Rangers Crumble To Worst In AL, Soar To Playoff Spot

Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo continues to persevere through the years.
Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Wiley Singleton

When the Rangers went into their series against the rival Oakland A’s a week ago they were coming off of a brutal series loss against the Giants. The Rangers limped into a 3 game set against a team they historically have done very poorly against, especially on the road. By the time the series was over, the Rangers had the worst record in the AL. 

Rangers at A’s

Game 1 – The Rangers wasted another quality start from Lance Lynn. Lynn was exceptional again, but failed to get run support again. Lynn’s current season is reminiscent of that of 2018 Mets ace Jacob DeGrom. DeGrom was exceptional almost every outing, but never got run support. This resulted in him winning the Cy Young despite having only 10 wins. Hopefully the Rangers bats do not condemn Lynn to a season of agony similar to that of DeGrom. The Rangers were up 1-0 until the bottom of the 7th; but asking this bullpen to hold a 1 run lead for that long is like asking Gary Busey to follow a script verbatim. Elvis Andrus and Nick Solak batted 1 and 2 and were both hitless. Robinson Chirinos failed to reach base from the 5 hole. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa and Todd Frazier continue to be two consistent bright spots in this offense. They both had two hits, and IKF drew a walk as well. The experiment to move IKF to catcher last season was a grotesque failure. It appears IKF has regained his promising 2018 form he had as a utility infielder. IKF has a starting spot locked up, considering every other spot in the infield is underperforming.

Chris Woodward continued his habit of benching Shin-Soo Choo against lefties. This tactic is as vexing as it is nonsensical. Choo is the Rangers highest paid player. He is the best South Korean player ever. He is the most patient and professional hitter on the Rangers roster. So why the hell is he on the bench in favor of Scott Heineman and Adolis Garcia? Both of which failed to reach base in this game and have no place in a lineup over Shin-Soo Choo. Even if Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson were on the hump, Choo should still be penciled in at DH, batting 1st. There are very few players a skipper can walk into the clubhouse and automatically pencil into the same spot in the lineup every day. Reggie Jackson in the 4 hole was like this. Ichiro batting leadoff was like this, as was Rickey Henderson. Some players have a skillset so clearly defined and cut out perfectly for a certain role they can be regarded as mainstays in certain spots of the lineup. Rickey Henderson is the perfect leadoff man because he is an high OPS player with the best base stealing ability ever. Ichiro was incredibly hard to retire and a nightmare for pitchers to deal with due to his lethal speed. Henderson and Ichiro both possessed incredible defense and were not countered by lefties or righties. There can be other factors of needing to pencil in a player to the same spot everyday, and that is where Reggie Jackson comes in. Due to Jackson’s ego and pressure from George Steinbrenner, Skipper Billy Martin was forced to bat Jackson 4th. Jackson was a premier power hitter, used to batting with runners on base and the spotlight white hot. Jackson thrived in the consistency of the cleanup spot, where he had been batting his whole career. Martin thought Jackson lacked defensively and was bad against some lefties.

The point is due to player ego and owner pressure, Reggie Jackson was a player you could pencil in at the same spot every single day. Consider two more factors: depth and salary cap space. The Rangers have a very shallow team and Choo is their most expensive player. This means not only are the Rangers paying Choo to sit on the bench, they are replacing him with someone worse than him. To be clear: Scott Heineman and Adolis Garcia are not heralded top prospects, chomping at the bit to start an 8 year stint as the Rangers next franchise player. Scott Heineman and Adolis Garcia are middling prospects at best. To step on the toes of Shin-Soo Choo and bench him for the likes of these dead end non-prospects is not only an obvious tactical error, but a disrespectful afrontary to a veteran leader. Loss 1-5.

Game 2 – Kyle Gibson turned in a quality start and left on the hook for the win. The Rangers bullpen minus Jose Leclerc is a total joke. This is one of the most vexing things about the Rangers. Even after the tepid offseason where the Rangers failed to sign premiere position players, they could have bolstered the bullpen cheaply and easily with the likes of Tyler Clippard. This would have given the Rangers a legitimate ability to close out games they are leading after their starters turn in a quality start. It is important to remember a team’s win conditions. The Rangers based their team this year around starting pitching. That might seem absurd for many old school Rangers fans who have seen them bludgeon competition to death, pitching be damned. But the current Texas Rangers biggest asset is pitching. They have 3 aces as well as a very solid 4 and 5 in Gibson and Lyles. When one considers the playoff format (first round best of 3) starting pitching is incredibly important. Especially a  1, 2, 3, punch of lethal starters. The Rangers have one of the best 1, 2, 3, pitching combinations in the MLB on paper. Unfortunately, that is not how things are currently going. Mike Minor looks rattled and sloppy regardless of who is catching him. Corey Kluber managed one measly inning before getting severely injured. Lance Lynn remains as the lone survivor, bravely carrying Jon Daniels hapless group of castoffs into the 7th inning, at which point his hard work is immediately torn asunder by inexperienced relievers. The way JD approaches pitching is truly irritating. Experienced #1 starters? We don’t want any of those. Solid bullpen vets for a reasonable price? None of those either. Broken down big names coming off of severe injuries? Those are the guys JD LOVES! This might sound like more whining coming from a Ranger fan beaten down by years of ineptitude, but the diatribe has a meaning: Even if the Rangers sneak into the playoffs and the starters perform well the bullpen is so laughably bad they still will not be a threat. This, coupled with the lack of consistent hitting will ultimately sink the Rangers. You cannot play like an old school NL Team (pitching and defense) if half of your roster is playing out of position or sub par defensively. It is also hard to play a style based around starting pitching if your workhorse starter galiantly goes 7 strong and your bullpen cannot get the final 6 outs. The Rangers are currently 27th in the league in batting average and on base percentage. They simply cannot outslug teams like in the Rangers of the 90s or 2010 glory years. It is deeply disturbing for the lifelong Ranger fan to consider decade after decade pitching was the problem, and now that the Rangers have a very strong starting pitching roster they have neither the bullpen nor lineup to compliment it. Make no mistake: both of these elements (hitting and bullpen) were within reach for the 2020 Rangers this past offseason. JD, as usual, put forth the sort of half-ass Jim Halpert-esque effort that would be merely enough to maintain his job. 

