I really caution against trying to figure out a team’s identity. It always turns into that scene from Hot Rod, only instead of players talking about the team’s identity by saying ‘I like to party’ it’s ‘we’ll play good defense and hope we get some timely hitting’ or ‘we’ll play the game the right way’ or some other platitude about playing hard.
Every football team thinks they’ll play harder in the fourth quarter. Every basketball team wants to defend home court. These are not team identities, they’re just aspects of teamhood.
But I will say this - this Rangers team, right now, hates its beat writers, and any proclivity they have to write a game story until the final out.
Tamp your enthusiasm
I’ll get the maudlin out the way right off; if Friday was Yu Darvish’s last start as a Texas Ranger, we’ll always be able to say he left us with a very Yu Darvish start. Darvish struck out 12 over eight innings, allowing only five hits along the way.
Three of those hits were of the home run variety, although all solo; the three runs would be all the runs the Rays would notch on the day. 28 times Rays swung at Darvish pitches without contact; 18 off the fastball alone. Darvish’s weakness is his stuff is so good that command comes and goes, and on Friday, the command came and the Rays went.
Darvish was staked to a one run lead before taking the ball as Elvis Andrus continued his love affair with the hard-stitched ball with another homer, his 12th. Alex Cobb kept the Rangers off the board from then until the ninth, when Joey Gallo greeted him with a leadoff double and Shin-Soo Choo brought both home two pitches later to tie the game at 3; handing the tied game to the capable left hand of Alex Claudio.
A clean ninth brought the Rangers back up the tenth. Jon Lucroy worked a leadoff walk, and pinch-runner Delino Deshields (this will be important later) moved over to second base with a Carlos Gomez sacrifice. Joey Gallo caused some heartbeat irregularities with a deep fly that moved DeShields to third, and with one out, up came Elvis Andrus. Andrus drilled a liner, but right at old enemy Evan Longoria, who gloved it but couldn’t handle it cleanly enough to get off a good throw, and the fourth run was brought home.
Steven Souza led off the tenth with a single, and Aideny Hechevaria sought to replicate the Rangers’ bunt work a frame earlier. But replacement catcher Robinson Chirinos (told you that would be important) fielded the bunt cleanly, fired to second with enough time to get the lead runner, and Andrus was able to turn the ball back to Gallo at first for a double play. One pitch later, Alex Claudio added ‘two inning save’ to the growing list of pitching accomplishments he has in 2017, finalizing the improbable 4-3 comeback score.
On Saturday, Andrew Cashner was met with Chris Archer. Archer is much like Darvish, a true top of the rotation pitcher that somehow doesn’t get noticed as such as much as he should. If only there were some common ground between them that could possibly explain that….
Anyway, Archer notched 13 straight outs before Elvis Andrus broke the streak with another solo homer. The Rays had scored three the inning before, so this brought the score to 3-1. It would remain as such until the sixth, when Choo and Andrus hit back-to-back singles with one out, and Adrian Beltre hit a fly to center fielder Mallex Smith, who is not a science fiction third tier character, I checked.
The ball clanked off Smith’s glove, and Choo and Andrus came home. Archer, then perhaps to make Mallex feel better about himself, uncorked consecutive wild pitches to bring Beltre home, and give Texas a 4-3 lead.
The Rangers would then hand that lead over to the bullpen, who defended it with only mild drama (principally a one out single-walk sequence from Keone Kela making his first appearance of the month). With two on, Alex Claudio got the final out of the eighth, and one in the ninth before a one-out double from Peter Bourjos. Two groundouts to the left side of his infield later, Claudio had his second consecutive 3+ out save, and again left the mound with a protected 4-3 win.
In Sunday’s finale, Tyson Ross pitched two innings, allowing only a single. The issue is, he pitched 3 2/3 innings total, and in those non-good innings, he was Bad. Like, allowed three RBIs to aforementioned Third Ensign Mallex Smith, and forcing in a run… by walking Brad Miller. He handed over to Tony Barnette a 5-2 score.
