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Rangers measured by Braves to show there’s still work to be done

Even with a successful first quarter of the season, the Texas Rangers were shown where improvements can be made against the Atlanta Braves.

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves squared off for a true battle of good first place teams, one that solidified Texas as one of those teams while also giving them a glimpse of the things that they must do better. 

It wasn’t quite a playoff atmosphere at Globe Life Field, but the performances and efforts from both teams seemed to reflect games of importance. Ultimately, the series represented a good test for both teams, each with significant pitching issues and electric offenses.

It was, however, the bullpen that once again sealed the fate for the Rangers, ending their three-series winning streak.

  • Game 41: Atlanta 12, Texas 0 (W: Morton, 5-3, L: Bradford, 0-1)
  • Game 42: Atlanta 4, Texas 7 (W: Dunning, 4-0, L: Shuster, 0-2, Sv: Smith, 8)
  • Game 43: Atlanta 6, Texas 5 (W: Anderson, 2-0, L: Burke, 2-2, Sv: Iglesias, 2)

The streak ends

Nathan Eovaldi’s scoreless inning streak began at 28 ⅔ innings and actually kept going in the first inning. Nathan Eovaldi retired the Braves in order on twelve pitches. In the top of the second, however, Austin Riley blooped a single to right and then Eddie Rosario, the Atlanta left fielder, sent a ball over the right field fence. The streak was done at 29.2 innings.

The important part of this, however, is that Eovaldi continued to proverbially shove against the team with the second-best slugging percentage in all of baseball. He allowed two more singles right after the homer, but then induced a double play and another ground out to get out of the inning. He retired the Braves in order in each of the next three innings before burgeoning NL MVP favorite Ronald Acuña, Jr. took Eovaldi deep again. And then the Rangers’ deGromless, de facto ace retired three more in order.

Overall, Eovaldi went seven innings strong, giving up just three runs while striking out five. He only walked two, and they came toward the end of his outing. The streak may be gone, but against an offense as hot as the Atlanta Braves’ offense, Eovaldi’s effort should not go unnoticed.

$325 million man returns

The series finale was supposed to be a night for celebrating the return of Corey Seager to the lineup. For most of the game, it did feel like Texas would be enjoying a win after the 2022 All-Star returned to the lineup. 

While Seager went 0-for-3 in his first action since April 11 after a hamstring injury (and stomach bug), he did contribute with a sacrifice fly. Ezekiel Duran continued to get the game at shortstop, as Seager was eased back into action as the designated hitter. 

With Texas two games up in the division in mid-May, there’s no real rush to force Seager back to full time duty at shortstop; but it was nice to see that he could slot himself in and contribute.

Punting on third down

Behind the feel good story of Cody Bradford making his MLB debut for Texas in the series opener was the fact that he was mostly sent out there as a sacrificial lamb.

Bradford, of course, was deserving of an opportunity after putting up impressive numbers in Triple-A Round Rock, and Texas had better than zero chances of winning, but the decision was more about resetting after a long 10 games in 10 days road trip that preceded the series against Atlanta.

But with no real injuries to any other pitchers and without a deeper plan to reinforce the depth of the bullpen (in fact, Texas had sent down reliever Yerry Rodriguez to make room for Bradford), the youngster from Aledo was up to eat some innings and push the veteran starters back a day for extra rest. 

In the long run, the decision could have a big impact and we will likely see Texas deploy it again throughout the summer during long stretches without rest, but against the Braves, a very good team that has pummeled left-handed pitching this season, it came off as throwing a young pitcher to the wolves. 

Bradford, who had posted a 0.91 ERA over 39.2 innings in the minors this year, was tagged for six earned runs in his five innings of work. He did his job, and now he can say he got to debut as a big leaguer for his hometown team, but there may not have really been a need to get him up to get blasted for such a special occasion.

The pen is not mightier than the bat

While the series opener didn’t really provide a chance for Texas to use its bullpen in a preventative fashion, the fallacies of the relievers reared their ugly heads in the next two games. In the middle game, it was Jonathan Hernandez who faltered, again. After a blown save in Oakland, where he gave up two runs, Hernandez was ineffective again in the second game of the series. The righty was unable to retire any of the batters he faced, hitting one and then giving up two home runs that brought the Braves to within three runs. He would be pulled and Josh Sborz would retire the side and preserve the lead.

The next night, it was Sborz who found himself on the mound, trying to protect a two-run lead and not waste a five-run Rangers’ attack against potential NL Cy Young contender Spencer Strider. 

Sborz retired only one batter in the 8th before Atlanta tied the game with two runs. Brock Burke, who had previously lost the game in the walk-off loss in Oakland last week, would come out and retire the remaining two batters in the inning. But in the following frame, Orlando Arcia launched a homer off Burke that would give Atlanta the lead and eventually the win in the 9th.

While you can’t be too upset about being beaten by the National League’s second best team and one of the league’s top contenders, the point is that there just aren’t many good feelings about the Rangers’ bullpen when there’s a lead.

Here, Texas had a great opportunity to win a game and take the series from an opponent that had a Cy Young contender on the mound and they could not capitalize. For one reason or another, the bullpen just isn’t what it was in the first three weeks of the season. 

Unfortunately, there appears to be entirely too many arms that manager Bruce Bochy can’t trust to possibly be fixed by a trade or promotion. They simply must figure things out themselves. Still, it was nice that the offense continues to make it feel like they can win any game, but the pace at which the offense produces can’t be sustained realistically, and really needs to be supplemented by a bullpen that can hold a lead.

Do you feel better or worse about the Rangers after the series against Atlanta? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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