What is the most interesting team in the American League right now? Not the Blue Jays or the Royals or the Yankees. Nope. It’s the Texas Rangers. Everything that went wrong for the Rangers last year is turning around for them this year, especially since the All-Star break. A pitching staff missing a legitimate star? Enter Cole Hamels, a trade acquisition from the Philadelphia Phillies. A Shin-Soo Choo who can’t get on base? He had a .449 on-base percentage in August. A Prince Fielder who can’t stay in the lineup? He’s missed four games all year. Even with these things going right for the Rangers, the question is whether they can prolong their success. Are they the real deal, or just a flash in the pan?
Let’s start with their strengths. Rougned Odor has been on fire since being called up from the minors in June. He’s hit .319 or better in June, July and August. Besides a few baserunning mistakes, Odor has been nothing but productive for Texas this summer. Shin-Soo Choo’s stats look pretty much the same as last year’s — way lower than his career numbers. That’s due to a slow start, but the veteran right fielder is turning it on at the right time. His on-base percentage in August shows plate discipline that’s been a hallmark of his career, but something that’s been missing the last couple years. Odor and Choo couple with a healthy Prince Fielder and a hard-hitting Mitch Moreland to form a fearsome top half of the lineup.
On the mound, Hamels leads a staff that is missing injured Japanese star Yu Darvish. Hamels’ starts have had mixed results for the Rangers so far, but the sample size is small. An ace like Hamels is a needed piece on a staff that has been in constant flux this season. Behind Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Colby Lewis are having respectable if somewhat unexciting seasons. In the bullpen, Shawn Tolleson anchors a group of relatively unknown relievers. Tolleson’s health has been an issue in the past, but he’s been able to stay on the mound this season and has pitched well.
Now the weaknesses, starting with Adrian Beltre. I hate to even put him in this category because he’s such a great player who’s had such a great career. Besides, he’s hitting .267 with a dozen home runs. Still, relative to where we’ve seen him over the years this is a sharp dip in production. He is no longer one of the best players in the game or an anchor in the lineup.
Next is what I call the unhelpful trio: Delino DeShields, Elvis Andrus and Chris Gimenez. These three don’t really do anything to lose games for the Rangers, but they also don’t do a whole lot to win games. They’re just really, really average. DeShields, Andrus and Gimenez occupy the three most important defensive positions (center field, shortstop and catcher, respectively), but none of them do anything particularly great in the field. None of them are particularly great hitters either. Having so many average players makes me question the Rangers’ ability to prolong a playoff run.
Hamels, Gallardo and Lewis are pitching well. Martin Perez and Derek Holland are not. I’m not exactly sure what it is that the Rangers see in Perez, but as far as I can tell, he’s a subpar pitcher. His stuff is mediocre, his pitching IQ isn’t great and his command is barely acceptable. To be a successful pitcher in the MLB, you have to be great in at least one of those categories. Holland, on the other hand, has shown flashes of ace-level pitching. Unfortunately for the Rangers, he’s had trouble with injuries this year, which seemed to keep him out of a good rhythm. Without Darvish to bump one of these guys out of the rotation, Texas has significant issues with its starting pitching staff.
So, the question is whether the bright spots can shine bright enough to cover for the gaping holes that Texas has in the lineup and in the pitching rotation. I want to believe, but I just can’t quite do it when I look at all the other playoff contenders in the American League. To me, the Rangers aren’t quite a playoff team, but I wouldn’t bet on it either way. They’re right on the edge. Keep an eye on them.
Hugh Ramlow is a sophomore in the College. The Zone appears every other Tuesday.
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