Barnette, meanwhile, has rediscovered something, striking out four over 2 1/3 innings. He handed over to Matt Bush, who pitched around a leadoff single to bring the Rangers up, down 5-3 (oh, hi, Joey Gallo solo homer in the fifth).
After Beltre lead off with a strikeout, Mike Napoli worked a walk off Brad Boxberger (who is the ineffective lieutenant that Ensign Mallex Smith has to report to, begrudgingly, but they come to respect each other and by the end are good friends).
Rougned Odor then again forced game stories to be re-written with a no-doubt golf swing homer to right to tie the game. One batter later, Carlos Gomez gave his version of the Beltre knee-swing, only it was some kind of four-drinks-too-many limbo that my lumbar will not allow me to replicate. The score was 6-5, now.
Bush had already pitched an inning, and the team is loathe to send him out for a second given his balky AC joint. Alex Claudio pitched the previous two days. Keone Kela pitched yesterday after returning from the DL. Who do you turn to? The answer is Jason Grilli. I guess I should have just said that. Anyway, he sent the Rays down in order.
This problem repeated itself in the ninth; the answer this time was Jose Leclerc. He was ultimately successful, but not before bringing the tying run into scoring position (two walks bookending a Evan Longoria foulout) with Steven Souza up. But he struck out Souza, swinging on three pitches, and the Rangers third straight one run win was in the books.
As the ink dries, the Rangers are 2.5 games out of a wild card spot, but their top catcher (yeah, I know…) Robinson Chirinos departed Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle after a scary plate collision (update: x-rays were negative, but no further update likely until the swelling clears up Monday [second update: Brett Nicholas was out of Sunday's Round Rock game, and Chirinos was in a walking boot after the game]), and you have to face the fact that your best-case scenario has your wild card chase punctuated with starts in anger by either Tyson Ross, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Nick Martinez, or a (hopefully) soon returning A.J.Griffin- the kind of blaring weakness (alongside a bullpen that doesn’t know who or what they are, exactly) that a chasing team feels the need to address.
Does that force you to buy, when you’re best positioned to sell? That’s why Jon Daniels makes like three thousand dollars more a year than I do I guess.
Let’s compound the equation even further; both Clayton kershaw and Stephen Strasburg left their starts on Sunday with issues that range somewhere between serious injury and ouchie. Regardless, there is a level of uncertainty in the pitching staffs of both of the NL’s top competitors. The timing of such has to be almost cosmic; the stress in both of those front offices must be palpable. The type of stress that leads teams to trade a Walker Buehler or Victor Robles?
I feel it’s not likely, in either case, but it became significantly more likely Sunday afternoon.
Deal, or Stan(d)ton still?
The Miami Marlins come to town for a three game set starting Monday. The Marlins are 44-51, with a pythagorean record of 44-51, so good for them for consistency!
In Monday’s opener, Martin Perez will oppose Adam Conley. Conley, a lefty, has pitched 34.2 innings this season in eight games (seven starts). He averages about 92 on his fastball, and he allows almost an even mix of flyballs and grounders (40% to 41.8%, respectively). He’s also fairly even on strikeouts and walks, unfortunately (16.3% to 11%, again, respectively).
On Tuesday Cole Hamels will oppose Dan Straily. This will be the fourth uniform Straily has worn while pitching against Texas, and he’s also one of those guys I’m certain will be a Ranger eventually, as well. He’s still good for strikeouts (8.34 per 9 IP).
Yu Darvish is scheduled for Wednesday’s start. Maybe. I don’t know. We’re all thinking it. His scheduled opponent is Jose Urena, who’s bounced between starting and bullpen, as well as AAA and the NL. He’s put up 95.1 innings of 3.78 ERA ball, but FIP (5.14) says that’s a happy number for him. We’ll see if the Darvish run support curse continues, if he departs the franchise.
Are you hoping the Rangers buy, sell, or stand pat? Share your trade deadline prognostications with Joe on Twitter @thejoeursery.