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Rangers bring winning streak and renewed playoff aspirations to Cleveland

After accruing a six-game winning streak, the Texas Rangers have a new lease on their playoff hopes as they venture to face the Cleveland Guardians.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Somewhat poetically, the Texas Rangers, riding a season-salvaging six-game winning streak, are about to face the team that kick-started their second half-opening eight-game winning streak all the way back in mid-July. 

Following that sweep by Texas, the Cleveland Guardians lost three straight contests coming out of the All-Star Break to put a damper on their quest to win the American League Central for a second consecutive year. The Rangers, meanwhile, are looking to extend their current winning streak while enhancing their own chances of playing in the postseason.

Cleveland down the stretch

The Guardians made moves at the trade deadline that signaled that they were not in a position to win. Despite being just a half-game out of first place in the AL Central, President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti made the decision to go young and sell. 

The Guardians dealt pitcher Aaron Civale to the Tampa Bay Rays, first baseman Josh Bell to the Miami Marlins, and then released catcher Mike Zunino. After these moves, Antonetti was on record as questioning if the team taking the field after the trade deadline would be good enough to beat Minnesota, while simultaneously saying the club believed in the young players.

However, at the waiver claim deadline a month later, Cleveland was the benefactor of a surprising bounty when the Los Angeles Angels threw the baseball operations world for a loop. 

At the end of the month of August, the Guardians were now five games back of first place, but Antonetti decided that Cleveland couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. With waiver priority over contenders higher up in the standings, the Guardians grabbed three pitchers from the Angels – starter Lucas Giolito and relievers Matt Moore and Reynaldo Lopez – after Los Angeles raised the white flag in a bid to get under the salary luxury tax threshold. 

The moves, though, were perceived as too little too late, and perhaps were made simply to play keep-away from their closest competitors. Ultimately, the Guardians have watched their grasp on contention slowly slip even with the reinforcements.

Since the All-Star Break, Cleveland has had a record of 16-24, have fallen eight games behind Minnesota in the division and are 12.5 back in the Wild Card race, with their elimination number sitting at 8 games. Giolito, didn’t perform well with Los Angeles after a solid year with the Chicago White Sox, has pitched in two games for Cleveland and the results haven’t been great. 

In those two games, Giolito has only pitched 10 innings while giving up 13 runs and 11 hits, six of which have been home runs. Moore has made four appearances for Cleveland, giving up two runs on seven hits in 3 ⅔ innings of work. Lopez has been the best addition for the Guardians, completing six scoreless outings. 

Cleveland is not technically out of playoff contention yet, but they are coming off their third straight series loss, most recently to the San Francisco Giants, after losing a series to the Angels and the Twins.

The matchups

  • Game 147: 6:10 PM CT - RHP Jon Gray (8-7, 3.96 ERA) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (7-13, 4.89 ERA)
  • Game 148: 5:10 PM CT - RHP Dane Dunning (10-6, 3.91 ERA) vs. RHP Tanner Bibee (10-4, 3.03 ERA)
  • Game 149: 12:40 PM CT - TBD vs. RHP Gavin Williams (2-5, 3.43 ERA)

Jon Gray starts off the weekend series at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, facing Giolito. Gray’s last start actually began the Rangers’ current winning streak, although his own performance didn’t do much to contribute to it. Gray went 2 ⅔ innings, giving up three runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out three. 

Gray has given up three runs in each of his last three starts, but perhaps the pitching during this streak for Texas has become infectious and Gray can get back to utilizing his slider as a putout pitch while getting quick outs. 

Giolito’s last start was, ironically, against the Angels, a seven-inning outing where he gave up four runs on four hits but struck out nine. Giolito is riding a five-game losing streak of his own, a streak that started with the Angels when the righty faced the Rangers. In that outing, he went six innings but gave up four runs on four hits.

Dane Dunning will take the ball on Saturday, opposing Tanner Bibee. Dunning’s last start earned him his 10th win. The quality start – six innings, three runs – helped the Rangers take the opener in the series in Toronto. 

Dunning did not face Cleveland when they were in Arlington. Bibee did however, and while he didn’t factor in the decision, he gave up two runs over six innings, allowing five hits and walking one batter. Bibee, who has been a steady pitcher for the Guardians all year, was something of a hard-luck loser against the Angels his last time out. He threw seven innings of two-run baseball, allowing just two hits while striking out eight, but Cleveland managed just one run of offense.

Sunday’s finale was supposed to be Max Scherzer’s spot. With Scherzer now out for the remainder of the year, the Rangers haven’t officially named a starter. Andrew Heaney, though, would appear to be the most rested of the possible choices. Heaney has also more recently been in the rotation, having only made one bullpen appearance on Sunday against Oakland. 

Heaney arguably had his best performance of the second half in that relief outing, going 3 ⅔ innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits while striking out six. Cleveland will send Gavin Williams in the finale, a rookie who has only been with the club since June. In that time, Williams, a righty, has had moments of brilliance interspersed with moments of disaster. 

In his most recent outing, against the Giants, Williams surrendered three runs on five hits in six innings. Williams took a loss when Cleveland last faced Texas in July, giving up two runs on four hits in five innings, as Texas shutout the Guardians in a game started by Heaney.

The Rangers have already guaranteed a winning road trip by sweeping Toronto, but with Houston just a half-game ahead of them in the American League West (and playing last place Kansas City over the weekend), it’s hardly the time to sleep on a down and nearly-out team. 

Seattle is also in the rear view mirror at just 1.5 games behind Houston in the division standings and one game behind Texas in the Wild Card. The Mariners are playing the Dodgers, so it would seem like the perfect time for the Rangers to try and put some distance between themselves and their rivals from the Pacific Northwest.

Do you think the Rangers will leave Cleveland holding a playoff spot? Share your predictions with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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