The 2021 Texas Rangers are not going to make the playoffs. They are openly rebuilding in a brand new stadium. The Rangers have shown a remarkable amount of punching power for a team everyone thought was going to lose 100 games. The engines of the success are a middle infield combo of reigning Gold Glover Isiah Kiner-Falefa at Short and Nick Solak at Second. Solak leads the team in batting and slugging. Solak is also progressing rapidly at second defensively. Finding a permanent position and playing time has rapidly sped up his development. Solak developing into a .300 hitter with pop is one of the few plausible things that would be essential to the Rangers rebuild being successful.
Against the Angels
Game 1 – The Rangers were smashed badly in the opening game of the series against the Angels. Jordan Lyles was rocked badly and the mop up man soon entered. The Rangers do not have the offensive firepower to overcome large deficits. Most of their wins this season have come off the back of great starting pitching. The Rangers cannot homer their way back into games like the slugging teams of old. These Rangers rely on consecutive hits and poor opponent defense to mount rallies. Considering the Rangers lead the league in striking out, it is obvious to see why their offense is so inconsistent and vexing. Loss 9-4.
Game 2 – The Rangers touched up former Cubs starter Jose Quintana to the tune of 5 ER over 3.1 IP. Quintana was one of those players who made a big name for himself being the biggest available pitcher on the trade block a few seasons ago. He is one of those guys who got an inflated reputation for being the best available during a weak market. Rightie side-armer Steve Cishek came in to clean up Quintana’s mess but was unable to. Nick Solak was at the center of this destruction. He had 3 hits and 3 runs. Consistency out of the two hole from Solak is something that can help a weak Rangers lineup go from hopeless to competitive. The Rangers are actually a touch above AL average in BA and OBP. They are bottom 5 in runs per game in the AL however. They are also dead last in doubles. The Rangers are second in the AL in steals though. They are using the steal to make up for lack of big bats. IKF specifically has been effective at this.
Woodward can really test his mettle by implementing aggressive baserunning tactics to put pressure on his opponents. His roster has the speed for it. Aggressive baserunning tactics were the backbone of the Ron Washington Pennant Glory Years. Billy Martin was also famous for using such tactics, which was called “BillyBall.” Martin used BillyBall to transform one of the most hapless baseball teams of all time, the 1973 Rangers, into a pennant contender in 1974. Martin made a career out of pressuring his opponents and getting the absolute most out of the middling talent he was often given. The point of all of this is to demonstrate that aggressive baserunning is one the essential parts of stealing wins over the course of the long 162 game season as a severe underdog. If Woodward wants to be re-signed into the post-rebuild era, he would be wise to keep trying to steal wins with aggressive tactics. If Woody can give this team an identity instead of whining about how bad the Padres beat him it would significantly increase his job security.
Mike Foltyewicz had his best start of the season with 5.1 IP and 1 ER. Folty has had troubles with the longball. He threw significantly less 2 seam fastballs this game and it benefited him. John King the hard throwing lefty was used again and threw 1.2 scoreless. King is becoming one of Woody’s favorites to use out of the pen. King and Taylor Hearn have both been filling this role. Both southpaws throw hard and have had to pick up a lot of the slack due to injuries in the pen. King has the best ERA on the team at 1.35. Kolby Allard and mop up man Hyeon-jong Yang come in at ranks 2 and 3. 1.80 and 2.08 respectively. These were two arms no one expected anything out of doing very well. Ian Kennedy has been lights out as the 2 pitch closer. Dane “Stunning” Dunning has been excellent with the exception of a couple blow up starts. The same could be said for Kyle “Ace” Gibson, who is either awful or incredible. Jordan Lyles has been awful. Kohei Arihara looks cunning when batters impatiently wave at his mix of pitches trying to close a deficit; but when playing from ahead or tied batters can be more picky. That is when Arihara gets lit up. Frankly, the starting pitching has been better than expected. It shares the same flaw as the rest of the team: inconsistency. Win 6-1.
Game 3 – The Rangers showed their flaw of inconsistency in this brutal loss. Dane Stunning was roughed up by the potent Angels offense. The Angels lead the AL in BA and touched up Dane Stunning for 4 runs in the first. Having a 4 run deficit before they even get a chance to bat is basically a death sentence for the Rangers. Despite the Rangers getting 2 hits from Solak and Nate Lowe, this game was a frustrating, series-losing irritant. Stunning pitched 4 scoreless after the rough first. Loss 4-3.
The Rangers continued their homestand against the AL East leading Boston Red Sox the next day to begin a four game set.
Game 1 – Former Rangers failed top prospect Martin Perez started for Boston. Perez showed off his new pitch: the cutter. Perez got many calls and kept the Rangers off balance. Perez was opposed by Kyle “Ace” Gibson. Gibson turned in a great start, going 6 strong and allowing 1 run. The game was tied going into the bottom of the 6th when catcher Jose Trevino smoked a game winning 2 run homer to left field. Eli White popped up a bunt in this game in embarrassing fashion. Kennedy shut the door quickly again. He is a no-nonsense closer who relies less on emotion and brash strength than many other closers. Win 4-1.
Game 2 – This abomination began for the Red Sox batters as follows: walk, walk, homer, homer. Arihara never recovered and was awful. 2.2 IP, 6 ER. Mop up man Hyeon-jong came in and was great. 4.1 IP, 0 ER. But the Rangers looked lost. The best they could muster was a couple deep fly balls to right field with men on. Loss 6-1.
Game 3 – Willie Calhoun hit well and was a force. He had 3 hits and a big homer. This is the make or break year for Willie. His bat is badly needed in the Rangers lineup. He was what the Rangers received for Yu Darvish in 2017 and he has yet to live up to his hype. IKF had 3 hits to set the table well from the leadoff spot. Solak had 2 hits behind him. IKF and Solak getting on base is the oil in the engine of the Rangers offense. Gallo bats behind them, but is struggling with power despite having a good eye. Gallo rarely gets good pitches to hit due to lack of lineup protection behind him. Adolis Garcia is flashy and exciting, but strikes out too much. Nate Lowe has been average and had 2 RBI in this affair. Charlie Culberson had 2 hits and runs. He has been red hot recently. David Dahl is batting .191 and has been disappointing. Rangers recover from another Jordan Lyles disaster. Win 8-6.
Game 4 – The Red Sox looked poised to settle for a split against the hapless Rangers going into the 8th inning. They led 3-2 and called upon former Yankee Slider Specialist Adam Ottovino. Ottovino once claimed on the MLB Statcast Podcast he could strike out Babe Ruth 3 times in a row. This made his subsequent asphyxiation against the green Rangers hilarious. David Dahl tied the game at 3 with a shot to left field. After IKF got on after him, Brock Holt smoked a single to center. The ball was bobbled by Alex Verdugo, allowing another run to score. Ian Kennedy shut the door again no problem. Calhoun and IKF both had big days. Joey Gallo was ejected for complaining about the strike zone and his skipper soon followed. Win 5-3.
The Rangers might not be a playoff threat, but they can upset teams far better than them. They have won 4 game sets off of the defending AL champion Rays, as well as the current AL East Division leading Red Sox. In between those wonderful wins are embarrassing performances against teams like the Orioles. Stealing big four game series against juggernaut teams is about all this team could ask for. The Rangers showed they have some life and moxie, with some aggressive coaching they could prove to be a vexing spoiler that floats around .500.