Rangers Lose Kluber, Leclerc in Brutal Opening Week

Photo Courtesy: Katie Slusarski

Game 1 – The Rangers opened up their new ballpark with a series against the mediocre Colorado Rockies. The Rockies lost 91 games last year. The Rangers need to beat middling teams like this, considering their schedule becomes very difficult as the season wears on. Strike zone pounding power pitcher Lance Lynn faced off against German Marquez. Opening Day is special for two reasons: Everyone feels as though their team, no matter how poor, has a chance and there is hope. The other reason is the fact that every team picks their ace to start the game, so the day is full of excellent pitching matchups.

The opening game of the 60 game gimmick season was a pitchers duel. Lynn was effective and sharp, but was outdueled by Marquez. Marquez sat down the Rangers opening 9 batters down in order, which would become a trend for the Rangers throughout the week. Marquez was exceptional and took a no hitter into the 6th inning. The Rangers cobbled together a run in the sixth when Danny Santana doubled and was driven in by a Rougie Odor double. David Dahl had 3 hits from the Rockies leadoff spot. Jesse Chavez threw a scoreless 7th. Jonathan Hernandez got into trouble in the 8th but escaped. Jose Leclerc shut the door in the 9th with his electric heater. Win 1-0.

Game 2 – The second game of the opening series was as repulsive as it was maddening. Danny Santana went 0-5 from the 3 hole. Santana does not have the chops to be in the most premier spot in the lineup, despite his great year last year. The 3 spot in the lineup looks to be an ongoing issue for the Rangers, as Skipper Chris Woodward has stated he likes Gallo batting cleanup and Choo at leadoff. The 2nd spot in the lineup is also somewhat of enigma. Elvis Andrus started in the 2 spot this game. Andrus had an OBP of .313 last year, a grotesquely low figure for a 2 hole hitter. The 2 hole in Modern Baseball is often seen as the spot to put your premier player. In the past, the 1 and 2 spots were often filled by slap hitting quick players. Back in the day, small ball styles were more prevalent. Bunting, the hit and run play, and stealing were all much more common tactics. In the modern game, the best hitters are stacked at the top of the lineup, speed be damned. On base percentage is the most important factor for a leadoff man. After that, the best hitters are placed in the 2, 3, and 4 spots. The second spot requires higher OBP, whereas the 3 and 4 hitters are the powerhouses of the lineup. OBP matters less for the 3 and 4 hitters, who are often sluggers who strike out a lot. 

Armed with this knowledge of the 2020 baseball metagame, the Rangers fan can truly appreciate the dire straits the Rangers are in. Shin-Soo Choo had a hit, walk, and a RBI. Elvis Andrus walked 3 times. They batted 1 and 2 in the lineup. They were both let down over and over by Danny Santana, who hit 3rd. Santana is one of the most important Rangers to watch going forward, and a severe regression from last year would render the Rangers offense inept. The Rangers have a lot riding on Danny Santana, too much for a player coming off of 1 good year many consider an aberration. Santana went 0-5 in this game. A particularly brutal AB occurred in the 6th inning, when he struck out with the bases loaded. Danny Santana is no Josh Hamilton.

Joey Gallo reached base 3 times in this game, but failed to drive in the runners in the 6th just like Santana. Willie Calhoun went 0-4 and looked rusty. Defensive specialist Ronald Guzman managed a hit and run. If Guzman can hit .260 with pop he can be the Rangers starting first baseman for the next decade, since apparently that is the gold standard. If only Rougie Odor could become a 5 tool player, then John Daniels might finally try to fill first base with a trade of a superstar like he did when he exchanged Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. Kinsler, like many fans, hated the trade. JD sold out what should have been a lifelong Ranger, and Ranger Hall of Famer, for a cartoon character with one of the worst contracts in baseball history. This deal is one of the worst in Rangers history and any defense of the deal should be rightfully written off as a cope. JD trading Ian Kinsler for a joke player who had one good season and got paid for 6 is almost as repugnant as the fact that the players that replaced Kinsler were Rougie Odor and Jurickson Profar. Both Profar and Odor were failures relative to their hype. Ian Kinsler would have, and should have been, a Rangers legend seen as the perennial double play partner to Michael Young. Instead, he was left to play out the rest of his career bitterly, hopping from team to team as Prince Fielder collected his massive check for doing nothing year after year. The Prince Fielder trade was a team defining abomination that had lasting impact even after both Fielder and Kinsler retired. The Rangers are STILL paying for Prince Fielder despite that he has not played since 2016. The impact of the Fielder trade cannot be understated. It was a spectacular failure not only in terms of results, but ideologically as well. Daniels traded away a loyal legend that would have had his number retired by the team for a sloppy, joke of a player. The players Daniels slated in to fill the void of Ian were both inept clowns. What was wrong with Mitch Moreland? Moreland was an average hitter and gold glove defense. It is vexing to consider one of the very few times Daniels actually went for it, he not only took on one of the worst contracts in baseball given to a one dimensional player, he gave away a paragon of the Rangers. A two time pennant winner. A top of the lineup catalyst with pop. A handsome and charismatic lifelong Ranger. Gone, in a shortsighted blunder designed to transition out of the 2010/2011 pennant glory years. The transition failed. 

