DALLAS — It’s 2019 – hope, optimism, fresh feelings spring anew. Everyone makes their pre-season predictions, playing the game on paper before it gets played on the field.
Everyone looks at their calendar, checkmarks a handful of series and pins them as definite wins or losses. Everyone picks their surprises, their dark horses, and everyone has their three or four teams that they just KNOW are going to be eliminated or dismissed outright.
For most pundits, the Texas Rangers were not surprises or dark horses. The Rangers were instead summarily brushed aside as afterthoughts, and the two opening series – against the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros – were pegged as relatively easy wins for the visitors.
They call them “sleepers” for a reason.
March 28-April 3
- Opponents: Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros
- 6-Game Record: 4-2
- Overall Record: 4-2, 2.0 Games Back of Seattle
- Notable Injury Report: ………..nothing…..
- Notable Stats: Asdrubal Cabrera (6-for-22, 3 HR, 7 RBI), Joey Gallo (7 Walks, 4 hits), Jose Leclerc (4.1 IP, 0 Runs, 2 Saves), Starter IP vs. Reliever IP (23.2 vs. 30.1)
With the Bat
This team will not lack for home runs or power hitters. As we know, with the power hitters come the strikeouts. But if the Rangers can tack on walks and keep working opposing pitchers and driving their counts up, that’s going to do wonders in keeping their team in a game.
We’re already seeing improvements from the biggest strikeout eyesore in the lineup, Joey Gallo. Gallo has walked seven times in these six games, including three times in the series finale against Houston. There’s a couple of ways to beat the shifts – hit against them, hit over them, or just avoid them altogether by walking.
There were those vocal about wanting to see Gallo bunt against the shift, just want to see his average go up so it looks like a better baseball card stat, but the big guy’s got an on-base percentage of .440, and that’s a LOT more attractive.
Similarly, Nomar Mazara, who has been working on his pitch recognition and discipline, has logged four walks thus far, but has also had six hits and rocketed two homers. Delino Deshields, who sports a pretty awful sub-.100 average, but is still getting on base at a .300 pace, has drawn five walks.
This lineup is full of annoyances and surprises that can and have thus far thrown pitchers off balance, whether it’s by drawing walks or working counts they, on paper, probably shouldn’t be doing.
It’s also full of some of that old hashtag #NeverEverQuit. With the exception of Monday’s pitcher’s duel against Brad Peacock, Texas has scored in the 7th inning or later in each of its games. Could that end up being a microcosm of the season - surprise victories here and there with strong, late pushes?
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Asdrubal Cabrera’s first impressions. He’s had a great first week, swatting with a .273 average and a .727 slugging percentage. His three homers came at times when Texas needed a momentum boost (down 4-1 to Yu Darvish, to take the lead against the Cubs late and to tie against Houston) and has somewhat snuck up on people expecting the typical Rangers’ lineup.
Texas brought the switch-hitter on for offensive purposes, not defensive, and through one week, he’s living up to his nature while also showing steady work at the hot corner.
On the Mound
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the weakness of this 2019 Rangers’ team is their rotation. Featuring two true starters – and really one is just entering his first unrestrained year as a starter – and three people returning from Tommy John surgery, the rotation isn’t exactly equipped for longevity.
In fact, here’s how the starters by innings pitched these last six games:
- Mike Minor – 4.2
- Edinson Volquez – 4.0
- Lance Lynn – 5.2
- Drew Smyly – 3.0
- Shelby Miller – 3.2
- Mike Minor – 7.0
This kind of pattern isn’t just not a recipe for failure, but could be ultimately detrimental to the health of the pitching for the organization from the top down. There’s only two long relievers on the 25-man, which is one more than most usually carry, and you can’t keep using the same relievers for multiple innings every day. Obviously it’s just the first week, but Texas has already had to send Kyle Bird down to bring up Adrian Sampson to provide length.
Mike Minor’s gem of an outing on Wednesday night might, potentially, possibly have been aided and assisted by some questionable umpiring; but there’s no denying that the lefty and catcher Jeff Mathis had a great game plan for staying out of the zone and inducing weak contact against a team that’s used to strikeouts or solid contact.
The rotation needs more of that kind of mentality and game plan to try and go deeper into games. I think it might be a bit much to expect everyone to go seven innings each outing, but five to six shouldn’t be a huge stretch for this group.
Luckily, Jose Leclerc continues to shine as a high-leverage reliever and has certainly earned the closer title. Shawn Kelley has been flawless in four games. Lefty Jeffrey Springs has worked his way through 2.2 innings in two games.
On paper, it looks like that’s the 7-8-9 guys in Chris Woodward’s bullpen backend. After several years of something more situational in Jeff Banister’s bullpen, maybe it’ll be nice to have something a little more structured and predictable?
In the Field
The club played some extremely clean baseball over the first two series. Historically clean, in fact. Texas maintained an errorless streak of 49.0 innings, best in club history, before Asdrubal Cabrera made a throwing error in the top of the fifth of the series finale against Houston.
All through that game, a few instances of Cabrera’s defensive deficiencies at third base were displayed, as the 33-year old’s range and arm strength were tested. But he held up pretty well over the first week of the season at a position he hasn't manned very often.
Primarily a second baseman, Cabrera’s arm just couldn’t muster up some strength on a few throws that a typical third baseman would be able to get to Ronald Guzman at first. Cabrera’s been perfectly serviceable at third, but after being exposed to Adrian Beltre for as long as Texas was, anything is going to seem like a downgrade.
Elvis Andrus was riding his own defensive hot streak at shortstop after getting an error changed to a hit in Tuesday’s game against Houston. In that same inning that Cabrera had his error, Andrus had his own defensive gaffe, bobbling a ball that should have ended the inning. No harm, no foul though, as no runs crossed the plate.
In other things that won’t show up in a box score, Texas still suffers from having a less athletic outfield than most. We’ve seen Delino Deshields' arm still not measure up to most center fielders. Hunter Pence has gotten a few questionable reads on fly balls – ultimately with no flagrant issue, but noticeable that he had a few issues. Nomar Mazara is still a slow presence in right field, and after a little collision at first base in Wednesday’s game, that might be more of a problem going forward.
But at least they’re not…
The New York Yankees
It’s going to be a season of trial for the Rangers (despite their 4-2 start), and it might be nice to see that it could, in fact, be worse. Take the Yankees, for example. The Bombers started the season without Aaron Hicks, CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances and Luis Severino also placed Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki on the Injured List in the first week of the season.
For a team that made a few moves to try and overtake the Red Sox in their division, that’s more than a wrench in their plans – it’s a whole different blueprint for a different machine.
The Rangers, for all their deficiencies on paper, are 4-2, with a few surprises up their sleeves. The ride is going to be weird, wacky and at many times, probably not fun in the slightest – but it’s still a historic season in many ways. Better to enjoy it while it lasts!
- April 4-7: @Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
- April 9-10: @Arizona Diamondbacks
Do you think that the Rangers can continue their winning ways away from home? Share your thoughts on the season's first week with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.