RANGERS BASH SEATTLE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers took two of three games from the Seattle Mariners this weekend and have now won seven of their last nine games to crawl back into contention at least for a Wild Card playoff berth. It was their third straight series win and brought them to .500 for the year at 34-34.

The Rangers turned over 20% of their roster during the course of the series with Seattle. Tyson Ross was activated from the 60 day disabled list to be Friday’s starting pitcher. Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli were activated from the 10 day disabled list, and both started Friday’s game. Dario Alvarez was summoned from AAA, and he appeared in Friday’s game.

Friday’s game was the first all season where the Rangers reasonably had the roster that they envisioned before the season began at their disposal. It showed. Ross was fine, especially for his first Major League outing in more than 14 months. He allowed two runs on two hits, walking three and striking out five over 5-2/3rds innings.

The offense took charge of the game with five runs in the third. Adrian Beltre and Jonathan Lucroy each drove home two runs with singles. They added two more runs in the fourth inning to push the score to 7-1 en route to a 10-4 win. Robinson Chirinos and Carlos Gomez hit home runs.

Alvarez finished off Seattle when Ross departed in the sixth. Jose LeClerc was touched up for two runs in the seventh, but Alex Claudio shut out the Mariners over the eighth and ninth innings to wrap up the win.

On Saturday, Andrew Cashner was placed on the disabled list, replaced by Ernesto Frieri, who had been in the Ranger organization less than a week.

In Saturday’s game, the Rangers took charge early. After the first two Ranger batters of the game were retired, the team exploded for five straight hits, the last of which was a Mike Napoli home run. All five scored to hand the early lead to Martin Perez.

Seattle whittled away at the lead though scoring one in the third inning and three more in the fifth inning courtesy of a three run home run from Mike Zunino.

Not to worry The Rangers answered back with another five run inning, their third of the series. Rougned Odor led off with a solo shot, his 12th of the year, and Napoli followed with his second round tripper of the series. Shin-Soo Choo’s home run capped off the inning.

That made the score 10-4 after six innings, and three innings later, 10-4 was the final score for the second straight night.

The sweep however was not to be, no matter how favorable Sunday’s pitching matchup looked for the Rangers. Yu Darvish started for Texas, and he simply didn’t have it. He gave up four first inning runs, and one more over the five innings that he completed.

The Mariners banged around Dario Alvarez for two more runs in the seventh inning as they avoided the sweep with a 7-3 win.

At this point, the entire American League is in the hunt at least for a Wild Card spot. The Oakland A’s have the worst record in the American League despite sweeping the Yankees this weekend. They are just 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card slot.

Texas is one game out in the Wild Card race, and made up one game on Houston in the West Division this weekend, as the Astros lost two of three to Boston. The Rangers are still 11 games out of first place in the West.

Toronto comes to town next. The Jays are struggling as they scrambled for a win Sunday to avoid getting swept over the weekend by the White Sox. They are in town for four games beginning Monday night.

NOTABLE:

* Cole Hamels made his first minor league rehab start Friday night in Frisco. He allowed no runs on one hit over three innings, throwing 35 pitches. He then threw approximately 20 more pitches in the bullpen to finish off his night. His next rehab start is scheduled for Wednesday in Frisco’s 11:00 AM start.

* The Rangers lost Dillon Gee and Peter O’Brien this weekend. They were both designated for assignment. Gee was DFA’d on Friday to make room on the 40-man and 25-man rosters for Tyson Ross. He cleared waivers and rejected assignment to the minor leagues to become a free agent. O’Brien was DFA’d on Saturday to make room on the 30-man roster for Ernesto Frieri and was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar were optioned to AAA Round Rock.

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HOME FROM HOUSTON

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers surprisingly completed their first winning road trip by taking two of three games in Houston to go with a sweep of three games in Washington for a 5-1 trip. Texas was 3-6 in each of the first three road trips of the season. The result is doubly surprising as competition-wise, both the Nationals and Astros led their respective leagues in wins when the trip began.

It’s a season changer for Texas, at least for the moment. The Rangers are still under .500 at 32-33, and they still trail Houston by 12 games (11 in the loss column); but a poor showing on this road trip would have all but doomed the season.

Monday night was a must win. The Astros had won six of seven meetings in the previous two series between these two Texas teams; and for the Rangers, Monday starter Yu Darvish is their best shot at a win. A loss in Darvish’s start would open the door for an Astros’ sweep.

Darvish was masterful. He completed seven innings allowing a run on only one hit. Texas staked him to a 3-1 lead, but then blew the game open in the eighth inning with a three run Nomar Mazara home run.

Jeremy Jeffress took care of the Astros in the eighth and ninth innings to complete the 6-1 Ranger win.

On Tuesday, Nick Martinez was almost as good. He battled the Astros for six innings with the only scoreboard damage coming on a pair of solo home runs.

The Rangers pushed across a run in the fifth inning to cut the Stro’s 2-0 lead in half, and then tied it on Rougned Odor’s home run in the seventh. An inning later, Odor struck again with a two run shot to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead. That proved to be the game winner.

Jose LeClerc relieved Martinez and earned the win to even his record at 1-1. Matt Bush recorded the final four outs for his eighth save.

Houston looked shell shocked in the first two games. With their two top starters recently going on the disabled list, the Astros swagger was gone. However, on Wednesday, they showed up with a different attitude. They looked more energetic, and played a sharper, crisper game.

