We begin with a customary snapshot of injured Texas Rangers.
If I’ve learned one thing in doing these previews for four years, it’s that pitchers should avoid the Texas Rangers’ training staff like the plague.
Cole Hamels just came off the DL this week, so along with A.J. Griffin, Martin Perez, and Andrew Cashner, the Rangers recently had four of their five preferred starters on the disabled list. Hamels hasn’t even been himself, as he’s lost about 2 mph on all his pitches this season and the strikeouts have disappeared accordingly over a small sample. Amidst injuries and ineffectiveness, Yu Darvish has been the only constant force in the Texas rotation, and he’s a Chris Sale meltdown away from headlining the Cy Young race. Though he’s pitching more to contact this year, hitters still can’t touch Darvish’s slider.
With more preferable options on the shelf, the Rangers have had to turn elsewhere to eat innings. Tyson Ross is another one of those guys who has hung out in both Petco and the Coliseum in his career, though unlike your typical cavernous-park-seeker, Ross has historically been a ground ball guy. He missed most of last season due to shoulder and neck problems and the version that has emerged this season doesn’t resemble his old self; both his velocity and grounders have been down. 32-year-old Austin Bibens-Dirkx finally made his major league debut in May with the Rangers because for the past ten years, no one would let him. He’s not good for much besides creative consonant usage. The final fill-in is a more familiar face: Nick Martinez. The White Sox obliterate Nick Martinez.
In addition to the beat-up innings munchers, the Rangers’ bullpen has been largely ineffective, as they’re tied for the major league lead in blown saves. A lot of that is due to the ineffectiveness of their former closer who’s no longer with the team (seriously, check out Sam Dyson’s game log). However, the guys who remain at the back of the bullpen — Matt Bush, Alex Claudio, and Keone Kela — aren’t exactly going to send hitters running for the hills.
It’s impressive that the Rangers have managed to stay close to .500 because their hitting has been fairly poor for most of this season; they’ve managed to stay afloat through good defense and great baserunning. Their lineup has received a jolt in June, however, from the return of Adrian Beltre, who’s still mashing at the ripe old age of 38. Beltre’s absence in the early months allowed Texas to give Joey Gallo some run at third base. Gallo’s already crossed the 20-homer threshold, but on June 23, he also crossed the 100-strikeout threshold and leads the majors in that category as of this writing. With Beltre back, the Rangers are giving Gallo regular playing time by using the flexibility of the DH slot to rotate ten regulars through nine positions.
The rest of the lineup has featured several disappointing players. Prized trade acquisition Jonathan Lucroy has seen both his power and framing ability fall off a cliff. 23-year-old Rougned Odor has been doing his best to make his breakout 33-homer campaign from last year feel like a distant memory. Mike Napoli has been over the Mendoza line after exactly one game this season, though given that it was a day game and the Rangers played at night in New York the next day, at least he got more than 24 hours out of it.
Fortunately, there’s been a couple bright spots in all this despair. Shortstop Elvis Andrus is still somehow only 28 this year, and whatever deal he made with the devil to get his OPS over .800 in 2016 was good for more than one season. The Rangers have installed Carlos Gomez full-time in center field and that’s worked out quite well, as the obnoxious 31-year-old has hit for power while holding his own out in the pasture. None of the rest of the guys have been that remarkable. Shin-Soo Choo can still draw a walk, Delino DeShields can steal a base, and Nomar Mazara has been able to do a little of everything at the plate but not enough to stand out as a corner outfielder.
After reading all this, you might be surprised to learn that Texas’ run differential is actually higher in 2017 than it was during their 95-67 division-winning 2016. Though their bullpen was considerably better at holding leads last season, that just goes to show the different fortunes that a largely unchanged roster can experience from year to year. Now, the Rangers are somewhat stuck in the middle, looking up at an Astros team that could be dominant for the foreseeable future. Both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs peg the Rangers as the seventh-most likely team to reach the ALDS, a product of them having virtually zero stake in the AL West crown. I wouldn’t expect them to sell short-term guys like Darvish and Gomez this season while they’re not too far off the Wild Card lead, but with so many teams in the way, they’re facing a tougher test than the “GB” column in the standings suggests. After making the playoffs five times in seven years, hitting the reset button would hardly be the worst thing in the world.
Probable Starting Pitchers
Friday, June 30: Austin Bibens-Dirkx vs. Mike Pelfrey
Saturday, June 1: Cole Hamels vs. Derek Holland
Sunday, June 2: Tyson Ross vs. Jose Quintana
|1. Shin-Soo Choo - RF
|SP1. Yu Darvish - RHP
|2. Elvis Andrus - SS
|SP2. Cole Hamels - LHP
|3. Nomar Mazara - LF
|SP3. Nick Martinez - RHP
|4. Adrian Beltre - 3B
|SP4. Tyson Ross - RHP
|5. Rougned Odor - 2B
|SP5. Austin Bibens-Dirkx - RHP
|6. Carlos Gomez - CF
|CL. Matt Bush - RHP
|7. Jonathan Lucroy - C
|RP1. Alex Claudio - LHP
|8. Mike Napoli - DH
|RP2. Keone Kela - RHP
|9. Joey Gallo - 1B
|RP3. Jose Leclerc - RHP