Monday, July 10, 2017

Rangers at the Halfway Point - 2017

Here we are at the MLB All-Star break, the traditional halfway point of the season. It hasn’t been the greatest first half for the Rangers. The bad news is that they are two games under .500 with a 43-45 record and 16½ games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. The good news is that they are only three games out in the wildcard race. 

It has been at best an inconsistent year. They have had both a 10 game winning streak and a 1-9 streak. There have been players who were expected to contribute who have failed. There have been surprises from young players and journeymen. 

Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Carlos Gomez, A.J. Griffin, Keone Kela, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, Mike Napoli, Jose Leclerc, Tyson Ross, and Jake Diekman have spent time on the Disabled List (DL). There have been few games when the best 25 players were on the active roster at the same time. Obviously, the Beltre and Hamels injuries were the most significant absences from the lineup. Beltre has played fewer than half of the games so far. Hamels missed several starts. Thankfully, they are both back to full strength now and contributing. In fact, the team is in fairly good shape on the injury front as we head into the break and the second half of the season. 

The closer coming into the season, Sam Dyson, was completely ineffective and was traded. After an outstanding 2016, Dyson started this season with 0 saves in 17 appearances, 4 blown saves, 6 losses, and a 10.80 ERA. His performances were pitiful, but it was comical to see a superstitious ballplayer try to break the jinx. He started the season with a full beard, trimmed it, turned it into a mustache and chin whiskers deal, and for his final Rangers appearance was completely clean shaven. Nothing worked.  He now plays for the Giants.

No one has been able to consistently fill the closer roll. In fact, the entire bullpen has had trouble holding and closing games. The Rangers could easily have between five and 10 more victories if the bullpen had performed at even an average level. Hopefully, the group or at least a couple of pitchers will step up in the second half. 

Almost all the starters have been inconsistent and most have spent time on the DL. Ten different pitchers have started games so far. The starting five is still in flux. One nice pitching story is Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a 32-year-old rookie who looks older, who has bounced around the minors for 12 years. He got his Major League debut and his first MLB start while here filling in for those on the DL. In 10 appearances, five starts, he had a 3-0 record and 4.04 ERA. He had a couple of quality starts when the team really needed them. He was sent down when a couple of guys came off the DL. Yoeman's work Austin.

On the offensive side, we have to use the word inconsistent again. The Rangers have gone stretches when they can't score runs and then stretches when they can't be stopped. They have scored 29 more runs than they have given up yet are still below .500. The disappointments include an overall .242 batting average which is actually way up from most of the first half. The disappointments include Jurickson Profar at .172. Profar was the #1 prospect in all of baseball a few years ago. After recovering from a shoulder injury, he has had several opportunities with the Rangers. He is an outstanding and versatile defensive player, he can play every position, except catcher and pitcher, and play it well. Even a .230 or .240 batting average and he could stick in the majors. For the umpteenth time in the past few years, Profar has been sent down to the AAA club. Ryan Rua is in the same boat. He gets a chance with the big club every year and fails to hit. This year he hit .202 and is now also at AAA Round Rock. Another young guy, Joey Gallo, is batting .194 but he gets to stay because he leads the club with 21 HRs, has 41 RBI and also hits majestic 450' HRs. He filled in admirably at 3rd for Beltre the first few weeks of the season. He now platoons at 1st with Mike Napoli. Napoli is our other power hitter who is batting .194. He has 18 HRs and 39 RBIs. Power is good, but a few more singles would also be welcomed. Rougned Odor, our young starting 2nd baseman, signed a big contract in the offseason. He has had an off year so far, batting only .240 with 17 HRs and 40 RBIs. His bat has shown some improvement in the last couple of weeks. Our other young star, Nomar Mazara, has been up and down. He was Player of the Week early in the season and sported a batting average well over .300. He has come back to earth with a .258 BA, 12 HRs, and a team-leading 56 RBIs for the first half. Delino DeShields has also forced his way into the starting lineup with .286 BA, .344 OBP, and 19 SBs. His speed is disruptive.

The left half of the infield has been solid with the veterans Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Since returning from the DL, Beltre's stats are .283 BA, 7 HRs, and 27 RBIs in only 35 games. Andrus is leading the team with a .300 BA, .318 BA with RISP. He also has 11 HRs, a career season high, 50 RBIs and 20 SBs. As usual, they are both superb defensively. I have said this many times in the past and will say it many times in the future, Adrian Beltre is a joy to watch. His field antics with Elvis Andrus makes it even more joyful. Watch them if you get a chance.
With a hopefully healthy second half, the Rangers have a chance to get into the playoffs as a wildcard. The AL West is out of reach. Houston enters the All-Star break with 60 wins, one of only 10 teams in history to do that. They are dominant this season, like the Cubs of 2016. 

In the AL West, the Angels and Rangers are tied for second place 16½ games behind the Astros, the Mariners are 17½ out in fourth place, and the A's are probably done at 21 games out.

All is not lost for the Rangers. It has been extremely frustrating to watch them this season. All the late-inning blown games, the stretches of futility at the plate, and the number of injuries especially to the pitching staff. Jon Daniels, the Rangers GM, has said that they will not be sellers this year. He also didn't say that they would be buyers. Hopefully, he adds at least a solid arm or two to the bullpen.

Regardless of the final season outcome, I will remain a dedicated fan. I invested too many years in very bad teams in a terrible stadium to let a poor half season deter me.


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