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Rangers coming into their own just in time to play spoiler

It's a bad time to be facing the Texas Rangers right now as many of their younger hitters are starting to figure things out
Credit: Shanna Lockwood
Aug 8, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo (center) celebrates the win over against the Seattle Mariners after the game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t have expected the Rangers to be playing as well as they have. I would have sworn that after the absolute drubbing right after the All-Star break, losing six of seven, that the team would be on its way to much more unwatchable times. Then they swept Houston and split with Arizona and the spirit of a vengeful baseball demon invaded Rougned Odor’s body and turned him into a beyond All-Star player.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight (2008)

The Rangers certainly aren’t going to be heroes in Arlington, but they are certainly going to end up being several playoff contenders’ villains down the stretch, especially if they keep playing this way. With a lot of games against teams hunting for division leads or wild card spots still coming up in the next five to six weeks, Texas has a chance to be really unpopular with several fan bases.

What’s nice about this for Rangers’ fans, besides seeing their opponents’ records take a hit, is that they get to see the development and progression of the next generation of Rangers. What’s nice about that is that it means that the contending window is right on track for 2020, with the potential to have a lot of fun in 2019.

August 2-8

  • Opponents: Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners
  • 7-Game Record: 5-2
  • Overall Record: 51-65, 22.5 Games Back of Houston, 17 Games Back of Wild Card
  • Tragic Number: 26
  • 2019 Draft Order: 9th Overall – Protected
  • Injury Report: Doug Fister (60, Strained Knee), Matt Bush (60, right elbow strain), Tony Barnette (60, Strained Lat Muscle), Nomar Mazara (10, Right Thumb Sprain), Ryan Rua (10, back spasms), Delino Deshields (7, Concussion Symptoms)
  • Notable Stats: Rangers Record in Yovani Gallardo Starts (8-1), Average with RISP since the Break (>.320), Rougned Odor Post All-Star Break (.377/.450/.812, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 15 K, 9 BB), Joey Gallo Post All-Star Break (.250/.391/.643, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 22 K, 13 BB), Shin-Soo Choo Post All-Star Break (.157/.277/.300, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 27 K, 11 BB), Number of Wins for Bartolo Colon (246 - #1 Among Latin American Born Players)

At the Plate

As mentioned above, something awoke deep inside of Rougned Odor and he has absolutely gone off since the All-Star break. Citing a refined approach thanks to Shin-Soo Choo, Odor is making everything look easy. Well, maybe not easy for everyone, per se, but Odor is making everything look easy for him. From defense to baserunning and especially with the stick, Rougie either Monstar’d the hitting prowess out of Shin-Soo Choo or has really done some growing up since his inarguably dreadful first half.

After a base hit around the Mariners’ shifted infield, Rangers Radio’s Matt Hicks said that it must feel, to Rougie, as if he were hitting into an ocean, with everything he makes contact on finding real estate.

On the opposite side of the trending train, Shin-Soo Choo could probably stand to have a few games off. He sat out the finale of the Mariners’ series, and there will probably be another off day for the Rangers’ All-Star in the near future. What could have been just called a bit of a down period, Choo is now in a full-fledged slump.

Over the last two weeks, Choo is hitting at a .150 clip. It comes at a pretty bad time, too. Not that contributions from Choo would make the difference in any kind of standings, but if the Rangers are serious about shopping the 36-year old outfielder/DH in the winter, it might be a detractor if he fizzles out down the stretch.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa continues to be a mysterious joy to watch on defense and offense – offensively, it’s even more of a treat. Not that Kiner-Falefa is an absolute masher, but he is consistent as consistent gets. His splits overall are pretty close: against righties and lefties (.267 vs .284) and home or away (.268 vs .276) are nice to see. What’s super fascinating, though, is IKF’s production as a catcher.

Typically, because of the infinitely more demanding physical strains on the body, a converted catcher might see his offensive production drop. Kiner-Falefa actually excels at the plate when he’s behind the dish. He’s played 37 games at third base and hit .277, but in the 14 games he’s had with the gear on, he’s up to .310. Whether that’s from a better vantage point and understanding of the strike zone or because he’s just that good enough to hold that position, IKF is an asset no matter where the Rangers plug him in.