Houston scored single runs in the first and second innings to take the lead they would never surrender. The Rangers had a golden opportunity to take charge of the game in the fifth inning. They loaded the bases with no outs to start the frame, but disappointingly pushed across just one run, which came on a wild pitch.

After surviving the fifth inning, Houston did take charge. They scored two in their half of the fifth to answer the Rangers’ run, and then exploded for nine runs in the sixth.

Joey Gallo hit a mammoth home run estimated at 466 feet to finish the Ranger’s scoring. 13-2 was the final score.

For Texas, the biggest factor in the successful road trip was the starting pitching. The starters averaged more than six innings per game and had an ERA of 1.97 in the first five games.

The Rangers returned to Arlington after Wednesday’s game, are off Thursday, and then open a three game series this weekend with Seattle. They are starting to look healthy again. Tyson Ross has been announced as Friday’s starting pitcher. Carlos Gomez is likely to rejoin the team this weekend also. Mike Napoli began his minor league rehab assignment on Wednesday. Cole Hamels will likely begin his minor league rehab assignment this weekend.

There is still a long way to go for the Rangers to get back into the A. L. West race, and they need to play much better ball to be a factor in the Wild Card race. However, the 5-1 road trip against quality opponents and the promise of a healthier roster gives the team more than just hope that they can do both.

NOTABLE:

* The attendance for the series was a disappointing 90,534, an average of 30,178 per game. That total was boosted by a crowd of more than 37,000 for $1.00 hot dog night on Wednesday. Certainly, Houston can’t be happy with the schedule makers. All three of the Rangers – Astros series in Houston this year are during the week. A weekend series would attract fans from not only the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, but from many Texas communities with loyalties to one team or the other.

* Yu Darvish has thrown four games in his career, including Monday night’s, in which he has completed at least seven innings and allowed one hit. Surprisingly, all four such games are against the Astros in Houston.

* On Tuesday, the Rangers and Astros combined for four home runs out of 51 that were hit in Major League baseball that night. That’s the most hit in MLB on any day this season.

* In the quest for the Silver Boot trophy, Houston leads seven games to three with nine to play. Three of the remaining nine games are in Houston and six are in Arlington.

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BACK TO YESTER YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

It was back to the heady days of 2016 for Ranger fans this weekend. Texas swept the high flying Nationals in a three game series in Washington, DC. It was the first time in more than a year that the Washingtonians were swept at home. For Texas, the sweep completed a 4-1 week, and with Houston losing two of three to the Angels at home, the Rangers shaved two games off the Astros’ West Division lead.

Texas looked like last year’s team with timely hitting, daring base running, lock down bull pen work, and starting pitching that was good enough. The team got major contributions from unexpected sources.

For example, they won Sunday behind a strong starting pitching performance from Austin Bibens-Dirkx. The 32 year-old Bibens-Dirkx was signed to fill out the AAA starting rotation with little expectation of seeing the light of day in the Major Leagues this year. On Sunday, he completed seven strong innings allowing a run on three hits, two of which came on the first three pitches he threw in the game. At one point, Bibens-Dirkx retired 19 consecutive batters.

He’s 2-0, as he out-pitched the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. Scherzer gave up three runs to take the loss and fall to 7-4.

It was a 1-1 game going to the seventh inning when the Rangers erupted for four runs on only two hits. 5-1 was the final score.

Robinson Chirinos was considered a weak link in the Rangers’ lineup last year, and the Rangers gave a king’s ransom to upgrade the catching position when they traded for Jonathan Lucroy. On Saturday though, it was Chirinos that belted a three run home run in the 11th inning to provide the winning margin in a 6-3 win.

Friday’s winning pitcher was starter Andrew Cashner, as he pitched seven strong innings allowing a run on six hits. The outing lowered his ERA to 3.17 and improved his record to 3-5. Cashner was recovering from injuries when the season began, but has come on to solidly be the number two starter in the Cole Hamels-less rotation.

Jonathan Lucroy supported Cashner with a three run home run.

Matt Bush retired two of the three batters he faced in the ninth inning to close out Friday’s game and earn his seventh save. 6-1 was the final score.

The Rangers outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the series in part because they rampantly ran the bases. They stole seven in the series including a season high five in Saturday’s game. Delino DeShields went 4-12 in the series to up his average to .293 and stole three bases.

The Rangers return to the home state to finish the current road trip with three games in Houston starting Monday night. At 30-32, Texas is still under .500 for the season and is in fourth place in the division trailing the Astros by 13 games (12 in the loss column). Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish leads off the series Monday night, but Astros’ ace Dallas Keuchel won’t face the Rangers. He’s on the disabled list with no projected time table to return. It’s a crack in the armor that the Rangers need to take advantage of if they have any hope of getting back into the race for the A. L. West pennant.

Hopefully for Ranger fans, the good times of the 2016 season will continue for another series, if not considerably longer.

NOTABLE:

* Elvis Andrus had at least one hit in each game of the Washington series to bring his current hitting streak to 15 games. That’s the longest current streak in the Major Leagues and is one game short of Andrus’s career best.

* Adrian Beltre got back in the lineup for the final two games of the series starting at third base, after suffering an ankle sprain earlier in the week against the Mets. He was 0-4 Sunday to end his eight game hitting streak and is hitting .333 for the season. He also stole a base in Saturday’s game and has at least one stolen base in each of his 20 Major League seasons.

