Rangers ahead of expectation thru April

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, May 3rd, 2019

joey_gallo_and_elvis_andrus_in_2017_wikimediacommons                                                                                                                                                                                        BY DIC HUMPHREY                                                                                                               DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM
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ARLINGTON, Texas – The calendar flipped from April to May this week and with three games in April and another this week in May, the Rangers are three games away from having played 20% of the schedule.
There has been some good news and bad news over the first month plus
of the season, but the Rangers are 14-15, almost .500, which is much
better than projected when the season began. Here are thoughts on
what we’ve seen so far.

THE RANGERS:  The pitching was supposed to be bad and it’s lived up to
expectations. Going into the weekend, the Rangers are next to last
among all Major League teams with a 5.49 ERA…..  Baltimore at 5.89
is the only team worse.

The bullpen ERA is close to nine – about a run per inning
pitched. Unfortunately, they are getting lots of innings as the
starters are averaging fewer than five innings per start.  The
starting pitchers have failed to complete five innings in 17 of the 29
games, and the starting pitchers’ ERA is 5.84.

At this point, Mike Minor and Lance Lynn have established
themselves as the clear-cut number one and number two starters.
Adrian Sampson is making a strong bid to be number three, though he
hasn’t won a game.  Edinson Volquez and Drew Smyly are on the injured
list, but Smyly is expected to be activated this weekend and start
Sunday’s game against Toronto.  Shelby Miller is still scrambling to
recapture the form he once showed before surgery.

The biggest disappointment of the season is Jose Leclerc.  He has
blown two saves and has been shaky in other appearances.  It seems
like an annual rite of April and May that the Rangers’ closer gets
replaced.  Neftali Feliz was replaced by Shawn Tolleson in 2015.
Tolleson was replaced by Sam Dyson the next year.  Dyson was replaced
by Keone Kela.  Kela was replaced last year by Leclerc, and now, at
least for a little while, Leclerc is getting replaced by either Shawn
Kelley or Chris Martin.

As bad as the pitching has been, it’s a semi-miracle that the team
is only one game below .500.  Actually by the middle of April, there
was more optimism than there is now as the Rangers limp into the
weekend having lost seven of their last nine games after reaching a
high water mark of four games over .500 for the first time since the
2016 season.

The near .500 record with the horrible mound work means the
offense has been good.  Their .258 team batting average ranks eighth
in the Majors and fourth in the American League.  Their 173 runs
scored ranks third in the Majors.

Elvis Andrus has been hot. He’s hitting .348 with five home runs
and 20 RBIs trailing only the White Sox Tim Anderson for the league
lead in batting average.

Joey Gallo is much improved.  His average going into the weekend
is .264, well above last year’s .206. Gallo has increased the average
without giving up power and leads the team with 11 home runs and 26
RBIs. That ranks first and fourth in the American League.

Four veterans are having a nice impact on the offense.  Asdrubal
Cabrera has six home runs and 19 RBIs, and is playing a solid third
base.  Hunter Pence is hitting .298 with irregular playing time, and
has three home runs and 13 RBIs. Recent addition Danny Santana is
hitting .355 after 16 games, and has been good defensively, especially
at second base.  Logan Forsythe has been more than a backup with
injuries to Rougned Odor, Ronald Guzman and Cabrera.  He adds
versatility to the lineup with his ability to play all four infield
positions.

The biggest offensive disappointment is Odor. He has a stint on
the injured list and is hitting just .136 in 66 at bats. Odor has
reverted to his previous form at the plate – swinging at everything.
He has struck out 27 times (41%) and has accepted just six walks.
With his expensive contract extension, he’ll keep getting chances to
turn the season around, but with Danny Santana playing well, Ranger
manager Chris Woodward will feel the pressure to make a change if Odor
doesn’t turn it around soon.

The Rangers go into play Friday trailing first place Houston by
2.5 games. Quite frankly in retrospect, the front office looks short
sighted in trading Cole Hamels and not picking up the team option on
Martin Perez.  Perez is 4-0 with a 3.56 ERA for Minnesota. Hamels is
3-0, 3.19 with the Cubs.  Those two pitchers along with Minor and Lynn
would be a better than average rotation.

