They made it out of Anaheim with a still-respectable divisional lead tucked away in their back pockets and a win in the series finale, but it was still a disappointing series, and even in their victorious series finale, the lead never felt safe until the ninth inning. It was that kind of game that was disproportionately nerve-wracking given that it was only an early-June intradivision clash; the kind of game where every run pushed across the plate by the Rangers felt like a tremendous labor and every Angels baserunner felt equivalent to a ticking time bomb.
With any luck and enough motivation, this three-game scare will function as something of a wakeup call, and the Rangers will begin to apply some pressure to the clamps on the rest of the AL West ... and if that doesn't occur, we're going to have more of a divisional race over the next couple of months than I was anticipating:
● I'm not quite sure how to vividly describe Matt Harrison's effort yesterday, nor am I certain as to whether such an endeavor can even be completed. I guess the best way to describe Matt Harrison's performance yesterday is to just call it a very Matt Harrison-like performance -- he went out and pitched his game, inducing consistently weak contact and being very efficient about it while hardly missing any bats whatsoever. Had he not allowed a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning to Peter Bourjos, and had he not then proceeded to walk John Hester on five pitches to bring the tying run to the plate, he would have stood a decent chance of going the distance, because 78 pitches after 6.2 innings screams "imminent complete game" from the highest available rooftop; instead, he was finished after just 85 pitches with three runs tacked against his ledger.
Is Harrison going to go nuts and start throwing up strikeout-to-walk ratios north of three during the second half again, such as he did last year? Probably not, and, as such, he's probably not going to make it back to the four-win benchmark that he set last year ... but he doesn't have to do that to be a rotation asset, and while I'm not especially high on his chances of cracking the post-season rotation ahead of the Darvish/Lewis/Holland/Oswalt quadrumvirate, he'll at least factor into that conversation even if he does nothing more than keep zipping along like the nice, sturdy, low-variance innings-eater that he's been over the last month or so.
● Across all three games of this series, the Rangers amassed 48 total baserunners and 11 runs scored against the Angels' 32 total baserunners and 10 runs scored. Texas also put more runners on base than Los Angeles in both of the losses, even when factoring in the abundance of free bases on committed errors. The Rangers lost this series on the basis of ill-timed errors, lacking performance in high-leverage spots, and an unforgiving distribution in baserunners ... all of which are correctable flaws, as the errors situation was unsustainably awful, and the other two problems are tied more to variability and random chance than a fundamental and glaring problem with the makeup of the roster itself. Give me a few more series with baserunner ratios of 3-to-2, and I'll feel pretty good each and every time.
For curiosity's sake, I dove into the Play Index database to see how many runs the Rangers scored on average from 2000 onward in games where they accumulated exactly 16 baserunners (which, again, was their three-game average). The answer? 6.3 runs per game. For the series, they plated only 3.7 runs per game. I know I'm taking a huge risk by assuming a linear relationship between baserunners per game and runs per game without doing the work to substantiate it, but this does further emphasize how the Rangers' big offensive problem over the last three days wasn't exactly their inability to get people on base.
● If Joe Nathan were to somehow sustain his present strikeout-to-walk ratio of 27-to-2 and make it over the 50-inning benchmark this season, he would have himself the third-best K/BB ratio of any relief pitcher in any single season in major league history. As things stand now, a grand total of five relievers have managed to sustain single-season K/BB ratios of 10 or better over 50 or more innings, and they've collectively done it only six times: Dennis Eckersley (1989-90), Mariano Rivera (2008), Rafael Betancourt (2010), Edward Mujica (2010), and Wilton Lopez (2010). That's it. Nathan's now vying to join the club, and I'll be damned if he doesn't look every bit as dominant as he did during his prime 2004-09 years. It's early yet, but the Nathan commitment is looking excellent.
● Elvis Andrus went 3-for-6 yesterday with a pair of masterful defensive plays in the field, and of particular note in his effort was the third-inning opposite-field double that scored Mike Napoli and came on an inside fastball, putting him at a career-best .298/.394/.474 against inside heat thus far this season. Something else of note is that he now leads the American League in sacrifice bunts (8), and now ranks second in all of baseball in that category. The rest of the top five on the major league sacrifice hits leaderboard? Three National League starting pitchers, and light-hitting part-time Cubs outfielder Tony Campana. I'll let you all quietly contemplate that for a little while.
● Nelson Cruz doesn't always hit home runs, but when he does, they occasionally fly further than just about any other home run you've ever seen in your life.