Rick Yeatts - Getty Images
The Rangers seemed like they were on their way to clinching their division by June, but they still have something to play for in the last series of the season.
An overlooked story line of the 2012 season: The Texas Rangers haven't had a lot go their way.
That might be laying it on a little too thick -- at least 93 of their 159 games have gone their way this year -- but it's easy to gloss over just how much has gone wrong for the Rangers. Colby Lewis, perpetually underrated because of Rangers Ballpark, is out for the season. Neftali Feliz, who was supposed to do what Chris Sale did, is out for the year. Yu Darvish has been okay, but the Rangers didn't pay for okay.
Or you could skip all of those words, and get to the evidence: Scott Feldman has made 21 starts for the Rangers this year.
It's not just the rotation, either. Mike Napoli dropped off dramatically, as did Ian Kinsler. Nelson Cruz is slinking into one-tool territory, and Michael Young's only remaining tool is a Swiss Army knife filled with grit, moxie, and leadership. And a toothpick. They still put the toothpick in there, for some reason.
Now, a lot has still gone right for the Rangers, too. There's a reason they have the best record in the American League heading into their final series against the Oakland A's. Josh Hamilton would get MVP consideration in a different year, as would Adrian Beltre. The Craig Gentry/David Murphy quasi-platoon has worked out better than anyone could have hoped. The bullpen is still freaky-deep.
But when the Rangers signed Roy Oswalt, my first response was to ask "How does that affect the playoff rotation?" This is before we saw Oswalt allow a home run every other pitch, and before the Rangers showed any weakness at all.
The Rangers have two wild cards as backup plans behind a .633 winning percentage at the start of June; they're forgiven if they want to build a team for the playoffs as opposed to the regular season.
It seemed crazy to note those wild-card spots back then -- they were an afterthought of an afterthought. The Rangers were six-and-a-half games up at the end of April. Their smallest lead in the AL West since April 14 is two games. Which is exactly where it is right now. But unless they can win a game in Oakland -- just one lousy game -- they get pushed to the random-numbers generator that is the one-game playoff.
They'll start their shakiest option, Martin Perez, on Monday. If the Rangers can't win that game, their steadiest pitcher, Matt Harrison, will go on Tuesday. But that start might eliminate him from consideration for Game 1 of the ALDS, which would eliminate him from the possibility of a Game 5 start. The Rangers were supposed to be leaning back right now, making quiet tweaks and preparing their roster. Instead, they'll be fighting to stay away from the dreaded playoff play-in -- a cruel, deceitful reward at the end of a 162-game marathon. And that fight might force them to rejigger their preferred playoff rotation.
But for all that talk about things not going the Rangers' way, it's worth nothing they're fighting with a team that's been forced to put five rookie starters in the rotation. Other teams have had a few banana peels thrown in their path, too. The Rangers aren't unique.
It's hard to fathom them playing for their divisional lives right now, though. The Rangers had what was possibly the best roster in baseball coming into the season. Then they started the season looking even better. While it's never okay to drop a '27 Yankees reference as a casual comparison, the Rangers at least looked like they had a slight chance to be the 2001 Mariners.
Then baseball happened. So much baseball.
And if the Rangers want even more baseball to happen, they'll need to win a game over their next three. The odds say they will. But the odds can say funny things. As a baseball fan, I'm hoping for a Wednesday showdown for the division. As someone who doesn't like a lot of surprises, I'm still wondering how in the heck we got here in the first place.