* Texas is now 10-2 in interleague play this season.

* Texas used 19 of 25 active players in Saturday’s game, the most since June 15, 2004, when they also used 19 of 25.

* On the injury front, Tyson Ross is expected to be activated and start next weekend either Saturday or Sunday at home against Seattle. Carlos Gomez began his minor league rehab assignment Saturday and could rejoin the team next weekend. Hanser Alberto has experienced pain in his throwing arm and has been recalled from his minor league rehab assignment.

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DECISIONS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – More than a third of the season is in the books. It’s been said that general managers use the first third of the season to assess what kind of team they have and the second third to do something about it. After the Rangers split two games with the Mets this week to close out the home stand with a 2-6 record, the dye is cast. They now sit in fourth place in the A. L. West, trailing Houston by 15 games. They are 4-12 since putting together a 10-game winning streak and have fallen five games under .500 at 27-32. There will be no third straight Division Championship, and the hope of a Wild Card playoff berth barely has a heart beat.

The record is even more disappointing when the schedule is considered. Of the first 59 games, only 16 have come against teams with winning records – Cleveland three, Houston seven, Minnesota three and Boston three.

The schedule gets tougher from here starting this weekend. The Rangers open a six game series Friday night against the teams with the two best records in baseball – Washington and Houston. Their second road trip of the month begins with two more series against over .500 teams – the New York Yankees for three games and Cleveland for four.

For sure the team is a disappointment at this point. The 2017 Rangers may not be as talented as the one that finished last season with the best American League record; but when the season began, it was a team that was reasonably expected to challenge for the A. L. West pennant. Injuries have played a part, but there have been disappointing performances.

Another big problen is that the Houston Astros are really good. They did an excellent job last off season of adding to their talented mix of young players. The bullpen is rock solid. Dallas Keuchel is back in the form that won the 2015 Cy Young Award, though he was placed on the disabled list this week with a neck problem, and there is no time table for his return. Houston’s offense is both explosive and consistent. Their lead in the West reached double digits before the end of May. They have the best record in baseball and are going to be hard to catch.

So far though, the Rangers simply haven’t played very good. The bullpen is a disaster. The starting rotation is in shreds. The defense is leaky. The offense is inconsistent and definitely strikes out too much.

The next six weeks will be telling. For sure, GM Jon Daniels does not want to pull the plug on this season too soon. He recently commented that his team could have a couple of good weeks, while Houston has a couple of bad weeks, and the Rangers could be right back in the chase. He can point to healing injuries for help. Adrian Beltre was activated last week, but appears headed back with an ankle sprain. Carlos Gomez, Tyson Ross, Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman are expected to return around the All-Star break if not sooner. Will that be soon enough?

The Rangers definitely want a playoff caliber team as they move toward a new stadium. The stadium proposal has the City of Arlington and the Rangers splitting the projected $1 billion cost. Arlington’s committment was secured in last November’s vote.

The Rangers though have not gone public with the expected source of their share of the construction cost. Almost certainly, a sizeable portion will be coming from John Q. Fan in some form – most likely seat license agreements for the better seat locations. The bill will be costly, and the money raising will go much easier if the team looks to be competitive for a World Series win in the next few years.

The likelihood though is that the Rangers in August will barely resemble the team that began the season. Sam Dyson was traded earlier this week. He surely will be the first of many that will be departing in the next seven weeks. Anyone with a contract that teminates at the end of this season is a candidate to be offered to a pennant contending team.

The list of expiring contracts includes pitchers Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross. Position players Carlos Gomez, Mike Napoli, and Jonathan Lucroy are veterans that might be attractive to pennant contending teams. There is even speculation that Adrian Beltre could be moving on at his request if he sees a major rebuilding process coming next year.

Yu Darvish will be the biggest decision. He has pitched well, and looks fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He is the only player that would bring a significant return from a contender in trade. He likely will have 10-12 starts remaining in the season as the trade deadline approaches and even more if Daniels makes the trade earlier in July. 10-12 Darvish starts (or more) could make a significant difference to a contender.

Darvish has said that he likes Texas and wants to stay. Apparently talks of a contract extension haven’t gotten very far. It’s generally thought that he will command a nine digit contract this off season. Teams were a bit more timid in their starting pitcher offers last winter, but the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant believes Darvish will command an average salary of around $30 million ($25 million for sure) for five years or more. That adds up to plus or minus $150 million.

Do the Rangers have the money to make such a committment? Will they if they do?

The Darvish question is intertwined with Shohei Otani, a Japanese phenom that is called the Japanese Babe Ruth. The Rangers are clearly interested, and are even thought to be the favorite to land him. Even GM Jon Daniels has travelled to Japan since the season began to watch him play. Otani pitches at a level similar to Darvish, and he hits with power. He generally starts on the mound once a week and is an outfielder/designated hitter for up to five additional games each week. He also wants to continue pitching and hitting if he comes to America, so he is generally thought to be more suited for an American League team with the DH rule.

And he idolizes Darvish. He wears uniform number 11, and the two work out together in the off season.

The posting rules have changed since the Rangers landed Darvish after the 2011 season. Now the maximum posting fee is $20 million, and the player can negotiate with all of the teams that make the max bid, not just the high bidder.

