For the unabashedly #gauche scoreboard-watching crew out there, I think it should be pointed out that the Angels are now 5-13 in the month of August, are nine games back of the division-leading Rangers, and now face the most difficult of uphill battles if they're to claim even a wild-card spot, as they're running 4.5 games behind the second wild-card squad (the Orioles, at 66-55) and concurrently staring up at the Tigers, Athletics, Rays, and White Sox.
If you want to continue to keep close tabs on them for the schadenfreude-bred delight of it all, well, that's fine, but they've all but faded as a point of legitimate concern for the Rangers, and hopefully we can now begin to move on from Angels vs. Rangers talk:
● Twelve days ago at Fenway Park, Matt Harrison succumbed to the effectiveness-sapping combo of a stomach virus -- which decimated his stamina and required intravenous fluids after the game -- and a mechanical flaw in his delivery, and ended up being knocked out as early the fourth inning for the first time since May 2nd. Six days after that fiasco in Boston, Harrison squeezed out 6.1 decent innings in New York, and yesterday, Harrison pitched as well as we've seen him pitch at any given point this season, spinning eight lightning-quick frames of two-run baseball on just 90 pitches in Toronto and magnificently atoning for that May 2nd disaster ... a disaster that also took place in Toronto.
Barring a low-probability sequence of unfortunate events, Harrison is going to be the Rangers' Game 1 starter come early October, and while I have been (and probably always will be) uneasy over the low strikeout rates, there isn't another starter in this rotation right now who exudes or evokes more confidence than Harrison does on the bump, nor is there a more reliable quantity. No, he's not infallible by any stretch of the imagination, but he adjusts, he executes, and he usually gives you sufficient run prevention over enough innings to put the lineup and the bullpen in a position to carry home the win. He's not the ace we dreamily envisioned coming to Texas via trade last month, but he's going to get his shot to helm a championship contender in October.
● And since we can always do with a nice black-and-white pitching contrast, we saw Matt Harrison go eight innings with two hits allowed while his counterpart, Henderson Alvarez, went 4.1 innings with eight runs allowed (all earned) on 12 hits and three walks. Yesterday, Alvarez yielded 13 "well-hit balls" -- a proprietary metric which relies upon ESPN's video scouts and emphasizes liners and deep fly balls -- over his 84 pitches, which is an utterly insane ratio in and of itself ... but back on May 26th, Alvarez went up against the Rangers in Arlington and allowed an astounding 15 well-hit balls during another 84-pitch outing, with Texas ultimately scoring five runs off of Alvarez in 5.2 innings.
The point I'm trying to get at here is that I can't recall the last time that the Rangers so thoroughly destroyed a single pitcher during multiple looks in the same season. Alvarez also serves as the perfect cautionary tale of how big-time velocity, regardless of how awesome it might be, isn't enough to buy you success in isolation -- the 22-year-old right-hander can deal steady 93-94 mph gas and has the capability to kick his arm into the 97-98 mph gear, but the secondary stuff and command are sorely lacking, and even though he significantly altered his game plan between the first start and the second by throwing a much higher ratio of fastballs (from 45 percent in his first start to 70 percent in his second), the Rangers' offense simply lit him up like a Christmas tree from start to finish.
● And yes, in one of the more pleasantly surprising moments of the last month or two, Michael Young actually homered yesterday on a 92 mph up-and-in heater from Alvarez, giving him his first long ball since May 7th and, combined with his double to straightaway center field, his first game with multiple extra-base hits since May 4th. That single 3-for-5 effort spiked his season OPS by 14 points and added a much-needed +0.2 fWAR to his season total, all of which has, in turn, incited a new round of hopeful "did Young just turn the corner?" questioning from the local beats.
It's an encouraging sign, and it's nice to hear that the underlying process seems to finally be back on the uptick, but I believe we all know the drill here -- one great game, or even a few sequential nice games, just don't provide enough evidence for us to definitively state that Young is back. The fact that Young actually showcased some legitimate power in this particular 3-for-5 effort means a little more, though, since it wasn't your standard-fare empty-average showing at the plate, and for all of our carping about how his season has unfolded and how he has been utilized, we should hope that he keeps this up. If he's going to play everyday, he might as well give us something along the way.
● On a tangentially related note, Young's showing at the plate apparently opened a cross-dimensional wormhole that allowed David Murphy to manipulate the space-time continuum and hit his 11th home run of the season twice in the same game ... as different people:
Or, you know, FOX Sports Southwest's production crew panicked when they couldn't find the appropriate graphic to accompany Young's homer. Whatever works for you.