The Texas Rangers began their week in Minnesota. They faced a reeling Twins team that has severe backend bullpen issues. The Twins have a loaded roster on paper: Catcher with pop Mitch Garver, slugger Miguel Sano, Platinum Glove winning SS Andrelton Simmons, 2016 ALDS MVP Josh Donaldson, Platinum Glove winner Byron Buxton in Center, and 2011 ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz. They also boast 4 good starters in Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, Kenta Maeda, and JA Happ. The Twins were expected to win over 90 games this season.
At the Twins
Game 1 – Dane “Stunning” Dunning was outdueled by Kenta Maeda. Maeda is a crafty Japanese rightie that spent years as a Dodger. Maeda fanned 8 over 5.1 IP. Dunning had 5.2 IP of 2 ER work. Kolby Allard, who was insanely bad last year, came in for Dunning and allowed 3 ER over 2.1 IP. This would ultimately cost the Rangers the game. The hapless Twins bullpen was assaulted late. Brandon Waddell allowed a single to Joey Gallo before giving up a homer to electric rookie Adolis Garcia.
Garcia’s unanticipated meteoric rise has been the central catalyst in the Rangers success. The top two MLB ready prospects of Texas are Eli White and Leody Taveres. Both are outfielders that cannot hit at all. Taveres was supposed to start in Center and hit leadoff. He struck out half the time and never got on base. He has since been demoted to the minors. White was just as inept but with less fanfare. This left the Rangers with a grim collection of outfielders who could not field, with the obvious exception of Gold Glover Joey Gallo. David Dahl looks ancient in left field, perpetually a handful of steps short of making a catch. Dahl is slow and looks 37, not 27 in left field. The Rangers lack power strikeout arms, so defense is very important. Many big innings have spawned from David Dahl’s uninspired, Beer League defense. Willie Calhoun has never been a good defender and this flaw is what allowed him to be traded for Yu Darvish. Calhoun will never be anything more than a passable fielder. Calhoun is electric with the bat, and his excellent hitting at the top of the order has been a huge part of the Rangers success. He is one of those guys you will always try to hide at DH though. That leaves 33 year old slugger Khris “Krush” Davis. Davis has a phobia about throwing from the outfield. He has written at length about this and refers to the mental block as “The Creature.” Baseball players coming down with the “yips,” as it is sometimes called, is a rare but crippling mental block where the player forgets how to throw. This rare disorder has ruined the careers of a few bright young stars, most notably early 2000’s Cardinals top prospect lefty Rick Ankiel. Ankiel managed to reinvent himself as a position player after starting as a pitcher, but most cannot do that. So that makes Davis unplayable in the outfield.
That is why the emergence of Adolis Garcia has been such a big deal. Garcia brings pop, a strong arm, good speed, and a ton of attitude to a team that badly needed an identity. The Rangers were projected by everyone to lose over 100 games. This team has played with vigour and a relentless attitude. IKF, Joey Gallo, and Jose Trevino all show a fierce determination to prove doubters wrong. The flamboyant Garcia has allowed that lowkey trio to be more demonstrative and a team identity of relentless underdogs has formed. Garcia leads rookies in homers and RBI. The AAA Eli White and Leody Taveras combo are both top 10 in the MLB in speed. Garcia being fast and agile helps offset the defensive strain and lack of White and Taveras. Garcia is the 79th fastest position player in MLB, out of 363.
The Rangers lost the opener against the Twins despite a Joey Gallo two run homer in the 9th to send Garcia to the plate as the tying run. Garcia struck out. Garcia’s biggest flaw is that he strikes out too much. But he has enough pop to offer Joey Gallo excellent lineup protection.
Joey Gallo’s power was neutralized for the first few weeks of the season. He had no lineup protection so pitchers just threw him junk. Joey diligently walked, but was frequently stranded. Having Garcia hit behind Gallo is essential offensive cohesion; just like IKF and Nick Solak getting on base at the top of the lineup. Garcia being a powerful righty behind Gallo prevents teams from using their best lefty specialist against the succession of Gallo and lefty first baseman Nate Lowe. Lowe often hit on either side of Gallo in the lineup, usually at 3, 4, or 5. Mixing up right and left handed batters in a lineup is a basic but essential part of baseball strategy. You do not want to make it easy on the other manager by allowing him to counter all of your good lefty power bats by stacking them back to back. The threat of Garcia behind Gallo as a righty helps the Rangers offense function better in a way that stats like slugging percentage do not reflect. That is a big reason why baseball is so beautiful and cannot be boiled down to mindless formulas and advanced metrics like WAR. Those tools are useful, but do not account for strategic elements of the game. These elements include: lineup protection, threat of stealing (and the pressure it exerts and the mistakes it causes), and the mental effect a good hitter on deck has on the way a pitcher approaches the current hitter.
The Rangers are overperforming because the success of one player is positively affecting another. The emergence of Adolis Garcia allowed Joey Gallo to see more good pitches and do more damage. Nick Solak and IKF getting on base at the top of the lineup and stealing provides RBI opportunities for Gallo, Garcia, and Lowe. Jose Trevino has become serviceable at the plate and is clutch. He seems to handle the pitching staff well and is amiable. Willie Calhoun has returned from the IL with extreme ferocity. Calhoun has been electric out of the leadoff spot DHing. Calhoun appears as though he is finally realizing his long foretold potential, lacing balls all over the field and being a pesky out. Calhoun seems to have switched his approach from a slugger to a more balanced, Joey Votto-like approach. The incorporation of this defensive style has allowed him to shoot tough pitches all over the yard for singles, leading to a massive OPS.
