Take a deep breath Ranger fans, the roller coaster ride that was the first half of the baseball season is officially over. The 2017 version of the Texas Rangers have been a very difficult bunch to figure out.
At times, they look capable of competing with anyone in the league. But significant health issues and inconsistent play has often times left this Ranger team looking lost. The fight that this team has consistently shown under manager Jeff Banister has been apparent once again this season.
The Rangers have managed to claw their way to a 43-45 record, just three games back of a Wild Card spot in the American League. Tonight, Dallas Sports Fanatic is taking a look at a unit that may exemplify the inconsistency of this team the most, the pitching staff.
Starting Pitchers: C+
Consistency can be hard to achieve for a pitching staff that struggles to remain healthy. Ranger’s ace Yu Darvish is the only Ranger to make every one of his scheduled starts this season. As a result, the Rangers have been forced to use ten different starting pitchers throughout the first half.
Despite significant health issues, the oft changing starting rotation has held their own. Texas currently ranks 4th in the AL in ERA while giving up the 3rd fewest hits in the league. Teams are currently hitting .253 against Rangers starters, which places them fifth among all American League starting rotations.
Darvish has undoubtedly been the anchor of the rotation and the best starting pitcher on this team. Darvish finished the season’s first half leading all Ranger starters in nearly every stat category. Darvish is currently eighth in the AL in innings pitched, 20th in ERA, and 11th in total strikeouts. Darvish held opposing batters to a .215 batting average in his 19 starts, good for 18th in the league. Darvish finished the first half with a disappointing record of 6-8 and he struggled down the stretch, finishing 1-6 with a 4.23 ERA in his last nine starts. It is certainly worth noting that Darvish has been the victim of bad luck this season. He has not received much run support as the Rangers are averaging just 3.5 runs per Darvish start. Texas has lost seven games this year when Darvish holds his opponent to three runs or less.
Andrew Cashner (4-7, 3.54 ERA) as been solid when healthy. Thirty-two year old Austin Bibens-Dirkx made his big league debut earlier this season and has pitched admirably. Injuries led to a surprise spot in the rotation for the rookie and he has taken advantage. ABD was 2-0 as a starter while supporting a very healthy WHIP of 1.09. Cole Hamels was widely regarded as one of the team’s two best starting pitchers coming into this season. But a two-month stay in the DL essentially wiped out his first half. Hamels finished the half strong following his June 26th reinstatement. Hamels was 2-0 in his last two starts, allowing just two earned runs in 14.1 innings.
In addition to injuries, perhaps the biggest disappointment with the Ranger’s 2017 starting rotation has been Martin Perez. The lefty has had his moments as evidenced by a two-game stretch in April when he held the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners to one earned run over 10+ innings. But Perez has struggled with inconsistency all season. Perez has yet to complete more than seven innings in any one start and has been prone to the big inning.Perez’s ability to work deep into ballgames while limiting pitch count and catastrophic innings will be key for the Rangers moving forward. The team knows what they have in Darvish and Hamels (assuming health issues are in the past). Cashner and ABD have proven to be useful rotation pieces on the back end. The ability of Perez to turn the proverbial corner at this stage in his career would go a long way towards helping Texas secure a playoff birth.
Bullpen struggles have been well chronicled this season. As the calendar turned from March to April, the prevailing thought was that the bullpen was going to be a real strength for the Rangers. The pen surpassed expectations last season. Hard throwing Matt Bush had a full year under his belt. And Sam Dyson, who recorded 38 saves for Texas last season, was nearly untouchable in the World Baseball Classic.
All good feelings surrounding this bullpen were quickly erased as the Rangers blew two saves in the first three games of the season. Closer Sam Dyson gave up eight earned runs in his first two appearances, and was never able to regain his form. He blew all four save opportunities he was given before Jeff Banister was forced to remove him from the closer role. Dyson would go on to make 17 appearances for the Rangers in the first half, going 1-6 with a bloated ERA of 10.80. Dyson allowed an incredible 31 hits and 12 walks in only 16 innings for Texas. The Rangers traded the beleaguered reliever to the San Francisco Giants in June for cash and a Player to be Named Later.
The bullpen issues weren’t completely on Sam Dyson however. As a team, Ranger relievers blew a league high 17 save opportunities in 30 chances. The 17 blown saves matches the team’s total from all of 2016. The bullpen’s aggregate ERA of 4.61 is the fourth worst in the AL, and only the Tampa Bay Rays have recorded more bullpen losses (20) than the Rangers 18.
Matt Bush, who replaced Dyson as the team’s designated closer, faired only marginally better recording 10 saves in 15 opportunities. Banister elected to go with a closer by committee approach down the stretch after Bush blew his fifth save of the season and his third in five chances on June 30th against the White Sox. Ironically enough, Texas had zero save opportunities in the eight games that would follow. It is worth noting that Bush has thrown four shutout innings since his demotion and he could conceivably earn his job back with a strong second half start.
There have been some bright spots for Texas relievers this season. Soft tossing lefty Alex Claudio currently sports a 2.76 ERA in 40 appearances. Claudio has been asked to perform in a variety of roles including high leverage situations late in games, mop-up duty in blowouts, long relief appearances and he even made a spot start earlier this year. Although his stuff won’t blow opposing hitters away, Claudio has demonstrated the ability to throw strikes and keep his team in games. Claudio has thrown more innings than any other Ranger reliever this season, and he currently sports the pen’s best walk rate of just over two per every nine innings pitched.
Keona Kela, who opened the season in the minors following locker room issues in Spring Training, went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA in 30 appearances. Kela yielded no earned runs in his final nine appearances; however, shoulder soreness necessitated a move to the disabled list on July 3rd. Kela, who certainly deserves a shot at the closer role, is eligible to return from the DL on Friday, and the Rangers are hoping he will be ready for the upcoming series in Kansas City.
Left-handed reliever Dario Alvarez was good down the stretch (one earned run allowed in his last eight appearances), and the addition of Jason Grilli from the Blue Jays could help to fortify the bullpen going forward. The Rangers will need drastic improvement from the bullpen if they want to make a legitimate push for one of the two Wild Card spots.
Pitching Staff: D
As a unit, the pitching staff has fought to keep the Rangers in a number of games and they are not fully to blame for the up and down first half. But the immense struggles of the bullpen have left many wondering ‘what if’. With the return of Cole Hamels, the starting rotation could round into form very quickly in the second half. If Banister and pitching coach Doug Brocail can dig deep and find this team a closer, this will be a very formidable bunch going forward.
On Friday, Dallas Sports Fanatic will take a comprehensive look at the Texas Ranger’s offensive performance through the first 88 games of the season.
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