In the span of one week, the Texas Rangers have had both their best and worst series of the year. Unfortunately, their best series was just a two-gamer against Oakland. Their worst was a four-game set against Houston.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles, I suppose, and facing Houston is almost an anomaly, but Texas’ biggest flaws are even more pronounced in a series just like the one against the Astros.
The Rangers inability to cash in on opposing team mistakes, inability to string together base hits, starting pitching deficiencies, and especially hitting with runners in scoring position were all highlighted.
Even in the two wins against Oakland, you could say an offensive flaw was displayed – the reliance on the home run ball.
- Opponents: Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros
- 6-game Record: 2-4
- Overall Record: 27-41, 15.5 Games Back of Seattle and Houston
- Injury Report: Elvis Andrus (60, Fractured Elbow), Martin Perez (10, right elbow discomfort), Doug Fister (10, strained knee)
- Notable Stats: Home Runs against Oakland (9), Runners Left on Base on Saturday against Houston (17), Batting with Runners in Scoring Position (11-for-52, .211), Runs Allowed by Relievers (6 in 18.2 innings)
On the Mound
Once again, it was Bartolo Colon who put up the best effort of any starting pitcher over this stretch of games – that wasn’t even a quality start. Colon, whose victory tied him with Juan Marichal for the most wins by a Dominican-born pitcher at 243, threw 97 pitches over five innings, giving up just two runs to earn the win over Oakland.
Matt Moore, even though he posted a quality start against Oakland, six innings and three runs allowed, comes as a close second. Neither outing was particularly dominant, and the Rangers’ rotation as a whole continues to be an eyesore, with three of the four starters in the Houston series putting Texas in a hole before they could even step up to bat.
Here’s the thing, though, Texas Rangers fans – this season, there’s not an end in sight. This isn’t going to be like previous years, where Texas could just get one more arm, shift everyone back and have things fall into place.
This isn’t even like 2015, where Jon Daniels acquired Cole Hamels with 2016 clearly in focus. There won’t be any big acquisitions for the 2018-2019 rotation, because that’s not what this team needs right now.
With Doug Fister going back on the DL after an awkward landing on one of his pitches strained his knee, your next man up is likely Austin Bibens-Dirkx or Yohander Mendez. If Fister is out for any extended period of time, your next arm isn’t coming from outside the organization, and if it is, it’s not going to be the game-changer you’ve had. It’s going to be someone that can hold the line and get the Rangers to the winter.
And that’s okay.
Perhaps what we should be watching and appreciating is the bullpen’s work. As noted above, six runs allowed over the course of 18 2/3 innings is really special. Jesse Chavez, Jake Diekman and Tony Barnette stand out over this homestand, with only Chavez giving up a run in the final game against Houston. You take that from Chavez, though, because the workload he has had to take on in saving some of the other bullpen pieces has been tremendous.
With this rotation, Chavez is undoubtedly one of the most valuable pieces. As for the others, you can’t help but wonder if their performances are acting more as a showcase for teams in need of bullpen depth and winning pieces. Keone Kela, despite balking in the winning run on Sunday has been dominant, and even with his injury history, could be a huge asset for a contending team.
So, too, could Jake Diekman. A team like Cleveland, suffering through bullpen woes for the first time in a few years or Washington, needing to bridge the gap to Sean Doolittle might be prime targets for utilizing Texas’ arms.
At the Plate
This is perhaps the most frustrating thing of this series. Texas crushed nine home runs in two games against Oakland. After that, the offense flashed signs of brilliance during the Houston series, the most encouraging showing being on Sunday, but could never string together enough base hits against an admittedly superior Houston pitching staff to score runs. But it’s not like they didn’t have chances.
Most mind-numbing was Saturday’s game. Houston pitching hit five Texas batters and walked ten, but the Rangers couldn’t muster more than three runs, only one of which was scored on a base hit. Jeff Banister admitted that the team needed to produce more base hits so as not to be entirely reliant on the long ball.
It’s a sound strategy on paper, but when you leave 17 on base, it’s doesn’t necessarily add up that that’s their identity with the bats. At some point, it stands to reason that you have to accept who you are, and this season, with nothing really to fight for, Banister and the Rangers may just need to understand that most of their key contributors on offense take an “all-or-nothing” approach.
Among the most encouraging performances on offense, though, are Shin-Soo Choo and Jurickson Profar. Choo, who saw his hitting streak end at 12 in the Oakland series, saw his on-base streak continue to 26.
Over the homestand, Choo posted an on-base plus slugging number of .994, with 2 home runs and 5 RBI. Profar, who racked up three homers in two days against Oakland, put up a slash line of .273/.385/.682 with those three homers and six RBI.
Choo has not let the move to left field affect him at the plate, and Profar, getting the regular playing time he’s been looking for for years is thriving.
In the Field
Delino Deshields is going to win himself a Gold Glove, isn’t he? Putting together a highlight reel in the span of two games will make you think that. Truth be told, winning a Gold Glove was one of the goals Deshields had at the start of the season.
He may not be the household name some of the other winners in the past have been, but one can see his routes are getting better, he’s consistently working on his jumps and reads, and as long as he can avoid the silly plays like the one the week before, where he over ran a simple ground ball, I have a feeling he’ll stay at the top of this list.
Deshields has seen his Defensive Wins Above Replacement go from -0.9 his rookie year to 1.1 so far this year. He’s at a career high in defensive runs saved. In short, if he can keep from landing on the disabled list again this year, Delino is going to show the Rangers that they were in the right in naming him their primary center fielder.
Side note: It wouldn’t surprise me if Deshields gets an arbitration buyout or extension in the winter. He’ll be 26 when the season ends and he just seems like a Jon Daniels extension candidate, doesn’t he?
Also of note over this homestand has been Nomar Mazara’s arm and, yes, again, Ronald Guzman’s outstanding range and reach at first base. Mazara’s had a cannon for an arm, but he seemed to make more use of it this series, making two outstanding throws – really, three, but one didn’t result in an out.
And while Condor’s reach while maintaining contact with the first base bag might highlight just how awkward throws from the rest of the infield are, it also shows that the rookie has a degree of composure at that corner.
It had been discussed among a group of my peers and friends that if you look around the American League, who is really playing a better first base than Ronald Guzman right now? If the bat could only come around…even that does its part when it needs to.
In short, defense wasn’t the reason Texas did so poorly against the Astros.
All that said, the Astros are a good team. They’re the defending World Series champions and odds on favorites to get to the World Series again. Their pitching rotation is arguably tops in the American League, if not in all of baseball, and their offense is made to attack strikes early and often.
The Rangers’ performance against Houston isn’t necessarily indicative of their identity as a team, but it certainly fit in with the theme of how the season is going to go. So many opportunities to do better than they actually did came and went. But there are highlights, aren’t there?
Up Next – INTERLEAGUE!
- June 12-13: @Los Angeles Dodgers
- June 15-17: Colorado Rockies
Are you still intrigued by interleague baseball or has the novelty completely worn off? Share your thoughts on pitchers "hitting" with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.