In short, this game was a microcosm of the last 5 years. Insanely vexing, close but no cigar, players JD puts tremendous faith in fail. Loss 3-2.

Game 3 – The Rangers suffering continued in one of the most agonizing ways imaginable when the lone star the Rangers acquired in the offseason went down after one inning of work. One inning. That’s how much return the Rangers got from Corey Kluber before he got hurt again. Klubot will be out at least 4 weeks, probably not ready until the stretch drive of the season. The Rangers acquisition of Kluber is starting to look closer to signing Rich Harden than it is trading for Cliff Lee. Kluber tore something in his shoulder; a significant and troubling injury. It is possible to imagine a wounded Klubot returning to face the Astros at home with the playoffs on the line. The idea of a healthy Kluber taking the mound at home in the final four game series against the hated Houston Astros to compete for a division title is one that should bring a Rangers fan great joy. As it stands, the Rangers appear decimated and unlikely to make the playoffs, even in a clownish format where half the league makes the playoffs. It is worth remembering the Rangers have 3 legitimate number 1 starters to throw at people in a best of 3 playoff series, making them dangerous in a playoff series and worth cheering for. If the Rangers do manage to sneak into the playoffs, it would be humorous to see how highly they rank starting pitching wise compared to everyone else when they have been painfully bereft of starting pitching since, well, forever. 

In this game the Rockies started Kyle Freeland, who was exceptional 2 years ago, but spent all of last year with Coors Syndrome. Coors Syndrome is not a disease related to alcohol. It is a disease that faces pitchers of Coors Field, the Rockies home ballpark. It is why the Rockies spent an insane amount of money on their bullpen a couple years ago, as well as Mike Hampton in the early 2000s. The thin air and small dimensions of Coors Field are so hitter friendly that it can cause even the most promising pitchers to flounder. The Rangers found a similar effect occurred at the old Ballpark in Arlington, with the Texas heat being just as lethal to pitchers as thin Colorado air.  Kyle Freeland found his 2018 form in a new ballpark that plays more like Dodgers Stadium (pitcher friendly) than the Old Ballpark in Arlington. Freeland turned in a quality start as Chris Woodward benched Shin-Soo Choo against the tough leftie. Even though Woodward pinch hit Choo late in the game, it is foolish to take the most patient and disciplined hitter out of such a weak and young lineup. Woodward makes nearly flawless decisions when it comes to pinch hitting and midgame management, but his pregame lineup making is merely average. Willie Calhoun, Rougie Odor, and Danny Santana all failed to reach base and underperformed. A myriad of bullpen arms followed Kluber after his one solid inning. Kluber going down is a season defining moment for the Rangers. They failed at acquiring, or even interesting, top tier free agents like Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon. JD expected the beleaguered, titleless Ranger fan with increasing season ticket prices to be content with Kluber (broken down, severe injury issues just like all the starters JD gets) and Todd Frazier. For Daniels to try this little, to put forth such a tepid, uninspired effort in a season with a new stadium, is akin to slapping the Ranger fan in the mouth so hard they lose teeth. For JD, another middling season can be shrugged off with flippant indifference. For the lifelong Ranger fan, another failed season is yet another disappointment. The Rangers fan is a tortured soul. A person who has been waiting for a title sense the promise of Billy Martin’s 1974 Turnaround Gang. A person who laments the lack of pitching of the 1990s power hitting teams that were dismantled by Joe Torre’s Yankees.  A person who agonizes over the clutch hitting ability of David Freese. A person who hates the Blue Jays and Joey Bats even though those Blue Jays teams never even won a pennant. For the lifelong Ranger fan, the pennant days of 2010 and 2011 are all we have to remember. All we have to hang our hat on. While striking out A-Rod to win the pennant was sweet, the lifelong Ranger fan needs a title for their thirst to be truly satiated. This series was a maddening summation of the history of the Rangers. Despite all the hype, they were barely average. That is pretty much the Rangers ethos. Loss 5-2.

