Where the Rangers fell short this year

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DIC.HUMPHREY@YAHOO.COM

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers appeared to be all but
mathematically eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. They had
concluded their home stand with a 2-5 record against the Yankees and
Mariners, and then they lost the first two games last weekend to the
Angels. They averted a sweep by beating the Angels last Sunday, but
they were still five games out of the second Wild Card spot with just
13 games to play.
However, the team has continued to play hard, despite being
really beat up physically. Adrian Beltre was sidelined with a
hamstring injury that was supposed to keep him out four weeks. He
returned in less than two weeks to DH despite the pain. Mike Napoli
was in a similar situation. He tried to play through the pain, but
felt he hurt the team trying play with the injury and asked to be
taken out of the lineup and just pinch hit. Hats off to both veterans.
The Rangers followed last Sunday’s win in Anaheim with three more
wins in Seattle to stave off elimination. They are now tied with the
Angels at 76-76, and both trail Minnesota for the second Wild Card
spot by 2.5 games (two in the loss column). The Rangers and Angels go
into the weekend with 10 games to play, while the Twins have nine
remaining games.
The odds of the Rangers making the playoffs are not very good.
Minnesota plays six of their last nine games against Detroit, a team
that has mailed it in. The Rangers play three games in Oakland this
weekend, then return to Arlington to finish the season with three
games against Houston and four more with Oakland.
When the season began, no one expected the Rangers to be clinging
on to a thin hope of slipping into the playoffs as the second Wild
Card. Texas won the West in 2015 and 2016. Much of the team was
intact. Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels gave the Rangers a solid one-two
punch at the top of the rotation. The bullpen crew of Sam Dyson, Matt
Bush, Alex Claudio, Keone Kela and Tony Barnette; the core of the
solid bullpen that finished 2016 was back. The offense looked just as
potent, even with Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland
moving on.
Houston posed a strong challenge, but surely the Rangers would
easily capture a Wild Card berth if the Astros overtook them for the
West Division championship.
So where did this year’s team go wrong?
The most obvious shortcoming is the bullpen, starting with Sam
Dyson, the closer. He pitched EXTREMELY well for Team USA in the
World Baseball Classic. He looked poised to have a monster season
coming out of spring training. Once the season opened though, he was
a disaster. Dyson was soon removed from the closer’s role. He
appeared in 17 games before the Rangers shuttled him to San Francisco.
He recorded no saves, was charged with six losses and left for the
National League with a 10.80 ERA in 16-2/3rds innings pitched.
The Rangers’ bullpen struggled to some extent in the beginning
of both the 2015 and 2016 seasons. In both years, GM Jon Daniels
continued to tinker with the bullpen. A new closer stepped up and by
season’s end; the pen was solid, if not very good.
Daniels again tinkered with the pen this year. It just never
got fixed though. Matt Bush was not the closer answer. Keone Kela
has dealt with injuries. Alex Claudio is the closest the Rangers have
to a closer at this point, but the soft tossing lefty is far from the
prototype big fastball closer.
The Rangers save conversion percentage is 57.1%, the worst in the Majors.
The offense has proved to be problematic too. The Rangers rank
fourth among the 30 teams in runs scored, but the problem is
consistency. There are simply too many players that are all or
nothing – they largely hit home runs or strike out. (This Ranger team
re-set the club record for strikeouts in early September.) For
example, they scored 19 runs in two consecutive days last month
against the White Sox, but went just 1-1 in those games as they scored
17 on Saturday and then just two runs a day later.
This team is too reliant on the long ball.
The Rangers have hit 227 home runs, second most in the Majors
behind Baltimore. However, they have a 28-57 record (.329 winning
percentage) when they hit one or no home runs in a game.
On top of all that, this has proven to be a poor defensive team,
especially porous in the outfield. Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre are
the only elite defenders on the team.
So where does this team go next year?
On the offensive side of the ball, they could essentially bring
back this year’s team. Robinson Chirinos has done a fine job behind
the plate, and Bret Nicholas is making a strong bid to be his backup.
The infield could be Joey Gallo at first base, Rougned Odor at second
base, and Beltre and Andrus at third and short. Willie Calhoun looks
ready to be the left fielder. Delino DeShields is staking claim on
center field with a strong second half, and Nomar Mazara would be the
right fielder. Put Shin-Soo Choo at designated hitter, and 11 of 13
position player roster spots are wrapped up even before spring
training begins.
The problem with that scenario is all the same problems that
plagued this year’s team return for 2018 – scoring inconsistency, too
many strikeouts and bad defense.
This team is also too left-handed at the plate. Gallo, Odor,
Calhoun, Mazara and Choo are left-handed swingers. The most Major
League ready minor leaguer besides Calhoun is first baseman Ronald
Guzman, who also hits from the left side.
The hunch here is that the Rangers will make a big trade to
re-shuffle the deck. An elite center fielder would be a good place to
start. It’s almost certain that at least one of those left-handed
hitters will be moving on.
One interesting aside is Beltre. At 39 shortly after next
season begins, he hasn’t got many years left. Injuries have limited
him to fewer than 100 games this year. He has said he wants to play
on a team with a realistic chance to win a World Series. The Rangers
will not be going into a total tear down mode to rebuild a contender,
but it is unlikely that they will be able to attract the pitching to
be a strong contender in 2018. Beltre obviously likes playing in
Texas, where he has become one of the most adored players by fans in
the history of the franchise. However, if he asks to be traded the
Rangers will likely accommodate.
The pitching is the real question.
Yu Darvish is gone, and history says there isn’t much chance
he’ll be back. Texas is said to be a front runner for Shohei Otani
(sometimes spelled Ohtani); the Japanese Phenom that has a fastball
clocked in excess of 100 MPH, and the ability to hit home runs. He is
often regarded as the Japanese Babe Ruth. There will be stiff
competition for Otani.
The Rangers certainly want Andrew Cashner back, but he’ll attract
interest on the free agent market. Assuming he re-signs, that would
put Cole Hamels, Martin Perez and Cashner as the top of the rotation.
Jake Arrieta, who played in high school at Plano East, is perhaps the
best pitcher that will hit the free agent market this year. The
Rangers will look into his interest, but finding two more decent
starters will be a challenge.
Plus the Rangers need to fix the bullpen. Jake DIekman is back
this month after dealing with health issues for most of the season.
He’s a plus. Perhaps some of other arms such as Bush and Kela return
to form. Bullpens are always iffy from year to year.
The bottom line though is that the Rangers likely will have a
significantly different look for 2018. Houston has run off with the
division championship this year, and the Astros have a strong young
core of players. It will take a lot of improvement for the Rangers to
catch their fellow Texans.

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