Gil LeBreton

July 8, 2014

Rangers to AL West: Look out below!

After another loss to the Astros, Rangers need to watch their heads.

You can’t make this stuff up.

As the Texas Rangers prepared to play the Houston Astros on Tuesday, a batting practice line drive by Leonys Martin ricocheted off teammate Derek Holland’s glove and plunked All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish in the head.

“I’m fine,” Darvish reported later on Twitter, after team doctor Keith Meister had examined him.

And maybe he is. Maybe when Darvish is reevaluated Wednesday, he’ll be found to have nothing more than a mussed hairdo and he will take the mound in the evening for his scheduled start.

But that would be so un-2014-like for the accursed Rangers.

The rapidly sinking Rangers, losers of 17 of their last 20 games.

The tragically depleted Rangers, whose pitching rotation now includes three players who began the season in the minor leagues, one who missed all of 2013 after hip surgery, and Darvish, who took one Tuesday off the top of his head.

Make no mistake, manager Ron Washington’s club could use an occasional homer or a run-scoring hit every now and then. But the problem here, if you’ve been too busy watching soccer or Wimbledon, has mostly been the pitching.

It’s been sub-standard, as the young Astros have reminded them.

The Rangers began the night Tuesday ranked either last or next-to-last in nine different American League pitching categories. Opponents were batting .281 against the Rangers, 11 percentage points higher than the next-worse staff. And they have only 30 quality starts, fewest in the major leagues.

That number failed to improve Tuesday, as newcomer Phil Irwin was unable to complete the fifth inning.

Phil who? Doggone if I know.

The 8-3 defeat further weaves a cloud of inevitability on this year’s Rangers team. They are southbound and headed down. The cellar of the AL West is calling them.

They can’t even beat Houston any more. The Astros rocked Irwin and the mostly overtaxed Texas bullpen for three home runs.

Hold the chortles, though, if you still kneel at the Nolan Ryan altar. The great Nolan’s influence on the two clubs’ recent paths, if any, has been largely subliminal.

A curse on the Rangers for “running off” Nolan? If you really believe that, please ask your doctor to adjust your medication.

Who’s to say what will happen in the Rangers’ remaining 72 games? But it’s likely that it won’t be that much different from the first 90.

There were too many injuries to the starting rotation, beginning with Holland’s fluke fall on his stairs. There were too many rolls of the dice that just didn’t work out — Matt Harrison’s post-surgical back, the failed attempts to make Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers starters, and Alexi Ogando’s continued inability to show that he can be a consistent major leaguer.

Among the starting pitchers, only Darvish has pitched with anything resembling contender-quality consistency. Which is why his freak beaning Tuesday caused such an immediate stir.

The Astros have won five of their eight meetings with the Rangers this season, after going 4-15 against Texas a year ago. Does anyone doubt that it’s just a matter of days — maybe only hours — before Houston passes the Rangers in the standings?

No big deal. The Rangers long ago raised their bar well above the work-in-progress at Minute Maid Park.

You can’t make up some of the things that have befallen the Rangers this season. There’s a lesson here, though, about rolling the dice too many times.

Sometimes they come up snake eyes. Sometimes they come up Phil Irwin.

In the meantime, watch your heads.

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