By Lew Patton
Well that was quick. Half of the 2015 baseball season is already over and your Texas Rangers are a manageable six games back of the division leading Angels at 42-46, four games under .500. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good job considering all of the problems the Rangers have endured. So what does it look like going forward? Who’s coming back from injury soon? What about trades, do we line something up or what? If so, who?
The Starting Rotation
How many of you gave up on the 2015 season after learning Yu Darvish was going to have Tommy John surgery? Come on, admit it, you did didn’t you? Then Derek Holland went down in the home opener and you really knew it was going to be a lost season. How about the way Ross Detwiler looked? I wondered if he wore a mask in to the bank when he deposited his paycheck. But here we are at the halfway point and the Rangers’ starters have the fourth best ERA in the league, and fifth most quality starts. Special tip of the cap to Yovani Gallardo. Matt Harrison is back for his goodwill farewell tour. He deserves a ten-minute standing ovation from every Ranger fan alive for his grit, will, and just plain toughness. And guess what? Left-hander Martin Perez will come off the disabled list and make his first major-league start in 14 months on Friday, when the Texas Rangers open the second half of the season at Houston. Perez was 0-1 with a 4.56 ERA for 25 2/3 innings in six minor-league injury-rehabilitation starts. He did not go more than six innings in any start, and threw more than 80 pitches once. On Sunday, he gave up 12 hits and five runs in six innings with Triple-A Round Rock against New Orleans of the Miami organization.
He picked up his 35th multi-hit game a few nights ago, best in the American League, raising his average to .339. He is a hitting machine. If he doesn’t win the comeback player of the year award this season MLB should never again award that award. But take away all the production, all the hits to the opposite field, all the RBIs, all the infectious joy he brings to the field every time he steps on it, and what is most impressive is his unselfish decision to accept being the team’s DH and accepting that Mitch Moreland is the better fielder. Where would this team be without Fielder? In Phillies territory.
The Rangers first baseman is batting .286 with 16 homers and 46 RBI. He is on pace to eclipse his career bests of .275 (2012), 23 homers (2013) and 60 RBI (2013).
Moreland said he’s been healthy, he’s been playing every day, and he feels great about where he is with his game.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple, and kind of let go of it,” Moreland said. “I don’t know if that’s having experience or what, but it’s ‘stick with the plan.’ You need it all out there to make it work, whether that’s mentally or physically. I’ve been lucky this year to not have the bumps and bruises, but you have to fight through that too.”
Moreland said his relationship with Prince Fielder has been big, and Fielder’s decision to allow Moreland to play first base has been critical in getting into a consistent groove.
“That was big, I can’t thank him enough,” Moreland said. “I love being out there, and feel like I’m in the game that much more when I’m able to be out on the field. It helped me, and from the looks of it, he’s having a great year too, so it might have helped him, as well.”
Sure he is learning, but he also seems to have his team playing far above their heads, and playing with confidence. He seems to have his team’s respect, which is pretty remarkable for a first time manager. He has his share of head scratchers, but those pale compared to where he has led his team. And this is his team. Face it, this is a fifth place team masquerading as a wild card contender. Very few people saw that coming. That is 100% on Jeff Banister. (Next time he bats Elvis Andrus second, I may delete this paragraph.)
Now days, you HAVE to have a closer to compete. While it’s a role that is way over-rated, it’s still necessary. Closers are a dime a dozen. While they are interchangeable drill bits, you still need one that gets the job done until the next guy comes along. Having said that, Shawn Tolleson has been masterful in taking over for the just released Neftali Feliz. He has saved 13 games, and blown none, while notching a 3.13 ERA and 40/8 strikeouts to walks ratio. When Tolleson comes in to close, the game is closed. You can’t ask anything more of a closer.
It’s last in the league in ERA. The bullpen is the team’s weakest link. This one is on the General Manager who buried his head in the sand and did nothing to improve the bullpen in the off-season. It is a bad, very bad crew.
