Last year after 81 games, the Rangers were 35-46. They finished the season 67-95. They finished last.
In 2017 after 81 games, the Rangers were 40-41. They finished the season 78-84. They tied for third.
In 2016, the year the Rangers won the West and had the best record in the American League, they were 52-29 at the halfway point.
The Rangers played their eighty-first game of the year yesterday. They are 45-36.
It has been, to say the least, a surprising first half. So surprising it caught even the general manager off guard. He slapped together a placeholder starting rotation, hoping to just get to next year where people would be looking up at the roof and not out at the play on the field.
But as failed as he was in assembling his pitching staff, he was brilliant in finding the pieces that, at the time were thought to be role players but, with the inability of so many of the core players to take the next step, have turned into the nucleus of a really good offense.
The Rangers went into the season not with the intent of winning, but of evaluating the progress of that core: Gallo, Odor, Guzman, Mazara, and to some extent Kiner-Falefa.
Joey Gallo didn’t take that step they were expecting. Instead, he has taken a world-record-breaking leap forward like nobody would have ever imagined. As lost as he was in the past, that is how dominating he is now. In just one season he has gone from oddity to MVP. Progress Grade: A+.
Nomar Mazara has shown signs of turning the corner lately. But we have seen this movie too many times in the past. So, before declaring Nomar Mazara a success story, let the second half play out. He has been there before and disappeared. Progress Grade: C+.
Guzman can stretch at first. Offensively, he hasn’t been able to stretch further than last year. Maybe he figures it out in the second half. Nothing indicates he will. Progress Grade: D.
Odor is the most aptly named player in baseball. He stinks. Volumes have already been written about how bad he is. No need to rehash old news. If he gets red hot in the second half, he could move that average from the .170s to the .210s. He is not a major league hitter. Perhaps a career in aluminum siding would befit him. Progress Grade: F.
For some reason, the Rangers want to turn light-hitting infielder Kiner-Falefa into a light hitting catcher. (Perhaps because in his thirteen years at the helm, Jon Daniels has yet to develop a single catcher of any worth at all.) To do that, they brought in the lightest hitting catcher of all time to train him. It’s like having Angel Hernandez teach umpire school. Progress Grade: I.
So now the Rangers embark on the final 81. They have surprised everyone. They are for real.
Forget the young core. That experiment mostly failed. This team is all about Pence and Santana and Gallo.
The Rangers future isn’t in guys they’ve developed. It’s in guys they have pulled off the scrap heap.
Jon Daniels can spot a good bargain barrel hitter. Unfortunately when it comes to bargain barrel pitching, he’s the Stevie Wonder of finding talent.
Lance Lynn (9-4, 4.32) vs. Yonny Chirinos (7-3, 3.00)
Game time: 6:10