Rangers' bullpen woes put clinch on hold

Texas' magic number for postseason berth remains at 1 -- 2 for AL West division

September 29th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The Rangers were three outs away from clinching their first postseason berth since 2016. After a lot of drama sparked by an ineffective Aroldis Chapman, they were just one out away from that goal.  

But the Rangers will have to wait at least one more day before making it official. 

With the club's magic number to secure at least a Wild Card spot at one, Texas held a slim one-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning at T-Mobile Park on Thursday night, but like many times this season, the bullpen couldn’t quite hang on in a 3-2 walk-off loss to the Mariners to begin the final series of the season. 

  • Games remaining (3): at SEA (3)
  • Standings update: The Rangers (89-70) lead the AL West by two games over the Astros (87-72) and three games over the Mariners (86-73).
  • Tiebreakers: The Rangers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker vs. the Mariners but not the Astros. 
  • Magic number: One for the postseason, two to clinch the AL West

Despite six innings of one-run ball from starter Jordan Montgomery and a shutout inning each from Andrew Heaney and José Leclerc, Chapman -- the club’s big relief acquisition at the Trade Deadline -- loaded the bases with back-to-back singles and a walk to start his save opportunity.

Jonathan Hernández inherited Chapman's bases-loaded, no-outs situation. He got two quick popouts before J.P. Crawford lofted a deep, game-winning hit to left field to secure the Mariners' comeback win. 

“Well he gave up a couple of soft hits,” Bochy said of Chapman’s ninth inning. “He jammed the guy on the first base hit there and then a ground ball just got through. I mean, it's close to being a double-play ball. Then he got erratic, and I had to go get him. Johnny looked like he was getting out of that and Crawford just placed the ball well there, where we couldn't quite get to it. 

“He did a nice job getting two outs there with the bases loaded, but that's a tough one.” 

Chapman was charged with the loss, while Hernández was dinged with a blown save. The Rangers are now 30-for-63 (47.6%) in save opportunities this year, which is the lowest such mark in MLB.

When asked if he considered using Leclerc in the ninth instead of the eighth, Bochy said he wanted the right-hander to face the Mariners’ pocket of right-handed hitters with Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez and Teoscar Hernández. Sure enough, Leclerc retired the trio with a lineout, flyout and strikeout on nine pitchers. 

Bochy added that he declined to send Leclerc back out for the ninth and a potential six-out save because he threw 17 pitches to close out Wednesday’s win in Anaheim.  

“We had it set up where it would be Leclerc, then Chapman,” Bochy said. “Last night, it was Chapman then Leclerc. It was set up, and it just didn’t work out.”

The Rangers still control their own destiny into the postseason, and can clinch at least a Wild Card spot with one more win in Seattle among the next three games. Bochy emphasized that there’s no use in getting stuck in one loss in a long season. 

“That's how you have to look at it,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some baseball left. Nobody thought this would be easy. We're in their park, give them credit. They fought back and found a way to win that ballgame. … Yeah, [we'll bounce back]. What else can you do? You’re not gonna dwell on this. Sure, you’re an out way from getting a win. But all you can do is come back tomorrow and put together a good ballgame and find a way to win.”