DALLAS — Friday night’s homestand-opening contest against the Minnesota Twins will mark the 81st game of the 2022 season for the Texas Rangers, which will also serve to conclude the year’s first half.
At 37-43, the Rangers are on pace to win an additional 15 or so games than they did when they finished with 102 losses in 2021.
The 2022 season thus far has been an up-and-down affair for Texas, which has placed them firmly in the realm of mediocre in the standings. The true storyline of the first half has been the squad’s seemingly-endless quest to return to above .500 baseball.
It’s been a bit of a Sisyphean effort, however, as has their flirting with the possibility of grabbing one of the American League’s Wild Card spots.
Putting aside their record and placement in the standings, there have been things that have gone well for Texas along with some things that have held them back.
Lost and found ace
No player has performed better for the Rangers than starter Martin Perez. An afterthought signing after the lockout ended in February, Perez returned to Texas to fill out the rotation on a one-year, $4 million deal when Clayton Kershaw chose to remain in Los Angeles.
Perez, signed by Texas out of Venezuela in 2007, was a top prospect for the organization before spending seven average years with the Rangers. Departing after the 2018 season, Perez pitched for the Twins and Boston Red Sox before coming back for another shot with the Rangers with lowered expectations.
However, at 7-2 with a 2.34 ERA, Perez has been a first half revelation for Texas. The likely All-Star representative for the Rangers, Perez had a May to remember when he went 4-0 with an ERA of 0.64 in six starts which garnered him the league’s pitcher of the month honors.
In a year where the headline-grabbing free agent signings have had uneven results, the reunion with Perez has been an unmitigated success for Texas.
The Return of El Bombi
Adolis Garcia is another player who came to Texas with hopes at an all-time low only to see his stock rise. Garcia was the breakout star for the Rangers last season when he made the All-Star team despite being designated for assignment in that year’s spring training.
Still, following a season where he finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, Garcia had doubts attached to him coming into this season after his ability at the plate cratered in the second half last year.
In 2022, in addition to his superb play in the outfield, and being an asset on the basepaths, Garcia has put together a solid first half at the dish for Texas to help alleviate the thought that he was a one-half wonder last season.
A slash line of .246/.287/.466 rivals that of his rookie campaign and his 15 home runs is second on the team behind Corey Seager’s 16 and puts him on pace for a second consecutive 30-plus home run season.
That’s a relief
As has been the case for the franchise for 50 years, the Rangers have had issues with their pitching in 2022. However, that has been more the case for the starting staff than the bullpen. In fact, the relief corps has been a pleasant surprise for Texas.
Led by the likes of Dennis Santana, Matt Moore, and Brock Burke, the Rangers have had a top 10 bullpen in the league with a unit that sports the 7th-best ERA in baseball at 3.35.
Texas has also gotten solid contributions from Matt Bush and Brett Martin for important innings, while Garrett Richard has been a nice signing in the long relief role.
Closer Joe Barlow has run into a rough stretch in recent weeks, but Texas recently saw the return of former closer Jose Leclerc after he missed two years of action. Former bullpen fireman Jonathan Hernandez is also close to returning which could give the Rangers an even more formidable ‘pen in the season half.
All sales final
With the team struggling to reach .500 baseball, there’s certainly some bad to go with the good. The most notable area of concern throughout the first half has been the struggles of the high-priced signings that Texas splurged on during the winter.
One-hundred-and-fifty million dollar man Marcus Semien was the poster child for this early in the year when he was sporting an OPS of .443 through April. However, over the last few weeks, Semien has become the hitter that the team expected when he enjoyed an OPS of .849 in June and that hot streak has now carried over into July.
Meanwhile, Seager hasn’t quite lived up to his $350 million dollar price tag. The team’s new face of the franchise shortstop has produced a .233/.303/.421 slash line that is well below his career average. However, he is still on pace for a 4-plus fWAR season and he leads the team with 16 home runs.
The big expenditure for the rotation, Jon Gray, was either injured, ineffective, or inefficient in the season’s first six or so weeks but he has arguably outpaced Perez as the team’s best starter since June began as he’s gone 4-2 with an ERA of 2.70 in his last 43 and one-third innings.
If you’re the glass half full type, you could say that with the stars not shining as brightly as expected for much of the first half, there is room for the Rangers to surge in the second half.
In a tale as old as the franchise has existed, if you were to try to pinpoint the main reason that the Rangers haven’t gotten over the hump and become a true wild card contender, it would be because of a lack of options and depth among their starting staff.
Perez, Gray, and Dane Dunning have upheld their end of the bargain, but beyond them, the Rangers have had to rely on converted relievers and young pitchers to try to fill in while they await their cache of prospects to mature on the farm.
Taylor Hearn had a nice second half in the rotation last season, but his transition from the bullpen regressed this season and he’s been shipped back to Round Rock. Meanwhile, Glenn Otto hasn’t had the best results after his own move to the rotation. The latest audition has gone to Spencer Howard, a former top prospect acquired last July from Philadelphia as a reclamation project that the team is hoping can stick the landing in the big leagues.
Unless the Rangers make a surprising trade for another starter, the position appears to be in a holding pattern until the likes of Jack Leiter, Owen White, Cole Ragans, and Cole Winn are ready to make their ascension.
If you need any further proof that this year’s team isn’t quite ready for primetime, it’s the 4-17 record in one-run games. The ability to change their mindset is often cited as one of the hardest hurdles to overcome for a team that has spiraled out and is in the process of wading through a rebuild.
The goal this season is to win, according to manager Chris Woodward. A winning disposition is what the team aims to foster so that when the talent meets the ambition, the attitude will be there to match. Right now, the team has struggled to grab hold of opportunities and put games in the win column.
In a year where the Rangers were eyeing meaningful steps in the right direction, they’re seeing their rebuild effort begin to take shape. However, at six games under .500, Texas remains inconsistent at best and their record in close games suggest that there’s still a lot of work to accomplish if the Rangers are to return to October baseball in the near future.
Do you think the Texas Rangers will challenge for a wild card spot in the second half? Share your predictions with us on Twitter @BaseballTX.