This was the first season in the modern era of Major League Baseball in which all teams played each other. It’s about time, really, an easy way to boost the national appeal of a sport that skews regional. But some of the matchups still seem odd.
Consider the Mets’ current homestand, which has series against the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners. Sure, the Mets abandoned the pennant race last month, but the American League West’s version is thriving in Flushing.
“Hey, you’re past the dog days,” said Rangers Manager Bruce Bochy, who has seen a career 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, passed Texas for the division lead, with the defending champion Houston Astros close behind.
“We’ve been in first place for 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 go up again.”
Even before this week, of course, the Mets did their part to affect the AL West standings, sending Max Scherzer to the Rangers and Justin Verlander to the Astros before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Both improved on their first five starts, combined for a 7-2 record with a 2.72 earned run average.
The Mets won’t play the Astros again, but they welcomed Scherzer on Monday with a video tribute. Scherzer — who smiled for the scoreboard camera after that game — did his job for the Mets but wasn’t expected to leave that job half-done. He is 20-9 for the team and is signed through 2024.
“We were settled here, we liked it here, we enjoyed our time here,” Scherzer said before practice on Monday. “We thought we had a great organization. It’s like ‘make sure we’re trying to win in 2024’ and that’s what I’m 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 loyalty from owner Steven A. Cohen and General Manager Billy Eppler, who acquired a top infield prospect, Luisangel Acuña, from Texas in the trade.
Then again, there’s nothing stopping Cohen from pivoting. Would it surprise anyone if he explores the market for starting pitchers this winter, with Aaron Nola, Blake Snell and Julio Urías available in free agency? More to the point, will Scherzer be surprised?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I won’t think about that.”
In any case, Scherzer 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 next fall — and 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 great. And when free-agent prizes hurt last December — Jacob deGrom had Tommy John surgery in June, and Nathan Eovaldi missed six weeks with a forearm strain — the Rangers traded for Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery.
“To see the commitment – the first off-season for the bats and the second off-season for the arms – really promising as a player in my shoes to be part of the bad team and now to 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 focused, money-wise and effort-wise above, on meeting the needs of the organization. Some organizations may wait or may fly under a budget or have some limitations on what they think is possible they can get from the group, but there seems to be no ceiling for this group.
Scherzer felt the same way after his trade from the Mets. But a shaky bullpen and hitters’ recent struggles with runners in scoring position have tested the Rangers.
“I got traded and I thought, ‘I’ve never seen a team higher than that,'” Scherzer said. “We’re on an eight-game winning streak, we’re really beating people — and then all of a sudden, we go on an eight-game losing streak, and we’re losing. And that’s just baseball, you’re not as high as you think, you’re not as low as you think. We’re at the point now where we’re like, ‘Okay, let’s see who we really are.'”
The schedule is about to normalize for the Rangers, who will play only AL teams in September and face the Mariners seven times in their last 10 games. Until then, the Rangers hope to build on wins like Monday’s, their first all season in which they won despite trailing after eight innings.
And really, Bochy suggested, things could be worse. At 74-57, the Rangers have won more games than all of last season — and they have two more against the fading Mets.
“You look at where we are this year and look at where the club was last year, which one do you prefer?” Bochy said. “So you should enjoy it. This is what we play.”