This Week in Rangers’ Baseball – O, Bullpen, Where Art Thou?
How are we feeling, Rangers fans? Thirty-seven games into the season and the boys aren’t in last place, but they’re not knocking on any special doors either. Really, the fact that the rest of the division, minus Houston, is nothing special is helping to keep the Texas boys in the race. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played and the trends that we’ve seen so far – Oakland playing sloppy, Seattle’s offense not clicking consistently, LA’s bats not performing – can’t be expected to continue. That goes for your Texas Rangers, too. Right now, it’s a toss-up as to which is the cause for more stress – the fact that Ross Detwiler is still labeled as a rotation piece for the Texas Rangers or the Texas Rangers’ entire bullpen. Somewhere, moves will have to be made, and while we’re still two and a half months from that special time, the speculations about what is necessary to “fix” the team are being made. Let’s take a look at the biggest problems from THIS WEEK IN RANGERS’ BASEBALL.
- Game 31 – W TEX 2 @ TB 1 (W: Kela 3-1, L: Jepsen 0-2, S: Feliz 5) – In which Adrian Beltre inches closer to history and Wandy Rodriguez makes some history of his own.
- Game 32 – W TEX 8 vs. KC 2 (W: Lewis 3-2, L: Duffy 2-2) – In which Texas takes advantage of an “extra innings, rain delayed, Sunday Night Baseball” tired Kansas City club. Also: Tommy Field debuts with a bang.
- Game 33 – L TEX 6 vs. KC 7 (W: Holland 1-0, L: Pimentel 0-1) – In which that old theory that “extra innings, rain delayed, Sunday Night Baseball” tired teams are affected more on the second day is thrown out the window, and Nick Martinez shows a crack in the armor.
- Game 34 – W TEX 5 vs. KC 2 (W: Gallardo 3-5, L: Ventura 2-3, S: Feliz 6) – In which Yovani Gallardo finally gets run support.
- Game 35 – L TEX 3 vs. KC 6 (W: Guthrie 3-2, L: Detwiler 0-5, S: Holland 7) – In which Jeff Banister continues to defend Ross Detwiler, but HAS to be finding it more and more difficult every fifth day to do so.
- Game 36 – L TEX 3 vs. CLE 8 (W: Webb 1-0, L: Rodriguez 1-2) – In which Adrian Beltre cranks homer number 400, but Wandy can’t find the magic this time around.
- Game 37 – L TEX 8 vs. CLE 10 (W: Atchison 1-1, L: Feliz 1-2, S: Allen 6) – In which not even the “winning” relievers could get Texas the win.
Week Record: 3-4. Year to Date: 15-22.
At the Dish
How unfair is this? As Josh Hamilton‘s rehab stints seem to be going better and better (4-for-5 on Saturday, ya’ll!), the Rangers’ offense seems to be less and less desperate for his presence in the lineup. Batters one through four, your “Franchise” players, are finally running on all cylinders, and the rest of the lineup is doing what it needs to do to be supporting cast members. This week, the Rangers lineup scored thirty-five runs. The week before, it scored thirty. Before that, only twenty-four crossed the plate. The trend is going in the right direction.
It’s hard to say what’s more encouraging: Prince Fielder finding his home run power, Mitch Moreland returning from the DL and not being a shell of his pre-DL-self, or the role players like Thomas Field contributing when called upon. The underdog in me wants to say that the Rangers’ bench is very encouraging, but the showman in me absolutely loves when a bat looks like a toothpick in Prince Fielder’s hands after a home run. Thomas Field providing some much needed offensive production is fun to watch, too (although that comes with a price…we’ll talk about it later…).
One thing was certain in watching these games: when this offense is a cohesive unit, it’s a damn gorgeous site to see.
We saw two pieces of history this week – both have their place in the Rangers’ short term and long term vision. Field cracked his first Major League home run in Kansas City on the night he was called up. That he belted his second one five days later should not be ignored. That he crushed both of them is not a small thing either. More important, perhaps, to Rangers fans was Adrian Beltre’s cacophonous no-doubter for his 400th career round-tripper. The great debate started again – should Beltre be in the Hall of Fame? That’s another discussion, another article, for another time. But, gee it would be fun to see Beltre’s mug in Cooperstown with a “T” on the cap.
In the Field
Let’s all credit Elvis Andrus – he only made one error this week. In last week’s column, I mentioned he had nine errors, but AtBat has the throwing error from Tuesday as his ninth, so either I can’t read, or a scoring decision was changed. Either way, I’ll throw this comparison out there: the team with the perceived weakest defensive shortstop is the New York Mets, who have Wilmer Flores as their everyday six-man. HE has nine errors. The Rangers’ shortstop has made as many errors as the Mets’ shortstop. Was he sharper this week? Sure. But he’s going to have to go on a nice, long error-less streak to re-instill that faith in his glove.
