ARLINGTON, Texas—The Texas Rangers are back at Globe Life Park after having just completed one of the more successful road trips and home series in recent memory. The Rangers went 10-3 and scored 75 runs against its AL foes.
The opposition combined for 56 runs against Texas, but it wasn’t enough as the Rangers won all four series and swept the Yankees, which for Rangers fans is always a good feeling.
One of the bigger storylines, other than Josh Hamilton’s return, is the fact that the Rangers were able to bring their record up above .500 for the first time this season after beating the Boston Red Sox in a four-game series. The team is hitting .273 in the month of May, the third highest in the MLB just behind the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals.
The team finally seems to be coming together and could be in prime position to compete. So with the MLB season eight weeks in and about seven weeks away from the trade deadline, where do the Rangers sit? Are they buyers or sellers?
Well, let’s break it down…
The King, Err, Prince
Prince Fielder is proving all his critics wrong. As noted earlier, the team is hitting .273 in the month of May and Fielder is a big reason as to why. He is leading the AL in batting average, hitting a smoking .359 and tied for second with Nelson Cruz and Stephen Vogt with 38 RBIs. In four of the Rangers seven road wins, Fielder absolutely crushed five home runs and even had two in one game. It’s safe to say he has found his power stroke again. Oh yeah, and he’s figured out that whole shift thing.
Good pitching (and hitting) wins games. The Rangers have severely lacked in the former. Currently, the team is ranked 24th in the MLB in team ERA. Colby Lewis has struggled as of late and teams have started to figure out Wandy Rodriguez (who has certainly been serviceable). But, where some have struggled, others have shined.
Nick Martinez found success towards the end of the 2014 season and carried it over this season. Martinez is currently 4-1 with a shiny 2.03 ERA and is the pitching x-factor. And even though his 4.06 FIP (a measurement that strips out the role of defense, luck, and sequencing to find a pitchers more likely ERA) suggests he isn’t as good as that 2.03 ERA, the 24-year-old is getting outs when they count most, as his team leading seven induced ground-ball double-plays indicate. He has a 43.8 percent ground-ball rate, which is up from last seasons 32.9 percent.
Aside from Martinez, the staff has some serviceable veterans like Colby Lewis (4-3, 4.70 ERA) and Yovani Gallardo (5-6, 3.88 ERA) anchoring the rotation. With Ross Detwiler (0-5, 6.96 ERA) on the disabled list, the Rangers called up Chi Chi Gonzalez. He pitched 5 and 2/3 strong innings, giving up zero runs, two hits and five walks in his MLB debut.
His dominant debut led the Rangers to their first shutout of the season. Gonzalez will more than likely only be up long enough for Detwiler to get healthy though, which, to say the least, doesn’t exactly put the Rangers rotation in the good-to-great category. Which leads me to my next point…
Never fear Rangers faithful, reinforcements are on the way.
Derek Holland (60-day dl) is set to throw this week and will undergo an MRI on Friday. If Holland’s shoulder checks out, he will ramp up his throwing program as he continues to progress towards his return, which could be some time near the All-Star break.
Next on the list of hurt-hopefuls is 24-year-old left-hander Martin Perez. Perez (10-6, 3.62 ERA in his 2013 rookie season) underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and hasn’t pitched since May 10 of last season. He is scheduled to make his first start in extended spring training on June 5.
Meanwhile, right-hander Matt Harrison (18-11, 3.29 ERA in 2012), who is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Round Rock on June 3, is expected to throw 85 pitches in his minor league debut. The 29-year-old hasn’t pitched since last May and is trying to recover from a back injury.
Kyle Blanks is also nearing a return to the Rangers from his DL stint. In 59 at-bats with the Rangers the 28-year-old first basemen/outfielder hit .322 with four doubles, three home runs and six RBIs. Blanks is recovering from a pilonidal cyst that he had removed from his lower back and no time table has been set for his return, though most seem to think it wont be long.
Then there is Ryan Rua. The 25-year-old made the team out of Spring Training as the left fielder because of his strong performance. His .235 average leaves much to be desired, but he does provide good offensive numbers against right-handed pitching sporting a .286/.357/.690 slash line. Rua is getting closer to a rehab assignment after rehabbing a fracture in his foot. According to the Dallas Morning News, Rua will get reps at both infield and outfield positions.
The Josh Hamilton Factor
The Texas Rangers really couldn’t have asked for a better start from their current left fielder. Hamilton had a huge series against the Red Sox this past weekend where he had a two home run game and the pinch-hit walk-off winning two-run double in the finale.
Hambone is hitting .273 in seven games with the Rangers. In 22 at-bats, he has six hits, two doubles, two home runs, five RBIs, four walks and seven strikeouts. According to ZiPS projections, he is projected to have 18 home runs, 57 runs and 69 RBIs in 117 games. Hamilton is on the wrong side of 30 and although he isn’t the MVP from 2010 or the heavy-hitting outfielder he used to be period, he still provides a power threat in the middle of the lineup.
Also, this team really does seem to love playing with Josh and he loves playing with this team. Maybe that’s all it takes to get the ol’ Home Run Derby machine busting out bombs again.
Ever since the Rangers most recent successful road trip, they have been winning. They have won eight out of the last 10 games and are currently on a three-game win streak. Part of the reason they are in third place in the West and a .500 winning team (doesn’t it feel good to say that?) is because they are 17-11 on the road.
Now, if they can harness that road winning mentality and apply it at home where they are 9-14, then this team can be a force to be reckoned with. The Boston series was a good start and should give them good momentum when they take on the Chicago White Sox.
Through 51 games, it would appear the Rangers have something cookin’. Jeff Banister has his team on the same page and they are actually doing good things despite not having some of their key contributors, a la Ace Yu Darvish and Martin Perez. And since they are winning and have found a groove, I think this team will be buyers this season.
The weakest point, although it’s been a stronger point as of late, is the bullpen. Shawn Tolleson has positioned himself nicely as the ninth inning guy. Maybe the team looks at another reliever or two to fortify the pen.
Depending on how the aforementioned pitching reinforcements do, the Rangers could also look for a veteran starting pitcher, although I find this to be the least likely because of what Chi Chi was able to do when called up.
I don’t believe the Rangers will look to purchase a bat, especially if they keep putting runs up on the board like they have been as of late. Plus they have the recent call up of Joey Gallo who is a power hitter to fall back on. But that doesn’t mean they won’t look. I mean, who doesn’t like to window shop?
The Rangers will continue to compete this season and it is only going to get better. They could certainly compete for the second Wild Card spot, and even the first Wild Card spot isn’t completely out of the question. And considering they are only one game out of second place and five and half games out of first place, who knows, maybe they hunt down the Astros and challenge them for the top dog in the West.
One thing is for certain—Rangers baseball is exciting again.