Otani is not yet 25, so there are limits as to the amount of money he’ll command. He’ll certainly be cheaper than the $110 million in posting fee and salary that the Rangers ponied up for Darvish. Actually, the money may not be much of consideration for Otani. He’ll make tons from endorsements in his native country if he becomes a Major League star as expected.

So on one hand, retaining Darvish may increase the likelihood that Otani signs with Texas. On the other hand, letting Darvish go will free up payroll room for Otani and a lot more.

If the Rangers don’t resign Darvish and don’t trade him, they’ll be in line for draft choice compensation. That’s a lot less incentive than it once was with the new collective bargaining agreement. It’s also a significantly less return than the Rangers will be able to receive in a trade.

Right now, clubs are focused on next week’s amateur draft. That will be followed by a flurry of signings as teams get their short season minor league affiliates going. Towards the end of the month, teams will begin to focus on trades. The Rangers are expected to be very active in the July swap market. They have a lot of decisions to make. The surprise is that they likely are going to be sellers instead of buyers.

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ANOTHER VERSE OF THE SAME SONG

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – Week nine was another disaster for the Rangers. Houston swept a three game series this weekend on the heels of Tampa Bay taking two of three, such that the Rangers finished 1-5 for the second consecutive week. Texas is now 3-11 since winning 10 straight games, and their record for the season is 26-31.

The Rangers’ offense again sputtered as they scored just eight runs in the series. Ranger batters continued their blistering pace of striking out, as they struck out at least 10 times in each game, including an obscene 18 in game two. They totalled 41 strikeouts in the series.

Of particular concern for Texas is Rougned Odor. He went 2-13 against the Astros to see his average drop to .204. Included were seven strikeouts. He continues to flail away at bad pitches. Opponents know and rarely throw anything in the strike zone. He did hit his eighth home run for one of the Rangers’ runs in Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss giving some hope of coming out of his prolonged slump.

It was a satisfying week for the Astros. Not only did they go 6-0 to run their current winning streak to 10 games, just two shy of the Astros’ franchise record; but they also ran their road winning streak to 10 games, which ties the franchise record for road wins. The current 10 game winning streak ties Texas for the longest winning streak in the Majors this year.

The Rangers have dominated the games between these two teams over the past two seasons, with Texas winning 28 of 38 meetings. The Spacemen have now won six of seven against Texas this year to surely exorcise the Ranger demons from their landscape. They also need just four more wins to return the Silver Boot trophy to Houston.

The bottom line for the Rangers though is that they have fallen to fourth place in the A. L. West and are now 15 games out of first place. A comeback to win the division from this point will take not only a strong performance from the Rangers, which they are showing no signs of doing, but a lot of help from Houston. It would be one of the all time greatest comebacks in baseball history if it were to happen.

Texas is four games out of the second Wild Card playoff berth, but they have seven teams to pass. It’s a possibility, but the Rangers need to start playing better soon.

This week, the Rangers play just five games. They are off Monday followed by a two game set with the New York Mets, which will complete the current home stand. Those games will be the Rangers’ eighth and ninth inter-league games of the season.

After another off day on Thursday, the Rangers take to the road for three games in Washington. It will be their second trip to D. C. since the Nationals’ new stadium was completed in 2009. This will be the second inter-league series this year in a National League park where the designated hitter is not utilized, giving Ranger pitchers the opportunity to bat.

The road trip is six games, with the final three being in Houston. The Rangers are 9-18 on the road so far this season.

NOTABLE:

* Elvis Andrus used this week’s off day to get married. His new wife, the former Cori Febles, is expecting the couple’s first child next month. The Andrus’s were married this week in a civil ceremony, but plan to have a larger ceremony in November in the Dominican Republic.

* Houston is 41-16 after sweeping the Rangers this weekend. They are the first Major League team to reach 40 wins this year, and have five more wins than Washington, which leads the National League. In fact, there are only two other American League teams (New York and Boston) with as many as 30 wins this season.

* The Astros last swept the Rangers in a series in 2014.

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HERE COMES THE ASTROS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers got off to a bad start this week as they lost two of three to Tampa Bay. It was particularly disappointing as all three games were very winnable, especially game three on Wednesday night, when Texas needed just one out to wrap up the game and a series win. Instead, Kevin Kiermaier tagged Matt Bush for a home run to tie the game, and Sam Dyson gave up two more round trippers in the tenth as the Rays rallied for a 7-5 win.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Astros stayed blistering hot scoring 40 runs in three games for a sweep of the Twins. That’s the most the Astros have ever scored in a series in franchise history which dates back to 1962. The end result is that the Rangers fell to third place in the West, 12 games behind division leading Houston.

Texas scored 22 runs in the series with Tampa Bay, but won just once – Tuesday by the score of 9-5. That game was of the come from behind variety as the Rangers trailed 5-2 going to the bottom of the seventh, but rallied for three runs to tie the game on Elvis Andrus’s seventh home run with two runners on base and added four more in the eighth inning for the win. Andrus drove in two of the eighth inning runs for a new career high of five RBIs in a game.

Monday night’s game was almost as disappointing as Wednesday’s. Martin Perez made perhaps his worst home start of the season. He was given leads of 3-1, 4-1, 4-3, 5-3 and 7-5., but couldn’t shut down Tampa Bay. The Rays unloaded on Jeremy Jeffress, Alex Claudio and Tony Barnette for five seventh inning runs to take the game 10-8.

