Here’s the good news: the Texas Rangers have the best record in the American League and a seven-game division lead. Here’s the less-good news: our playoff projections give them roughly one-in-10 odds of relinquishing their division lead before the end of the season due, in part, to the worst rest-of-season winning percentage projection of any current first-place team. One of the primary reasons projection systems are down on the Rangers relative to other first-place teams is that they’ve struggled with run prevention this season and a key cause of that struggle has been their difficulty filling out a five-man rotation with healthy, reliable starting pitching. However, the top of their rotation features a stealth Cy Young candidate in a weak field, Cole Hamels, and an ace who is increasingly looking like another Tommy John success story: Yu Darvish.
Since rejoining the rotation for good after the All-Star break, Darvish has been among the best pitchers in the American League on the strength of a 2.70 ERA, 3.32 RA9 and a major-league-leading 28.0-point strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%). But one of the most encouraging things to see with Darvish is that he’s been able to go deep into games. It wasn’t until his most recent two starts that he crossed the 95-pitch threshold this year, and yet he’s currently riding an active six-game streak of going six innings or more in his starts. Things have been going extraordinarily well of late for Darvish and it’s worth taking a look at what has and hasn’t changed for Darvish and whether or not he’s truly “back.”