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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APRIL ENDS ON A DOWN NOTE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers again failed to have a winning week as they lost two of three to both Minnesota and Los Angeles to go 2-4 for the week. The offense again proved to be the culprit as the Rangers scored just eight runs in the four losing games.

They began the week by scoring three runs in their first two games to lose the series to Minnesota. 3-2 and 8-1 were the scores.

On Monday, the Rangers scratched out runs in the second and fourth innings to take the lead. Martin Perez pitched well in five of six innings, but the other one got him. Three walks loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning, and Byron Buxton followed with a bases clearing double.

That was the game as the Rangers’ offense mustered just three base runners over the final five innings on two hits and a walk. One was erased on a double play, and the other two didn’t advance past first base.

Perez is 1-3 with the loss. Phil Hughes and three relievers polished off Texas. Hughes is 3-1 with the win and Brandon Knitzler earned his fifth save.

On Wednesday, Andrew Cashner had difficulties finding the plate. He somehow managed to keep the Twins off the scoreboard in the first inning, despite needing 29 pitches to get three outs. He ended up walking six batters in four innings. Oddly, none of them scored. He gave up just two runs, both on solo home runs.

Anthony Bass relieved in the fifth inning after Miguel Sano led off with the second home run off Cashner. Bass looked more like a batting practice pitcher than a Major League pitcher. When the fifth inning finally ended, Bass had given up six runs on seven hits, including hits to the first six batters he faced.

Joey Gallo slugged his seventh home run for the only Ranger score of the night making the final score 8-1. Ervin Santana went to 4-0 with the win, while Cashner dropped to 0-2.

The Rangers avoided a sweep on Wednesday with a rare offensive outburst. The Rangers trailed 2-0 in the fifth inning, but scored twice to tie the game. They took the lead with four more in the sixth, and they solidly sealed the deal with eight runs in the eighth inning. Ryan Rua and Shin-Soo Choo hit home runs in that eighth inning to drive home seven of the runs. Rua’s was the first grand slam of his career. 14-3 was the final score.

Cole Hamels was the beneficiary of the offensive largesse. He gave up three runs on seven hits over 6-2/3rds innings. He’s 2-0 with the win. Hector Santiago kept the score at 2-2 through five, but Taylor Rogers retired just one Ranger and gave up three runs to take the loss. He’s 1-1.

The Rangers took the day off on Thursday, and then traded 6-3 wins on Friday and Saturday. The Angels took the rubber match 5-2 on Sunday afternoon.

Friday’s game was a tight one. Yunel Escobar hit the first pitch of the game out for a home run, but the Rangers came back to tie the game at one in the bottom of the first inning.

The game stayed tied through the fifth inning, but Mike Trout broke it with a two run home run in the sixth. The Rangers again answered with a Delino DeShields single, an Elvis Andrus double, and a Mike Napoli single to tie the game at three.

Nick Martinez again turned in an impressive performance as he allowed the three runs in six innings in his second start of the year. His ERA is 2.77. Jeremy Jeffress relieved and surrendered a three run bomb to Albert Pujols.

6-3 was the final. Jeffress (0-2) took the loss, while Angels reliever Deolis Guerra (1-1) was the winner. Jose Alvarez finished off the Rangers in the ninth inning for his first career save.

On Saturday, the Rangers won by the same score. Yu Darvish was magnificent, striking out 10 batters in six innings. He gave up two runs on three hits to win his third game against two losses.

The bigger news of the day though was Carlos Gomez. He hit for the cycle with a first inning double, a third inning single, a fifth inning triple and a seventh inning home run. The home run was his fourth of the year, and he drove in three runs on the night. It was his second career cycle and the 10th in Ranger history.

Angels’ starting pitcher Jesse Chavez (2-4) took the loss.

On Sunday, Texas took the early lead with Delino Deshields leading off with a walk in the first inning. He then stole second base and scored on Carlos Gomez’s single.

The Angels tied it with a Kole Calhoun home run in the third inning and took a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning when Jefry Marte singled with the bases loaded and two outs.

Texas cut the lead to 3-2 with Shin-Soo Choo’s third home run of the year in the bottom of the fifth inning, but that was as close as the Rangers got. The Angels added single runs in the sixth and ninth innings to make the final score 6-2.

