BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Sunday afternoon, the Rangers staged their third straight late inning, come from behind rally to complete an improbable three game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. The final score Sunday was 6-5, a win that came on the heels of a pair of 4-3 wins to begin the series.
Tampa Bay came in as a hot team, but the Rangers found ways to score late to capture all three wins. The sweep completed a 3-4 week, as the Rays’ series was preceded by getting swept in a four game series by the Orioles in Camden Yards. Texas is coming home having split the last 10 games on the road.
The Rangers’ record stands at 48-50 for the season, which puts them in a virtual second place tie in the American League West with Seattle and Los Angeles 17 games behind first place Houston. Texas is 2.5 games behind Tampa Bay and Kansas City for the second Wild Card spot. They are one of nine teams that are within five games of a Wild Card playoff berth.
This road trip was considered critical to defining the thrust of the Rangers at the July 31 trade deadline. Would they be sellers with at least seven veterans with contracts that expire after this season that could be attractive to contenders, or would they be buyers trying to shore up the roster to complete a run at a Wild Card playoff spot?
GM Jon Daniels said last Monday on the Ben & Skin radio show on 105.3 FM, the Fan that the results were less important than how the team played. He could not have been pleased with what he saw in Baltimore. The Orioles outscored Texas 34-11, twice scoring in double digits. The Rangers simply did not look good as there were fielding lapses, bonehead baserunning plays, poor pitching performances and an offense that looked all but dead.
Game four was especially disappointing as the Rangers looked to salvage a win in the finale and took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning with ace Cole Hamels looking strong on the mound. Baltimore rallied for eight unanswered runs and hung on to win 9-7.
At that point, the Rangers’ record stood at five games under .500 and speculation as to the Rangers being sellers at the trade deadline was rampant. There is no question that the player that would bring the most in return is Yu Darvish. He has 10-12 starts left this season, and a pitcher of his quality could make a difference to any team trying to hustle into the playoffs. Also any team that looks assured of a playoff spot, most notably Houston and the Los Angeles Dodgers, would be glad to add Darvish for the playoffs. He’s a top of the line difference maker, the quality of pitcher that isn’t always available near the trade deadline.
For his start Friday night in Tampa, scouts from the Astros and Dodgers were reported in attendance. He didn’t disappoint. He completed eight innings, striking out 12, while allowing just five hits. Three of them were solo home runs. Texas faced a 3-1 deficit in the ninth inning, but tied the game with a two run Shin-Soo Choo home run, and won in the 10th.
As the speculation heightened, the revelation that Darvish has a limited no-trade clause surfaced. It’s surprising that the local media had not jumped on this one earlier. Some of the teams mentioned prominently as being interested in Darvish are on the list including the Yankees and Cubs. In any event, it could be an impediment to making a trade if the e Rangers choose to go that route.
However, national writer Ken Rosenthal contends that the Rangers will not trade Darvish; that their main objective is to re-sign him. Of course it’s possible to trade him this July and then make the winning bid for him in free agency this winter. An analgous situation unfolded last year with the Yankees trading Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in July, and they then re-signed him last winter.
It doesn’t happen very often though, and Rosenthal says that trading away a player in this situation often causes a disconnect. The Rangers have a good relationship with Darvish’s agent and may well hang on to Darvish even if the team isn’t going to make the playoffs this year.
There seems to be little chance that the Rangers and Darvish will agree on an extension prior to the trade deadline, but after he hits the free agent market, Texas could be in play. Having Darvish and Cole Hamels, who is under contract through the 2019 season, at the top of the rotation is a very good place to start building a playoff contending team for next year.
Of course, the Rangers could get overwhelmed with an offer. The Dodgers and Astros have loaded farm systems, such that they could make an attractive prospect package available. Los Angeles may have gained even more incentive to pursue Darvish as Clayton Kershaw left Sunday’s game with lower back stiffness. Dodger manager Dave Roberts said after the game that Kershaw will be placed on the disabled list. Kershaw has a history of recurring back problems, and he was definitely pessimistic about the injury.
A 5-5 trip did little to define the Rangers’ course of action, though it’s pretty much a microcosm of the season. The real question for Texas is whether they can put together a push for a Wild Card berth. The Rangers need to finish 42-22 (.656 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. 90 wins may not be good enough or perhaps a figure like 88 wins will be good enough. In any event, the Rangers need to play much better to make the playoffs.
Texas is back home for nine games. Miami and Baltimore kick off the week with three game series starting Monday. The Rangers close out the home stand by hosting Seattle for three games next week as the Rangers are largely back to playing West Division foes into early August.
* Adrian Beltre’s career hit total is up to 2,989. It’s entirely possible that he will reach the 3,000 mark during the homestand that begins Monday night.
* The Rangers dominated in one-run games last season, going 36-11, but have struggled this year. However, four of the five wins on the road trip that ended Sunday were one-run games bringing this year’s record to 10-15.
* On the injury front, Robinson Chirinos injured his left ankle on a play at the plate Sunday afternoon. He stayed in the game to finish the inning, but left for a pinch hitter when the Rangers came to bat. X-rays were negative, but he was seen in walking boot after the game. Round Rock catcher Bret Nicholas was pulled from the starting lineup Sunday and could join the Rangers this week.
* A. J. Griffin will make his third minor league rehab start Monday night for Frisco. If all goes well, he could be activated later this week. The news wasn’t good on righthander Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. He had a set back in his rehab and now will undergo Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out all next year.