There has been criticism of manager Jeff Banister’s bullpen usage, but quite frankly, he’s only playing the hand he has been dealt. The Rangers’ bullpen simply isn’t very good. It’s a difficult problem to fix in early June. The Rangers’ minor league cupboard is bare, and trades are difficult to make at this point in the season.

Texas did designate Sam Dyson for assignment. Dyson began the season as the Rangers’ closer. He saved 38 games last year in 42 opportunities. This year though, he’s been miserable. He has a 1-6 record, with a 10.80 ERA. He’s given up almost as many home runs (six) as the number of batters he has struck out (seven).

There is interest from other teams such that Dyson will likely get traded. He certainly was a key contributor last season, and he has a good arm that delivers fastballs north of 95. Hopefully for him, a better pitching coach can get him straightened out. Jose LeClerc will be activated for Friday’s game to take Dyson’s roster spot.

Wednesday’s game marked the one-third point of the season. That’s enough of a sample to look at the Rangers and say what they are. Right now, they are a team struggling to get to .500. At the end of the season, they may well be the same, though if the season continues for the next six weeks in similar fashion, a number of faces could be gone in trades for prospects.

Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli, Carlos Gomez, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Yu Darvish are all on contracts that expire at the end of the season. All of them, especially Darvish, could attract interest from pennant contending teams looking for veteran help. The Rangers’ farm system could use the boost that prospects traded for these veterans would bring.

The Astros are in town this weekend for three of the final 15 meetings between the Texas franchises. With school out and a hot Houston team, the crowds should be large. If the Rangers are to get back into the A. L. West race, they need to dominate in these games with Houston. 8-7 won’t do. Texas needs to win at least 10.

The bottom line is the time is now. It’s no longer a long season for the Rangers. If they are going to be a contender, they need to start this weekend.

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BEST AND WORST OF TIMES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Week eight was the worst of times for the Rangers as they won Sunday to avoid getting swept in a second straight straight series. Texas finished the week 1-5, the worst week of the season, as they lost three to Boston and two of three to Toronto. It was disappointing as it came on the heels of the two best weeks of the season 6-1 and 5-1 that encompassed a 10-game winning streak, the best in the Majors this season.

This week continued the road woes of the Rangers. Sunday’s game completed the team’s third road trip of the season. On each one, Texas has won three games and lost six for a road record of 9-18 for the season.

Certainly the problems of the first five weeks of the season – too many walks by the pitchers, too many strikeouts by the hitters, porous defense and a bad bullpen seemed to have been corrected over the past two weeks. The starting pitching remained good, surprisingly so with the injuries to the pitching staff, most notably the loss of Cole Hamels until July. The bullpen was solid during the winning streak, hits came with men in scoring position by hitters that cut down on their strikeouts, and the Rangers committed just one error.

All those trends reversed this week. The hitting wasn’t timely. The defense was terrible. The bullpen looks anything but fixed. The starting rotation stumbled. Texas began the week ranked third in the Majors in staff ERA. They had dropped all the way to 11th going into play Sunday.

Perhaps worse, the Astros have continued to play well. Texas has a 12-7 record over the past three weeks, but they remain under .500 at 25-26. However, Houston has gone 14-5 over the same time frame to extend their lead over Texas from eight to 10 games. Houston leads the Majors with 35 wins. No other American League team has reached 30, while just three National League teams have win totals in the 30′s.

The Rangers want to point to the 2015 season when Houston led the division for more than 130 days during the season and held a big lead early, which the Rangers overcame to take the division championship. However, those comebacks aren’t common place. The largest deficit the Rangers faced that season was 9.5 games, and that happened earlier than May 29. This year is a bigger challenge at this point.

The bottom line is that with almost a third of the season in the books, the Rangers are in trouble as far as winning the A. L. West for the third straight year. Texas got a lot of help from the Astros two years ago. Houston was four games under .500 for the final three months to open the door for the Rangers to win the championship. The Astros likely will not be so generous this season.

This year’s Astros team is clearly more talented. The solid base of young players headed up by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and George Springer are two years more experienced for a pennant race; and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow has added veterans Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran. Houston also has a loaded farm system, giving Luhnow the ammunition to make in-season trades to shore up holes. If the starting pitching holds up, Houston is going to be hard to catch.

That’s not to say that the Rangers playoff hopes are nil. Quite the contrary. Injuries have been a major factor. Adrian Beltre looks set to join the team Monday when they return home to open an eight game home stand against Tampa Bay (three games), Houston (three games) and the New York Mets (two games). Tyson Ross has looked good so far in minor league rehab action and likely will be activated this week. Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman are expected around or shortly after the All-Star break. That’s four heavy weight additions.

However, the team has been wildly inconsistent. The sub-.500 record has been amassed despite a favorable schedule. The Rangers have played just 13 of their 51 games against teams with winning records, and have a 2-11 record in those games. It’s going to get tougher.

The Wild Card really just gives two teams a chance to play into the real playoffs. However, once a Wild Card team gets into the final eight, anything can happen. Certainly, the Giants and Royals, just to mention two are recent World Series winners that played Wild Card play-in games, proved the value of being a Wild Card team.

For the Rangers though, they simply have to play better. There is little help in the minor leagues. The Rangers no longer have a stockpile of minor league talent to use in trades for Major League veterans. The Major League roster needs to get healthy and get more consistent if they hope to be in a playoff race of any kind.