J. C. Ramirez was the Angels’ starting and winning pitcher. He struck out nine batters and allowed the two Ranger runs on four hits over 5-1/3 innings. Bud Norris struck out the final four Ranger batters of the game to bring the Ranger strikeout total to 15 for game and to earn Norris’s fifth save.

Ramirez is 3-2, while Martin Perez went to 1-4 with the loss.

The Rangers are now 11-14 and in fourth place, one-half game (one in the loss column) ahead of Seattle, and five games behind first place Houston. They did however finish the home stand at 6-4 with last weekend’s four game sweep of Kansas City.

First place Houston is the first stop on the upcoming nine-game, three city road trip. The Rangers will miss Astro ace Dallas Keuchel. It will be the first four of 19 meetings between the two Texas teams that are battling for the coveted Silver Boot trophy. The Rangers have dominated the series in recent years. They were 15-4 last season, and 13-6 in 2015 against the Spacemen.

ROSTER MOVES: On Friday, Sam Dyson was activated from the disabled list with Anthony Bass being sent to AAA Round Rock to make room on the roster. On Sunday, the Rangers claimed slick fieldning middle infielder Pete Kozma from the Yankees. He will be added to the active roster once he reports. It is likely that Jurickson Profar will be sent to AAA to make room on the active roster.

NOTABLE:

* Just one Ranger player (Odibbe McDowell in 1985) hit for the cycle in the first 32 seasons of Rangers’ baseball, but Ranger players have hit for nine cycles since 2004. By comparison, six teams have not had a player hit for a cycle since 2004, and the team with the most cycles since 2004 besides the Rangers is Arizona with four. Eight of the 10 Ranger cycles were hit in Arlington, one in Arlington Stadium and seven in Globe Life Ballpark.

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A WINNING WEEK

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers played their first winning week of the season as they finished strong with a four game sweep of Kansas City to go 5-2 and move ahead of Seattle and Los Angeles into third place in the West. At 9-10 for the year, they trail first place Houston (13-6) by four games. Surprising Oakland (10-9) is in second place, one game ahead of the Rangers.

Texas took the Kansas City series with top notch starting pitching. The four starters – Andrew Cashner, Cole Hamels, Nick Martinez and Yu Darvish combined to pitch 25 innings while allowing four runs on 15 hits. That’s an ERA of 1.44.

The Rangers’ offense continues to fizzle, but put enough runs on the board to claim wins in all four games. The Ranger hitters mustered just 14 runs (3.5 per game) winning twice by one run – 1-0 in 13 innings in Thursday’s series opener and 2-1 Saturday – for the first two walk-off wins of the year. 6-2 and 5-2 were the Friday and Sunday scores behind aces Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.

The home run again played prominently in the Rangers’ offense. They didn’t hit one in Thursday’s game, but came back with seven in the final three games. Robinson Chirinos, who was spelling Jonathan Lucroy on Friday and Sunday, and Joey Gallo hit three each, while Mike Napoli hit the seventh. Chirinos and Gallo each hit two Friday night, and one of Gallo’s was astounding. Statcast measured the exit velocity at 116.1 MPH and the distance at 462 feet, both highs in Major League Baseball this season.

Gallo now leads the team with six home runs. He would not have made the opening day roster had Adrian Beltre been healthy, but it’s a virtual certainty that Gallo stays on the roster when Beltre returns. He has shown patience at the plate, played quality defense at third base, and run the bases well. And of course there is his prodigious power that we all knew was there. His average is only .213, but in this season of struggling offense in the Major Leagues, there are only three regulars with higher batting averages on the Rangers. He’s more than Major League ready – He’s a Major League player.

The week started well with a 7-0 shutout in Oakland. A. J. Griffen pitched his best game as a Ranger throwing six shutout innings while allowing just one hit and one walk. One of the baserunners was thrown out stealing, such that Griffen faced only one more than the mininum number of batters in six innings. He threw a strike on the first pitch to 15 of the 19 batters. Three Ranger relievers finished off the shutout giving up just two more hits and one more walk.

It was an unusual performance by the offense as they scored seven runs without hitting a home run. The Rangers cashed in seven hits for the seven runs with Shin-Soo Choo leading the way with three RBIs.

The road trip didn’t end well though, as Texas lost the final two games to finish the trip with a 3-6 record. Yu Darvish pitched brilliantly Tuesday night for five innings. The Ranger offense finally touched up Oakland for a pair of runs in the sixth driven in by Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara.

