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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Knocked off their perch, the Rangers hope to climb back up

Ezequiel Duran of the Texas Rangers was one of two runners who scored on Nathaniel Lowe’s go-ahead single in the ninth inning against the Mets on Monday.

By Tyler Kepner

This is the first season in Major League Baseball’s modern era in which all teams play each other. It’s about time, really, an easy way to boost the national appeal of a sport that skews regional. Yet some of the matchups still seem a little strange.

Consider the New York Mets’ current homestand, with series against the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners. Sure, the Mets abandoned the pennant race a month ago, but the American League West version is flourishing in Flushing.

“Hey, you’re past those dog days,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, who has seen a race or two. “You’re looking at just over 30 games.”

The Rangers spent 140 days with at least a share of first place until Sunday, when they lost for the ninth time in 10 games. The Mariners, baseball’s hottest team since the start of July, overtook Texas for the division lead, with the defending champion Houston Astros close behind.

“We were in first place for many months — it’s good to happen, what happened to us,” said Martín Pérez, who beat the Mets in relief on Monday in Texas’ 4-3 victory. “You look down and you have to come up again.”

Even before this week, of course, the Mets had done their part to impact the AL West standings, sending Max Scherzer to the Rangers and Justin Verlander to the Astros before the Aug. 1 trading deadline. Both have thrived in their first five starts, combining for a 7-2 record with a 2.72 ERA.

The Mets will not play the Astros again, but they welcomed Scherzer back on Monday with a tribute video. Scherzer — who smiled for the scoreboard camera after it played — did his job for the Mets but never expected to leave that job half-done. He was 20-9 for the team and had signed through 2024.

“We were settled here, we liked it here, we enjoyed our time here,” Scherzer said before batting practice Monday. “We thought we had a great organization. It was kind of like, ‘Make sure we’re trying to win in 2024,’ and that’s what I was really trying to use the no-trade clause for.”

Scherzer reiterated that he waived the clause because the Mets insisted they were scaling back their short-term ambitions. He said he appreciated such honesty from owner Steven A. Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler, who got a top infield prospect, Luisangel Acuña, from Texas in the trade.

Then again, there is nothing precluding Cohen from pivoting. Would anyone be shocked if he explored the market for starting pitchers this winter, with Aaron Nola, Blake Snell and Julio Urías available in free agency? More to the point, would Scherzer be surprised?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate on that.”

In any case, Scherzer has moved on, trying to do with Texas what he did with the Washington Nationals: win the first World Series title in franchise history. The Rangers have lost twice — to Bochy’s San Francisco Giants in 2010 and to the St. Louis Cardinals the next fall — and have invested heavily since sinking to 102 losses in 2021.

Middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien signed for a combined $500 million before last season; both have been terrific. And when last December’s free-agent prizes got hurt — Jacob deGrom had Tommy John surgery in June, and Nathan Eovaldi has missed six weeks with a forearm strain — the Rangers traded for Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery.

“To see the commitment — the first offseason for bats and the second offseason for arms — it’s really promising as a player in my shoes to be a part of the bad team and now be part of the good team,” said first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, whose two-out, two-run single in the ninth made the difference for Texas on Monday.

“They’re committed, money-wise and effort-wise up top, to addressing organizational needs. Some organizations might wait or might fly under a budget or have certain caps on what they think they can get out of the group, but it feels like there’s no ceiling for this group.”

Scherzer felt the same way shortly after his trade from the Mets. But a wobbly bullpen and the hitters’ recent struggles with runners in scoring position have tested the Rangers.

“I got traded over and I thought, ‘I’ve never seen a team higher than high,’” Scherzer said. “We won eight games in a row, we were really beating people apart — and then all of a sudden, we went through an eight-game losing streak, and we were getting beaten apart. And that’s just baseball, you’re never as high as you think you are, you’re never as low as you think you are. We’re now at a point where it’s like, ‘All right, let’s see who we really are.’”

The schedule will soon normalize for the Rangers, who play only AL teams in September and will face the Mariners seven times in their final 10 games. Until then, the Rangers hope to build off wins like Monday’s, their first all season in which they won despite trailing after eight innings.

And really, Bochy suggested, things could be a lot worse. At 74-57, the Rangers have already won more games than they did all of last season — and they still have two more against the fading Mets.

“You look at where we’re at this year and look at where the club was last year, which one do you want?” Bochy said. “So you’ve got to enjoy this. This is what we play the game for.”

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