The Texas Rangers are hoping, perhaps even expecting, that history repeats itself in 2017.
For the past two seasons under manager Jeff Banister, they’ve played well in the second half. In 2015, their 46-28 second-half record was good enough to blow past the Houston Astros and clinch the American League West division on the last day of the season.
A year ago at the break, the Rangers had the best record in the AL and coasted to another division title with a 41-31 second-half mark.
The West is not up for grabs this season, unless the Astros, currently with a major league-best 60-29 record, have a monumental collapse. Although that would be fun to watch from Arlington, it’s unlikely to happen.
The postseason for the Rangers, however, is still very much in play as the second-half begins Friday with a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals.
The Rangers are one of nine teams within at least five games of the two wild card spots. The Yankees and Rays currently occupy those spots, both three games ahead of the Rangers and Angels. The Twins and Royals are 1 and 1 1/2 games back and in front of the Rangers.
So it won’t be easy. But it’s possible. Very possible, especially if the Rangers are as good as they think they are.
“We’ve got all our guys coming back. We have a solid 1 through 9 every time a guy steps in the box,” said reliever Keone Kela, who is eligible to come off the disabled list before Friday’s series opener against the Royals. “Our starting staff has been pitching tremendously and giving us the opportunity to win ball games and I just think if we keep that formula and our bullpen does exactly what our potential allows us to do we should stay in the mix.”
They’ll have to start stringing series wins together, something they’ve only done twice in their past six, including the last series before the break. The Royals (44-43) are playing much better than when the Rangers swept a four-game series in late April at Globe Life Park. After starting 7-16 in April, the Royals rebounded, going 15-14 in May and 17-9 in June.
“They’re similar to us. They were trying to find a rotation, find a way to get on track,” Banister said. “Their offense was not really in full gear [in April]. Guys in their lineup started to produce. They still have some guys in that bullpen who can record outs.”
That is the biggest question and seemingly the biggest obstacle for the Rangers. Can the bullpen, which has blown a league-high 17 saves, regroup and provide some stability?
“We’ve had some issues in Year 1 in the bullpen, and Year 2,” said Banister, who said he thinks the Rangers are already trending in a positive direction.
“It’s more of a trend upwards as opposed to there being a magical switch after the All-Star break,” he said. “Every year we were kind of trending that direction before the break anyways.”
The Rangers will miss the Royals’ best starting pitcher, left-hander Jason Vargas, who is 12-3 with a 2.62 ERA. Martin Perez, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish will face Jason Hammel, Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy.
“You saw in 2015, we had a worse record at the All-Star break and we still managed [to win the West],” Kela said. “This game of baseball emulates life so much with the failures and successes. I think we as a collective, as a team, take a lot of lessons from the trials and tribulations we go through and I believe we’ll be successful at the end of it.”
Rangers at Royals
7:15 p.m. Friday, FSSW