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Outfielders coming and going in American League playoff picture

As the magic numbers dwindle, any loss or gain can be key.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not a lot of mystery around the Texas Rangers. Their 9.5 game lead over Houston in the AL West has turned the divisional race into a stroll, and their best record in the league has them sitting pretty for home field advantage in anticipation of picking off a frantic wild-card team.

That said, as they steamroll toward the regular season’s end, there is some news. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, out since August 17 with a fractured left forearm, could be back in the Rangers’ batting order by the post season.

For a team so not desperate for help, this almost doesn't seem fair, especially considering the plague of injuries some teams hoping for a playoff berth have undergone. Choo is an all-star who could help out in a big way, though the team has not lacked in production from his right field spot even in his absence:

  • LF: .240/.322/.421
  • CF: .281/.331/.426
  • RF: .274/.339/.439

It's actually left field where the Texas outfield has suffered the most, though as stated, "suffering" is relative. The team brought in Carlos Gomez in late August to try and boost the position.

But the combination of Nomar Mazara and Carlos Beltran kept right field warm for Choo, who, if all goes according to plan, will advance from hitting of a tee to soft tossing and joining the Rangers in Oakland. Prior to his reinstatement, Choo would be slipped into an instructional league lineup in Arizona to get a few hacks before the ALCS.

Despite them holding down the fort, there are raw aspects Choo can provide that Mazara and Beltran cannot. Appearing in only 45 games this season, Choo has hit .247 with a .784 OPS and 7 HR, but among players with at least 100 lead-off AB for Texas this season, he has the highest OBP at .369.

Yet, as Rangers beat writer Gerry Fraley said recently, this reinsertion at such a high profile moment would be a tall order for Choo.

That's a lot to ask for a guy who has not played since Aug. 15 and has only 166 at-bats in an injury-riddled season. The Rangers made a mistake by using Nelson Cruz for the 2013 play-in game after he had missed 50 games because of a suspension.

Back east, things are a little tighter. The four-game lead the Red Sox have piled up on the Orioles and Blue Jays seems expansive, considering how entangled these teams have been in the second half, with the Yankees throwing monkey wrench after monkey wrench into the mess.

Baltimore made few adjustments to stay in the fight at the trade deadline, supplementing a struggling rotation with the likes of Wade Miley and bringing back Steve Pearce to get some reps in the corner outfield spots. The Pearce move was considered a gamble, but on days like August 28 when he was hitting .301 and going 3-for-4 with a home run against the Yankees, it was a gamble that appeared to be paying off. However, that hot day at the plate was followed by a 4-for-30 stretch and the re-aggravation of Pearce's flexor mass strain, which ate into his playing time and eventually, last Monday, ended his season. He wound up having slashed .217/.329/.400 for the Orioles.

But the O's are staying positive. They had more or less planned for this, knowing that Pearce's defensive prowess was limited by injury when he arrived, and acquired both Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn to increase their outfield depth. Bourn is already a massive improvement over Pearce, whose arm was of so little use in Tampa Bay that he was relegated to DH and first base duties.

With Stubbs and Bourn available, the loss of Pearce stings a bit less for the Orioles. Similarly, the Rangers have been able to win without Choo, as both teams benefit from outfield depth with key players becoming unavailable. However, Baltimore's position is a bit more precarious: with it looking more and more as though they'll be playing a one-game wild-card play-in, any additions or subtractions become all the more scrutinized.

The Rangers, on the other hand, are already making plans for the ALCS. Must be nice.