INJURY AND ROSTER UPDATE: Justin Bibens-Dirkx, a 32 year old 12 year minor league veteran has joined the team. He was starting at AAA Round Rock, so is stretched out to pitch multiple innings. Twice he has pitched more than four solid innings to save the bullpen in a lost cause.

Joey Gallo will get displaced from the starting third base job once Beltre gets activated, but he won’t be heading to the minors. He hit his 15th home run of the year Sunday, which leads the team and is only one behind Major League leaders Mike Trout and Aaron Justice. He also has 32 RBIs, which ties Nomar Mazara for the team lead. That’s a remarkable RBI total even with the home runs, as Gallo’s usually bats in the bottom third of the order.

He will likely move to the outfield and see some action at first base, but his potent bat will stay in the lineup.

A. J. Griffin went on the disabled list this week with a left intercostal strain. Texas plans for him to take an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury, but it’s safe to say that he’ll be on the D. L. for more than the 10 day minimum. Dillon Gee has been called up. He and Bibbens-Dirkx are the most likely to take Wednesday’s start against Tampa Bay, which would have been Griffin’s next outing. There is some chance the Rangers will forgo Tyson Ross’s next minor league start and activate him for Wednesday’s game.

Lefty reliever Dario Alvarez was also placed on the disabled list. Outfielder Drew Robinson was recalled from AAA Round Rock to take his place on the active roster.

Center Fielder Carlos Gomez is also on the disabled list. Gomez was hitting a disappointing .246, but he is a very good defensive center fielder, and the Rangers’ defense suffers with him gone.

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THE BEST WEEK

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas- Week six of the season proved to be the best week of the season so far; and when the regular season ends, that’s likely to still be true. The Rangers put together a six game winning streak to finish the week at 6-1. The streak moved them to within one game of .500 at 19-20, and swooshed them past Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles for second place in the division. They trail first place Houston by eight games after Houston beat Miami Monday night.

The week began with a split of two games in San Diego. They were the Rangers’ first inter-league games this season, and the offensive performance was emblematic of the inconsistent offense this season. They scored a run on just two hits in the first game, and then exploded for 11 runs in game two.

Nick Martinez started game one and was knocked around for four runs in six innings. He gave up eight hits, two of which were home runs. Alex Claudio surrendered another home run to complete the Padres’ scoring. Shin-Soo Choo homered for the Rangers’ lone run. Carlos Gomez singled for the other Ranger hit. 5-1 was the final score.

On Tuesday, the offense put five spot on the board in the first inning. Nomar Mazara doubled home a pair of runs, and Ryan Rua capped off the inning with a three run home run.

A. J. Griffin took the mound staked to the early lead and said later that the runs took the pressure off. He threw a complete game shutout on 104 pitches. It was his second career shutout, and it gave the beleaguered Ranger bullpen a much needed day off. Griffin is 4-0 with the win.

The Rangers added six more runs for the 11-0 final. Joey Gallo and Robinson Chirinos drove in four of those six additional scores with two run home runs.

With the games in the National League park, Ranger pitchers batted for the first time this season and went 0-4 with four strikeouts and two walks.

The venue shifted to Arlington on Wednesday and Thursday, and began with a nicely played Ranger win. The weather was delightful. Yu Darvish pitched six innings giving up three runs, two of which scored on solo home runs.

The Rangers’ offense rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning and did so without hitting a home run. Texas scored the go ahead run in the seventh without getting a hit, and the bullpen shut down the Pads for three scoreless innings.

4-3 was the final score with Jeremy Jeffress getting the win and Matt Bush earning his second and the Rangers’ fourth save of the season.

Game two of the Arlington portion of the series looked early like a reversion to the Rangers’ losing ways. Martin Perez pitched well going into the eighth inning. He allowed just one run over the first seven innings, but left with one out in the eighth inning and the bases loaded. One of those base runners scored.

San Diego took a 2-0 lead to the bottom of the eighth as the Rangers had managed just three hits on the night. However, Mike Napoli cut the lead in half with a solo home run, setting the stage for a ninth inning remindful of last year’s come back wins.

Sam Dyson held the Padres at bay in the ninth inning leaving the Rangers a run behind at 2-1. Texas quickly tied the game with three one-out singles, and Napoli came to bat again with two runners on base. He didn’t disappoint. He hit a mammoth home run into the left field seats above the Jack Daniels Club for the 5-2 walk-off win.

It completed a two game sweep of San Diego, the Rangers’ second series sweep of the season.

The script for Friday’s game was almost identical to Thursday’s. Texas again trailed 2-1 going to the ninth inning. Both Padre runs came on solo home runs. This time it was Joey Gallo that hit the three run home run to break a 2-2 tie. His blast was down the right field line, unquestionably out of the field of play. The only question was fair or foul. The ball made it an easy call as it hit the foul pole and deflected into the right field seats. 5-2 was the final score for the second consecutive night.

On Saturday, the Rangers fashioned another come from behind win. Trailing 4-2 in the seventh inning, they put together a four run rally to take a 6-4 lead and held on for the 6-5 win. Nomar Mazara hit a two run double to break the 4-4 tie, RBIs that proved to be the game winner.

The Rangers again came back to win on Sunday. They trailed 4-2 when they came up to bat in the seventh inning. They put three runs on the board to take a 5-4 lead. Three straight two out hits drove in the runs.

