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The Texas Rangers began their season with a tough series against the American League Champion Indians. Opening day was a matchup between Corey Kluber and Yu Darvish. Kluber was exceptional in last year’s playoffs for the Indians. Both Kluber and Darvish were average, pitching around six innings and giving up five and four runs respectively. The Indians bullpen was electric, just as it was during the playoffs. Andrew Miller was particularly effective, and continues to to be one of the best late inning relievers in baseball. Ultimately Sam Dyson blew the game in the final inning and the Rangers lost the home opener. Rougie Odor had a great game, blasting two long home runs. Napoli, Lucroy and Profar were all hitless in this game.
Game two of the series was similar to game one. Martin Perez started for the Rangers, and posted a quality start after a rocky beginning. Walks were Perez’ achilles heel last season, and he walked as many batters as he struck out this game: four. Carlos Carrasco pitched 5.2 innings for the Indians and gave up two earned runs. Both bullpens gave up one run, and the Indians triumphed 4-3. Perez began the game with two long innings and command issues. He eventually started working more quickly and aggressively, a change that would carry over to his Sunday start vs the Athletics. Joey Gallo, who is filling in for Adrian Beltre, had an exceptional game. Gallo had two hits and two walks in 4 ABs. Robinson Chirinos caught Perez, as he usually does.
Game three of the series was a matchup between Cole Hamels and Danny Salazar. The performances were par for the course for the rest of the series. Both pitchers turned in around 6 innings of work. The Rangers led 5-4 going into the 7th inning. Last season the back end of the Rangers bullpen was incredibly strong. Tony Barnette and Matt Bush Both pitched scoreless innings in the 7th and 8th. The Rangers even managed to score an insurance run in the 7th inning. The ball was given to closer Sam Dyson in the 9th inning to seal the two run victory. Dyson struggled profoundly, eventually surrendering a 9th inning grand slam to Fransico Lindor. Dyson gave up five runs and only recorded one out before Jeremy Jeffress was brought in to clean up the shattered remains of the game. The Rangers failed to break the 9-6 Indians lead, and were swept. Nomar Mazara had a great game, tallying 3 RBIs and a homer. The Rangers had closer troubles early on in the season last year. Shawn Tolleson struggled and was eventually replaced by Dyson. Tolleson, like many closers who get replaced, has struggled profoundly since and is trying to stay healthy and comeback with the Rays. The Rangers were exceptional in one run games last year (33-10.) This was largely due the consistency and effectiveness of Dyson, Barnette, Claudio, and Bush. If the Rangers biggest strength becomes one of their biggest weaknesses and they continue to blow late leads the season will be very difficult.
The Rangers looked for their first win of the season against the division rival Athletics. The A’s lost 93 games last season, but are historically good against Texas, especially in Globe Life Park. The Rangers began the series by brutalizing A’s starter Raúl Alcántara, scoring eight runs on him in two innings. Alcántara was opposed by AJ Griffin, who was decent until the 4th inning when he was pulled. Griffin’s weakness is the high amount of home runs he allows. He gave up a three run shot in the 3rd inning to cut the Ranger lead to 8-3. In the 4th inning Griffin had control issues and was eventually pulled with the bases loaded after a comedic head-first dive on the 3rd base side. Griffin left the game with minor abrasions on his hands, and Alex Claudio came in and cleaned up his mess. Claudio is exceptional at stranding inherited runners. The offensive output for both teams slowed down significantly once the bullpens got involved in the game. The game was 8-4 Texas after four innings, and the Rangers went on to hold onto the lead 10-5. Nomar Mazara continued to prove he deserves to be batting in the 3rd spot in the lineup. Mazara posted an incredible 6 RBIs, showing he is continuing to develop after last season’s strong rookie campaign.
The second game of the series featured a pitching duel between both team’s Opening Day starters. Kendell Graveman was exceptional for the A’s, carrying a no-hitter into the 7th inning before Mike Napoli hit a solo homer. Graveman was opposed by Yu Darvish, who pitched six innings of one run baseball. The bullpen struggled late again and the Rangers ultimately gave up six runs, making this pitcher’s duel appear to be less close than is actually was. The Rangers fell 6-1 to Graveman, but avoided the no hitter and shutout.
The final game of the week and homestand was a series deciding rubber match vs the A’s. Martin Perez took the ball for the 1 PM start. Perez was 6-0 with an ERA under 2.00 during his last six day game starts at Globe Life Park. Perez is significantly better at home than he is on the road. He is also significantly better in day games also. These patterns held true for Perez, as he pitched six innings of scoreless baseball. The Rangers took a 6-0 lead into the 8th inning and managed to close out the game. Ryan Rua got his second start of the season, due to the Rangers facing their first lefty starter. Rua is a right-handed utility player that gets starts vs southpaws due to his ability to hit better off of lefties than he does righties. Rua was excellent, logging three runs, two hits and a walk. Robinson Chirinos was partially responsible for driving Rua home, logging three RBIs. Power hitting corner infielder Joey Gallo also was excellent behind Rua, launching two homers and collecting five RBIs. Dyson was brought in at the end of this game to get some work in, and managed to hold the seven run lead to complete the 8-1 victory. The 2-4 Rangers begin a West Coast road trip next week, taking on the Angels and Mariners.
Key Takeaways: despite getting swept to open the season, Rangers fans have a lot to be excited about. Joey Gallo has shown severe improvement from his abysmal hitting last season. Beltre is on the way to returning, but the Rangers have to be elated Gallo was not a black hole in this year’s lineup. Nomar Mazara and Rougie Odor are both continuing to improve after strong seasons. Both players are very young, and could be the future of the organization. Odor was recently signed to a massive extension, and his two homer Opening Day is a positive sign.
The rotation is still an issue. Cashner is set to return soon. Perez is good at home, and even better during the day, but struggles on the road. Perez struggles so severely on the road his playoff start was skipped last year in favor of an injured Colby Lewis. Darvish and Hamels are both undeniably talented, but look to return to true elite form and stay healthy. Darvish has struggled with injuries through his whole career, and Hamels spent much of last year going through inconsistent streaks with control issues. Griffin seems to be more or less the same, a serviceable pitcher prone to nightmare innings and control issues.
The Rangers bullpen is currently their biggest concern. The strength of this team last year was closing out close games. Closer is an interesting position. It has one of the highest turnover rates in baseball, and pitchers who lose their closer role due to blowing games sometimes never recover. If Dyson can find his stride again the Rangers should be fine. But if Dyson continues to struggle, look for Matt Bush or Tony Barnette to swap roles with Dyson.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
4/11 @Angels 9:07 p.m.
4/12 @Angels 9:07 p.m.
4/13 @Angels 2:37 p.m.
4/14 @Mariners 9:10 p.m.
4/15 @Mariners 8:10 p.m.
4/16 @Mariners 3:10 p.m.