Rangers have no answer for the Rays’ stars

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The simple fact is that things lined up better for the Rays than they did for the Rangers in Monday’s one-game playoff.

With no maneuvering necessary, the Rays had their 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price, ready to the take the mound. The Rangers, having used Yu Darvish on Sunday, were forced to turn to rookie Martin Perez or go to Matt Garza on three days’ rest. Perez on regular rest was clearly the better of those two options, and he held his own after a rocky start, but it just wasn’t enough in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 victory.

That this wasn’t the Rangers’ year had long seemed obvious. They struck out on their biggest targets last winter, losing Josh Hamilton and failing to bring in any big names to replace him. They eventually settled on Lance Berkman, but his bad knees caught up to him quickly after a fast start and he was a non-factor down the stretch. Starting pitchers Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis ended up missing the entire season with injuries. Nelson Cruz got handed a 50-game steroid suspension. The Rangers brought in Garza and Alex Rios as reinforcements and managed to battle their way into the play-in game by winning their last seven after a big September swoon. But the better team won tonight.

Led by Price, who pitched his fourth complete game of the season, and Evan Longoria, who went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer to right-center that just kept carrying and carrying, the Rays won relatively easily, if not entirely comfortably. And the game was won by the stars; to play what was essentially a postseason game with 40-man rosters is patently ridiculous, but in the end, the Rays used 13 players, the Rangers 15. The only way the game would have gone differently under Aug, 31 rules is that the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier wouldn’t have come in for defense in the ninth.

The Rangers have another tough winter coming up. Cruz, a free agent, seemed to be welcomed back with open arms by the fanbase in his return Monday, but the front office probably won’t be so generous with its affections. Closer Joe Nathan and catcher A.J. Pierzynski could also exit in free agency. Room must be made in the starting lineup for Jurickson Profar, either by trading or shifting Ian Kinsler. Expect the Rangers to make some sort of splash in free agency, perhaps with Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu. Alternatively, they could dip back into the well that brought them Darvish and aim for fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.

The Rays will now go to Cleveland for another elimination game, this one with Alex Cobb on the mound. Again, they’ll face a rookie starter in Danny Salazar who may well battle some nerves. Cobb, meanwhile, is throwing about as well as any pitcher in the postseason. The Red Sox await the winner on Friday, and while they’ll never admit it, it’s a safe bet they’ll be rooting for Cleveland.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.