Texas added an insurance run in the eighth inning for the 6-4 final score. Dario Alvarez (2-0) got the win in relief. Matt Bush continues to impress in the closer role wrapping up his fourth save in the ninth.

This week, the Rangers finish the nine game home stand with three games against Philadelphia beginning Tuesday. Next weekend, the Rangers begin another three city road trip in Detroit.

NOTABLE:

* On the injury front , Carlos Gonzalez left Sunday’s game with tightness in his hamstring. He was placed on the disabled list on Monday and is expected to be out four to six weeks. His offense has been questionable, but he has been very good defensively in center field. His loss will hurt. Most likely, Delino DeShields will shift to center field, leaving the left field playing time to Ryan Rua and a AAA call-up, which is most likely to be Jarod Hoying or Jurickson Profar.

* After Saturday’s game, the Rangers had the best starting pitching ERA in baseball at 3.36. One of the reasons is that the starters have been walking fewer batters. Texas had a streak of six games with two or fewer batters walked come to an end Sunday, when A. J. Griffin walked three. However, the streak enabled the Rangers to hand the lead in most walks allowed over to the Baltimore Orioles./em>

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BACK TO THE BASEMENT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers are back in last place after dropping two of three to Seattle this weekend, and finishing the week with two wins and five losses. They are a season high six games under .500 at 13-19 and trail the first place Houston Astros by eight games. Texas is two games behind in the loss column to third place Seattle and fourth place Oakland. The Rangers are now 3-6-0 in series and have had losing weeks in four of the first five weeks of the season.

Texas arrived in Seattle with a short bullpen after last Tueday’s game in Houston turned into a bullpen game when Cole Hamels was injured warming up for the start. The problem only got worse Friday. Yu Darvish was very good giving the Rangers seven strong innings. However, the offense didn’t provide much support. A dropped fly ball in the first inning allowed a run to score, and that was all the Rangers could muster through nine innings. Darvish gave up a home run to Robinson Cano, and that run was all the scoring the Mariners could muster through nine innings.

The game ended up lasting 13 innings. The damage to the Rangers’ beleaguered bullpen could have been worse, but Tony Barnette amazingly threw three shutout relief innings. It was surprising in that he had not pitched well this season. His ERA was still an ugly 5.56 after the three shutout innings were included.

Matt Bush followed Barnette in the 12th. Manager Jeff Banister was undoubtedly hoping to get two innings out of Bush, but he threw 25 pitches in the 12th inning, and wasn’t available for the 13th. Rougned Odor finally broke the tie with a two run home run in the 13th inning. Alex Claudio, who had started Tuesday’s game in Hamels’ stead and thrown four innings, was summoned for the save. He gave up a hit, but the runner was erased on a double play as he earned his first Major League save.

On Saturday, Martin Perez made his best start of the season. He pitched six innings of one run ball on 94 pitches. With the short bullpen, Banister decided to send Perez back out for the seventh inning. The strategy failed. Perez pitched to two batters, and both reached base (a single and a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt). That ended Perez’s night. Keone Kela replaced Perez, but was unable to record an out. When the smoke cleared in the seventh inning, the Mariners had exploded for seven runs and an 8-1 lead.

The Ranger run had scored on Joey Gallo’s 10th home run. Mike Napoli later added his fifth home run to make the final score 8-2.

On Sunday, the Rangers took a 3-0 lead to the bottom of the seventh inning behind Andrew Cashner’s strong performance, but the seventh inning was a problem once again. Three pitchers saw action, and the Mariners cashed in three walks and a single for three runs to tie the game.

An eighth inning run gave Seattle the lead. It came on a home run with none other than Sam Dyson pitching. He has now given up four home runs and allowed 15 earned runs for an ERA of 12.66.

Edwin Diaz made quick work of the Rangers in the ninth inning to save the game for Seattle.

With about 20% of the season in the books, it’s beginning to look like the Rangers aren’t going to contend for a playoff spot. It’s still early, but this team obviously has holes in lots of areas. The batters strike out too much, and the pitchers walk too many for starters. The bullpen is a disaster.

The question has already been raised as to whether the Rangers should take the opportunity in July to trade veterans in the final year of their contracts to contenders for prospects. Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy head the list. You can bet the Ranger front office will put this off to the last minute. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

This week opens with four games against the Padres. The first two on Monday and Tuesday are in San Diego, while the Wednesday and Thursday tilts are in Arlington.

NOTABLE:

* 10 Ranger batters struck out in Saturday’s game, the seventh consecutive game in which at least 10 Rangers struck out. That’s an American League record. The Rangers finally ended the streak on Sunday, when only nine batters struck out.

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TROUBLE IN THE BAYOU CITY

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers limped out of Houston Thursday in last place in the West at 12-17 after narrowly avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. Texas rallied late for a 10-4 win Thursday afternoon, after losing the first three games of the series. Worse, they lost top starting pitcher Cole Hamels for two months with an oblique injury.

The series started Monday with Andrew Cashner giving the team a fine performance. He pitched six strong innings, and the offense posted a pair of runs that scored on an Elvis Andrus double and Mike Napoli’s fourth home run. Cashner came out to start the seventh inning with his team in front 2-1, but lasted just two batters as he walked the leadoff batter and gave up an infield single. They both scored as did three more Astros when Tony Barnette relieved and gave up three more hits while retiring just one batter. When the smoke cleared, the Astros had tallied five runs to take a 6-2 lead.