Game 1 – Last season the Rangers played the Arizona Diamondbacks early in the season. They were beaten badly and the series had a long reaching affect on the season. In that series Jose Leclerc, the closer at the time, was bludgeoned badly. This series was the turning point for Leclerc, he was coming off a great season where he was finally able to control his nasty stuff. He was seen as a very good closer at the time. Not after that series. Getting smoked by the D-Backs ruined Jose for the year, who only regained his closer job late in the season. Leclerc will be rejoining the team as the closer late in the year again, but this time because of injury. Leclerc sustained an injury almost identical to Corey Kluber, and will be out until near the end of the year. At that point, the Rangers will either be coming into a dead season or one of the most important moments imaginable. Leclerc going down was the story of this 2 game set. The Rangers lost after a disastrous first inning where they discovered the repercussions of playing multiple average players out of position. Sloppy defense made the Rangers incur a 3-0 disadvantage in the 1st inning, which for this offense is a tall task overcome. Rangers starter Kyle Gibson was solid this start, but it did not matter. Choo and Santana batted 1 and 2 and both did not reach base. The Rangers managed 3 hits. Merrill Kelly was sharp for the D-Backs, throwing 7.2 IP of 1 run ball. The Rangers have a funny way of making pitchers no one has ever heard of look like top tier aces. Archie Bradley struck out 3 Rangers in the 9th to complete the soul-crushing defeat. Loss 4-1.

Game 2 – The Rangers continued their 38 year long tradition of winning just enough to keep the fanbase interested. Lance Lynn was able to start again because of the off day. Lynn turned in another ace tier performance. The Lance Lynn signing coming off of a poor year is one of JD’s great successes. Lynn, along with Mike Minor, are the ideal outcomes to JD’s strategy of signing pitchers coming off of arm injuries or poor years. Lynn is a warrior. A strike zone pounding, no-nonsense warrior. He does not possess the jaw-dropping power of Roger Clemens, or the pinpoint control of Greg Maddox, but he has just enough of both to be an effective #1 starter and a workhorse on a team with little depth. The mystery of Lance Lynn’s infallibility melts away when one remembers he was part of Tony La Russa’s 2011 World Series winning Cardinals. Lynn might not have the best control, or throw 100 MPH, but he is the sort of professional pitcher the Rangers have been sorely lacking over the previous… entire existence. Lynn threw 6 innings of 1 hit masterpiece ball. Lynn was on the hook for his 100th win, when the bespectacled embodiment of mediocrity Jesse Chavez took over and immediately pissed away the lead. The game was 2-0 before Chavez quickly made it 2-2. The next inning Jonathan Hernandez gave up 2 more runs. Hernandez makes a mess of most innings he is in and needs to get his command under fixed if he expects to stay in the majors. The D-Backs started their ace, Madison Bumgarner. Mad Bum, as he is known, dominated the only World Series game I attended when we were both very green. It was nice to see Lance Lynn do the job Tommy “Big Game” Hunter could not, despite similarities in physical appearance and stuff. 

Todd “Toddfather” Frazier was responsible for the majority of the offense in this game. He started the scoring with a home run, earning the Rangers an early lead. After Chavez blew the lead, the Rangers went into the bottom of the 8th down 4-2 with an offense that could not score on anyone. Then the Rangers best player, Joey Gallo, came up with a man on and scorched a homer to the opposite field. The homer showed Gallo’s incredible strength as well as his moxie. Many hitters like Gallo would have tried to pull that pitch, resulting in an out. Gallo shot it the other way with his insane power, resulting in a tie game. 

The Rangers added on with Nick Solak’s first hit of the game, as well as a slap from Elvis Andrus. After a brilliant 8th inning, the Rangers had to hand a save situation over to Nicky Goody, who managed to get 3 outs before 3 runs scored. Win 7-4.

The idea of the Rangers having to close out leads they barely managed to get without Jose Leclerc from their bullpen can best be summed up by Phil Leotardo of The Sopranos:

“I do not want to get graphic beyond that, the idea of it repulses me so much.” 

Despite the victory, the Rangers are in dire straits. Their premier offseason acquisition is already hurt for most of the year after throwing one inning. Their best bullpen arm is gone for most of the year. Between that and having a losing record already in a 60 game season, the Rangers could not have had a more troubling opening salvo.