This Week in Rangers’ Baseball: Even the Wins were Ugly
At the outset of the season, Jeff Banister wanted this team to be one that scratched out runs, could handle the fundamentals of defense, and whose starters could pitch aggressively and get deep into games. So far, we’ve seen approximately…none of that. It’s not that Banister’s idea of what the team should be is wrong – given the players he has, everyone should be able to do precisely what was described above. Maybe, though, it’s trying to impress an identity upon this team? I’m just spit-balling here, but maybe Banny’s trying too hard to put his stamp on the team. I love his work and how he connects and communicates and gets his players, but something about this team just doesn’t…feel right. I can’t quite figure it out. Maybe you can. As we ponder that, however, we’ll take a look at…THIS WEEK IN RANGERS’ BASEBALL!
- Game 18 – W TEX 5 @ LAA 4 (W: Feliz 1-1, L: Alvarez 0-1) – In which there was absolutely no way Texas should have won this game…but they did.
- Game 19 – L TEX 1 vs. SEA 3 (W: Walker 1-2, L: Gallardo 2-3, S: Rodney 5) – In which Yovani Gallardo was good, but not good enough.
- Game 20 – L TEX 1 vs. SEA 2 (W: Happ 2-1, L: Detwiler 0-3, S: Rodney 6) – In which Ross Detwiler comes back with adjustments and changes and pitches well, but not well enough.
- Game 21 – L TEX 2 vs. SEA 5 (W: Fernandez 4-0, L: Rodriguez 0-1, S: Rodney 7) – In which it looks like Felix will have a good year against Texas, and do you remember that Nelson Cruz can hit a ball really, really far?
- Game 22 – L TEX 5 vs. OAK 7 (W: Otero 2-1, L: Mendez 0-1, S: Clippard 2) – In which the bullpen flushes an offensive breakout down the toilet.
- Game 23 – W TEX vs. OAK (W: Kela 1-1 L: Alvarez 0-1) – In which Kyle Blanks has a coming out party and we get our first walk-off win of the year
Week Record: 1-5. Year to date: 8-15
At the Dish
Evan Grant wrote in the Dallas Morning News that the Rangers are hearing Jeff Banister‘s message, but they don’t seem to be understanding how to execute it.
Right now, the Rangers are averaging 3.64 runs per game. Where that slots them in the American League is irrelevant. Their pitching staff ERA is 4.30. I’m no mathematician (that’s a lie, I’m actually pretty good at math), but if you’re only scoring 3.5 runs per game and you’re allowing more than 4 runs per game, that means you’re not going to win very many games. You’re winning the outliers. Personally, I found it astonishing that Texas was scoring a little more than three runs per game. It feels like it’s a struggle every day to push across one run. If you get two, you feel like you should play the lottery.
Really, the Rangers need more games like Friday night’s affair. There was a little power, a little small ball, and the pitcher kept them in the game. Prince Fielder and Kyle Blanks homering was a thing of beauty, and not just because they were balls that left the yard. Those kinds of shots jolted the offense awake. In that same game, we saw a Jake Smolinski sac-fly and an Adrian Beltre RBI single the other way on an aggressive first-pitch swing. There was a little of this, a little of that and BOOM – the Rangers had five runs. With this pitching staff, five runs should be enough to win games. That’s a lot, and you’d like that to be three, even four. As it stands, the team needs five.
Amongst the most exciting things of this week has been the emergence of Kyle Blanks on Saturday night. Coming a triple shy of the cycle, Blanks has been productive, outside of his debut game (which you can obviously forgive, being his first game up in Texas). The unfortunate asterisk beside Kyle Blanks is the same font, size and color as the one by Mitch Moreland: productive when healthy. We also saw Shin-Soo Choo break out of his slump with two monstrous shots: one a double off the wall in center and the other a front-row homer to right field. Choo’s struggles have been well documented and well criticized during this first month. Perhaps as the calendar turns to a new month, Shin-Soo Choo – and the rest of the Rangers’ bats – will come to life. Until we see proof otherwise, however, any sort of run production above three runs looks like an anomaly.
Optimists, like me, continue to say that Banister’s just looking for the right combination. I think he found it, honestly. The lineup that was constructed for Friday’s game seems to be the best spots for everyone involved. Switch out Blanks for Mitch Moreland as you need, but I like Shin-Soo Choo in the six-hole. I like Rougned Odor at nine. The flow works right – speed at the top, power/run producers in the middle, fighters at the bottom. Saturday was the first time that marked Banister using the same lineup twice in a row. He must think he found the right pieces, too.
That’s great. One section of the club down, now…
In the Field
It still isn’t pretty. The worst of the fielding issues came on Wednesday against King Felix Hernandez. Going against Hernandez is never any fun, especially since this appears to be a “good” year against Texas for him (remember, he typically alternates good and bad seasons against the Rangers). When you commit four errors in a game, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Then you have the unfortunate issue of throwing a ball, which Robinson Chirinos found to be a trouble on Saturday evening, throwing away a simple toss to third base that allowed the go-ahead run to score.
