THE FIRST HALF

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers lost 3-0 to the Angels Sunday to complete the portion the schedule prior to the All-Star game. Texas finished the first half, as defined by baseball, with a 43-45 record, which places them in a second place tie 16.5 games behind the Astros (16 in the loss column) in the A. L West. They are three games out of the second Wild Card berth, and are one of nine teams after the three division leaders that are within five games of the two Wild Card playoff spots. Only the Tigers, Athletics and White Sox in the American League are more than five games out of the playoff chase.

Texas finished the week with a 3-3 record. They lost the first two games to Boston, a close game on Monday that the Red Sox pulled out in the 11th inning, and a lackluster performance against the Carmines on Tuesday. Boston scored in six of the nine innings and built an 11-0 lead before the Rangers put any runs on the scoreboard.

However, the Lawmen came back to pound the baseball in the next three games and got nice pitching performances especally from Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

Darvish started the final game before the All-Star break. He was once again magnificent, and inexplicably, the Rangers’ offense once again failed to provide support. He took the loss despite giving up just two runs on three hits over 7-1/3rd innings. He’s an All-Star on the mound, but his record is just 6-8 for the season. The Rangers have scored two or fewer runs in eight of Darvish’s last nine starts and not surprisingly have lost eight of the last nine games he’s started.

The mathematical first half of the season actually ended on Saturday of week 13. The second half started much like the first half – the Rangers lost the first three games. In this topsy-turvy season of ups and downs, the calls for the Rangers to be big sellers of veterans before the trade deadline were all over the local media.

The three game winning streak prior to getting shutout on Sunday quieted those yells at least for the moment. The team is off until Friday when they take to the road for a three city 10-game trip that starts in Kansas City and continues into the East Division with games against Baltimore and Tampa Bay. For sure, the Rangers’ success or lack thereof on this road trip will go a long way to defining the course of the team at the trade deadline.

The best bet is that little of consequence will happen. GM Jon Daniels will cling to the slenderest of hope for making the playoffs no matter how bleak the situation looks in the final week before the trade deadline. He will hang on to veterans and try to make deals to shore up the team, rather than try to restock the farm system by sending veteran help to teams more solidly in the running for a playoff berth.

On the other side of the trade coin, Texas no longer has a well stocked farm system to make trades for the ilk of Cole Hamels and Jonahan Lucroy as they have in the past two seasons; so don’t expect any spectacular acquisitions.

It has already been reported that the Rangers have decided to keep Yu Darvish. The team of course has not confirmed. Darvish is really the only veteran dump that could bring a haul of talent akin to the Mark Teixeira trade that fueled the run to the World Series in 2010 and 2011.

There is a rumor that the team is open to trading Lucroy, who has definitely been disappointing. His batting average is decent, but there is virtually no power. His RBI total actually trails Adrian Beltre’s, who missed the first two months of the season.

The problems that have been problems so far this season are still problems. The bullpen is unreliable at a minimum, and could well be considered a disaster. They have 17 blown saves resulting in a 43.3% conversion rate. That’s the worst in baseball, and the average is 64%. The names have changed – Frieri, Hauschild, Dyson, Scheppers, Claiborne are gone, but the results haven’t.

The offense is inconsistent caused mainly by heavy strikeouts. There is enough explosiveness to score big on any given day, and it happens enough to make the average runs per game look decent enough to be better than the record.

And on top of all that, it’s not a very good defensive team. Jonathan Lucroy’s skills have diminished considerably at catcher. There’s little if any improvement at second base from Odor, and Carlos Gomez is the only decent defender in the outfield.

Even if the team could put together a second half that gets the Rangers in the playoffs, is the roster good enough to have any post-season success? Doubtful.

However, no matter what the Rangers do at the trade deadline, the likelihood is that the team looks dramatically different next season. Players eligible to become free agents after this season include starting pitchers Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross (60% of the current starting rotation), Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Gomez (one-third of the usual starting nine). Also Jason Grilli in the bullpen.

There isn’t much in the top two tiers of the minor league system knocking on the door for Major League jobs. The likelihood is that Darvish is gone if the Rangers don’t sign him to an extension before he hits the free agent market, Lucroy is gone no matter what, and probably Napoli too. Once the dust clears, other situations may arise, like Adrian Beltre. Will he really want to stay if the team is looking at a major rebuilding project?

On top of all that, the team is undoubtedly wanting to put forth at least the image of being in contention as they attempt to monaterize a good portion of the $500 million the team is required to fund for the new stadium. Unquestionably, the fans are going to feel the bite.

NOTABLE:

* MISCELLANEOUS FIRST HALF STATS: The Rangers have scored 49.1% of their runs on home runs, the third highest percentage in baseball. They trail Toronto and Oakland. Texas has a 30-13 record when they hit two or more home runs, but only a 13-32 record when they hit less than two. The Astros and Dodgers have the two best records in baseball, and coincidentally, they have the two best records in games in which they hit zero or one home run.

* Ranger fans will not see any Ranger players participate in tonight’s All-Star game. Yu Darvish was selected for the team, but he pitched Sunday and disqualified himself from pitching on Tuesday. He went to Miami to participate in the All-Star game activities, but a substitute was named to replace him on the roster.

* The Ranger that most deserved to be on the All-Star team is Elvis Andrus. He is having a simply spectacular season, clearly better than either of the seasons in which he did make the All-Star team. However, the fan vote elected Carlos Correa, and manager Terry Francona chose his shortstop in Cleveland – Francisco Lindor – as the backup. On the other hand, it may be best for Andrus to skip the game. He became a father last Thursday, and the best use of his time may be at home with his wife and son.

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