Monday, August 24, 2009

The 39 Steps

"What are the 39 Steps?"

Yeah, going all Hitchcock on you today, but Mr. Memory doesn't have the answer to this one. The 39 Steps is the number of games left in the season for the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the three principal teams contending for the lone American League wild card spot. At the moment, entering tonight's play, Boston holds a one-game lead over the Rangers, and a three-game lead over the Devil Rays. While not impossible, none of the three teams stand a "good" chance at contending for their division title. The Yankees and the Angels have simply been too strong over the last two months and now maintain, respectively, 7.5 and 5.5 game leads over their nearest challenger.

First, let it be said now and forever that the Wild Card, in use since 1995, is perhaps the most important change to the game since the sport's advent. Without realignment and the wild card, the American League would be finished at this point. Yes, either the Yankees or Angels could collapse down the stretch, but the odds for such a catastrophe are weak. Instead of that wishing-on-a-star non-excitement, you get a minimum of eight teams believing they have a shot at the playoffs. That's good for baseball, and it's good for this fan right here.

Tomorrow I'll have the pleasure of seeing two of those teams live and up-close...Rangers vs. Yankees in the Bronx. The bad news is that the Rangers have struggled of late, losing 2 of 3 to Tampa and going just 2-2 at home versus the Twins, a team with a below .500 record. Rubbing some extra salt in the wound, the Rangers were ahead or tied entering the 6th inning in three of those four losses. The good news, however, is that the Rangers, somehow, keep sticking around. Scott Feldman improved to 13-4 yesterday on the strength of seven shutout innings and, once again, the Rangers prevailed when they most needed a win. If they can survive three games with the Yankees, the rest of the schedule is decidedly soft---save for six games with the division-leading Angels, a team the Rangers have remarkably owned thus far.

There's 39 steps left to the playoffs for the Rangers and tomorrow they'll add some new feet to help do the stepping; Chris "Crush" Davis rejoins the team to take over first-base duties (that's him in the picture above jumping about 20 feet in the air). Davis was demoted several months ago after an abysmal start to his sophomore season, but he thankfully seems to have regained his stroke in the minors. If Davis is right, this is a huge addition. Davis has as much natural power as anyone in the bigs...and he's got a glove to match. In just 157 career games, basically one entire season, Davis has already slammed 32 home runs and 33 doubles. He's 23.

I'm also hoping to see my man-crush, Neftali Feliz, pitch tomorrow. With two days of rest under his belt, odds are good that Feliz will see some action a mere 10 rows away from me. How's he been doing? Sadly, he's been rather human of late. He even gave up a (gasp) walk in his last appearance. Feliz has now pitched in 8 games, tossed 14.1 IP, given up 4 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, and has 19 Ks. Few pitchers in history have ever started their career with this much dominance. It's not just the power, it's the pinpoint control. I can't find the source, but I read that Feliz was the first rookie pitcher since the 1950's to not give up a walk in his first seven appearances. In fact, he only reached a three-ball count once in those first seven games (3-0). And, oh yeah, he came back to strike that dude out. The enthusiasm will naturally diminish the first time he's touched up for an ERA-destroying appearance, but until then, his continued debut is one of the best things to watch in baseball. This kid is special.

I intend to give a (brief) Ranger update every day until the end of the which point the 39 steps will have hopefully turned into a Deion Sanders-like high-step into the playoffs.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home