Overall, though, the Rangers have been clicking as an offensive unit. Even in the loss to Baltimore (more on that later), the Rangers twice bailed out Drew Hutchison after he gave back leads. When the combination of Alex Claudio and Cory Gearrin brought the Mariners within one run on Wednesday, Texas’ rookie crew (IKF, Ronald Guzman and Willie Calhoun) came through with a doubles barrage to get two more insurance runs. Over this homestand, Texas outscored its opponents 62-36.

On the Mound

I can’t for the life of me understand the timing of the Drew Hutchison signing. I understand bringing in some depth to give the starters some extra rest, but Austin Bibens-Dirkx had only thrown one inning, two days before Sunday’s game against Baltimore. Yohander Mendez could certainly have been brought up for at least a start. Matt Moore could have been pressed into service to start. There were options.

I don’t know if sending Bibens-Dirkx, who is a known factor, out to the minors in favor of a journeyman arm who hadn't made a Major League start in two years was, for me, a head scratcher. Certainly retrospect lends its hand to my thought process, as Hutchison got battered and beat around by Baltimore, to the tune of six earned runs in three innings. Matt Moore came in to carry the rest of the load. Hutchison is expected to be part of this experimental 6-man rotation going forward.

The three other Rangers’ starters that got pushed back a day appeared to benefit from the extra rest, however. Martin Perez, even though the Rangers lost, hurled seven innings and gave up three runs. He pitched his game, pitching to contact and only needed 98 pitches to get through those innings, despite surrendering 10 hits.

Bartolo Colon, who earned his historic win in a duel with King Felix Hernandez, gave up four runs in seven innings, needing just 94 pitches to complete his outing. Yovani Gallardo, arguably Texas’ best starter right now gave up two runs over six innings on 102 pitches.

Ariel Jurado, who many thought might be the optioned player when Drew Hutchison was signed, is staying on for at least one more start, after another positive outing – five innings pitched with two runs allowed. Jurado is a glimpse into the long-term future of the Rangers’ rotation and he has certainly acquitted himself well since coming back up to the Majors.

Mike Minor is a case I wanted to stop on, as he had the best outing of the week. Needing only 86 pitches, Minor flew through seven innings, giving up just one run and striking out six. Minor is in the middle of a great groove right now, as he has allowed two runs or fewer in his last three outings, going progressively deeper into games.

For the second time in a week, Minor credited a complete repertoire for his success. He doesn't want to be known as a two-pitch guy – nor should he be, as a two-pitch arsenal works great for a reliever, but not so much for a starter. Manager Jeff Banister echoed his starter’s sentiments after Saturday’s game, noting that his off-speed pitches played well off of his fastball.

In the Field

If you go look at the highlights from the Rangers’ victory on Tuesday, giving Bartolo Colon his historic 246th win, you’ll see the 45-year old move better than almost any other pitcher. Period. I’m not saying that Colon is going to win a Gold Glove this season, but he made three plays on Tuesday night that could be entered into a Pitcher’s Fielding Practice textbook.

From fielding squibbers to spearing line drives, Colon is so good at fielding his position, not just because of his notorious cat-like reflexes, but because his simplistic delivery results in him finishing in the perfect fielding position. It just goes to show that it truly is a joy to watch Bartolo Colon play baseball – not just pitch.

Elsewhere on the diamond, we’ve already sung the praises of Rougned Odor and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (the latter of whom continues to impress with his receiving and game-calling behind the plate). Despite an errant throw on Friday, Jurickson Profar continues to make impressive plays with the glove at the hot corner.

For a team potentially on the verge of being without Adrian Beltre, this revelation is important. If Elvis Andrus doesn’t opt out of his contract, as is widely believed, Profar would have to be the everyday third baseman, if Texas does want to keep him around.

Texas has a lot of fun games ahead. Even without a playoff spot on the line for the Rangers, all of these teams coming in have something to fight for and that is going to amp up the intensity of the games. Short of series against Minnesota, San Diego and Tampa Bay, there’s going to be a lot of “playoff-like” gameplay for this team to play through.

Up Next

  • August 9-12: @New York Yankees
  • August 13-14: Arizona Diamondbacks

Do you see the Rangers dragging some contenders kicking and screaming from October along with them down the stretch? Let Matt hear about it on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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