Bullpen Struggles Hamper Rangers, 1st Place In Jeopardy

The Rangers offense has been doing its part as has the starting pitching. The bullpen is still a work in progress.
Photo Courtesy: Dominic Ceraldi

By Wiley Singleton

The Rangers entered the final game of their best of three against the hated LA Angels with the division lead on the line. This rubber match would set the tone for the entire road trip, as Seattle and Oakland lay in wait. Martin Perez started for the Rangers and brought a streak of consecutive starts where he made it past the 5th inning. He failed to achieve that in this crucial match. He struggled with his command and was popped for 7 ER over 3.2 IP. 

Thankfully for the Rangers, the Angels starter was just as bad. Jose Suarez went 2.2 IP and gave up 7 ER. This game was a complete bloodbath and it looked like no lead was safe. Perez simply had nothing for this start after nearly an entire season’s worth of consecutive solid starts. The Angels offense is loaded with established “name” guys with pop. The Rangers limited Trout and Ohtani in this series, which is the key to beating the Angels. 

The Rangers led 7-5 in the 4th inning when Josh Jung hit a hard infield single that scored two runs. The Rangers led 11-7 going into the 7th inning. It was one of the most tenuous four run leads in baseball history. The 8th and 9th hitters got on to start the 7th for the Rangers. Getting your worst two hitters on to start an inning for the top of your lineup is one of the best ways to get a big inning going. This is especially true with the Rangers, as their two primary carries sit atop the lineup at the 1 and 2 holes. If the bottom third of the Rangers lineup can get on base with regularity it will give Marcus Semien and Corey Seager RBI opportunities. Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia currently leads MLB in RBI. He has been doing severe damage from the cleanup hole this season. He homered in this inning, a three run bomb that left California ruined like Ronald Reagan’s policies. 

Disgraced closer Jose Leclerc came into this game with an eight run lead. Skipper Bruce Bochy is clearly trying to get him work in low pressure scenarios. The former All Star looked truly awful. He pitched like he had no idea where the ball was going. He was so erratic it makes one genuinely concerned for his future. Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez were two hard throwing righties expected to anchor the backend of the Rangers bullpen this season. They have both inexplicably lost their command. This is the genesis of the Rangers bullpen struggles. That and the fact they traded Emmanuel Clase for one inning of Corey Kluber. The Rangers proved the best way to circumvent a bad bullpen is to score 16 runs. Win 16-8.

After a crucial series win against the hated Angels the Rangers took their recently defended division lead to Seattle. The Rangers have been repeatedly demolished in Seattle for their last several visits there. The Mariners used their home field to dominate the Rangers last year, just like the Astros. This is the first series of the season where the Rangers play the Mariners on the road. The Mariners are a good squad that are looking to compete for a Wild Card spot. They are also a longshot pick to win the division, sort of like the Rangers. The Mariners stand directly in the Rangers way to get to the playoffs. Winning this series was crucial. Proving they could win at all in Seattle was crucial.

Game 1 – Hard throwing righty Jon Gray started for the Rangers and returned to prime form. In his last three starts he had looked diminished and uncomfortable due to a minor injury sustained against the Astros when he was hit with a line drive. He gave up a solo shot to Ty France in the 1st but settled down. His fastball sizzled and his slider was sharp and fast. He commanded both of those pitches very well. He ran into trouble in the 5th after two Mariners reached base on soft hit singles that fell in. Gray then yanked a slider and accidentally hit a lefty batter to load the bases. Mariners star youngster Julio Rodriguez then came up with the bases juiced. Gray got him to ground into an inning ending double play. Logan Gilbert started for the Mariners and was exceptional. He threw very hard and controlled the game brilliantly through the first six innings. Marcus Semien began the 7th inning with a single that barely scraped past the shortstop. The next hitter, Robbie Grossman, got hosed when he was punched out looking at a pitch 3 inches above the zone. Nate Lowe then smacked a single to left. Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia then worked a full count walk. Garcia’s eye has improved tremendously since last season. He is swinging at far fewer balls outside the zone. He was prone to the strikeout before, but his improved eye has been the main component in his tremendous season.