As it turns out, it wasn’t Andrus’ error that was most costly this week. Unfortunately, that distinction belonged to newcomer Thomas Field. His Saturday in the field could have gone a lot worse, but thankfully, Robinson Chirinos is still your unexpected gem of a defensive catcher and bailed him out of an errant throw. There was nothing anyone could do for Field in the ninth inning, however. Neftali Feliz induced the ground ball he needed to get the save, and while Andrus’ throw could have been a little higher and more friendly to Field, the throw from the Rangers’ new second baseman was hugely off the mark, which allowed the tying run to cross, the inning to continue, and the ultimate result to occur.
It just amounts to another defensive lapse that cost the Rangers a winnable game.
On the Mound
What’s sad about this section of the report is that the Rangers’ starting pitching staff, except for Wandy on Friday, didn’t do all that bad this week. Sure, Detwiler only made it five innings, averaging more than twenty pitches per inning, but he only gave up three runs. Nick Martinez on Tuesday technically had a quality start, with three earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched. The problem continues to be the bullpen.
Anthony Bass is clearly not the man we were hoping he would have been out of the ‘pen at the start of the year, and Alex Claudio is not the lefty specialist we needed. On that note, Sam Freeman isn’t either. Of course, the use of these particular relievers (in addition to the recently DFA’d Stolmy Pimentel) usually means that the starter didn’t go nearly as deep into the game as needed. The notable games this week were Thursday’s and Friday’s contests, in which Ross Detwiler and Wandy Rodriguez went five and 4.2 innings respectively. That causes you to rely on Bass, Freeman and Claudio to keep you in the game, and unfortunately, those three (and maybe Fujikawa, more on him in a bit) are turning into “White Flag” relievers. Good teams are allowed maybe ONE of those in bullpen. The Rangers have three, maybe four.
Let’s talk about that fourth one. Kyuji Fujikawa made his Rangers’ debut this week and Spencer Patton got sent back down. Fujikawa was a guy signed on to be a key late inning cog, but most of our local writers and observers got the impression that, well, he didn’t give a good impression. Nine hits, nine walks, eight strikeouts over 10.1 innings doesn’t exactly scream “dominant setup reliever,” and while he tossed a perfect debut inning in his debut on Thursday, but the next day? He gave up three runs in just two-thirds of an inning. For a team that expects key relievers to pitch in back-to-back games every now and then, that can’t be a good sign. Now, is that only two outings? Yes, but if you’re like me, you don’t exactly have an abundant sense of hope that Fujikawa is going to be a 7th or 8th inning stud.
Perhaps most painful to watch was Saturday night’s bullpen performance. While Colby Lewis certainly wasn’t his studly self, giving up six runs in five innings, the bats allowed the team to turn to its best relievers (after Claudio…but, hey, give him credit – a scoreless inning with a strikeout, earning a hold? We’ll take it.). The big kick to the nads this time around was that your two closers, one of the present, one of the future, earned blown saves. For Keone Kela, you can shrug and use the excuse of age and experience. With Neftali Feliz? Well, Feliz was charged with his third blown save. THIRD. Remember when Joe Nathan blew his third save in the last month of the season in 2013 and fans were ready to crucify him? This was Feliz’ third blow in a month and a half. It was off of a 95-MPH fastball, too. It was just middle-in.
What moves the Front Office makes in the bullpen is going to be largely indicative of what they think of the season. If the team ends up reaching .500 or a little above there, expect a move to be made for a proven, veteran, probably costly reliever. It’s an area that JD regrets not spending in during the winter, and he could take that chance around July if he feels the club will need that piece to be successful.
- Home Run of the Week – Is there any doubt about this award? Adrian Beltre plastered his mark all over the baseball he hit for his 400th career dinger. For added visual effect, give some props to the Globe Life Park in Arlington staff for getting the congratulatory banner unfurled as Beltre was rounding the bases.
- Defensive Play of the Week – As critical as I’ve been of Elvis Andrus these last couple of weeks, I’ve also acknowledged that the man can make some downright sparkling plays. This one he made just happened to be a game-saver/game-changer. Robbing Evan Longoria of a hit was one thing; being able to flip it into an inning-ending double play was superb.
- Pitching Performance of the Week – I could have very easily given this award to Yovani Gallardo for his seven innings of two-run ball against a division leading Kansas City, but given the tight nature of the ballgame and the fact that he set history while fighting through some obvious pain, Sunday’s outing by Wandy Rodriguez earns this award. Even after having to be looked at midway through the third inning, Rodriguez still carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Guts, man.
Okay, SDI fans, the question this week is simple: What is your short term answer in the bullpen? It took a cushion of Alex Claudio to get there, but Jeff Banister rolled out his three bullpen “winning pieces” – Kela, Tolleson and Feliz. Two of the three didn’t get their job done. We should be looking at a stat line of “H-H-S” – instead, all we got was a double dose of “BS”…blown saves, of course, in THIS WEEK IN RANGERS’ BASEBALL!