The Rangers used a stirring comeback on Tuesday to beat the Mariners for the second straight day, but they weren't able to extend their AL West lead because the Angels pulled off something that seems even more unlikely.
They came back and beat Mariano Rivera on a ninth inning home run by Bobby Abreu, the kind of scenario that hasn't played out all that often during Rivera's inimitable career as the Yankee closer. It's the kind of fluke ending that makes you channel Ron Washington, hold up your hands and say "That's the way baseball go."
Except that it isn't a fluke at all. The Angels coming up big with their backs against the wall is exactly the kind of thing that is keeping them in the playoff race this season, while the Rangers are allowing them to stick around by doing some of their worst work in the same situations.
Over the last month, the Rangers are hitting .297 as a team, getting on base at a .348 clip and slugging .457. They've scored 139 runs in 25 games and have a team offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 6.1, fourth in all of baseball. Their pitchers are third in their own version of WAR with strong numbers across the board helping them to a 15-10 record.
The Angels, on the other hand, rank near the bottom of the league offensively. Their hitters have posted a BA/OBP/SLG line of .224/.287/.357 over the same period, they've scored only 92 runs and rank next to last in WAR over that period. Their pitching has been better, but significantly worse than the Rangers and not enough to explain how they've gone 14-10 since the All-Star break.
How can we explain that? The answer may lie in the Clutch metric used by Fangraphs. The metric measures how players perform in high-leverage situations by measuring their performances in those big spots against their overall production. Positive numbers reflect teams outperforming their standard, while negative figures mean the team is shrinking from the moment.
In the last 30 days, the Angels offense has the best Clutch rating in baseball at 1.63 while the Rangers languish in the middle of the pack at -0.23. The pitching spread is even wider. The Angels pitchers have thrived with a 1.45 mark while the Rangers are worst in baseball at -1.98. Taken together, that explains a lot about why the Angels are still nipping at Ranger heels despite not playing particularly good baseball since the break.
The good news for the Rangers is that this metric tells you a lot about what has happened, but almost nothing about what will happen in the future. Despite fevered attempts by some in the media to suggest otherwise, there is no evidence that clutch hitting or pitching is a skill that carries over from year to year or even from week to week.
At some point, the Rangers' clearly superior talent should allow them to pull away from the Angels. That doesn't mean that the wait for that moment to arrive is going to be an easy one, however.