Gallo and Scott Heineman both failed to reach base in this defeat. Choo started the game with a solo homer, but the offense went completely quiet after the 5th inning. This is yet another game where the starter puts the Rangers in position to win but the offense and bullpen is too inept to capitalize. Loss 4-6.

Game 3 – Anderson Tejeda was the story of this game. He got 2 hits and 3 RBI. One of the hits was his major league first. In a team as shallow as the Rangers, a happening like this is extremely noteworthy. Choo had 2 hits, as did Frazier and Solak. IKF even had 3, to set up Tejeda for the big day. IKF batted 7th, Tejeda 8th. Mathis and Gallo failed to get a hit but recorded a walk. Willie Calhoun was a gaping hole in the 3 spot, going an awful 0-5 to tank the offense. Mike Minor got blown up in this game. He gave up 5 ER over 5 IP. If Minor continues to lose the Rangers will be hamstrung and he will not even have trade value. Loss 4-6.

Rangers versus Angels

The Rangers came back home to Texas after a brutal roadtrip in which they were humiliated by 2 old rivals. The Angels awaited the Rangers. The Angels have a potent offense but awful pitching. Their offense is good enough to win them games, but their pitching is a joke. 

Game 1 – Jordan Lyles outperformed Griffin Canning in what could be considered a must win game. In a 60 game gimmick season that is already 25% over, all games have extreme value we will probably never see before or after this season. The game began with a pesky hitter, David Fletcher, smashing a ball for a base hit. The best hitter in baseball, Mike Trout, followed. Trout obliterated a ball to deep left-center that made all the Rangers hitters crying about the new park’s dimensions look like fools. The Angels were extremely sloppy in the 4th and gifted the Rangers a lead with walks and errors. The game was 1-3, but the Rangers took a 4-3 lead in the 4th. The Rangers bullpen somehow held this 1 run lead down. Brett Martin, Ian Gibaut, Jonathan Hernandez, and Rafael Moterno shut the door. Hernandez was particularly sharp. Joe Maddon, who fancies himself sort of an acid-washed version of Earl Weaver, went out and crybabied for an extended period of time and did not get tossed. Maddon clearly has earned himself a bit of credibility with the umpires for being lucky enough to face the 1 team that were bigger losers than the Cubs in the World Series: The Indians. Maddon was not tossed, but this game was a lesson in sweet karma. Win 4-3.

Game 2 – Kolby Allard was exceptional over 5 innings in this pitchers duel. Patrick Sandoval turned in a quality start for the Angels, but was outdueled by young Allard. Elvis Andrus failed to reach base from the leadoff spot in another lineup hamstrung by lack of Choo. Frazier was the only player on the team with multiple hits. It is worth noting Frazier being maligned as the lone big free agent acquisition is only occurring because of all the S class, top tier free agents the Rangers missed out on. Frazier, coupled with a couple other big names is great! Frazier, alone, being presented as the crown jewel to a team languishing for a title in a new park is not. Joey Gallo had a two run shot that was the lone scoring of the game. The shot was to left-center field, which is a good sign for his long term power and depth as a player. Everyone knows Joey can pull them deep, but if he can start to smack them to the opposite field he can become an elite hitter. The story of this game was the once middling Kolby Allard filling in the shoes of ace Corey Kluber. The bullpen stood tall. The offense was still inept. Win 2-0. 

Game 3 – Choo did damage from the leadoff spot in a big way this game. He had 2 big RBI to extend the lead to 4-0. Rougie Odor returned to the lineup and was solid. Nick Solak had a silly deep flyball that was smacked into the stands by Angels left fielder Jo Adell. Lance Lynn worked 5 tough innings of a small strike zone to record his 100th win. Win 7-3.

The Rangers went from the lowest of the low to a playoff spot. They are currently #2 in the AL West. Remember: top 2 teams from each division make it, as well as 2 wildcards. The Rangers play the Mariners and Rockies next. Beating these teams is very important considering the difficulty of the end of season schedule. The Rangers also signed first baseman Derek Dietrich, who could pressure Frazier at 1st but more importantly, Odor at 2nd. Dietrich has incredible power and swagger.

Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central

8/10   vs Mariners     8:05 p.m.
8/11   vs Mariners     8:05 p.m.
8/12   vs Mariners     8:05 p.m.
8/14   @Rockies         7:40 p.m.
8/15   @Rockies         7:10 p.m.
8/16   @Rockies         2:10 p.m.