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.