Darvish came out in the sixth and deviated from the game plan. One Oakland player said he thought Darvish got “too cute” with his pitch selection. He led off the inning by walking Trevor Plouffe, never a good start especially after just getting the lead. Jurickson Profar made an outstanding catch on Bruce Maxwell’s line drive for what proved to be the last batter Darvish would retire Tuesday night. Adam Rosales next hit a home run to tie the game at two. Darvish gave up a double and a walk to the next two batters to finish his outing.

It was a telling moment. Darvish was visibly upset about being taken out of the game. Pitching coach Doug Brocail and manager Jeff Banister were obviously upset that Darvish strayed from the game plan based on fastballs inside that had worked so well over the first five innings. Banister has since made the point more than once that there is no dissension between Broacail and Darvish. It makes you wonder why Banister feels the need to pass this along.

Tony Barnette and Dario Alvarez finished the inning, but not before allowing the two runners Darvish left on base to score. That made the score Oakland 4 and Texas 2, which was the final. The Rangers were nine up and nine down over the final three innings.

Wednesday afternoon’s finale was a total flop. Martin Perez gave up four first inning runs. Joey Gallo hit his third home run of the season in the fifth inning for the only scoreboard damage the Rangers would do on this day. Mike Huaschild gave up gave up five more runs driven in by three home runs in relief. A day later, he was designated for assignment.

9-1 was the final score.

The Oakland series was the third of a three city road trip. Statistics say that road teams usually do not do well in the third series in three city road trips. It’s not a good trend for the Rangers as they have six more three city road trips this season.

Texas finishes the 10-game hone stand this week with three games against Minnesota on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and three more next weekend against the Angels on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers’ staff ERA is 3.69 which ranks 11th among all 30 Major League teams and eighth in the American League. However, 23 of the 70 earned runs allowed were given up by Sam Dyson and Mike Hauschild, neither of whom is currently on the active roster. The staff ERA sans Dyson and Hauschild is 3.24

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HELLO LAST PLACE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The second week of the season looked a lot like the first – two wins and four losses, including a pair of demoralizing losses after taking a lead to the ninth inning. The two ugly walkoff losses came in the first and last games of the week. In between, the Rangers won two nicely played games against the Angels, and lost twice to the Mariners on dominating pitching performances. At 4-8, the Rangers dropped to last place in the West, four games behind first place Houston.

Texas arrived in Seattle leading the Majors in runs scored per game and with the momentum of having won four of their last five games, but the offense went into hibernation. The Mariners held Texas to just one run in the first two games. They completed the series sweep Sunday coming back twice to win in walkoff fashion.

On Friday night, Felix Hernandez pitched masterfully, holding the Rangers to a run in 7-1/3rd innings. A pair of relievers got the last five outs, including three by strikeout. Martin Perez started for Texas in a start that didn’t look nearly as good as the results. Perez was constantly in trouble as he gave up six hits and four walks to the 23 batters he faced. To his credit though, he didn’t unravel and give up a big inning. He completed five innings allowing just one run.

Jose Leclerc relieved in the sixth with two runners on base and struck out the side to bail out Perez. The Mariners however tagged Leclerc for a run in the seventh which proved to be the game winner. 2-1 was the final score. Hernandez (1-1) was the winning pitcher and Leclerc (0-1) took the loss.

James Paxson was Saturday’s starting pitcher for Seattle, and he was even more dominant than Hernandez. Texas didn’t get a hit until Joey Gallo doubled in the sixth inning. Jonathan Lucroy was the only other Ranger to get a hit as Paxson tossed eight sparkling innings.

Andrew Cashner came off the disabled list to start for Texas. He matched Paxson in keeping the opponent off the scoreboard for five innings. However, with one out in the sixth, Seattle loaded the bases on a single, fielding error, and walk. Kyle Seager then ended Cashner’s night by singling home two runs. Mike Hauschild relieved and promptly put the game out of reach when he served up a home run ball to Taylor Motter.

That was all the scoring in the game. 5-0 was the final score. Paxson (2-0) was the winning pitcher, while Cashner (0-1) took the loss.

On Sunday, the Rangers built a 6-1 lead early with Shin-Soo Choo driving in five of the runs with his first two extra base hits of the season,a home run and a double. Mitch Haniger touched Cole Hamels for a three run home run in the bottom of the third inning to cut the lead to 6-4. The Mariners tied the game with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but the Rangers got within three outs of a win when Nomar Mazara homered in the top of the ninth.

