Should the Rangers focus on the Wild Card?

DALLAS - 1997. 2000. 2002-2007. 2011. 2014. What do these years have in common? A Wild Card team won the World Series.

Why not 2017? 

Perhaps World Series aspirations are a little lofty for the 2017 Texas Rangers, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Yes, the Houston Astros may be relatively unstoppable; they may surpass the 100-win mark by the margin over which they lead the American League West. The rest of the American League, however, is not without many flaws.

As of the finish of the series against the Astros, the American League Wild Card picture looks like this.

There are five teams ahead of Texas with just 3.5 games separating the pack. The entire American League East sits ahead, including Baltimore and Boston currently holding the two Wild Card slots by a slim half a game.

Two Central teams – the Indians and Tigers are ahead of Texas. The one surprise in the standings is the Los Angeles Angels, two games ahead of Texas in the win column, but one behind in the loss column.

None of these teams is on the verge of running away with a playoff spot, which makes this whole month of June all the more important just before the Trade Deadline.

Boston Red Sox (1st WC Spot, +1.5 Games) – There isn’t a lot to dislike about the odds-on favorites for the American League pennant. The lineup is balanced, they boast arguably the best outfield in the American League, one of the candidates for Rookie of the Year in Andrew Benintendi, and they’re about to fortify their bullpen with the return of Carson Smith.

Oh, there’s also the small matter of David Price and Chris Sale. But Price is coming off of elbow discomfort and Porcello certainly isn’t looking like the Cy Young winner from last year, Eduardo Rodriguez is having knee issues and their next man up has calf issues. It’s not likely, but Boston’s starting pitching depth could be sorely tested.

Baltimore Orioles (2nd Wild Card Spot) – For Baltimore, it’s always been about pitching. Offensively, the Orioles will hit their share of homers and ride Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis while using role players to buy into Buck Showalter’s management.

Up until recently, the big worry had been consistency from their starters. With the second DL stint for All-Star closer Zach Britton, the bullpen isn’t nearly as long or reliable as it was last year when they made the Wild Card game.

Cleveland Indians (2nd Wild Card Spot) – The defending American League champions find themselves confusingly staring up at the Minnesota Twins in the Central. It may not be a situation they find themselves in for the long run, but for now, the Indians’ starting pitching isn’t as stout as predicted.

Carlos Carrasco is as advertised over his ten starts, but Corey Kluber is just now returning from back issues, Trevor Bauer is fighting flashes of brilliance and Danny Salazar has been moved to the bullpen. The big off-season pickup of Edwin Encarnacion still has not paid dividends for the Indians, either.

Detroit Tigers (1.5 Games Back) – The Tigers have no problems hitting the baseball, but as it seems to have been every year for the last half-decade, their bullpen is having as many issues as the 2017 Rangers.

In fact, the Tigers’ relief corps sits right behind Texas for worst ERA in the Majors and have blown 10 save opportunities.

Like the Rangers, Detroit has also supplanted their start-of-season closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer, is the only member of the rotation with a respectable stat line across the board.

Tampa Bay Rays (2.0 Games Back) – The biggest difference between this year’s Rays and last years is that their home run prowess is starting to manifest. They lead the Majors in homers and are third in the American League in runs scored.

Chris Archer seems to have rebounded from his disastrous 2016. Still, despite the homers, the Rays’ team average hovers around .250 and they are wracked with injuries.

Toronto Blue Jays (2.0 Games Back) – One of the other favorites in a stacked American League East, Toronto is probably surprised and relieved to find themselves where they are. They won only nine games in the first month of the season, digging themselves into a seemingly inescapable hole.

Not only have they escaped it, but they’ve surged to make the AL East interesting again. Getting back both Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki at the end of May was a huge help to their lineup. But J.A. Happ has come back down to earth, Aaron Sanchez has been on the DL for a few weeks and Jose Bautista hasn’t been nearly worth the contract tendered him.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2.5 Games Back) – Give the Angels credit – they’ve put four closers on the disabled list and are patchworking their lineup together, it seems, on a daily basis. Here they sit, however, in second place in the division and just three games out of a Wild Card spot.

Their bullpen has kept it together, once Bud Norris was established as the closer, and Yunel Escobar is picking up some of the slack of the offense. Regardless, the team just lost the best player in the game for two months, and, much like Adrian Beltre’s 3000th hit is the talk of the town in Arlington, Albert Pujols’ quest for 600 homers was exciting, but can’t carry the team.

Seattle Mariners (2.5 Games Back) – The Mariners have had high expectations heaped upon them year after year, it seems. Every year, it always comes down to their offense stringing together enough run support for their pitchers. This year, it’s their rotation that’s taken a huge hit, as an incredible seven pitchers have hit the disabled list with pretty severe injuries.

Among the injured pitchers are Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly. The King may be on the verge of returning, but, like the Red Sox, the depth is where the true test of their fortitude is going to lie.

It’s a lot to look at and a lot to surpass for the Rangers. Their performance against some tough teams in the month of June is going to go a very, very long way towards determining what Jon Daniels chooses to do at the trade deadline.

No, the odds aren’t in a Wild Card team’s favor, but if there’s a chance to compete and contend, Daniels is going to take it (remember how far out of it the Rangers were in 2015, just before Cole Hamels was acquired).

It may not be a big, sexy, blockbuster type of deal that gets made to bolster the team’s playoff chances, but unless the team completely drops off the face of the earth, there’s a possibility for JD to improve the 2017 Major League team.

Homer Simpson once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, deny you even tried.” The Rangers, if there’s a chance, are going to try.

 

Do you think Texas can contend for a Wild Card spot this summer? Follow Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB for more of his thoughts on the matter.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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