workloads in previous years suggests that both are in line for something closer to 65 innings apiece, or 130 total innings. Given that they had already recorded 95 innings between them up through the trade deadline, one could reasonably assume that they'll together log 35-40 innings * or thereabouts for the Rangers over the final two months of the regular season, with a little bit of wiggle room built in just in case the division race does end up going right down to the wire.
[* Alternatively, Ron Washington and Mike Maddux could go nuts and deploy them both so liberally that they do both run beyond the 70-inning mark individually, in which case you'd be talking about something closer to 45-50 total innings between them the rest of the way -- but doing so would possibly heighten the risk of compromising their effectiveness (particularly since we're not talking about two spring chickens here), and there's also a potential post-season run and next season to consider as well. I do think this is a legitimate possibility, but I also think it's a less expected outcome than the 35-40 inning number I just identified.]
Now, what do those 35-40 innings work out to over the course of each full five-game rotation cycle? Since you're talking about 35-40 innings over one-third of the regular season (or 54 games), you're expecting to get around 0.65-0.75 combined innings per game out of Uehara and Adams, or right around 3½ innings during each five-game rotation cycle. Obviously, the number of upgraded innings per rotation cycle would be greater than 3½ innings if Texas had acquired an upper-tier starter capable of averaging around 6-7 innings each time out, but here's the thing -- Uehara and Adams together amount to a substantial upgrade over those that they have supplanted (Hunter, Rhodes, O'Day, Kirkman, etc.), such that I suspect the per-inning boost they'll provide on the run prevention front will be greater than the per-inning boost that would have been imparted by upgrading over one of their present five starting pitchers.
If all of that just completely flew over your head, here's the key takeaway -- Uehara and Adams are both so good (and are both expected to continue being so good) and so much better than the pitchers that they're bumping down and out of the bullpen pecking order that they do a fairly decent job of compensating for the lack of a trade for starting pitching. I haven't yet fully accounted for every variable in play here (e.g. bullpen chaining, which goes hand in hand with the fact that Adams and Uehara will now be soaking up some of the highest-leverage innings on the Rangers' staff), but my educated guess here is that Uehara and Adams will supply at least 50-60 percent of the expected value that a top-of-the-rotation starter would have supplied Texas over the remainder of the 2011 regular season. Again, just a guess. I invite corrections.
And though that's quite meaningful in its own right (this division race is, after all, far from over, and Uehara/Adams can certainly help), the benefits would be even more substantial in a post-season context, as the scheduling is set up in such a way that the Rangers could probably use both Adams and Uehara in the vast majority of their playoff games if the circumstances dictated it. There isn't anywhere near as much need for the weaker performers at the back of your bullpen when your post-season life or death will be decided in a short series with ample off days, and I'll be damned if the idea of a Uehara/Adams tag team rendering playoff opponents helpless doesn't make me absolutely giddy with anticipation to see just how far this thing can end up going.