Early impression positive for Rangers

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, April 5th, 2019

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM
Member United States Basketball Writers Association

ARLINGTON, Texas – Most baseball General Managers think it takes
about a third of the season to fully assess how their team stacks up
on the field. The Rangers are in Anaheim for their first road trip of
the season and have played just seven games, so it’s way too early to
proclaim any finite truths. However, here are a few thoughts on what
we have seen in the first home stand plus a game on the road.

There has to be joy in Mudville about the Rangers opening the
season winning their first two series against teams that were in the
playoffs last year and have won the World Series in two of the last
three years.  Considering the quality of the opponents, an 0-6 record
for the home stand was not out of the question.  A 5-2 record
(counting Thursday’s 11-4 win against the Angels in Anaheim) is like
mana from Heaven. There were some good signs.

The batting order is essentially the same as last year’s team,
the one that set the Ranger team record for strikeouts in a season.
Jeff Mathis has replaced Robinson Chirinos behind the plate, and
Asdrubal Cabrera is playing third base instead of the retired Adrian
Beltre. The rest is the same.

The only way this year’s offense can improve on last year’s
performance is for players to improve.  For years, it’s been obvious
to fans that Ranger hitters needed to be more selective at the plate.
Rougned Odor was the poster child for all that was bad about Ranger
hitters. He would swing at anything.  He was almost impossible to
walk. Opposing pitchers know these things…from their standpoint,
why throw a strike when the hitters will swing at bad pitches.

Joey Gallo was one of the worst offenders.  He struck out 207
times in 2018.  New Ranger manager Chris Woodward continues to
emphasize the important thing is the process, not the result.
Ultimately, the results will be good if the players stick to the
process. Gallo is the poster child for the new approach. In the first
seven games, he walked eight times and struck out seven.

Clearly past hitting coaches and manager Jeff Banister identified the
problem. For whatever reason, they were not able to get the message
across to the players.  Again, it’s just the first week of baseball,
but the message seems to be taking.

Another benefit of being more selective is that it runs up pitch
counts of opposing pitchers.  Justin Verlander is one of the top five
pitchers in the American League, if not the best.  He started last
Tuesday’s game, and could not get an out in the fifth inning.  His
pitch count totaled 94 for the four plus innings!  Ranger hitters
literally wore him out by being selective at the plate.

This is a REALLY GOOD SIGN.

Lost in recent years is the fact that the Rangers have been a very
bad defensive team.  This team did not make an error in the first five
games.  They made two in one inning on Wednesday, but even then, they
escaped the inning without allowing the Astros to score.
Defensive effectiveness is difficult to measure. Errors and
fielding percentage take in just a small part of the result. Last
Tuesday, Alex Bregman singled to right field with a runner on first
and one out, but was retired when he took a large turn at first base
and couldn’t get back to the base in time to beat Elvis Andrus’s
throw. It was a meaningful play in the game as it snuffed out a
Houston scoring threat.  It’s a play that wouldn’t have happened
without an on-target throw that hit the cut-off man from Nomar Mazara
who fielded the hit.  So far, the defense has been a plus.

Asdrubal Cabrera is looking like an absolute steal as a free
agent.  He has been a middle infielder for most of his Major League
career, and is playing third base regularly for the first time.  He
has simply been outstanding defensively at the hot corner.  There is a
lot of difference between third base and the middle infield positions.
A middle infielder usually sets up around 150 feet from home plate
giving them lots of room to time the hops on ground balls. A third
baseman is sometimes only 90 feet or less from home.  The hot smashes
from right handed batters give little reaction time to make a play.
Michael Young is a good example.  In 2009, he shifted from shortstop
to third base to make room for Andrus.  We all love Michael, but he
wasn’t very good at third base.  It’s a difficult transition.  Cabrera
is making the change look easy.  He also leads the team with three
home runs and has driven in seven runs in seven games.

The starting pitching was supposed to be the team’s weak point,
and so far, it has lived up to the billing. It’s been awful!  Mike
Minor threw seven shutout innings in his second start for the best
performance of the season so far.  Lance Lynn is the only other
starter that has completed even five innings, the minimum to qualify
for a win.  The starting pitcher’s ERA is 6.32, and they are averaging
4.5 innings per start for the first seven games.

Ultimately, the starting pitching will have the most impact on
this year’s record.  The numbers aren’t good so far; but as the team
plows through the second turn of the starting rotation, literally all
five starters have shown some promise.

The short starts definitely tax a team’s bullpen. The Rangers’
bullpen so far has been okay. Jose Leclerc is clearly one of the top
relievers in baseball. Shawn Kelley is probably the best reliever
besides Leclerc, but Chris Martin figures in the late inning mix. That
trio can finish off a game when the Rangers have a lead. That’s a
good start, and as much as Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels has
been criticized for not being able to put together a quality pitching
staff, he has put together good bullpens.  The relief corps will
likely be a plus as the season progresses.

From the beginning of spring training, the local media noticed a
different vibe with the team. The atmosphere is more relaxed and
upbeat. The players look to be having a good time on the field.
Veteran Hunter Pence is part of that. He’s obviously a fine addition
to the roster as the fourth outfielder and a positive influence both
on and off the field.

A lot of American League teams that were expected to do well this
year aren’t.  The Astros, Yankees and Red Sox all won 100 games last
year, but all three are under .500 with a combined record of 7-15.
The door may be open for a young team like the Rangers to be a
contender in 2019.
NOTABLE:
• The official paid attendance at last Monday’s and Tuesday’s games
were 18,056 and 17,907, the two smallest crowds ever in Arlington for
a Rangers-Astros game.  The Dallas Stars NHL team actually outdrew the
Rangers on Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center with official
paid attendance of 18,532.
• The Rangers have hit at least one home run in each of the first seven games.
• Shin-Soo Choo singled in the second inning Thursday night against
the Angels – his 1,500th career hit. That’s the most by any Korean
player and second most for an Asian player.  Ichiro Suzuki has the
most.

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