Elvis Andrus took Derek Holland deep for his 11th homer
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and moved them back to one game under .500 at 40-41.
So what should you think of this team with 81 games remaining, including seven more before the All-Star Break?
Let’s compare it to their recent past.
At the half
Rangers record at 81 games:
What does this tell us? Not a whole lot, I guess, but aren’t charts fun? You’ll notice that the Rangers were just five games over .500 in ’11 before eventually returning to the World Series. In ‘15, they actually struggled for much of July and fell to six games under .500 before holding off the Astros for the American League West title with 88 wins. A year ago, they had the best record in the AL but what did that get them in the postseason?
“I think the [first-half] story is the ones that got away from us,” Banister lamented, before turning optimistic again. “We still have another half to play. We still need to find a way to shore up that bullpen. We know this is an offense that we trust is going to put runs on the board. We trust our defense. We’ve got some starting pitching that is as quality as anybody’s. We’re not in a great place, but we’re still in a position where we feel like we can make a run. As tough as it is to think about where we could be, we’ve got to get that out of our mind and move forward and put together a strong second half.”
If there’s any lesson to be learned from some of those previous midway point records, it’s that the entire complexion of the season can change with a strong finish. True, the Rangers aren’t catching the Astros in the West. That doesn’t matter. I think the Rangers would like their chances in a playoff series with Houston. So would I, by the way. But (full disclosure), I predicted they’d beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. Yeah, I’ll own that.
Before we get to the Rangers Reaction, let me go out on another dumb limb. The Rangers will continue to improve in July and into August. Their bullpen will continue to be an adventure, but Matt Bush will recover and return to the closer’s role. And they’ll make the playoffs.
Here’s the reaction:
1. Derek in Dutch — Former Ranger lefty Derek Holland (5-8) took the loss after allowing five runs on five hits, including a two-run homer by old buddy Elvis Andrus in the fifth that gave Texas the lead. The outing mirrored Holland’s season so far with the White Sox. He’s been very good, he’s been very bad and he’s been a lot of mediocre. Sort of sounds familiar.
“I know I’m gonna hear about that one,” Holland said of Andrus’ homer. “The only thing I can say is thank God that wind was behind it. I thought it was a routine fly ball and it’s one of those things. A home run is a home run whether he crushes it or he doesn’t. Give the man credit, he hit the ball. I made the pitch. Its just the way it goes.”
Even Andrus said he thought it was going to be caught on the track in left.
“I saw [Melky Cabrera] under it and I was blowing,” Andrus said with a laugh. “I was reallyglad it went out. I was just happy for the situation, getting ahead with the homer.”
2. All Hail, Claudio — Sure, he walked his first two batters with a 6-2 lead, two outs and nobody on after taking over for Cole Hamels in the seventh. And, yes, a two-run double pulled Chicago to within 6-4 with two innings to go. No problem, man. Alex Claudio has got this thing. In the first game where there was no set closer, according to Banister, Claudio closed out the final 2 1/3 innings, including a scoreless eighth and ninth. Claudio has made longer relief outings this year (going three inning and 3 2/3 innings) but not finishing the game. Banister made it clear after the game why he was committed to staying with Claudio.
“Right now, when you have a bullpen that has been challenged, sitting there with a guy who has probably been [our best reliever] all year, the most consistent. There’s a lot of trust there,” Banister said. “He didn’t back away from anyone. I was committed to running the table with Claudio.”
3. Cole as a cucumber — Cole Hamels, in his second start since returning from the disabled list, got off to a rocky start when Jose Abreu rocked him with a two-run homer in the first. But Hamels refocused on staying aggressive with pitches in and around the zone. After hitting Todd Frazier in the first, he retired the next 19 batters he faced. In fact, when he left after 96 pitches with two outs and nobody on in the seventh, he looked capable of finishing off the game. But Banister is more interested in keeping Hamels on his pitch program during his return.
“He felt good, but we’ve still got a lot of baseball to go and a number of starts for Cole,” he said. “We want to stay stubborn with the plan because we need him for the long run.”
4. Long ball and wifs — Rangers’ home runs and strikeouts have been an appropriate source of much excitement and consternation through the first half. So where do the Rangers sit with regard to both? The Rangers’ 122 homers are the fifth-most in the majors. The Astros lead the league with 128. The Rangers’ 757 strikeouts are the fourth-most in the majors. The Rays lead the league with 812. The Rangers struck out 279 times in June, the most in any month in franchise history, surpassing the record 261 set in May.
Through 81 games a year ago, the Rangers had 101 homers and 594 strikeouts.
5. Power Rangers — Elvis Andrus hit his career-high 11th homer Saturday. Remember, we still have seven games before the All-Star break. Robinson Chirinos, who worked out with Andrus every day during the 2015 off-season (the one that helped Andrus turn in a career-year in ’16, said the power is simply a function of Andrus’ focus on driving the ball hard, where ever it’s pitched. Andrus is also thicker in his upper body as he gets old (he’s now 28) and has improved his upper body strength over the past eight seasons. I’ll leave the deeper examination of his power surge for a later date. For now, take a look at his career homer totals with plate appearances.
Elvis power surge
Have I mentioned that I love charts?