DALLAS — At some point(s) during a 162-game season of Major League Baseball, there comes that series or road trip. You know the one. By the time the last game rolls around, you’re needing it, the players are needing it, the coaching staff is needing it…the off day.
Well, either the off day or the homestand, but more often than not, that off day doesn’t come soon enough. For the Rangers, playing their first three-game series this year and making their first road trip, that off day came one day too late.
April 6 - April 11
Opponents: Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
6-Game Record: 1-5
Overall Record: 4-10
Injury Report: Delino Deshields (10, broken hamate bone), Doug Fister (10, right hip strain), Rougned Odor (10 day, hamstring), Elvis Andrus (60, fractured elbow)
Notable Stats: Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (.208), Bases Loaded (0-for-9), Batting Average Against Rotation (.311), Batting Average Against Relievers (.252), Innings Pitched for Starters vs. Relievers (67.0 vs. 57.0)
On the Mound
8, 1, 7, 8, 11, 7. That’s how many runs opponents have scored off of Rangers’ pitching over the last six games. The majority of these runs have been given up by the starters. If the rotation is giving up that many runs, it likely doesn’t mean that they’re going deep into games.
The bullpen has been in heavy, heavy usage in the first two weeks of the season, and to be quite honest, it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of relief for the relievers in sight. In no successful world does the relief corps come close to matching the rotation for innings pitched. The Rangers’ staff is only ten innings apart.
Ron Washington used to say that 100 at-bats was a good time to start getting a gauge on how a hitter was going for the season. That’s about 25 games. For starting pitchers, that’s about 5-6 starts. It’s tempting to want to launch a pitcher like Matt Moore into the sun already; similarly, it would be easy to pronounce Mike Minor as the ace of the staff, with Doug Fister sliding in as a number 2 when he comes back.
For now, though, there are still some growing pains to experience with this rotation, and it only got worse when Fister hit the disabled list. He’ll be replaced by Bartolo Colon, who looked great in his start, and fairly average in his relief appearance.
Meanwhile, the relievers saw the return of Tony Barnette, who looked very 2017 (one appearance), and have seen Jake Diekman struggle with command, but have also seen Chris Martin do his job admirably and Matt Bush rebound from an awful spring. The good news about the pitching staff is that expectations were low. This wasn’t a 5-Ace rotation, and the bullpen was and is full of “ifs.”
At the Plate
Around these parts, the arm breaker that everyone was talking about wasn’t Ronda Rousey’s armbar on Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania – it was a 97-mph fastball from Angels’ novice closer Keynan Middleton. That little white pill took Elvis Andrus’ elbow out in the blink of an eye. As the shortstop writhed on the ground in pain and disbelief, so too, did our baseball hearts and stomachs. The glimmer of hope for the 2018 season, faint as it was, shrunk even more.
Yes, Elvis Andrus is going to be out for around eight weeks, nursing a fractured elbow, and yes, he is the team’s best hitter. Perhaps more frustrating (and apropos) is that Andrus had come to bat in the 9th inning of that last game before a day off, with a chance to keep a momentum train rolling.
Jurickson Profar, who was already replacing an injured Rougned Odor, had gotten a hit with a runner in scoring position! The Rangers, as a unit, were hovering around the Mendoza line in this category, no, not for the game, not for the series, but for the YEAR. And then this happened.
The hardest thing about comedy is timing. When the timing’s rotten, nothing’s funny. This timing is rotten, and Rangers’ fans are finding very little to smile about. Did they expect the pitching to be suspect? Absolutely. But even baseball experts were saying, “At least this team will score runs, I’m not worried about their lineup.” Here we are, though, albeit just 14 games into the season and just a little over halfway to that 100 AB mark, wondering if this team has a strict scoring cap of five runs.
As you’ll see below, the entire makeup of this team will change without Deshields, Odor and Andrus.
In the Field
The Rangers have lost their middle infield. In the span of three days, they’ve had to insert Jurickson Profar into an everyday role, first at second to replace Rougned Odor, and now at shortstop to replace Elvis Andrus. They’ve lost their right side of the infield. With Odor gone and Profar on the other side of the bag, 2nd base now falls to either rookie Isiah Kiner-Falefa or utility fielder (who has mostly played outfield) Drew Robinson.
But wait, there’s more.
Ryan Rua, who was given the opportunity to be the everyday left fielder, is either going to shift to everyday center fielder (since, I hear, center field should be easy enough if you’re really athletic), or is going to be the 4th outfielder, a role he’s probably better suited for. Joey Gallo is being called upon to abandon the idea of getting comfortable at first Base and will move to left field.
There are some that might argue that Gallo could be more valuable in that position. Now, at first Base, you’ll see the Rangers’ number eight prospect, the 2017 Tom Grieve Texas Rangers Minor League Player of the Year, the 6’5”, 225 pound Ronald Guzman – “The Condor.”
Defensively, it is entirely possible to argue that the outfield just got more better and more athletic with Joey Gallo in left and, potentially Carlos Tocci, in center. As for the infield, well, it’s time for Profar to show off the defensive prowess he was known for as a number one prospect.
Kiner-Falefa and Robinson get to stay centralized, at a spot that is closer to their natural positions (IKF was naturally a shortstop, Robinson naturally a second baseman), instead of bouncing, literally, all over the diamond (although, hey, they can still do that). Guzman comes right into the position he’s always known.
Is it…better? We’ll see. We’ll also get to “see the kids play,” as Jon Daniels had said was the goal of this season.
I don’t think this is exactly how he envisioned it happening.
As Texas gets ready to roll into Houston with its suddenly drastically different roster, try to be optimistic and think about the fact that this is a lineup we may have had to wait until 2019 to see. “The Future is Now” is meant to be a positive phrase, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it for the Rangers fan base right now.
Let’s close out with a lineup prediction.
Shin-Soo Choo – DH (L)
Jurickson Profar – SS (S)
Nomar Mazara – RF (L)
Adrian Beltre – 3B (R)
Joey Gallo – LF (L)
Robinson Chirinos – C (R)
Ronald Guzman – 1B (L)
Isiah Kiner-Falefa/Drew Robinson – 2B (R/L)
Carlos Tocci/Ryan Rua/Drew Robinson – CF (R/R/L)
April 13-15 @ Houston Astros
April 16-18 @ Tampa Bay Rays
Bummed about the start of the season? Commiserate with Matt about the Rangers on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.