When the month of September began, the Texas Rangers had a four game lead in their division. Now, 23 days later, their lead remains at four games. The magic number, or elimination number, for the Rangers to clinch their third straight division title is now down to seven, meaning any combination of Rangers wins and Oakland Athletics losses that add to seven will equal a champagne and ginger ale popping celebration for Texas. With the AL West all but won, September is the preseason for the postseason, the month to iron out the final wrinkles, attempt to get healthy, and charge into the playoffs with a full head of steam. The Rangers’ starting pitching has done just that.
Rangers starters have a 3.53 ERA in the month of September, compared to a 4.12 ERA for the total year. That is an improvement, but 3.53 doesn’t seem to be so low as to make the claim that the Rangers’ starting pitching is building that head of steam going into October. The caveat to that 3.58 is that it includes starts from Roy Oswalt, Scott Feldman, and Martin Perez, none of whom should end up factoring into the Rangers playoff starting rotation plans. That trio has allowed 20 earned runs in 21 innings pitched as a starter in September, for a combined 8.57 ERA.
On the other hand, the Rangers playoff rotation quartet of Ryan Dempster, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland have been nails for the Rangers in September. Those four have combined to register a 2.56 ERA in the month. They are averaging nearly seven innings pitched per start, 8.6 SO/9, 3.85 SO/BB, and an even 1.00 WHIP.
Each start for that foursome came against the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, or Los Angeles Angels. At first glance, that’s not necessarily the most intimidating offensive lineup of teams. However, in runs scored in September, those teams rank third, twelfth, second, fourteenth, and fifth in the American League, respectively. Three top five teams and two bottom feeders just about averages out to be slightly better than league average. In other words, it’s not as if the Rangers have only been facing teams that can’t score runs.
Of all the Rangers starters, the September performances of Darvish and Holland have been perhaps the most encouraging. Harrison and Dempster are no less valuable, and they have been the more consistent contributors over the course of the season. But it is Darvish and Holland who seem to possess the ability to truly dominate their opponent, without solely relying on the opposition’s batting average on balls in play for their success in a night. While the Rangers are surely still undecided on what exactly their playoff rotation will look like, Darvish and Holland are building a solid end of the year campaign that their names should be considered for the top spots.
In the MLB Playoffs, having a stout starting rotation is the most tried-and-true method for success. If September is any indication, the Rangers group of four may put them in the best position in the American League.
Join in the conversation with Peter on Twitter by following him @FutureGM