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How Weird Will Things Get for the Texas Rangers?

It's strange enough that the Texas Rangers overcame an awful start to make the postseason. After stealing Game One from the juggernaut Jays, it's getting stranger.
October 9, 2015, 3:43pm
Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a strange year for Cole Hamels, so it's fitting that he is finishing it with the Texas Rangers, whose dream season has been baseball's strangest. After an unexpected Game One win against David Price and the Toronto Juggernauts, the Rangers have an edge going into Hamels's first postseason start with Texas. On August 1, none of this would have made sense. In October, given who Hamels is and how the Rangers have played down the stretch, it almost does.

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If you were to concoct a scenario wherein the Blue Jays win this series, it could really be anything. The games could feature low scores, high scores, a gang of stampeding rhinoceroses, sinkholes, locusts, or a surprise visit from the Pope. They could win the first two or lose the first two. Any and all of that would favor the Jays, who stomped all over the league from the trade deadline on.

Read More: How the Blue Jays Won the AL East

About the only way to get to a Texas series win, though, is to follow this script:

Step 1: David Price has a rare bad start in Game One.

Step 2: Some injuries along the way to Blue Jays hitters wouldn't hurt Texas's chances either.

Step 3: Cole Hamels is unhittable in Game Two.

Step 4: Somehow, some way, win a third game.

We're two for two so far.

The Jays somehow lost a matchup of David Price versus Yovani Gallardo on Thursday, which is like an F1 car losing a drag race to a circus peanut. Gallardo ducked and dove his way through five innings like a fighter just trying to make it to the final bell. At this point in Gallardo's career, that's about the best-case scenario—a phrase that could be repeated so often in reference to these Rangers as to induce tongue fatigue. A pair of critically important Blue Jays also left Game One with injuries, and while Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista's are reported to be minor, they are also clearly un-minor enough that both players were removed from a playoff game.

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Which means that the Rangers season depends, to a certain extent, on Cole Hamels stepping up. The Blue Jays were huge favorites in this series before it began; they'll be huge favorites in a three-game series with the Rangers as well, which is what the series will become should the Blue Jays get the better of Hamels.

When you see your main dude and decide to dance around like emus. — Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

And yet it's not all on Hamels. The Rangers offense might have been underappreciated in the overall analysis of this series. The Rangers were able to overcome a bad April and, during the second half of the season, ramp up to become one of the best offenses in baseball. In fact, Texas scored the second most runs of any team, 381, during that time; the only team to score more was Toronto, with 405. The lineup they used to beat David Price featured seven above-average hitters by FanGraphs wRC+, or if you prefer an easier to grasp metric, by OPS+ as well. That's a very good lineup.

So the Rangers aren't utterly outclassed against the most talent-stacked team in the American League. Mostly outclassed, but not totally. They've already done the hard part by beating Price, and while Hamels may not be quite the ace he was sold as during mid-season—his stuff has trended down over recent months, and his renowned changeup has induced fewer and fewer swings and misses—he's just the sort of pitcher a team would want starting a game like this. He's done it before, and recently: in his last start, Hamels struck out eight Angels in a complete game three-hitter to put the Rangers into the playoffs.

That was a big game. This one is bigger. Mathematically, the Rangers can still win the series if they lose Game Two, but realistically it's difficult to see how. Thursday's win opened the door for that to happen. Though Toronto is the team down 1-0 in a five-game series, they aren't the ones facing a must-win game. If the Rangers are to win this series, to pull out the impossible, to beat the best team in baseball by any objective measure, this is how it has to happen. They already beat David Price, in Toronto. Now it's time to find out how strange the Rangers' bizarre season can get.