The worst part, for me, is that the offenders are repeaters – Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Choo. Beltre’s gaffs continue to be throwing related, typically overshooting first base by a wide margin. Andrus continues to whiff on the basic plays, which is a real shame because when he makes the astoundingly great plays, you pull your hair out in frustration. With that being said, “frustrating” continues to be the best word to describe Elvis Andrus, no matter where on the diamond he is. The feelings we (or at least, I) get about Andrus differ greatly from how we seem to feel about Shin-Soo Choo. With Choo, things like “contract,” “age,” “no trade,” and “decline” all seem to pop up, all of which add up to one word when he takes inefficient routes or misjudges fly balls: “infuriating.” We, as fans, can be a little forgiving of Beltre (he’s got Gold Gloves) or Andrus (he’s still young and trying to figure things out by trying). Choo? You don’t expect Gold Glove defense from Shin-Soo. And when he’s not even producing at the plate, you tend to ask things like, “Why are you even here?”
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go on an anti-Choo rant. That does give me a good idea for another article though, so I’ll file it away for later.
On the Mound
My theory from last week, that the bullpen was over-worked, has had a significant hole shot in it. This pen may have worked hard, long innings in every game played this year, but it did just have three days off in two weeks. It frittered away two manageable leads this week, and maybe worst of all, it’s throwing away quality (beyond quality!) starts by your rotation. Nick Martinez, Colby Lewis, and heck, even Ross Detwiler had solid starts this week that were dashed by the inefficiency of the bullpen.
It’s hard to say what’s more upsetting: the fact that the “surefire” relievers are the ones giving up the leads, or the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue holding teams down when there isn’t a lead to protect. Each of the losses against Seattle came as a result of whatever runs the starters gave up. When tasked with leads against Los Angeles and Oakland, that’s when the pen faltered. It would be one thing if it were Stolmy Pimentel giving up these leads or surrendering go-ahead runs, but on Friday, it was Shawn Tolleson, Roman Mendez and Neftali Feliz. Those are supposed to be your lock-down guys. With a five-run lead, they’re supposed to be academic and merely formalities.
Despite Anthony Bass giving up the lead in Sunday’s Nick Martinez-started game (with a homer allowed to Mike Trout…kind of a pass), he and Pimentel have been this club’s best relief pitchers, and they’re supposed to be mop-up men!
Ultimately, however, it does come down to the fact that the starters are only averaging around five innings per start. Five. Innings. Per. Start. You can’t go on winning streaks with that.
- Home Run of the Week – The nominees for this one were Kyle Blanks’ first homer as a Ranger, Fielder’s second of the year, Leonys Martin’s go-ahead homer against the Angels, or this week’s winner, Shin-Soo Choo’s game-tying three-run jimmy-jack on Saturday against Oakland. If anyone needed a huge, meaningful, blast like that, it was Shin-Soo Choo. Is this the beginning of something far more important? We hope. Goodness, we hope.
- Defensive Play of the Week – Despite my angry rant earlier, there were a handful of Web Gems to choose from for this week’s Defensive award. Andrus had a couple, Odor had a bunch, but this week goes once again to Adrian Beltre. It was Monday’s game against Seattle and the Mariners were up 3-1. Beltre had the smarts to know who was running, the catcher Mike Zunino, when this smash was hit.
- Pitching Performance of the Week – A few of you could argue (probably successfully) that Colby Lewis blanking the A’s or Nick Martinez blanking the Angels for six-innings each should be this week’s award winner for pitching. But since I’m a fan of the underdog, and since this is my column, I’m throwing a bone to Ross Detwiler. The kid had a week and a half to work on his mechanics and make a couple of tweaks here and there, and for a guy that had been shelled quite heavily in his previous three outings, he did alright for himself against Seattle, allowing just the two runs in 5.1 innings. Unfortunately for him, Texas couldn’t scratch out its average runs per game, saddling him with the loss.
- Overall MVP of the Week – How weird is it that Kyle Blanks was one of the most productive players of this past week, having only appeared in three games? Sure, his first game resulted in three strikeouts, but it would appear that those jitters got out of Blanks’ system immediately after that game, as he went NBA Jam “On Fire” over the next two games, hitting two bombs to left, coming a triple shy of the cycle on Saturday.
Where do we place the blame? It’s easy to blame the hitting coach, Dave Magadan. Really, just hitting coaches in general are easy to blame. Or is it the players for not grasping the message that Jeff Banister is trying to convey? Is the message itself to blame? Ponder that as you watch these next few games and come back next week for THIS WEEK IN RANGERS’ BASEBALL!