Date: Friday, June 23rd, 2017
Rangers’ Record: 36-36 (T-3rd place, 13.0 games behind Houston)
Tonight’s Opponent: New York Yankees (39-31)
Tonight’s Starters: Yu Darvish (6-5, 3.35) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-7, 6.34)
The Rangers begin a 10-game road trip tonight in New York. When they return, they will have been through Cleveland and Chicago, and will have played 82 games; one over the halfway point. They will be less than one month away from the trade deadline. All season, the talk has been “one of these streaks, hot or cold, will tell us whether the team is making a postseason run or selling assets to rebuild the farm system.”
Thus far, that hasn't happened. And each game draws you closer to a decision that must be made.
The call on whether to Go For It or Rebuild is easy if you’re the Astros (heck yes, all in) or the Marlins (might we interest you in this slightly-used Adeiny Hechevarria?). It is exponentially less so if you find yourself at 36-36 and a game and a half out of a wild card spot.
That is precisely where we are on June 22nd, and while the Rangers have not lost a series since June 2-4 at home against the Astros, they’re still at .500, 13 games out of first place, and 1.5 games out in the Wild Card race. The Pennant race for the West is on life support and would need a transfusion of sweet, sweet Astros losses to have any legs, but the Wild Card?
Well... maybe, yeah.
But Texas still has four teams (Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, and–tied with Texas at an identical .500 winning percentage–Anaheim) to leapfrog before they earn the right to play that one road game in October. A half-game behind, we find a resurgent Kansas City, and a half-game behind the Royals lurk Baltimore and Toronto. Texas is four games out of a chance to play that game in Arlington rather than on the road: tied for that first-place Wild Card spot (and the AL East title) we find the Boston Red Sox and…
Tonight’s opponent: the New York Yankees.
It's the June 23rd Baseball Texas Daily!
1. Jeff Banister knows the importance of the road trip, and admits that the feeling of coming to the park (and of embarking on a road trip) feels different now than it did, say, a month ago.
“It does (feel different). And I think part of that is getting our guys back in the mix. Adrian back, Gomez back, Napoli back. Those guys that we send out there every day, we feel confident in the offense. We’ll have Hamels back soon, we’ll have Cashner back soon, we have Ross back. It does. So, we know what’s out in front of us, and now it comes down to winning single games, winning series, stacking wins together. It’s about staying focused on one, then the next, and let the rest take care of itself.”
He’s right, of course. Since returning from the disabled list…
2. Adrian Beltre is hitting .290 with an OPS of .834. In his 19 games back, there are only four in which he has gone hitless. And that’s on what is still a faulty set of wheels, between the sprained ankle and the foul ball off his left foot. You can almost certainly add at least one, if not as many as three or four instances since his return that Beltre would have gotten a hit if he had been able to run full speed.
And all of this is to say nothing of what the future Hall of Famer brings to the team on defense and on-field leadership. It’s hard to quantify the latter, of course. I expected to find that the team was drastically better with Beltre on the field than off it, but in games in which Betlre has played, the Rangers are 10-9. Without him, they are 26-27.
3. Carlos Gomez, likewise, has played in just two more wins than losses, at 23-21. But since his return after missing four weeks with a hamstring injury, he has hit .391 with 5 home runs and a 1.527 OPS in six games. The team is 4-2. It’s a tiny sample size, to be sure, but–with all due respect to Jared Hoying–Gomez has made a profound difference on the lineup since coming back. The same can also be said for
4. Mike Napoli, who had an abysmal April and a similarly bad May, but after a 10-day stint on the DL with a stiff back has hit a respectable .273 with an OPS of 1.042 and 3 home runs in 7 games. The team is 4-3 in those games.
With the lineup now intact, and the bullpen seemingly rejuvenated by the new and unexpected faces, the focus shifts to the rotation, which was, for the first two months of the season, the team’s biggest strength. But with the return of Tyson Ross came injuries to Cole Hamels, A.J. Griffin, and Andrew Cashner. The lone starters who have stayed healthy all year? Martin Perez and...
3. Yu Darvish, who faces Masahiro Tanaka tonight in The Bronx. The two Japanese superstars have never faced each other here in the USA, but in Japan, they did. Darvish was 2-1, and Tanaka was 1-3 in their four meetings. Darvish spoke on Thursday about the upcoming matchup, and their past meetings.
“I don’t remember a lot of details,” Darvish began, before coyly adding. “The last time was in the Tokyodome, and I remember he threw the ball away on a pickoff to first.” Darvish couldn’t mask a sly grin as his interpreter relayed the answer.
Someone brought up that Tanaka had said this game will mean a lot to him because of his respect for Darvish. Darvish acknowledged that Tanaka was a great pitcher, but maintained that his focus was elsewhere. “I know he’s looking forward to it, and that’s great, but my focus is on winning the game. I’m facing the Yankees hitters, so my focus is on winning the game. I know the Yankees have a good lineup, and it’s going to be an important game for both teams.”
4. While I had Darvish, I asked him if he had heard recent reports saying that his relationship with the organization was stronger than most people thought, and as a result, the team was more likely to attempt to re-sign him than to trade him. I asked if he gave that sort of thing much thought during the season, or if he was able to block it out.
“I’ve heard a lot about those conversations, but above all else, I’m a professional, and I want to be a good teammate, and I do that not just because I’m going to be a free agent this year; it’s just a relationship that you should have as a teammate. That’s what I’m focusing on. Going into free agency, that’s totally different stuff. I haven’t said anything yet, to the media or anything. So, it’s two different things; you guys are writing about it, trying to put it together, but I haven’t said anything.”
5. Maybe scratch what I said up there about Martin Perez. According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Perez slammed his right (non-throwing) thumb in a hotel door on Thursday, breaking the tip of the bone. He could miss his next start. That’s all we know about it right now.
Also coming down the stream of information this afternoon...
6. Cole Hamels will return on Monday against Cleveland, if all goes well in today’s bullpen session.
Today’s music rec comes from Tony Barnette, who introduced me this week to The Sugar Thieves, and their latest record, “2 Cups”. It’s sparse, bluesy, and the sort of music you might expect to be playing at a barn dance in Alabama in 1894, even though The Sugar Thieves are from Arizona and (as far as we know) the 21st century
(Spotify, Apple Music, Website)
During the regular season, these recommendations occasionally come from Rangers players, broadcasters, or other people around the team (here’s a complete list). If there’s a player or person you’d like Levi to ask for a music recommendation, shoot him an e-mail email@example.com or a tweet here.
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