Texas went quietly in the eighth – three up and three down with a pair of strikeouts. In the ninth, two batters reached base on an Astro fielding error and a walk, but a pop up and a double play ground ball quickly ended the game withthe 6-2 final score.

Tuesday, the big trouble came. Hamels warmed up for the start, but literally minutes before the game was to begin he felt a pain in his right side and was unable to go. Alex Claudio became the starting pitcher in what was a bullpen game. Claudio was brilliant for three innings, and the offense supported him with four home runs over the first four innings for a 5-0 lead. He gave up a soft single and a home run to start the fourth, but rallied to retire the final three batters and keep the Rangers’ lead at 5-2.

Claudio’s outing ended one batter into the fifth, after he gave up a home run to Marwin Gonzalez that cut the Ranger lead to 5-3. Under the cixrcumstances, it was an outstanding performance by Claudio in an emergency situation. Four relievers nursed the 5-3 lead into the eighth inning. That’s when the Rangers’ night fell apart. Keone Kela was the Rangers’ fifth pitcher of the game, and he was one out away from getting out of trouble. The Astros loaded the bases with two outs, and Marwin Gonzalez came to the plate again. He broke the game open with his second home run of the night, a grand slam that put the Astros in front 7-5.

Jeremy Jeffress relieved, but the third out of the inning proved elusive. He gave up singles to the first three Astros he faced to produce another run for the Spacemen. It proved to be an important run, as Nomar Mazara hit a two run home run in the ninth to bring the Rangers to within a run at 8-7 with no outs. The tying run reached base, but was stranded on third when Carlos Gomez struck out to end the game.

Wednesday’s game got out of hand quickly. Nick Martinez gave up four second inning runs, two of which came on gopher balls off the bats of Carlos Correa and Brian McCann. The Rangers answered with a run in the fifth inning, but the Astros put the game away in the sixth with another four spot. Marwin Gonzalez homered in his third straight game to account for two of the runs. Houston capped off the 10-1 win with two more runs in the eighth inning.

That set the stage for Thursday’s Ranger win to avoid the sweep. The Rangers scored early and often to take charge of this one. They put four on the board in the first, one more in each of the second and fifth innings, and four more in the eighth and ninth. They almost needed them all, as four releivers walked nine batters over the final four innings to provide the Astros scoring opportunities. The Rangers however escaped with a 10-4 win.

This series is about as important as a series can be in May. The Astros were picked by many to win the division and took charge in April. However, they needed to exorcise the demons of the Rangers, who had dominated them over the past two years. The Astros led the West for more than 100 days in 2015, but felt like the division championship was hijacked with a late Texas run. The Rangers went 13-6 against the Astros in 2015, when 11-8 would have given the West Division championship to Houston.

2016 was even worse from Houston’s standpoint. Texas won 15 of 19.

The Rangers came into this series struggling as they had three losing weeks among the first four and had not been .500 since losing on opening day. They started the series five games behind Houston with the chance to exert their usual dominance and be solidly in the race..

Obviously, the Astros triumphed and now lead Texas by eight games. Instead of righting the ship, the Rangers showed the same problems that have kept them from winning all season. The offense is inconsistent and too reliant on home runs. More than 50% of their runs are being driven in with home runs. They’ve scored 134 runs which ranks fourth in the American League and ninth in the Majors, but they come in bunches one day and hardly at all the next.–

Last week’s 2-4 record at home is a perfect example. They scored 28 runs in six games, almost five runs per game. That’s a good number. However, 20 of the runs came in the two wins, leaving just eight runs for the four losses. That’s two runs per game, and teams don’t win often with just two runs.

Another big problem is strikeouts. The Rangers struck out at least 10 times in each of their last five games including a season high 16 Tuesday night. Joey Gallo leads the team with 42. Napoli isn’t far behind at 37. Gomez is also in the 30′s at 31, while Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara are in the 20′s.

On the pitching side, the starters ERA ranks in the top five in the league, but that’s not to say the starting rotation is not a concern. Hamels injury is a major blow. Tyson Ross has had a set back in his rehabilitation and likely won’t be available until late May or June. It’s also noteworthy that the gaudy starting pitcher ERA stats have come against lesser competition. The Rangers have played just seven of 29 games against teams with a winning record – three against Cleveland and four against Houston – and they have a 1-6 record in those games.

The bullpen is still unsettled. Kela is back, and Sam Dyson has rejoined the team after a 10-day DL tint that included a tune-up at AAA. However, the effect of Tuesday’s bullpen game is still being felt. At least three relievers are not available Friday night in Seattle after the workload they put in against Houston.

And in general, the staff is simply walking too many batters. Walks build pitch counts and provide scoring opportunities for opponents.

To top it off, the defense is struggling. Texas has committed 25 errors in 29 games. Only Boston has committed more. That has led to 12 unearned runs, almost one-half run per game.

So the Rangers are in Seattle this weekend and finish this nine game, three city road trip with a pair of games in San Diego on Monday and Tuesday. It’s a team with a lot of troubles right now. On paper, if they get players back from injuries – players that they counted on when they put together this team over the winter – players like Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Tyson Ross and Jake Diekman; this team should be good. The worry though is that with Houston looking like the real deal atop the division, the Rangers could be digging too big of a hole to come back from.

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