Utility infielder Charlie Culberson has been incredible as well. Culberson has hit very well and filled in all over the infield when needed. The Rangers have a gaping hole at 3rd that needs to be filled with top Texas Tech draft pick Josh Jung as soon as possible. Jung is too green for the bigs, but his imminent arrival hangs in the Arlington air heavy like the reek of Dallas Cowboys failure.
The Rangers fell to the Twins in the opener, but their losses are becoming very close instead of boring blowouts where the lineup looks uninterested. Loss 6-5.
Game 2 – Kyle “Ace” Gibson was sharp in this start. He went 8 innings and gave up 3 ER. He did so on homers, despite not giving up homers in the games before this. Former Blue Jay JA Happ was sharp but only lasted 5.1 IP. The talented Twins started had his Win squandered by his hapless bullpen yet again. The Rangers entered the 9th down 3-1. Willie Calhoun led it off with a solo shot to make it 3-2. Charlie Culberson added to his .300+ average by hitting a single right after. Rookie Andy Ibanez pinch hit for the hapless David Dahl and got his first career hit. Jose Trevino bunted the runners over, and IKF hit a sac fly to score Culberson and tie the game at 3. Joely Rodriguez sat down the Twins in order in the bottom of the ninth. Adolis Garcia smashed a homer in the top of the 10th to score the extra inning gimmick runner. Charlie Culberson hit a solo shot after to finish his spectacular night. Ian Kennedy shut the door with his no-nonsense approach and hefty lead. Win 6-3.
Game 3 – Hyeon-jong Yang made his first career MLB start. He has been effective as the Rangers mop up man this season. He looked great through 3 innings, minus a monstrous Mitch Garver solo shot. He ran into trouble in the 4th and was pulled for John King, who got out of the 2 man on situation unscathed. Twins starter Lewis Thorpe was let down by his bullpen. He allowed the first 2 men to reach in the 6th before being pulled for Cody Stashak. Stashak let both runs score. The Rangers led 3-1 and would not let go of the lead. John King, Brett Martin, Joely Rodriguez, and Ian Kennedy all put in scoreless work. Win 3-1.
Game 4 – The Rangers brought a depleted bullpen to the final game of the series. Jordan Lyles gave up a leadoff homer. That set the Texas Rangers record for most homers given up in consecutive games. That is pretty staggering considering he had the likes of Chon Ho Park during the steroid era at the old ballpark to compete with. Lyles went 5 IP and only gave up 3 ER. He left on the hook for the 3-2 loss. The Rangers looked out of gas as they were retired by the favored Twins. The Twins blew yet another lead when backup catcher Jonah Heim hit a solo shot to tie the game at 3 in the 7th. Brett De Geus and Taylor Hearn both pitched 2 scoreless innings. The Rangers forced extras again. And again they scored their gimmick runner at the top of the 10th. Willie Calhoun did this by smacking an eye-high pitch to right field. Josh Sborz came in throwing flames and shut the door while Ian Kennedy rested. The Rangers beat another playoff caliber team in a four game series. Win 4-3.
Versus the Mariners
Game 1 – The Rangers slopped through a disappointing game against the Mariners at home. Mike Foltynewicz gave up multiple homers as usual and did not record a quality start. Joey Gallo was the only Ranger that failed to reach base and was essentially the main reason the Rangers lost by a run. Loss 5-4.
Game 2 – This affair was phenomenal and exciting. Kohei Arihara was awful again and was placed on the 10 day IL after this game. 3.2 IP, 5 ER. The Rangers were down 4-0 quickly. Gallo smoked a deep homer to make it 4-1. He homered again in the 4th. This time a 2 run shot. IKF poured it on in the 4th, doubling home a run to make the game 5-4 Mariners. Nate Lowe smacked a homer in the 6th to start a rally. David Dahl doubled behind him. IKF smashed a double to right field to score both runners to give the Rangers a 1 run lead. Rangers killer Kyle Seager obliterated a homer to tie the game during the 7th inning. John King gave up a homer to right in the 8th to make the game 7-6 Seattle. Adolis Garcia came up in the bottom half of the inning and smoked a solo shot to tie the game. John Heim cracked a double with two men on to give Texas a one run lead. Willie Calhoun added an insurance run after. The game came down to the top of the 9th. Ian Kennedy tried to close the 9-7 game, but ran into trouble with 2 out and 2 on. A ball was flared to center as the runner from 3rd scored easily to put the Mariners within one run. The tying runner came screaming around the bases to home plate, where he was gunned down from the outfield by Adolis Garcia. Win 9-8.
The Rangers performed very well last week and are a very exciting team to watch. They face true tests soon. The NL West leading San Francisco Giants will be the first test. After that, the Rangers play the Astros and Yankees in 4-game sets. Then they play the Astros again. If the Rangers can come out of that stretch at .500 or better, they will have proven they should be taken seriously and are a dangerous team. The other outcome is them plummeting back down to earth and getting smashed by those scary teams. The Rangers have played their best against top competition this season though.
This was one of the best weeks for the Rangers in recent memory. It is more than just stealing some wins against good teams. The young players succeeding and developing are essential building blocks to becoming a playoff threat again.