The Texas Rangers will reach the halfway point of the season Saturday, when they face left-hander Derek Holland at Chicago. The best record they can hope for is 41-40.
The team that seems magnetized to .500 dropped 3 of 4 games this week to the Cleveland Indians, who have disappointed locals after coming within an out of a World Series title last year.
The Indians, though, have a chance to make some postseason noise. The Rangers? It’s not looking good, but, as much as all you fine people are probably tired of hearing, it’s still early.
That said, the next few weeks are the most critical of the season. A good showing will convince the front office to not sell off potential free agents like Yu Darvish, Carlos Gomez, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.
It’s doubtful that a club would take Mike Napoli, but that’s probably what the Boston Red Sox were thinking in 2015 before the Rangers knocked on their door.
And as much as some are clamoring for a full-on rebuild, that’s not going to happen.
And anyone who complains about the local team spending money to pay top talent is just being a troll. Who in the world wouldn’t want their team to have the kind of financial flexibility that allows for premium free-agent acquisitions?
No one, in their right mind. Scoff, do you? Go ask Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh fans for some perspective.
The Rangers will have a decent core for 2018 even if all of their potential free agents bail in the off-season. The pro-rebuild crowd would likely be the first to complain at the length an MLB rebuild takes and probably wouldn’t go to watch a loser play.
It’s disingenuous, really.
The notions of rebuilding and cutting payroll are the last acts of a desperate franchise. And, no matter how bumpy this season has been and no matter how much some might dislike the general manager, the Rangers have shown the past eight seasons that they shouldn’t be desperate.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from Thursday’s 5-1 loss.
1. Cashner was able to smile a little bit after what happened to him in the sixth inning. He was lucky, though he chuckled when told that.
He has been snake-bit on the injury front the past two seasons, not just this year in his first go-round with the Rangers. Cashner opened on the disabled list and found the DL again only two weeks ago.
It appeared he was staring at a sudden return to the DL after coming off it only hours earlier Thursday when a flying piece of Edwin Encarnacion’s broken bat struck him in the stomach and, mostly, the right forearm.
He went down like he was looking for cover, and was grimacing even after standing up. He faced one more batter, surrendering a double, and was removed both because he was at his pitch count and because manager Jeff Banister didn’t want to risk any further damage.
An initial exam produced the diagnosis of only a bruise, and x-rays confirmed that there was no fracture. Cahsner said he is fine and seemed intent on making his start next week.
That, of course, is a good thing as the Rangers try to save their season.
His return, along with Cole Hamels’ and Tyson Ross’ return this month and Martin Perez’s expected return next week, the leave the Rangers armed with their five best starters.
This is the group the Rangers expected to take them to playoff contention, and they are going to get that chance.
It’s up to them ...
2. ... More than it is on the strikeout-prone, homer-happy offense, which produced 54 strikeouts in the four-game series and scored only two of 15 runs without a long ball.
The Rangers tried to rationalize their lack of contact by crediting the quality of the Indians’ pitching. It’s hard to argue how good Cleveland’s pitch is, rotation to bullpen.
But at some point contact must be made, balls must be put in play. The Rangers had been doing that reasonably well until hitting the road.
This isn’t a campaign against home runs, though the Indians scored all of 26 of their runs in the series with as many home runs as you and I hit, but it is a campaign against the strikeout.
It’s easy to say that this is who the Rangers are. With Joey Gallo a centerpiece of the future, more-than-usual strikeouts are in store in upcoming seasons.
Others, though, shouldn’t be strikeout-prone. First on that list is Rougned Odor. He made more contact in the final two games of the series, so maybe he has finally struck on something.
Even if he’s not convinced, he should stick with what’s allowing him to put the ball in play. It’s past time for him to figure out how to get the bat to the ball, and once he does the home runs will follow.
The offense has enjoyed a good June. The woes of early April and early May are in the past. But there’s always room for improvement, which is why Robinson Chirinos and Jonathan Lucroy are likely to be in the same lineup together more often.
A third catcher would really make that possible, but ...
3. The bullpen is in such shambles that the Rangers have to max out on relievers just to hopefully fall into a group that can be reliable.
Nick Martinez and Austin Bibens-Dirkx might get a chance to show their worth as relievers once the rotation is put together. Again, that should happen by next week.
Martinez relieved Cashner and allowed both inherited runners to score, but he also recorded six outs without any further damage. For this bullpen, especially the middle relievers, that’s worthy of a trophy.
Bibens-Dirkx, who will start Friday against the White Sox, broke in as a reliever and showed enough in long relief to be of assistance to the club out of the bullpen.
The Rangers don’t have a true long man or a reliable middle reliever who can get a game from the fifth inning to the seventh with the lead or from the sixth onward to keep the Rangers within striking distance.
An effective Tony Barnette could do that. So could an effective Jeremy Jeffress. Heck, they could be entrusted with late-inning duty and drop Alex Claudio and Jose Leclerc in the middle innings, but only if they’re effective.
That has proven to be an awfully big if, and is a big no-go with them on the disabled list. Barnette (ring finger) could be activated as early as Saturday.
The bullpen is where the Rangers have their most work to do. With only two or three weeks left to save their season, there needs to be more urgency in finding the right mix of relievers.