If you want to have a depressing hour or two, Google “what’s wrong with Elvis Andrus?” Article after article has been written about that. By people who actually do this for a living. So, I will leave the what’s wrong to the experts. And just say, the reason the Rangers offense struggles is very apparent. With Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin in the lineup, that represents eight at bats a night between the two of them. That is eight outs right off the top, out of the 27 a team is allotted. That is two and two-thirds of an inning given up. So, before a game even begins, the Rangers are playing a six-inning game vs. their opponent’s nine innings. Pretty hard to try to outscore teams night after night after night with three innings tied behind your back. The fact that this team is 4 games under .500, playing six innings to the other guy’s nine is pretty remarkable. It’s time to forgo the handicap and play nine innings.
So do we trade for someone?
The knee jerk answer is yes, we need a pitcher. We need help in the bullpen that’s for certain. With the non-waiver trade deadline 18 days away and the Rangers currently sitting at 42-46 — six games back from the Angels in the AL West — GM Jon Daniels is on the lookout for additions to his bullpen and a right-handed bat, writes MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.
“We’ve told clubs we would like to help out our bullpen a little bit, and add the right complementary right-handed bat,” said Daniels, whose team spent roughly five weeks above the .500 mark from late May to June before enduring a 2-8 skid in July. That success has the Rangers looking at short-term additions.
The Rangers’ collective bullpen ERA of 4.38 is trailed only by the Braves (4.40) and Rockies (4.52) this season. Texas recently took the rather surprising step of designating former closer and AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz for assignment, though looking at Feliz strictly from a performance standpoint, he’s undergone a pronounced decline.
Texas has received excellent production from new closer Shawn Tolleson and rookie setup man Keone Kela, while lefty Sam Freeman has been solid through 18 2/3 innings as well. A second lefty would seem to be a reasonable target for the Rangers, as Alex Claudio has been homer-prone and unable to stick in the Majors. Fellow southpaw Ross Detwiler was designated for assignment over the weekend.
From a speculative standpoint, a pair of players that recently met that same DFA fate could, on some level, make some sense for the Rangers, given Daniels’ stated needs. Old friend Jason Frasor, who excelled with the Rangers for a season and a half from 2013-14, was designated by the Royals last week. (Frasor’s control has been spotty at best, however.) Delmon Young could serve as the type of “complementary” right-handed bat that the Rangers seek. Baltimore designated the 29-year-old for assignment two weeks ago and ultimately released him after being unable to find a trade partner. The Rangers could also take a shot on Brandon League (recently DFA by the Dodgers) or Joba Chamberlain (released by the Tigers), though either would be more of a reclamation project than an immediate answer to the club’s present needs.
A large reason that the team is seeking a right-handed bat is due to an imbalance in the lineup and the upper minors. Daniels notes that it’s both a short- and long-term goal to balance out his lineup. Currently, the Rangers have a glut of left-handed bats, including Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor and Leonys Martin. Daniels mentions to Sullivan that even at the prospect level, many of the club’s top prospects — presumably referring to third baseman Joey Gallo and outfielders Nomar Mazara and Nick Williams — are all lefty bats as well.
Looking at the bigger picture, Daniels remains open to adding rotation pieces that are controlled beyond the 2015 season as well, Sullivan writes. Yovani Gallardo has been the team’s most consistent pitcher in 2015, but he’s a free agent at season’s end, as are Colby Lewis and Wandy Rodriguez. Both Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have murky futures due to injuries, and ace Yu Darvish, of course, is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Talk of adding pieces beyond the 2015 season will likely trigger more Cole Hamels speculation, but Sullivan writes that the Rangers “aren’t enamored with” taking on a lefty that is owed $22.5MM on an annual basis. Nor, Sullivan writes, is the team willing to give up the number of prospects currently being sought by the Phillies.
So there you have it
It’s been an interesting first half of the season for the Rangers. How do I think the rest of the season will go? There will be some great baseball played, but if the Rangers can finish in contention for a wild card, I would say this has been a very successful season. The Rangers are four games below .500 and appear to be looking to the future rather than the past. Neftali Feliz, the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year, refused assignment after clearing waivers.