The Rangers played their 81st game last night (allegedly they came to play last night). Halfway through the season, they are 41-40.
Raise your hand if after a 7-14 April you thought this team would be anywhere in the same hemisphere to .500. Be honest.
But every season has its plusses and minuses, and now that we are at the halfway point, let’s look at five ways the glass is half full and five way its half empty. Your view may vary.
Prince Fielder. He picked up his 35th multi-hit game last night, best in the American League, raising his average to .347. He is an offensive machine. If he doesn’t win comeback player of the year, they should never again award that award. But take away all the production, all the hits to the opposite field, all the RBIs, all the infectious joy he brings to the field every time he steps on it, and what is most impressive is his unselfish decision to accept being the team’s DH and accept that Mitch Moreland is the better fielder. Where would this team be without Fielder? In Phillies territory.
Mitch Moreland. Everybody’s favorite whipping boy since 2011, and for good reason. Every time you thought he was going to turn the corner, the corner turned on him. His career had been a textbook of disappointment. Injuries had a lot to do with it, to be sure. But besides a few flashes of production, he mostly had flashes of mediocrity. This year, he is the second best hitter the Rangers have. And there really is nobody at third best or fourth best. Moreland is having a career year. Fielder and Moreland are the only offense you can count on night in and night out.
The starting rotation. When Yu Darvish went down last August and no effort was made to replace him, it looked bleak. When Derek Holland went down in spring training, it looked bleak. When Ross Detwiler crashed and burned in his counted on role as a starter, it looked bleak. But here we are at the halfway point and the Rangers starters have the fourth best ERA in the league, and 5th most quality starts. Special tip of the cap to Yovani Gallardo. Matt Harrison is coming back next week for his goodwill farewell tour. He deserves a ten-minute standing ovation from every Ranger fan alive for his grit and will and just plain toughness. And, then, when he pitches, remember all that and don’t be too upset if the outcome isn’t what we hoped for. It’s Matt Harrison, and we love him and thanks for trying.
Jeff Banister. Sure he is learning, but he also seems to have his team playing far above their water level, and playing with confidence. He seems to have his team’s respect, which is pretty remarkable for a first time manager. He has his share of head scratchers, but those pale compared to where he has led his team. And this is his team. Face it, this is a fifth place team masquerading as a wild card contender. Very few people saw that coming. That is 100% on Jeff Banister. (Next time he bats Elvis Andrus second, I may delete this paragraph.)
Shawn Tolleson. You cannot compete without a closer. While it’s a role that is way over-rated, it’s still necessary. Closers are a dime a dozen. Two years ago, when the Red Sox and Cardinals met in the World Series, each team was on its fourth closer. While they are interchangeable drill bits, you still need one that gets the job done until the next guy comes along. Having said that, Shawn Tolleson has been masterful in taking over for the just released Neftali Feliz. He has saved 12 games, and blown none, while notching a 2.60 ERA and 35/7 strikeouts to walks ratio. When Tolleson comes in to close, the game is closed. You can’t ask anything more of a closer.
The Rangers bullpen. It’s last in the league in ERA. It would be 50th in the league in ERA if there were 50 teams. Fortunately for the Rangers bullpen, there are just 15 teams in the league, and the Rangers have only 14 bullpens better. You would be smarter to throw ice cold water into a vat of hot oil (don’t ever do that) than you would counting on the Rangers bullpen in a critical situation. This one is on the General Manager who buried his head in the sand and did nothing to improve the bullpen in the off-season.
Rangers home record. After last night’s almost highlight-free 8-2 loss to the Angels, Texas’s home record is 15-20, as opposed to a 26-20 road record. If the Rangers had the same winning percentage at home as they do on the road, they’d be 2.5 games behind Houston. They’d have a real shot at a division title. Now, the best they can hope for is that second wild card slot.
Rangers vs. lefties. Since June 4th, the Ranger are hitting in the .190s against left-handers. It’s gotten to the point that teams are calling up left-handers to face the Rangers, so they can give their other starters a breather and still get a W. In fact, many teams are scheduling Guaranteed Win Night in upcoming series against the Rangers. The night they pitch a lefty, they guarantee their team will win that night, or everyone in attendance gets a free Lexus.
Leonys Martin. The problem with Mitch Moreland’s resurrection from the dead is that it gives ammunition for everyone who still believes there is hope for Leonys Martin. “Well, we all wanted to give up on Moreland, and look what he is doing. The minute we get rid of Martin, he will be Willie Mays.” Right, and with a bit of good lighting I will be George Clooney. It isn’t going to happen. We used to hear that about giving up on Chris Davis, for that one year he did something. We don’t hear that much anymore, because he did something just that one year. Leonys Martin had had one good month. The end of last season, when Tim Bogar installed him as leadoff hitter he was brilliant. He gave everyone hope. Now he just gives everyone heart burn. I am willing to give up on him and see him shine in some obscure Mexican league. I can live with that. What I can’t live with the black hole he creates in the Rangers lineup every night.
Elvis Andrus. It’s almost not worth writing about anymore. It would be seen as picking on Elvis. It’s not his fault his General Manager is evaluationally-challenged, and in charge of millions and millions of dollars in disposable cash. And, with Andrus, it’s disposable. If you want to have a depressing hour or two, Google “what’s wrong with Elvis Andrus?” Article after article has been written about that. By people who actually do this for a living. So, I will leave the what’s wrong to the experts. And just say, the reason the Rangers offense struggles is very apparent. With Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin in the lineup, that represents eight at bats a night between the two of them. That is eight outs right off the top, out of the 27 a team is allotted. That is two and two-thirds of an inning given up. So, before a game even begins, the Rangers are playing a six-inning game vs. their opponent’s nine innings. Pretty hard to try to outscore teams night after night after night with three innings tied behind your back. The fact that this team is one game over .500, playing six innings to the other guy’s nine is pretty remarkable. It’s time to forgo the handicap and play nine innings. One can dream.
The second half starts tonight. Against a lefty. At home. With Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus still on the roster. And the Rangers bullpen still employed. All we can do is hope that Banister gets timely hits from Fielder and Moreland, figures out a way for the starter to go eight, then turns it over to Tolleson.
There is a classic struggle of good vs. evil every night the Rangers play.
Come on, good. Let’s win this thing.