SEATTLE -- The last time the Texas Rangers were in the postseason in 2016, José Leclerc and the recently recalled Matt Bush were the only players on that roster who are still on the team. Jonathan Hernández was the only other player even in the organization at all.
Now, after a failed attempt at jumping back into contention in 2020 and a full-scale rebuild starting in ‘21 the Rangers are playing postseason baseball again, two managers and one general manager removed from the American League Division Series sweep by the Blue Jays in '16.
Outside perception was that the Rangers would struggle in a division with the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros and a Mariners team that won 90 games last year. But inside the clubhouse, Texas always knew it could compete with the best in the AL.
“Obviously we’re excited,” said Corey Seager, who signed a 10-year, $325 million contract with Texas ahead of the 2022 season, after the clincher here on Saturday night. “To come from where we did last year and to make the playoffs is extremely exciting. That's why we're celebrating tonight. The job's not necessarily done yet, but it’s just the resilience of this club all year. The vision the front office saw, the way the owners have gone out and done everything that we've asked them to do, it’s special. This is what happens.”
Now that the Rangers have secured a spot in the postseason, here are some questions you might have about what comes next:
Who will they play in the AL Wild Card round?
The Rangers and Astros both finished with a 90-72 record, with Houston taking the division via a tiebreaker. Texas will open the postseason with a best-of-three Wild Card matchup against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Texas went 4-2 against Tampa Bay this season, though it lost two of three at the Trop in June.
What will the postseason lineup/roster look like?
1. Marcus Semien, 2B
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Nathaniel Lowe, 1B
4. Josh Jung, 3B
5. Adolis García, RF
6. Mitch Garver, DH
7. Jonah Heim, C
8. Leody Taveras, CF
9. Evan Carter/Robbie Grossman, LF
Bench: Ezequiel Duran, Josh Smith, Travis Jankowski, Mitch Garver, Austin Hedges
Rotation: Nathan Eovaldi, Jordan Montgomery, Dane Dunning
Bullpen: Andrew Heaney, Martín Pérez, Aroldis Chapman, José Leclerc, Jonathan Hernández, Will Smith, Chris Stratton, Brock Burke
Since Carter’s callup, manager Bruce Bochy has established a pretty clear lineup versus both left-handers and right-handers. The rookie outfielder has slashed .365/.469/.769 against righties and is 0-for-10 with one walk against lefties. The switch-hitting Grossman has opposite splits, with a .309/.416/.536 line against lefties and a .206/.304/.329 line against righties.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Heim caught nearly every game over the last two weeks of the regular season, and Garver went on a second-half tear to secure the DH spot. When healthy, this has by far been the Rangers’ best lineup this season.
What are they going to do with Max Scherzer?
When Scherzer landed on the injured list with a low-grade strain of his right teres major muscle, general manager Chris Young said it was “unlikely” the ace would be ready to return in the postseason.
Scherzer, acquired by the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, has been steadily ramping up his throwing in an attempt to potentially make a postseason appearance. He threw what he described as a “light bullpen” in Anaheim last week, though he told reporters he was just testing his right shoulder and isn't placing a timeline on any potential return.
Scherzer's status remains day to day, but there’s no doubt that Texas would receive a boost -- in whatever capacity that may be game-wise -- if the likely Hall of Famer is able to contribute, considering his significant postseason experience.
What about Evan Carter?
Technically, a player isn’t allowed to play during the postseason unless he is on his team’s 40-man roster by Aug. 31. But MLB’s rules include a slight loophole that will ultimately allow Carter to participate because he was in the organization all season long.
Carter, the Rangers’ top prospect per MLB Pipeline, will be eligible for the postseason, despite not making his MLB debut until Sept. 8, when he replaced the injured Brad Miller on the 40-man roster.
The rookie has been a vital part of the Rangers’ success down the stretch, slashing .306/.413/.645 (1.058 OPS) over his first 23 big league games, playing mainly in left field.
How does Jon Gray’s injury affect the rotation?
Gray’s placement on the IL was retroactive to Sept. 28, which would line up Gray to return for a potential ALDS Game 5 on Oct. 13, leaving the Rangers short another starter going into the postseason.
That does, however, almost make things easier for Bochy and pitching coach Mike Maddux.
Instead of grappling with the decision of whether to put Dunning or Gray in the bullpen for the postseason, the Rangers can now simply slot in Dunning behind Eovaldi and Montgomery, whether it’s for the Wild Card Series or the ALDS.
Eovaldi has the most postseason experience out of all the healthy starters at 43 innings with the Red Sox. Montgomery has just 6 2/3 innings in two seasons with the Yankees and Cardinals, while Dunning threw 15 pitches in one-third of an inning in 2020 with the White Sox.