I’m going to start a weekly (or maybe bi-weekly) column assessing the play of the Texas Rangers for (hopefully) the rest of the 2017. In it, i’ll offer insight and analysis over the team’s play with fan perspective along with journalistic objectivity.
Date: June 5, 2017
Next Game: 58/162, Tue. Jun 6 vs. New York Mets
Team Record: 26-31, 4th AL West
Personal Power Ranking: 20
It kind of stinks that we’re starting this off on a pretty gloomy note. The Rangers are at their low point of the season, sliding to 2-8 including a pair of four-game losing streaks after being eaten up and spat out by a stretch of schedule that pitted them against some of the league’s hottest teams.
The Rangers opened up a homestand with a matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays last Monday, a balanced squad that made for a pretty even pairing. That series saw team captain Adrian Beltre’s return to the lineup from a hamstring injury, and Elvis Andrus emerge an elite offensive threat.
Texas would go onto drop two of three to Tampa Bay in that series, both losses thanks to a serious implosion in the back end of the bullpen.
Texas held a 5-2 lead in game one of the series, only to eventually see a pitching meltdown outweigh a strong offensive outing in a 10-8 loss. After a win Tuesday, a similar trend emerged Wednesday- Texas led 4-3 late until Matt Bush allowed his first home run of the season in a game that newly-shaven Sam Dyson would completely squander and Texas would lose in extras, 7-4.
Andrus was by far the most outstanding player through the week, racking up an impressive 10 RBIs total, aided by a career-best 5 RBI performance on Tuesday. He has emerged as one of the top offensive threats at shortstop in the American League and one MLB’s elite when considering his rock-solid defense.
MLB.com projects Andrus’ to record homers and 72 RBIs, both which would be career bests. As of now, he is the most likely Ranger to be featured in July’s MLB All-Star Game.
As for the weekend series, it was one of the ugliest in recent memory. Houston came to town and completely manhandled the Rangers, dropping them to 1-5 on the homestand. After hanging a whopping 40 runs in three games on Minnesota in their midweek series, the Ranger staff was no match for the Astro bats, slightly cooling them off to half that total, but nonetheless conceding all three games as Houston won their eighth, ninth and tenth straight contests.
This series really opened a lot of eyes in the Ranger/AL West community that the proverbial torch of AL West power has been passed. We’ve seen Ranger teams go on late season pushes for the pennant (exhibit A: 2015, a team that sat 48-52 at the deadline and won their division).
If the Rangers make the playoffs this season, it appears it’s going to be through one of the two AL Wild Card spots, as it seems increasingly less likely that they’ll catch Houston and their current 15 game lead.
THE BULLPEN, OH, THE BULLPEN.
The bullpen struggles are the most pressing issue of this team to date.Texas ranks 26th in the MLB in bullpen ERA at a 4.76.
Moving on from Sam Dyson will significantly buoy the staff. In his nearly two full years in Texas, Dyson slid up and down the performance spectrum. Emerging as a key back-end arm down the stretch after he was acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, Dyson would go onto save 38 games in 2016 after Shawn Tolleson was phased out as the Ranger closer after a disastrous start of his own.
In 2017, Dyson was aligned with a Similar fate to Tolleson. His stat line was horrendous this season- a 1-6 record with an appalling 10.80 ERA out of the bullpen. He failed to convert a single save in four opportunities and saw Matt Bush assume his post.
Dyson was reportedly very upset and his teammates were very sympathetic when they learned of his departure. He was supposedly a good clubhouse guy and is a solid professional. Of course, we all feel for the guy, but it was simply time to move on.
After wowing at the 2017 World Baseball Classic for the first-time champion United States, Dyson simply couldn’t effectively locate any pitches to effectively record outs against major league hitters. He leans heavily on his sinker, which had little to no effectiveness this season, ultimately leading to his Ranger demise.
Jose Leclerc was activated off the DL as his replacement. A solid young left-handed arm, Leclerc could be a nice replacement for Dyson, paired with fellow young lefty Alex Claudio, who has posted a 2.83 career ERA in four campaigns for Texas.
Texas welcomes in the underachieving New York Mets (24-30) to Globe Life Park this week for a quick two-game interleague set. Two wins would be a huge step in the right direction for a team that recently sat in wild card contention.
It doesn’t get much easier in the later half of the week, as the Rangers will head to the nation’s capital for another interleague tilt with the Washington Nationals- a top team in the National League.
If the Rangers could take care of business at home against New York and steal a pair of games at Washington, their record would sit at 30-33, which would go a long way on the road to .500. Realistically, if the team looks to contend, they need to be back at the .500 mark by the end of June.
Given a pretty tough schedule, it’s going to be interesting to see if Texas can rally back to contention. This is where it gets tough as both a fan and journalist; of course I want and believe this team can contend, but if things don’t turn around quickly, the harsh reality of a rebuilding season and selling at the trade deadline will loom quickly on Arlington.
Injuries haven’t helped, but the starting rotation and bullpen that this team has featured makes me queasy. Credit where credit is due, Austin Bibens-Dirx and Dillon Gee are professional athletes, but they’re borderline Major League players who aren’t easy for a fanbase to get excited about and aren’t going to help a team’s immediate playoff push.
Hope is on the horizon nonetheless. Cole Hamels, AJ Griffin and Tyson Ross are all on the brink of returning, and when paired with the solid top three of Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez, a healthy rotation puts Texas’ among the league’s elite. If those guys were to get going, the Rangers could more than likely see wins start to come.
Carlos Gomez is sure to help matters as well. Earning a reputation as a high energy, boom-or-bust guy, he is surely to add a boost to the lineup when he returns from his May 15 hamstring injury.
There’s a lot of what-if’s in this evaluation, but right now, the overarching feeling from this team is different from years past. In 2014, the completely battered team still was clinging to a .500 record, but the writing was on the wall that they were out of contention.
In 2015, the June edition of the team featured so few impact players that would affect the playoff run that it almost seemed like a completely different squad. Last year, the Rangers were firmly atop the AL West, and were the first team to reach the 50-win plateau.
Here in 2017, we find an enigma of a team still looking for its identity. Unfortunately for baseball fans, impatient as they come, we’re just going to have to wait and see if this team can contend, and whether the injury bug can be rallied past.