The end result is that the offense is just as good as last year’s
and maybe even better despite the losses of Adrian Beltre, Jurickson
Profar and Robinson Chirinos, who collectively hit 53 home runs and
drove in 207 runs.  With this year’s offense averaging 5.9 runs per
game, which has produced a plus seven run differential despite the
horrible pitching, there is definitely pressure to upgrade the
pitching.  It’s difficult to do, and the Rangers don’t want to undo
the progress they have made over the last year in rebuilding the farm
system.  But the heat is on Jon Daniels to
make this a better season than anyone expected in March.

THE A.L. WEST:  Houston was picked to win the division, and sit atop
the standings going into play this weekend. They lead the American
League and are second only to the St. Louis Cardinals in batting
average. Their staff ERA is 3.63, third in the A.L. and seventh in
the Majors. The Astros will be tough to beat.
The Mariners jumped out to an early lead in the division, but
have fallen back to second place.  They are generally considered to be
pretenders, not contenders.  Seattle has some hitters, but their
pitching, especially their starting rotation, is suspect.  They are
also on pace to commit the most errors of any team in the last 40
years.

Oakland grabbed one of the Wild Cards last year with 97 regular
season wins and was expected to challenge Houston for the division
title. So far, they are one of the more disappointing teams in
baseball.  The starting rotation isn’t good, and they have sustained
significant injuries.  Teams that come out of nowhere like the
Athletics did last year often regress the next year.  Oakland is
showing signs of doing just that, though it’s too early to count them
out.

The Angels are currently in fourth place a game ahead of Oakland.
They have Mike Trout, but not enough pitching to contend.

THE REST OF THE A.L.:  The biggest disappointment in the league is
defending World Series champion Boston. They were supposed to be just
as good as last year, but their top starting pitcher, Chris Sale, is
0-5, 6.30. Ouch!  Rick Porcello 5.52 and Nathan Eovaldi 6.00 aren’t
much better.  Their bullpen isn’t good either.  The team batting
average is .241 (18th in the Majors). The Red Sox go into the weekend
at 14-18 and 6.5 games out of first place.  It’s too early to count
them out, but they have a lot of ground to make up in a tough
division.

The Yankees are in second place in the East, and that’s GREAT
news for Yankee fans.  Certainly, the New Yorkers are in search of a
better than second place finish, but they have been hit hard by
injuries.  Their injured list has numbered plus or minus 12 for weeks,
and that list includes key players such as Aaron Judge, Luis Severino,
Dellin Betances, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar and
Giancarlo Stanton. Being second in the division at this point is a
solid tribute to their depth as they have gotten to this point by
playing their “B Team”.

The best team in the East though is Tampa Bay.  They don’t have
well known players, but they have really good players.  The Rays lead
the Majors in staff ERA. Their rotation is headed up by last year’s
Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton,
who collectively are 10-2, 2.59.  That trio is the match of any top
three rotation pitchers in baseball.  They have a loaded farm system
that will allow them to do whatever they want late in the
season…..they can bring along their farmhands to fill holes, or
trade some for veterans without putting a dent in their farm system.

Manager Kevin Cash is in his fifth year, and he’s regarded as one of
the best young managers in baseball. The Rays aren’t going away.
In the Central Division, the Minnesota Twins are giving much more
of a challenge to the Cleveland Indians than expected.  The Twins have
a solid middle three in their batting order with Eddie Rosario, Nelson
Cruz, and Jorge Polanco.  Jose Berrios (5-1, 2.91) is not well known,
but he’s clearly an ace – a top ten pitcher in the league. Jake
Odorizzi (3-2, 3.44) and Martin Perez give this team a solid top of
the rotation and Blake Parker is 6-6 in save situations.

Cleveland has their hands full with the Twins especially after
losing Cory Kluber to a broken arm this week.  The Tribe trails the
Twins by three games going into this weekend, and the other three
teams are rebuilding, so there will be lots of wins for the top two in
this division.  This division could send two teams to the playoffs.

NOTABLE:
• Joey Gallo was named the Rangers’ player of the month for
March-April.  He became the first Ranger ever to hit 10 home runs
before May 1.  He started May off with home run number 11, and going
into the weekend, he has a .264 batting average and 1.090 OPS.
• The Rangers’ farm teams combined for a 59-41 record in April.
• Two of the Rangers highly regarded pitching prospects underwent
Tommy John surgery this week.  Owen White, the team’s 2018 second
round pick and Mason Englert taken in the fourth round of the same
draft.  It will undoubtedly keep them off the field until at least
mid-year of the 2020 season.

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