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"Ouch!" - A Texas Rangers preview

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A look ahead at the White Sox' final opponent on their 11-game road trip

Prince Fielder, during his audition for <i>Days of our Lives</i>
Prince Fielder, during his audition for Days of our Lives
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So, let's go back and revisit what I wrote last year in this space, entitled "Lone Star Infirmary." I described several players that were starting for the Texas Rangers in the rotation or lineup only because the guys that should have been there instead were disabled. I mentioned that despite the clear abundance of talent on the Rangers, they'd have a tough time getting by until their team was at full strength again. Now that we're here in 2015, all of those problems are in the rear view mirror and Texas is once again bringing a talented ros--

InjuredRangers

Oh.

The AL West was never going to be a walk in the park, but for the second straight year, Texas is being forced to compete with a team far worse than the one they drew up over the winter. Once again, the pitching staff, particularly the starting rotation, has borne the brunt of the injury problems. With such a glut of pitchers unavailable, the Ranger rotation is fronted by....Yovani Gallardo, I guess? That's a shame, because the days of Gallardo being a young, budding ace for the Milwaukee Brewers are long gone. As the strikeouts have disappeared over the past few seasons, Gallardo has had to embrace the dreaded "crafty" tag. He now directs his efforts at inducing ground balls and the more cerebral elements of pitching.

The starter that's had the most success for the Rangers so far this season is Nick Martinez, whose ERA indicates that he's pitched like an ace and whose xFIP indicates that dark, ominous clouds are approaching. It's easy to succeed when you don't allow hits or homers, but it's hard to prevent hits and homers when you don't strike people out or induce many grounders. Poor Nick Martinez, the universe will soon have its way with you. Probably not until the White Sox hitters leave town, though.

After Martinez, the Rangers have really been testing the limits of respectability to fill out their rotation, with mixed results. Colby Lewis is more or less the guy you send out to the mound when no one else is healthy and you just need someone to stand out there and take their lumps while eating innings. That he led the 2014 Rangers in innings pitched is absurd, and he's sadly a realistic threat to do so again in 2015 as he lets hitters launch it into the air while praying it lands on the right side of the outfield fence.

Unfortunately, the Rangers need more than one Lewis, and they've called upon Wandy Rodriguez, who is surprisingly holding his own in a major league rotation at age 36. Since the Rangers essentially have a full rotation's worth of starting pitchers on the DL, it's technically accurate (though unfair) to call Rodriguez a ninth starter. His curveball is still effective, but he's essentially just your run-of-the-mill soft-tossing lefty at this point. Calm your shuddering, the White Sox caught a HUGE break and won't face him this week.

Finally, the Rangers got sick of watching Phil Klein allow a home run every three innings, so Chi Chi Gonzalez is the new tenth starter. Gonzalez is a real prospect, however, so he's not to be taken lightly. There's a good scouting report on him here, but the nuts-and-bolts are that Gonzalez has good fastball command and a plus slider. The former didn't show up in his major league debut against the Red Sox, as he was quite wild, but he limited hits and didn't allow a run in almost six innings of work.

The story on the hitting side of things isn't quite as tragic, in large part because Prince Fielder is finally hitting like the guy the Rangers thought they were getting when they shipped Ian Kinsler to the Tigers.  Fielder has been a top-10 hitter in baseball thanks to a batting average that only trails that of Dee Gordon. He's followed in the lineup by Adrian Beltre, who's having a down year, but should still be a threat in this series to cau--

Oh right, I forgot. Rangers.

In Beltre's stead, the Rangers are going to call up top prospect Joey Gallo for this series. Gallo is a flat-out masher who was OPSing 1.061 for Double-A Frisco.  The only real concern with Gallo is his strikeout rate, which has oscillated around 35 percent the last couple of years. Despite the whiffs, he's mashed at every level, including 82 (!!!) home runs over the past two seasons in the minors. His debut should be an exciting one.

Elsewhere, Shin-Soo Choo is about as extreme a platoon hitter as you'll find, but the Rangers stubbornly continue to play him against left handers (.186/.262/.288, in about a third of his total plate appearances). His overall season line obscures the fact that he still belongs near the top of a lineup against righties. Also at the top of the Texas lineup has been Delino DeShields, who's provided a spark with his on-base ability and base-stealing; DeShields has already swiped 12 bags through 112 plate appearances while getting caught only once.

Texas has received a few other nice performances outside of the top four guys in their lineup. Josh Hamilton has had an outstanding week of hitting since his much-discussed return to Texas, and Mitch Moreland has shaved off some strikeouts and hit for more power this season in an effort to show he's no longer Plan B. After J.P. Arencibia and his usual incompetence failed to hold onto the starting catching job at the start of this season, Robinson Chirinos has taken over full-time duties and has supplied enough walks and homers to be productive in spite of his .208 average and rough framing skills. That's where the good times end, though, as plus glove guys Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus have been horrid at the plate. The Rangers' lineup has been merely average in the aggregate, and average won't cut it for a team that's had to dig so deep to find guys to pitch innings.

It's fair to question exactly why the Rangers have been sapped of their considerable ability to compete in the AL West for two consecutive years. Is it bad design on the part of the front office that they've hinged success on such a large contingent of injury-prone players? Is it bad process on the part of the training staff that many of the same guys keep re-injuring themselves? Or is it simply bad luck, as the baseball gods continually take their anger out on the championship-starved Rangers after teasing them with two straight World Series losses at the beginning of the decade? The last option is certainly possible, but you'd have to think Jon Daniels and his staff will be looking at ways to reduce the riskiness of the major league team in the future.

Despite all the roster calamity and the general tone of this article, the Rangers find themselves one game over .500 on June 2, just a couple games out of the second wild card slot and having won eight of their last 10 games. They've been nothing if not resilient, but they'll have to continue to defy the odds if they want to see playoff baseball. Should they pull it off, it will be nothing short of amazing.

Predicted Record and Finish: 78-84, 4th place, AL West

Probable Pitching Matchups

  • Tuesday, June 2nd: Jeff Samardzija vs. Colby Lewis
  • Wednesday, June 3rd: Chris Sale vs. Nick Martinez
  • Thursday, June 4th: Carlos Rodon vs. Yovani Gallardo

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Delino DeShields - CF

SP1. Yovani Gallardo - RHP

2. Shin-Soo Choo - RF

SP2. Nick Martinez - RHP

3. Prince Fielder - DH

SP3. Colby Lewis - RHP

4. Josh Hamilton - LF

SP4. Wandy Rodriguez - LHP

5. Mitch Moreland - 1B

SP5. Chi Chi Gonzalez - RHP

6. Elvis Andrus - SS

CL. Shawn Tolleson - RHP

7. Joey Gallo - 3B

RP1. Keone Kela - RHP

8. Robinson Chirinos - C

RP2. Tanner Scheppers - RHP

9. Hanser Alberto - 2B

RP3. Alex Claudio - LHP