Sam Dyson was again called upon to earn the save, and it unravelled quickly. Jarrod Dyson, perhaps the fastest player in the American League, grounded up the middle to start the inning. Sam Dyson stabbed the soft grounder with his bare hand and deflected the ball toward shortstop. Jarrod Dyson was easily safe at first with the infield single and just as easily stole second. Leonys Martin then put down a bunt to move Dyson to third, but the Rangers were confused defensively. They made no throw after fielding the bunt putting runners at first and third with no outs.

Martin at first represented the winning run, and he promptly moved into scoring position by stealing second base. That led to an intentional walk to load the bases and set up the force. Dyson then walked Haniger forcing in the tying run. Robinson Cano grounded to second, and the Rangers kept the game alive by getting the force out at home plate. However, Nelson Cruz followed with a ground ball to short that Elvis Andrus couldn’t play. It was scored a single that drove home the winning run.

Dyson was charged with his third blown save and is 0-3 with the loss. Edwin Diaz 1-1 was Seattle’s winning pitcher. 8-7 was the final score.

The road trip began Tuesday night in Anaheim with the other ugly loss. The Rangers scratched out a first inning run to take the lead before Cole Hamels even took the mound. In the third inning, a pair of Ranger home runs drove in four more runs to push the lead to 5-0. Hamels turned in six shutout innings, before surrendering a home run to open the Angels’ seventh inning. He finished off the night without further damage to have a final line of one run allowed on four hits. He walked four and struck out five.

Tony Barnette gave up a run on two hits in the eighth, as the Angels cut the lead to 5-2 going to the bottom of the ninth. Sam Dyson was called upon to get the save. He again didn’t makeit happen. He coughed up the three run lead for his second blown save of the year. Texas lost the game in the 10th 6-5. A game that looked like a win in hand turned into a loss, and the Rangers fell to 2-5. Dyson’s body language clearly was not good. He looked unsure. He constantly nodded “no” to Jonathan Lucroy’s signs. He’s a mental mess.

Ranger manager Jeff Banister talked about Dyson’s situation after the game, “There’s definitely concern there. We’ll consider our options. We can’t continue to lose games in this manner when we have the lead.”

On Wednesday in the aftermath of Tuesday’s demoralizing loss, the injury news got worse. Matt Bush we were told was not available Tuesday night and on Wednesday, he returned to Arlington for treatment for his right shoulder. The Rangers also announced that Adrian Beltre and Tyson Ross had suffered setbacks in their rehabilitations. Beltre’s return had thought to be imminent, but with the injury worsening, he is now thought to be weeks instead of days away from returning. Ross’s setback is thought to delay his return an extra week.

On top of that Wednesday’s starting pitcher was A. J. Griffin, the weakest link in the Rangers’ four man rotation. Not to worry. Griffin turned in six innings of four hit ball, allowing three runs for a quality start. The Rangers hit three home runs, and added on to a late lead with two ninth inning runs. Jose LeClerc retired the final five batters to earn the first Ranger save of the season. Texas won 8-3, their first road win of the season, to end the Angels’ four game winning streak.

On Thursday, the Rangers won the series with an 8-3 relatively easy win over the Angels. Carlos Gomez led off the game with a home run, and Texas never trailed. Yu Darvish was at the top of his game. He threw seven shutout innings, striking out a season high (for him and the Rangers) 10 batters. The lead had grown to 8-0 by the the eighth inning, as the Rangers scored two more runs in the second and third innings, and three in the sixth.

Mike Huaschild pitched the last two innings. He looked good in the eighth inning, but gave up a three run homer in the ninth to Danny Espinosa, which broke the shutout.

As for the division race, Houston has moved into first place. They have won four games in a row and six of their last 10. They are 2.5 games ahead of second place Los Angeles.

The Rangers’ three city, nine game road trip continues Monday in Oakland.

NOTABLE:

* Yu Darvish has seen his offense score five or more runs in 32 of his starts. He has a 29-0 record in those games.

* The Rangers were 36-11 in one run games last season, which was a major reason they finished with the best record in the American League while posting just a plus eight run differential. This year the Rangers are 0-4 in one run games, but have a plus two run differential despite their 4-8 record.

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