DALLAS — This past week and a half of baseball has been pretty good for the Texas Rangers – the crazy part is, with a few extra strategic bullpen moves, it could have been an 8-1 stretch instead of a 6-3 stretch. But that kind of issue gets sorted out by a few different people.
First? The ownership and general manager. Yes, the manager needs to deploy the right pieces in the right places, but if the pieces he’s given are far less than ideal or useful, it’s hard to send someone to get outs.
But, the manager of the Rangers does have three very useful bullpen arms, and the rookie skipper got a key lesson this week that you’ve got to mix and match your good arms with your not-quite-as-good arms.
Finally, the players’ job out of the bullpen IS to get outs. That’s what it boils down to at any position – if your job is to get hits or if your job is to prevent hits, you’ve got to do what was asked. For the most part, the Rangers did their jobs – they beat up on struggling teams and find themselves heading home above .500.
- Opponents: Seattle Mariners, @Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, @Seattle Mariners
- 9-Game Record: 6-3
- Overall Record: 27-26, Third Place in the AL West, 8.5 Games Back of Houston
- Notable Injury Report: Edinson Volquez (60, Right Elbow Strain), Taylor Hearn (10, Left Elbow Tightness), Willie Calhoun (10, Left Quad Strain)
- MVPs: Nomar Mazara, Jesse Chavez, Shin-Soo Choo
With the Bat
The best way for a hitter to improve against any particular pitch or pitcher is to continually see said pitch or pitcher in game situations. From Saturday to Wednesday, the Rangers – notoriously left handed-heavy in the lineup – faced left-handed starters from the Angels and Mariners. By the time the headphones had come off in Seattle, signifying another series win for Texas, Chris Woodward’s club had seen five lefties in a row and their heavy-hitting lefty swingers had gotten their rhythm down.
Another key takeaway from both the series against Seattle was the Rangers’ ability to capitalize on mistakes. While there might not be another team in 2019 that is as bad defensively as the Mariners (there isn’t), the Rangers were able to take advantage of many miscues and errors up in Seattle.
One more accomplishment for Texas was the ability to win a game in which they didn’t homer. Following the win in the road series finale against Seattle, Texas is now 2-9 in games without a home run.
Honestly, minus a long ball, the afternoon finale against the Mariners was one of the more complete offensive games for Texas.
They scored using aggressive base running – both in the form of a double steal and on a sac fly, resulting from a poorly executed fly ball out from the M’s. They scored with late-inning, two-out RBIs from Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. They scored thanks to multiple contributors, as the 6th-9th place hitters each had runs batted in, in a game the Rangers had to come back from a 7-5 deficit with two out in the 8th to win 8-7.
On the Mound
Here is the conundrum Chris Woodward faces. Yes, his offense is good enough to take the lead late in games. Yes, his starters are becoming a little more consistent – if not able to give 6-7 innings, then it can be expected that they give a solid 5. He has successfully used an opener – mostly Jesse Chavez ahead of Adrian Sampson.
But he has three reliable relievers – Chris Martin, Jose Leclerc and Shawn Kelley. Leclerc has been used as an opener and still isn’t 100% back to being used in high-pressure situations. Chavez is a utility pitcher. Kelley is now locked into the closer role for now. The issue become, you can’t throw the same arms out there every night.
This was especially evident in Los Angeles. After returning from the injured list for surgery to remove lumps on his throat, Kelley was used for the fourth time in five days on Saturday and ended up with a blown save after a run-scoring double from Kole Calhoun.
The real issue reared its head the next day in Sunday's finale from Anaheim, as Chavez – having been used as an opener, followed by two relief appearances and slated to be the next day’s opener – and Jose Leclerc – used the night before and suffering from a bit of soreness were both deemed unavailable.
Martin and Kelley were being saved for a potential higher-leverage situation later in the game. With a four-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, Chris Woodward was pushed to use Jeffrey Springs and Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy, both who hadn’t seen action in seven days. A six-run inning by the Angels followed and the Rangers fell to lose the series to the Angels.
After the contest, Woodward admitted his oversight in not using the other pieces of the bullpen to keep them fresh. While the Rangers have played in a number of close games (three runs or fewer), necessitating the use of the “high-leverage” relievers, Woodward is going to need to learn how to mix and match so that each of his arms get regular use.
Just as above with the lineup, where they got better against lefties by facing a number of lefties, the arms like Dowdy, Springs, and Shelby Miller are going to need regular work, even in high-pressure situations to get better, or at least slightly more effective. The downside of that is there will be growing pains.
In the Field
This won't be recorded in errors, but a couple of fundamental issues also plagued the Rangers in that Saturday walk-off loss to the Angels. A very poorly made throw following that Kole Calhoun double by Rougned Odor aided in the tying run being able to score which eventually allowed the winning run to score later that inning.
A good relay throw from Odor makes the play at the plate much closer, if not a sure out. Moments later, a complete whiff by Elvis Andrus on a bloop single resulted in the walk-off win. Still, Texas played some pretty clean baseball, and after witnessing the Seattle Mariners on defense, you can be appreciative of almost anything else.
At Least They’re Not…
The Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners lead all of baseball in three categories – total chances at outs, with 2123, errors with 63, and UNEARNED runs with 54. They have the league leader in errors, shortstop Tim Beckham, who has 11.
The unmade plays that were witnessed in the two series against the Rangers are pretty glaring, including some awful looking play in the outfield by Domingo Santana. Even though the Mariners weren’t exactly picked to be in playoff contention this year, watching this defense as a fan has to be infuriating.
- May 30-June 2: Kansas City Royals
- June 4-6: Baltimore Orioles
Do you think Texas can keep up the winning pace and make some noise? Share your thoughts on the surprising Rangers with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.