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Okay, so you know the Rangers held first place from the fourth day of the season until the very last day, and yet somehow finished second. Old news! It's a new season! Well, at least that's how they should be thinking, as they prepare to play a game they never thought they would have to play. Momentum? That's largely up to the starting pitchers. Now, five things you might have missed because you were following another team, or have other hobbies ...
- The Rangers led the American League in scoring and finished seventh in ERA. So they must be great hitters and just so-so pitchers and fielders, right? Not necessarily. It's the ballpark, stupid. Specifically, it's Rangers Ballpark (stupid). Would you believe the Rangers actually scored fewer runs in road games than the Mariners? It's true. The Rangers finished sixth in the league in road scoring, their 361 runs just a smidge above the league average. And their pitchers finished with the fourth-best road ERA (3.80) in the league. Most people think this is a hitting-first team. It's not.
- It's been a tale of three seasons for Yu Darvish. In his first 16 starts, the Japanese rookie went 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA and somehow wangled his way onto the American League All-Star team. In his next six starts, he walked 26 batters in 38 innings and posted a 7.11 ERA. Since then, though? In seven starts, he hasn't walked more than two batters in a game, while going 5-2 with a 2.13 ERA. Which is why he's as good a choice as anyone to start against the Orioles in the Rangers' biggest game of the year (so far).
- There were a lot of reasons to like the Rangers before the season; among them, the Rangers' impressive list of prospects in the minors. But while a few of the top guys did graduate to the majors, they weren't any help at all. Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar, and Leonys Martin -- again, all considered top prospects -- combined for only 16 hits in 96 at-bats, and none are expected to play any significant role as the Rangers try to reach the World Series for a third straight year.
- How far have the Rangers come, as a franchise? Including their eight-year run as the (second) Washington Senators, which began in 1961, the Rangers hadn't enjoyed four straight winning seasons until this year. Probably shouldn't bet against them making it five straight next year, either (although that aging lineup is cause for at least a bit of concern).
- Veteran Roy Oswalt, who spent the spring in semi-retirement, was supposed to stabilize the Rangers' rotation, but instead he got yanked from the Rangers' rotation after six starts and finished the season with a 5.80 ERA. My favorite Roy Oswalt statistic, though? In his 59 innings, including a number of relief outings, he gave up 11 home runs and 11 walks.