At various points down the stretch — when they lost eight in a row in late August, or when they lost six of seven in September, or when they frittered away the AL West and a first-round bye in the playoffs on the season’s final weekend, or when they lost Max Scherzer with a shoulder injury — it felt like the Texas Rangers had simply run out of steam. And yet, if the history of postseason baseball has taught us anything, it’s that it’s never too late for a team to catch fire — and arguably no one is hotter right now than Texas.
The Rangers became the first team to punch their ticket to baseball’s final four in emphatic fashion on Tuesday night, getting their deadly offense going early and often in a 7-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the ALDS. Between a week-long road trip to end the regular season and four straight road games to start October, Texas hadn’t played in front of its home fans in more than two weeks. Globe Life Park was ready to come unglued from the jump in this one, and the Rangers wasted no time obliging — with Corey Seager blasting a solo homer to open the scoring in the bottom of the first.
With John Means’ elbow injury knocking him out for this series, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Orioles, who were forced to turn to righty Dean Kremer in a road elimination game. Kremer battled best he could, but it was quickly apparent that this deep and dangerous Texas lineup was simply too tall a task. The Rangers tallied three hits in the first inning, then loaded the bases with two outs in the second on a Josh Jung single, Marcus Semien double and an intentional walk to Seager. Granted, Seager has been white-hot of late, but maybe loading the bases for a guy who just hit a grand slam two days ago wasn’t such a great idea:
Then, just one batter later, Adolis Garcia busted things open for good — and kicked off a party in Arlington:
Wait, you need to see that one more time:
From there, it was all over but the crying — largely thanks to Nathan Eovaldi. There’s a lot of reasons for Texas’ October turnaround, but Eovaldi is probably the biggest: The righty looked cooked just a few weeks ago, having rushed back from a forearm strain and getting hammered to the tune of a 7.30 ERA in September. Once the calendar flipped, though, Eovaldi started looking like himself again, and he delivered his second sensational start of this series on Tuesday: seven full innings, one run, five hits, seven Ks. His fastball velocity was back at 95-97, his splitter was diving down below the zone all night, and it seemed like every O’s batter started their at-bat down 0-2.
Baltimore didn’t even muster a runner in scoring position until the fifth, when Gunnar Henderson drove home Jordan Westburg with an RBI single. It was much too little, much too late.
Nathan Eovaldi gets a well-deserved curtain call after his stellar performance pic.twitter.com/WBdVrsyVR0— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 11, 2023
With this version of Eovaldi, the ever-sturdy Jordan Montgomery and the potential return of Max Scherzer in the ALCS, Texas might be able to cobble together enough pitching to support an offense that once again looks like one of — if not the — deepest in baseball. The Rangers’ bats are playing with a ton of confidence right now, with the emergence of Evan Carter into an October star and even the previously-struggling Nathaniel Lowe breaking out of his extended funk with an insurance homer in the bottom of the sixth. They’re all taking quality at-bats, and there are no safe landing spots one through nine.
For Baltimore, meanwhile, there will undoubtedly be some recriminations to come, as a 101-win dream season ended without a single postseason victory. Mike Elias almost certainly should’ve gotten more aggressive at the trade deadline; the O’s were clearly contenders, but they also clearly needed more rotation depth, and a last-minute deal for Jack Flaherty flamed out before the team even got to October. Still: Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez aren’t going anywhere — in fact they figure to keep getting better — and Jackson Holliday headlines a ridiculously deep group of young talent that figures to make a splash in 2024. The future is still very, very bright here, and it could be even brighter if Elias and the Angelos family opts to finally open the checkbook over the winter.
Until then, though, the story remains the Rangers, the team whose roller-coaster season is hitting another peak this fall.