Did the Rangers just see their season slip away in the first week of June?
It’s not looking good after getting swept at home by the division leading Houston Astros, a three-game series that saw the Rangers get outscored 20-8. George Springer was the hero for Houston on Sunday, going deep twice in the Astros 7-2 win. The Rangers are now five games under .500 and 15 games back of their in-state rivals in the A.L. West.
Of course this is a team that lives by the motto “Never Ever Quit,” so maybe the panic is a little premature. It is, after all, a long season. But repeating the magic of climbing out of an early hole in 2015 is currently on life support.
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That was the year the Astros jumped out to a nice lead in the A.L. West, only to fall apart at the same time the Rangers caught fire. After it was all said and done, the division flag would end up flying at the Globe.
Fast forward to 2017 and you see two very different teams and reasons to maybe panic just a little bit if you’re the Rangers.
Texas buried themselves early in the season, thanks in large part to giving up games in the late innings. Nobody would have guessed during spring training that the Achilles heel would be the bullpen but the lack of holds and saves in the first month of the season did some major damage.
Injuries also played a big part, especially with the heart of soul of the team. The Rangers were dealt a blow when third baseman Adrian Beltre started the season on the disabled list with a calf strain that he suffered before the start of spring training. Beltre chose to try to play it out during the World Baseball Classic, a move that many questioned at the time. Some wonder what could have been if the future Hall of Famer decided to skip the WBC as a precaution.
The pitching staff also suffered a huge blow in early May when Cole Hamels was pulled prior to his start in Houston with an oblique injury. The lefty was 2-0 with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in just five starts. The rest of the rotation has not been able to pick up the slack after losing one of their aces.
As far as the other ace goes, the case of Yu Darvish continues to get interesting. Darvish is a free agent at the end of the season and was expected to have a Cy Young-type year. It’s not that Darvish has been awful but the expectations of an ace can be tough. The big righty is 5-4 with a 3.13 ERA and a 2.2 WAR in 12 starts. The home run bug continues to bite Darvish, as evident in his last two starts where he got stung in the fifth inning of each game with the three-run homer that would seal the deal.
So if the Rangers continue to sink, does Darvish become trade bait?
As difficult as it would be for Rangers fans to see him in a different uniform, it’s not out of the question. Teams are going to make the calls and the Rangers front office will likely listen to the sales pitch. A nice prospect package could send Darvish to a contender at the trade deadline but it would have to be an offer they can’t refuse. Despite the struggles, Darvish is still considered one of the best pitchers in baseball with electric stuff, as long as the slider doesn’t hang.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Rangers. The Beltre injury has allowed the emergence of Joey Gallo, who filled in nicely for the five-time Gold Glove winner at third. Gallo is tied for second in the A.L. in home runs with 16. The young slugger is currently on pace to finish with 45 home runs. The Rangers are also getting a career-year from shortstop Elvis Andrus. The newlywed is hitting .305 with a .825 OPS. Beltre returned last week and is just 49 hits away from reaching joining the 3000-hit club.
Meanwhile, in the southern part of the Lone Star State, the Astros jumped out to that hot start and have never looked back. Houston has the best record in baseball and became just the third team since 2000 to notch 40+ wins in 56 games, joining the record-setting 2001 Seattle Mariners and the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
The good news for the Rangers is despite the fact that the division is likely out of play, they are still within striking distance of the A.L. Wild Card, currently four games back of the final playoff spot. They are 3-11 after running off a 10-game winning streak last month. Whether the Rangers bounce in the next month or so may also determine if Darvish will be in a Texas uniform at this time next year.
The month of June just became a make-or-break scenario for the Rangers and it all starts back up on Tuesday night with the New York Mets in town for a two-game series.