I suspected I would have to write this article at some point in 2017, I just had no idea it would come so soon. The Texas Rangers are 11-17 and 8.0 games behind the Houston Astros in the American League West. I am always the first one to remind the casual baseball fan that it’s a long season — and in doing so I am always the first one to remind myself — but I also don’t mind being ahead of the curve in admitting that, well, it’s over, baby.
Take the 11-17 start for what it’s worth, that’s okay. Again, it’s a 162-game season. But when you factor in that today, May 3rd, Cole Hamels went down with an oblique injury that is going to cost him eight weeks, you are talking about the only viable front of the rotation starter behind Yu Darvish. Sure, Texas will look to catch lightning in a bottle with Martin Perez and Andrew Cashner in Hamels’s absence, but it’s not a formula the team can depend on.
In fact, even with Yu Darvish and a healthy Cole Hamels the Rangers probably still would have needed to hit on either of Perez or Cashner to outperform expectations. That’s how good the Astros are, and that’s how thin Texas’s rotation was and is.
Basically Texas has spotted Houston, the superior team, 8 games in the standings through 17% of the season. That is something, but it’s not everything — especially since the two teams square off 16 more times this year.
But if the early results show anything, it’s that Houston is on a different level than the Rangers right now. In three meetings — all Astros wins — Houston has outscored Texas 24-9 (+15), punctuated by a 10-1 landslide on Wednesday. And none of it has been by luck or by accident.
Take this as a sign of dominance: in three games Astros pitchers struck out 41 Rangers hitters. Of 81 total outs recorded Houston struck out more than half of them. That is insane. In the same three-game span, Rangers pitchers recorded 10 strikeouts. 10 frigging strikeouts in three goddamn games. That is pathetic.
Meanwhile, the Astros offense generated 14 extra-base hits on 7 home runs in route to averaging 8 runs a game. I get that every three-game sampling is going to show these types of results, but that they’ve manifest so soon and at such a time when the Rangers were desperate to turn the start of their season around, it really feels like a haymaker.
Tomorrow the Rangers will try to salvage the four-game series with a win, and if they don’t they will be looking at a 9-game deficit in the standings.
The point I’m trying to convey in this article is it doesn’t matter, anyway. With Cole Hamels going down for eight weeks, that effectively eliminates the Rangers from doing anything serious in 2017. I would actually be surprised if he pitches again at all this year, since by the time he returns it will be the beginning of July and there is a real possibility that Texas is 10 or 15 games out in the West. And by then we won’t be worried about Hamels returning again in 2017; instead Ranger fans will be focused on who all the team is going to trade before the non-waiver deadline passes.
Names of consequence: Yu Darvish, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Adrian Beltre (perhaps), Andrew Cashner, Mike Napoli, and maybe even Shin-Soo Choo if the Rangers are willing to eat some money.
That will be what’s most interesting about the Rangers this year: selling off a bunch of enviable assets for the rebuild that could only take a year or so if Jon Daniels can bring back a couple top-shelf pitching prospects. In Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo, Texas has an offensive core looking towards the future. What they need, which every team needs, are front-end starting pitchers.
That’s where Yu Darvish comes in handy. I don’t see why a marquee, championship-ready team like the Dodgers or Cubs wouldn’t be willing to talk shop. People may forget because the Texas Rangers have been so good for so long, but Jon Daniels was a builder before he was strapped with one of the top-10 payrolls in baseball. If anyone can get the “right” guys in return for guys like Darvish and Lucroy, it’s him.
Admittedly, I wasn’t all that invested in this year’s Rangers team. Blame it on my small obsession with politics — things that actually impact my life and the lives of those close to me, things that really matter beyond the entertainment and distraction of sports — or blame it on my intuition for never really believing this was our year. Either way, I suppose.
But one thing I can get excited about is a good old-fashioned rebuild. The dream of the teams Jon Daniels built in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 is dead; there is some romanticism in breaking it all down and starting over. That may be the only thing I have left to look forward to with the Rangers, in the inevitable starting-over process that teams sometimes have to go through.
There is enough talent, and enough quality in the organization to compete again relatively soon. Maybe it won’t be in 2018, but almost certainly by 2019. I’ve been following the Rangers for almost 20 years, and losing is something I’m frankly not all that stranger to. The elusive World Series seems so far away at the moment, but I still don’t doubt that it will come. That hope is enough for me.