Rangers Jeff Banister talks escaping Houston with a win
One of my favorite Elvis legends is the one about him shooting out the TV.
Not just one television, as the story goes, but dozens. When something would come on that irked Presley, a noted firearms fancier, the King would raise a pistol to his 25-inch RCA Victor color set and fire.
In Elvis’ case, that something was often the sight of mustachioed Robert Goulet.
In your case lately, it’s probably been the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers have been an eyesore, admittedly, Thursday afternoon’s 10-4 victory over the Houston Astros notwithstanding.
Manager Jeff Banister’s club began the day with the second-lowest team batting average (.220) in the major leagues. The bullpen had the third-worst ERA (5.40). And, oh, by the way, Banister just lost his most dependable starter (Cole Hamels) for the next two months.
Where did it go wrong?
First of all, you won’t hear Banister or his players offering any autopsies, not in the first week of May. Baseball’s six-month marathon has barely begun, they will tell you.
They lost three of four in Houston to the hottest team in the American League. If you’re still worshipping at Nolan Ryan’s feet, you’re probably saying the rise of the Astros was inevitable. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
But wait. The Astros are suddenly the best team in baseball, just because they signed Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Norichika Aoki?
Nice moves, but the Rangers thought they had countered with signing Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli and having Jonathan Lucroy for a full season.
Hence, the first thing that has soiled the Rangers’ first five weeks: the utter failure of the lineup.
As late as April 28, center fielder Gomez was batting .205 and carrying a .290 on-base percentage, worst in baseball for a then-leadoff hitter.
First baseman Napoli began Thursday batting .158 and is playing every day while on a pace to finish the season with 60 RBIs. Catcher Lucroy is hitting .222 and has six — six! — RBIs.
We’re going to see what we’re made of. It’s time to be big boys.
Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli
Second baseman Rougned Odor, a .271 hitter with 33 homers a year ago, began the day with a .194 average while only occasionally swinging at actual strikes.
Before Thursday’s game, Napoli owned up to his and the lineup’s slow starts.
“We’re going to see what we’re made of,” Napoli told reporters. “It’s time to be big boys. It’s time to go. It’s time for people to step up and for us to start playing as a team.”
That means the lineup, from Napoli on down, needs to stop trying to hit a five-run homer every time at bat. Because the Rangers have scored a majority of their early-season runs via home runs, they appear to have embraced the home run swing as their only option.
Hence, all the strikeouts. Opposing pitchers don’t have to throw strikes. The Rangers are doing a fine job of getting themselves out.
That’s where team captain Adrian Beltre has to come in. The team is pressing. The clubhouse is quiet. Where’s the pingpong table? Where’s the daily Beltre/Elvis Andrus teasing?
Banister is not a teaser. I get that. He’s better in a foxhole than at a pep rally.
There was little reason, though, for Banister to expect some of his best relief pitchers — Sam Dyson, Tony Barnette and Jeremy Jeffress, notably — to have such wretched starts. The Keone Kela episode only thinned the bullpen further.
The Rangers aren’t losing this season because the AL West is suddenly better. They’re losing because they’ve been playing pitifully worse.
No hitting. Undependable relief pitching. Poor fielding.
There is no help coming from the farm. Beltre is likely still three weeks away from returning. Hamels won’t be back until July.
Napoli said it best. It’s time to be big boys.
The same team, more or less, won 95 games last season and won the division by nine games. The Rangers aren’t losing this season because the AL West is suddenly better. They’re losing because they’ve been playing pitifully worse.
If Elvis — Presley, not the shortstop — were around today, he’d know what to do.
But Banister and his team are going to have to figure it out.