I’ve returned from my long winter’s nap ready to resume the climb up the Major League Baseball standings. At 78-84 and an 8-11 record against the Seattle Mariners, the Texas Rangers finished fourth in the American League West.
The Rangers hovered around .500 through August and stayed competitive in the Wild Card race. A 16-12 August helped with a push to put them just 3.0 games back of the second Wild Care slot entering September. Unfortunately, all progress in August was negated with an inverse September at 12-16 and Texas fell to fourth place in the division.
Like a lot of teams that fizzle out at the end of the season, the Rangers were boom or bust offensively. As a team, Texas hit just .244, but was fifth in the AL for runs scored. How does that work? Dingers. A lot of dingers. The Rangers hit a total of 237 homers, but, like the Toronto Blue Jays, 200 of those came with zero or one runner on base. Despite the power, the Rangers lacked the ability to manufacture runs, which is crucial on days when the ball just isn’t leaving the ballpark.
The Rangers weren’t too bad defensively. The middle infield was outstanding and turned 173 double plays, second-highest number behind the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres. But they tied the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks for the third lowest fielding percentage in MLB at .982.
Relief pitching was the issue for the Rangers. The bullpen allowed an average of 0.59 runs per inning to the starting staff’s 0.56. Given that the bullpen doesn’t see as much action as the starters (412.1 fewer innings) and the time of game they see, those runs are critical and can be damaging to a team that doesn’t score other than by the long ball.
With a 6-9 record after 22 starts, starting pitcher Yu Darvish was shipped off to the LA Dodgers at the trade deadline July 31 for two prospects. His loss didn’t have the damaging effect one might have thought as starter Cole Hamels picked up the slack with a 4-1 record and 3.24 ERA in five starts in August.
To solve the bullpen issue, the Rangers need of a middle reliever. The middle innings (four through six) were the biggest problem for Texas with 318 runs allowed during the middle portion of the game. This is compared to 252 in the first three and 235 in the final three innings. The acquisition of free agent reliever Mike Minor was a huge step in the right direction. Minor tossed a 2.55 ERA, struck out 88 batters, walked just 22 and allowed only five homers in 65 appearances.
If Minor can provide a solid middle relief and setup role for the Rangers, they should be in a good position to improve by at least five or six wins as they blew 12 saves in 2017. To put that number in perspective, the Rangers were still in the Wild Card race as late as Sept. 25, and even four more wins would have kept them relevant for four more days and kept the drive alive.
Photo by Brigham Berthold