Since defeating the Yankees 7-1 last Tuesday — the Rangers 4th consecutive win in route to a 51-27 record, the club’s high-water mark of the 2016 campaign — Texas has lost 4 out of 5, including 2 of 3 against the Minnesota Twins, the worst team in the American League.
They remain atop the AL West standings by a sizable 8.5 game spread, MLB’s largest division lead.
Somewhere out there, and I wouldn’t know since my involvement on Rangers message boards has reached an all-time low this season, I can only imagine a faction of the fan base is on the brink of believing the sky is falling. Because holy shit how could the best team in the league possibly lose a series to the worst team in the league!
But I tend to be more philosophical on matters, which comes across as pretty boring on the Internet. Fans crave the hot takes; they want to read reactionary smut as it generally fits in better with their overreactive sensibilities. So when the Rangers — an ostensibly good baseball team — loses in unimpressive fashion to the Twins — a legitimately bad baseball team — the quick-trigger logic indicates something must be wrong with them.
Me, personally: I would be much more concerned with the Rangers if they were regularly losing games to the best teams in the league, as compared to the worst. And the fact is that has not been the case in 2016.
Against the Astros, Mariners, Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians, Tigers, Royals and White Sox — all teams in the American League with winning records — Texas is a composite 32-16 (.667). Extrapolated over an entire baseball season, that equates to 108 wins. (To be fair, the Rangers have yet to play the Royals this year.)
Now, this isn’t to forgive the way Texas has been losing its games. There are real concerns with the rotation, which ranks 14th out of 15 American League teams in xFIP (4.76) despite being 2nd in ERA (3.60). Rangers starters also rank dead last in strikeout rate (17%) and 14th in walk rate (8.7%) — an untenable combination looking ahead.
There are also massive issues with the bullpen, which has not only been the worst in the league from a run prevention standpoint (5.07 ERA), but the pieces that are actually good — like Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman and Matt Bush — have been overworked. Of all the rah-rah “team chemistry” benefits manager Jeff Banister has established over the last two years, only one thing has remained true: the man absolutely cannot be trusted with a bullpen.
Of all American League relief pitchers, Dyson (42 games) and Diekman (38 games) rank 1st and tied for 7th in appearances, respectively, and Matt Bush has already appeared in 24 games since making his debut on May 13th. From a per-game-used basis, Dyson (once every 1.98 games), Bush (once every 2.0 games) and Diekman (once every 2.18 games) are among the most abused arms in baseball.
So it seems elementary that the Rangers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Jon Daniels, is going to acquire some bullpen aid before the July 31st trade deadline. The national media, be it on television or on the writing circuit, are going to create a frenzy about all the names Texas will be interested in, notably Yankees LHPs Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. But I’m less bullish on either as I would have been, say, on June 5th when I regurgitated Joe Sheehan’s This Makes Too Much Sense Jurickson Profar for Andrew Miller swap.
We can eliminate Aroldis Chapman right off the bat since he is the antagonist in a domestic violence case, and the Rangers aren’t interested in players like that. (Which is reason enough to root for my favorite team.)
Andrew Miller requires a little more nuance, since he is both (a) really fucking good at pitching and (b) has not been accused of beating women. Those are both plusses.
But he would also cost a lot in terms of prospects, and Jon Daniels has not, to this point, proven to be willing to pay a high price for relievers — which are objectively the least valuable property in baseball. He would also uproot Sam Dyson from the role of “closer,” which is something that means jack shit to me, but would probably mean something within the Rangers clubhouse. It sounds dumb to advanced stat people like myself, but we have to acknowledge that baseball players are real people, and have feelings and shit.
Reinforcements are on the way. RHPs Keone Kela and Tanner Scheppers are expected to return after the All Star break, the former being an immediate upgrade over some of Caesar Ramos’s of the world.
This is all beside the point. Things worth considering. The Rangers have an 8.5 game lead on their division, which is pretty remarkable considering Yu Darvish has only started three games this year. Texas is in a very strong position heading into the last week before the All Star break.
It is, though, worth considering how much this club has overachieved in 2016. If run differential means anything — and it should — the Rangers (+43) only rank 5th in the American League, behind Cleveland (+76), Seattle (+55), Toronto (+53) and Boston (+51).
Neither their rotation nor their bullpen project to be very good moving forward, and Prince Fielder is still a black hole in the middle of the lineup. For how awesome they look in the standings, there’s an entirely reasonable scenario that exists where they are straddling around .500 and considering selling come trade deadline time.
As it so happens, they have for the second straight year benefitted from cluster luck. Or sequencing, as others call it. And it’s put them in a position to add a reliever or capable starter, or both, to drive them into home field advantage during the postseason. We won’t be counting out teams like Houston on this blog, but the math is almost totally on Texas’s side down the stretch.
This team is not perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. Right now it’s about accumulating the necessary pieces to win the AL West, and give them a one-in-eight chance to hang their first World Series banner in franchise history.