Josh Jung cracked a sac fly to right to tie the game at 1-1. Jonah Heim then came up and severed a ball to left to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Gilbert pitched well enough to earn a win but left with a 2-1 deficit on the hook for the loss. Jon Gray went 7 strong and left the Rangers bullpen with the easy task of getting a mere 6 outs. Jonathan Hernandez began the inning with a strikeout. He then beaned Kolten Wong. Julio Rodriguez beat into a forceout that was almost a double play after. With one more out to get Hernandez hit another batter. Brock Burke, the Rangers most reliable bullpen arm, had to come in to get the crucial 3rd out with two men on. Burke struckout Jarred Kelenic to end the threat. The Rangers failed to score with the meat of their order in the top of the 9th. Will Smith came in to close the game and struckout the side in order. Win 2-1.

Game 2 – Mariners started George Kirby was exceptional in this start. He went 7 scoreless innings. His command was nearly perfect and his slider had an incredible amount of movement. Andrew Heaney was decent in his start, logging a quality start and looking lethal early on in the game. Justin Topa pitched a scoreless 8th for the Mariners as they were up 4-0. Juan Then closed the game for the Mariners after they got a run off of Ian Kennedy. Loss 5-0.

Game 3 – This would be the spot where Jacob deGrom would usually start. But as he is still injured, Dane Dunning got the start. The Rangers needed this game badly and it would have been huge to have Jake. Dunning was opposed by Luis Castillo. Castillo is the Mariners best pitcher. He throws hard and recently signed a contract extension. Marcus Semien hit a homer off of him to tie the game at 1-1 in the 3rd. Nate Lowe added to the damage with an RBI double. Jonah Heim smoked a double of his own later in the same inning to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.

Dunning got into some trouble in the bottom of the 5th. He threw a nice curveball to JP Crawford that he hooked down the line for a double to make the game 3-2. But Dunning got out of the inning by having Ty France hit a weak dribbler back to the mound. Semien added an RBI single in the top of the 6th. Every run is important when your bullpen is bad. Brock Burke gave up a run in the 8th and was replaced by the slumping Jonathan Hernandez. Hernandez of course walked a guy before throwing a heater right down the middle in a full count to escape the 8th. Will Smith came into close as usual. He has a tremendous curveball and shut the M’s down in the 9th. Win 4-3. 

The Rangers proving they could beat the Mariners in Seattle was very important. They would end their road trip with four games in Oakland against a sewer team. 

Game 1 – Nathan Eovaldi was incredible in his start against the A’s. He pumped his fastball aggressively and confidently and hit his spots. His slider was tight and sharp. The A’s were cut down by Eovaldi all night until the 9th when Eovaldi ran out of gas and had to be pulled for the final out. Will Smith threw his big hook and got the final out. Eovaldi went 8.2 IP, struckout 12, and only walked 1. Win 4-0.

Game 2 – Martin Perez was disappointing again in this brutal affair. 5 IP, 4 ER. The Rangers and A’s traded runs until the 8th when the Rangers led 5-4. Cole Ragans allowed a walk and single after a solid 7th inning of work. He was replaced by Jonathan Hernandez. Hernandez has been atrocious this season. He immediately blew the lead by allowing a single. He naturally walked a guy before getting the final out of the inning. The game remained tied and went into extras. The Rangers began their inning with a walk before Adolis Garcia and Marcus Semien both had RBI singles. Brock Burke stayed in the game to try to shut the door in the bottom of the 10th.

What ensued was more repulsive than the Dallas Mavericks recent collapse. Passed ball, single, single, walk off homer. Loss 9-7.

Game 3 – Jon Gray looked great again in this much needed recovery game. Nate Lowe started the scoring in the 1st with a two run homer. Nate Lowe hit another homer in the 4th to make it 3-0. Ezequiel Duran hit a two run shot of his own in the 9th to make the game 5-0. Jon Gray was incredible for 8 innings and made it easy on the Rangers bullpen. John King held the five run lead. Win 5-0.

Game 4 – Andrew Heaney was sharp in this start. He went 6 IP and struckout 9. The Rangers were up 3-1 in the 7th when Jonathan Hernandez started the inning in relief of Heaney. Hernandez blew the lead as you might expect. He gave up a two run shot to Shea Langeliers. The Rangers badly needed this game to win the series against the Oakland Pathetics. Thanks to the bullpen it was now tied again. The Rangers bats showed up in the 8th inning. Adolis Garcia began the inning with a double. Jonah Heim singled him in. Duran was walked on purpose, then Bubba Thompson was beaned. Leady Taveras forced a run in. Marcus Semien and Robbie Grossman hit back to back singles. Adolis Garcia issued the finishing move with a grand slammer to cap the 8 run inning. Win 11-3.

