Cruel, cruel summer

A quick aside: It’s been a quiet month on the SDI front. If you’re peeved at that, blame me.

I’ll try to keep the breaks to a week or so from here out, but we’re in a unique spot here at SDI. The SDI writing staff seems to be hitting life milestones at the same time. As we do that, writing pro-bono for a blog—no matter how passionate the topic—just takes a back seat.

So, bear with us. We always appreciate your patience and interest, and the feedback you bring. Without you, there’d be no SDI. And it’s always better to be gone but not forgotten, than to be forgotten but not gone.

Now, something with some meat: this Rangers July. There’s a lot to cover.

Movement. Milestones. Immortality.

In this first series of pieces, we’ll look back at the most exciting day this side of the pennant race, bar none: Trade Deadline Day—July 31st.

Last year, the Rangers, with the AL’s best record, were buyers for the likes of Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress, and Carlos Beltran.

This year was different, to say the least.

The Rangers played .440 baseball in July, tying April for their worst record (11-14) in a single month this season. Their longest losing stretch—five games—was a stretch from July 16-20 against Kansas City to close out a three-game set, followed by a sweep at the hands of Baltimore. In that four-game stretch vs. the Orioles, they were outscored 34-11.

It was just what the doctor ordered.

Let me explain. See, the Rangers entered July unsure of what they were, at least in the front office. I feel like we fans, when we looked impartially, knew this wasn’t an October team.

For one, it is unlikely, despite being less than a handful of games back of the second Wild Card spot, that they’ll leapfrog eight teams to make the one-game Wild Card tilt. Even if they do that, their 2015 and 2016 October flameouts will loom large, in minds if not mouths.

In short: I never remember watching this team and thinking, “We’re ready for another lengthy October run.”

Honestly, I feel like they’re worse than they’ve played. The pitching staff looked to be Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and then pray you find glue (they did; his name was A.J. Griffin). Mike Napoli is loved, and a great teammate by all accounts, but I still feel his bat speed is topping out at slider in a fastball league most days. Lucroy suffered through a first-half slump, as did Rougned Odor. The bullpen seemingly invented new ways to implode week by week; I’m not calling out names because there’s plenty blame to spread around, so why be cruel?

Most critically, and crushingly, The Captain, Adrian Beltre, missed essentially the season’s first two months with a bum calf and related hamstring tweak.

So which Rangers turned it around in July, or kept on keeping on? Here are the Rangers’ who generally swung the bat best in July (apologies to Delino Deshields, who was so limited in plate appearances as to not qualify):

Napoli 94 12 8 9:32 0.229 0.309 0.578 0.887
Odor 100 12 10 4:23 0.266 0.31 0.606 0.916
Beltre 106 11 4 13:11 0.341 0.425 0.56 0.985
Gallo 58 5 4 10:22 0.213 0.362 0.489 0.851

The first three are pretty clear; Joey Gallo made the list mostly because of the carry-over effect it’s having in August. I’m so glad nobody listened to me when I was calling for a trade of the kid a year ago for a front-line bullpen arm or starter. Turns out he is making enough contact to hit at this level. I’m not sure the batting average will ever creep north of .250 for a season, but the power will be there.

I’m not going to dig into the arms too far, except to say Hamels pitched like the ace we’ve needed: 3-1 record, a bit high 3.66 ERA, but then a 0.941 WHIP and a remarkable 32:7 strikeout to walk rate in 39 innings for a guy who’s struggled to rack up strikeouts this year.

Yu Darvish, however, didn’t pitch like an ace. Finally facing up to reality, the Rangers branded themselves sellers by dealing two stars.

Lucroy went first, to the Rockies for a player to be named later.

A bit about that: sometimes (and I’d say hopefully here), that player-to-be-named is a current year’s draft pick. Those picks cannot be traded until one year after the date they signed their contract. That rule was put in place because of our Texas Rangers, who, after signing Bobby Witt out of Oklahoma in the 1985 Amateur Draft, called up Montreal and asked for the rights to the slugging kid the Expos picked out of Oklahoma State. The Expos agreed, and Pete Incaviglia was shortly thereafter knocking holes in outfield fences as the talk of Rangers spring training ’86.

Soon after, the Lords of Baseball put in place a rule whereby a draft pick could not be traded sooner than a year after signing.

How Lucroy does in Colorado—and how those kids the Rangers looked at in July do for the rest of the season—will strongly influence who the Rangers get back (or whom, I suppose, if Lucroy gets sizzling hot).

But it wasn’t the Lucroy deal that caused all the ruckus on the shores of Mark Holtz Lake.

Instead, it was the departure of the first genuine head-of-the-rotation ace to emerge as a Ranger since Kevin Brown.

More on that next time.

The full series

Intro: Cruel, Cruel Summer

Dodger Blue Bye-Yu:

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington. Along with John Manaloor, he co-owns Shutdown Inning, and serves as Editor in Chief for SDI.
He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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