The Texas Rangers hoped that by adding Ryan Dempster at the trade deadline that they had found a top of the rotation starter who would help them hold off the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the hard charging Oakland Athletics in the American League West as they attempt to pursue a third consecutive American League pennant. Dempster had visions of pitching in the World Series and helping Texas claim their first championship after falling short the past two seasons. The Chicago Cubs were happy to get something out of Dempster after a potential trade with the Braves was vetoed and a deal to the Dodgers stalled out.
After the first start for Dempster in the American League for his career, the results were anything but inspiring.
Despite being staked to an early four run lead thanks to a five run second inning, Dempster was unable to pick up a victory in his debut for the Rangers. In fact, when he left the game, the Rangers found themselves trailing by a score of 8-7 after Kendrys Morales doubled home Albert Pujols in the fifth inning. Dempster would last just two more hitters, fanning Alberto Callaspo before walking Howie Kendrick. At that point, Ron Washington came out and took the ball from his starter, instead handing it over to Robbie Ross.
Ross walked Andrew Romine to load the bases but recovered to fan catcher Bobby Wilson to avoid any further damage in the frame. Dempster’s final stat line looked like this: 4.2 innings pitched, eight runs, all earned, on nine hits, with three walks and six strikeouts. He had to labor through 103 pitches to record those 14 outs and only 59 of those pitches went for strikes. To put those numbers in perspective, Dempster allowed 81 hits in 104 innings with the Cubs while walking 27 and he permitted 28 runs to score in his 16 starts for the Cubs.
As it turned out, it wasn’t Dempster but another midseason acquisition on the mound that would pick up the eventual victory. Roy Oswalt pitched two scoreless frames to give Texas a chance to rally and improved to 4-2 on the year. The Rangers tied the score in the bottom of the sixth and broke it open with four runs in the seventh followed by three more in the eighth. Callaspo’s solo home run in the top of the ninth of Rangers’ closer Joe Nathan closed the scoring and the Rangers had a 15-9 win and a split of the four game set.
It was a major deviation from the performances that Dempster had been putting up this season for the Cubs. He allowed only seven runs in a seven start stretch in June and July, putting up 33 consecutive scoreless frames in that span to set a new franchise record. On top of that, six of the nine hits Dempster allowed went for extra bases; four were hit for doubles while Mark Trumbo and Morales took him deep for home runs. The game time temperature was 102 degrees and there was a stiff breeze that helped balls carry but Dempster didn’t use any of that for excuses in his postgame comments.
“It just came down to lack of execution on some pitches and I’ll try to better that next time. It’s hot. But it’s been hot plenty of times when I’ve been out there pitching. You try to make pitches and go from there.
“For me the pressure is always the same. You’re going to try to go out there and make pitches regardless of what the situation is. It really is that simple. You have to make pitches when you need to. Today I didn’t do a very good job of that, but the guys bailed me out and scored a bunch of runs and we won the game.”
It’s definitely a different ball of wax pitching in a ballpark like the one in Arlington and facing powerful offenses like the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and Angels instead of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and “offenses” like the Padres, Astros and the recently gutted Marlins. While Wrigley’s dimensions are seemingly hitter friendly, it isn’t on days when the wind is blowing in. On those occasions, balls that are crushed tend to die on the warning track instead of taking up residence in the bleachers or across Sheffield and Waveland Avenues.
Dempster still has time to turn things around and make himself a force to be reckoned with in the rotation for the Rangers. Texas will need him to step up after losing Colby Lewis for the season with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow a couple of weeks ago. Right after the trade deadline, it was announced that Neftali Feliz would not return this season, instead undergoing Tommy John surgery that will sideline him until some point next season as well. Yu Darvish was solid if not spectacular in the first half of the season but has faded badly in the second half so far. His splits look as follows: 10-5 with a 3.59 earned run average in 16 first half starts, 1-2 with a 7.66 ERA in his four starts since the All Star break.
Matt Harrison is the team leader in victories with 12 but he struggled in July as well, going 1-3 with an elevated walk rate that dropped his K:BB ratio for the month to 1.45 which is not the range you want to fall in. Scott Feldman was awful early and though he has been better lately, he still is struggling with consistency. Derek Holland, who kept the Rangers afloat in the World Series last season, has been up and down as well. He currently is 7-6 with a 4.96 earned run average, a far cry from last season’s 16-5 and 3.95 marks.
The Rangers have plenty of offensive weapons in their lineup. They lead the American League in batting average (.278), runs scored (533), hits (1010), total bases (1623) and on base percentage (.341 through Thursday.) The team is also second in triples with 20, slugging percentage at .447, OPS at .788 and sacrifice flies with 32. Six players are in double digits for home runs, seven have at least 40 runs batted in and three have double digits in steals. You can’t count Texas out of any ballgame, something the Angels found out in the final two games of this series.
Time will tell if Dempster pans out for Texas as they try to take the next step. Thursday night’s outing was not an encouraging one but we will have to see if Dempster returns to the form he showed in Chicago. If he does and proves that starts like his rocky first outing in Texas is the deviation from the norm, the Rangers will be a force to be reckoned with. Should he be lit up repeatedly down the stretch however, then all bets are off for Texas claiming a third straight pennant, much less their first championship. It will definitely be an interesting final two months of the season as Dempster pitches for his next contract as well as trying to get Texas to the postseason.
What’s your take on Dempster and Texas’ chance to make it to the World Series?