DISAPPOINTING START

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers beat the Oakland Athletics Sunday 8-1 to win their second game and first series of the season. The win capped what was definitely a disappointing start. The Rangers won their first series of the season over the A’s two games to one, but posted a disappointing 2-4 record for the week after getting swept by Cleveland in a three game set to start the year.

The series with the Tribe was extremely disappointing, as all three games were winnable. The Rangers coughed up late inning leads in two of the games and lost the third by one run. One takeaway from the series though is that Cleveland is good. The Indians lost last year’s World Series, four games to three, and there is a reason they were the second best team in baseball. They can play baseball, and they may be even better this year.

Certainly a week is too small of a sample to draw hard and fast conclusions. However, the pitching is always a major concern with the Rangers and the pitchers simply threw too many balls. Ranger pitchers walked 24 batters in the six games. The team ERA is 5.00, which comes in at number 24 among all Major League teams. The rotation aces are Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and the team went 0-3 in the games they started. There were three quality starts among the six, but only one ended up in the win column.

The largest concern though is the bullpen, or more to the point, closer Sam Dyson. He twice entered games in the ninth inning, once with the game tied and once with the Rangers holding a two run lead. Both times, he couldn’t finish the inning. He retired two batters in his first outing, and just one the second time, while getting torched for eight earned runs. His performance is mystifying. He was absolutely dominant in the World Baseball Classic this spring. Those were meaningful games in which he faced quality hitters.

How the magic vanished when the season began is inexplicable. But the fact of the matter is that his sinker isn’t sinking, and batters are hitting pitches up in the strike zone hard. There is a question as to how to handle Dyson going forward. He saved 38 games last year, so it is illogical to relieve him of the closer role so quickly. On the other hand, nothing demoralizes a team as much as seeing wins evaporate in the late innings through a bullpen failure.

Ranger manager Jeff Banister did bring him in for the ninth inning Sunday. It was a low pressure situation with the Rangers holding an 8-1 lead. He gave up a hit, but retired the side with a strikeout, reducing his ERA to a still obscene 36.00. Hopefully, it’s step one to a recovery to being the Sam Dyson Ranger fans knew in 2016.

On the offensive side, there was good news and bad news. The bad news is that the team scored very few runs that weren’t driven in by a home run. The good news is that the Rangers hit a lot of home runs – 11 to be exact to tie the Astros for the Major League lead. The surprising note about the home runs is the source – they have largely come from young players. Rougned Odor has hit three, while Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo have hit two. Gallo and Odor are 23, while Mazara is just 21; yet this trio has accounted for seven of the team’s 11 home runs, and they drove in 22 of the 33 runs the team scored last week.

Gallo of course is playing because Adrian Beltre is on the disabled list. Beltre was eligible to be activated Sunday, but the Rangers chose not to do so. Failing to activate him on Sunday really bought two more rehab days, as Monday is an off day. The likelihood is though that he will be activated soon – probably during this week’s series against the Angels in Anaheim.

Gallo is making a decision interesting. Banister said before the season began that he was impressed with Gallo’s approach at the plate. His swing is for sure shorter and more compact. He also has helped in other ways. Last Wednesday against Cleveland, he hustled hard from first base on what looked like a routine ground ball force out at second base to end the inning. His hustle though beat the shortstop to the base, and when the shortstop then threw errantly to first base, two runs scored on the play. It’s entirely possible that Gallo stays when Belte returns.

Defensively, the team has been disappointing. Two poorly played balls turned Saturday’s tight game with Oakland into a runaway. The A’s broke a 1-1 tie with Mike Napoli threw to second for a force out and the ball skipped past Elvis Andrus into left center field. Later, the A’s sealed the game when a very catchable fly ball to right field didn’t get caught to end an inning. It was not scored an error, and it led to three more Oakland runs when a home run ensued. Banister mentioned in his post game presser that it should have been caught. He added about the defense, “We need to get better.”

As for the race in the West, the Angels lead the division at 5-2. Los Angeles did not garner much pre-season attention to be a contender, but they have quietly put together a solid ball club. There are no ace quality pitchers, but manager Mike Scioscia has a solid starting rotation that can give his team a chance to win almost every night. An offense anchored by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols can’t be too shabby. The Angels may or may not be in contention when Labor Day rolls around, but they are going to cause a lot of trouble.

Houston is the popular pick to win the division, and they did nothing this week to dispell the notion. Dallas Keuchel returning to his 2015 Cy Young performance is a must for the Astros; and so far, he has been devastating. He went seven innings in each of his two starts last week, giving up one unearned run total for an ERA of 0.64. Offense has been a problem for the Spacemen, but with the veterans they added to their core of young players, the runs should come. They are still the favorite. They finished the week at 4-3 a game behind the Angels.

Oakland looks better this year. Kendall Graveman held the Rangers to one hit over seven innings Saturday to win his second game this year. The Athletics will win more games, and have a chance to crawl out of the basement. Not a good chance, but a chance. They finished the week in third place at 3-4, followed by Texas and Seattle, which went 1-6.

If the A’s do get out of the basement, Seattle is the team that they’ll likely pass. The Mariners’ pitching gets overrated because of their pitcher friendly ballpark. They slipped into second place behind the Rangers last season, but that was because the A’s were awful, the Angels were injured, and the Astros pitching fell apart. It should be a delightful race though with the likelihood that no team in the division wins 90 games.

NOTABLE:

* Nomar Mazara was named American League Player of the Week. He hit .417 with 10 hits. His nine RBIs lead both Major Leagues, and he hit two home runs, one of which was a grand slam.

* The Rangers had 14 foreign born players on their opening day roster, most of any team in the Majors.

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