The Rangers went back to Texas to take on one of the best teams in the NL: The Braves.

Game 1 – The Rangers were exhausted after their long road trip and it showed. They had to start a kid they called up from AAA and he got bombed. Cody Bradford stood little chance against the lethal Atlanta attack. The Rangers were obliterated in this unwatchable atrocity. Loss 12-0.

Game 2 – Dane Dunning was exceptional again in this crucial start. He went 6 IP and allowed a mere 1 ER. Lowe and Garcia got the Rangers the lead in the 4th. The score was 4-1 Rangers after the 6th when the Rangers added two more in the 7th. Semien and Grossman’s singles accounted for the cushion. The Rangers would need it, as Jonathan Hernandez appeared again to do his tired comedy act like Amy Schumer. Hernandez came in, gave up a homer, beaned a guy, then gave up another homer before being mercifully yanked. Josh Sborz came in and nursed the 6-4 lead. Sborz throws hard but has poor control. Duran hit a solo shot in the bottom of the 8th to get one of the runs back. Will Smith shut the door in the 9th. Win 7-4.

Game 3 – The Rangers played another crucial rubber match. Two S class pitchers took the bump for this affair. Nathan Eovaldi faced off against Spencer Strider. Both of these righties throw hard and feature a devastating slider as their primary out pitch. Eddie Rosario popped a homer in the 2nd inning to make it 2-0 Braves. The score remained that way until the 4th when Strider started to lose his fastball control. He had to rely on his slider and even resorted to throwing his changeup. Garcia opened the inning with a homer. Walk to Jonah Heim, single by Robbie Grossman, double by Duran tied the game at 2. After Josh Smith struckout, Leody Taveras singled but Duran was thrown out at home. Semien then popped out to end the inning. If the Rangers did not make that base running error they would have had two men on for Semien and Seager in his first game back from injury. Seager DH’d this game in a lineup that badly needs him. The damage was somewhat limited by the play at the plate, Strider managed to cobble together 5 IP despite losing control of his heater. Former Ranger Jesse Chavez came in and gave up a run. The run was off of a sharp, deep Seager flyball to center field that was almost a homer. Young star CF Michael Harris II ran it down and limited Seager to a sac fly. This made the game 5-3 Rangers after Eovaldi was sharp for 7 IP.

The Rangers bullpen needed a mere six outs to win the game. Josh Sborz came in and immediately walked the leadoff man. This ominous sign was followed by a stolen base and Sborz spraying his fastball around at random. One of these disappointing pitches was a 2 strike job right down the middle. Sborz does not trust his breaking stuff. Its not like he knows where his fastball is going either though. Sborz gave up a brutal RBI single to Ozzie Albies. He then gave up a game tying RBI double to Austin Riley. All the air went out of the building and you knew the Rangers were done. Brock Burke gave up a solo shot to Orlando Arcia in the 9th to make it 6-5.

The offense was deflated after the Sborz meltdown. The Rangers blew an important game due to bullpen issues again. This was a brutal loss to a good team. The Rangers cannot keep wasting good starting pitching performances. Their division lead is shrinking down to nothing. Giving away Game 1 and choking Game 3 makes the loss to Oakland hurt even more. Sweeping teams like Oakland is how you build up a cushion for series like this. The Rangers need to figure out how to fix their bullpen, because even if they squeak into the Wild Card they will not be able to win in the playoffs without a bullpen.

The starting pitchers are going deep into games and performing well. The bullpen is absolutely terrible and can easily sink this team alone. The Rangers will need to address this issue ASAP, and not in two months when the Astros are leading the division by 10 games. 

Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
5/19 – vs Rockies – 7:05 p.m.
5/20 – vs Rockies – 3:05 p.m.
5/21 – vs Rockies – 1:35 p.m.
5/22 – @Pirates – 5:35 p.m.
5/23 – @Pirates – 5:35 p.m.
5/24 – @Pirates – 11:35 a.m.
5/26 – @Orioles – 6:05 p.m.
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5/28 – @Orioles – 12:35 p.m.