It’s well-chronicled just how low expectations were for the Rangers coming into the 2019 season. They were fresh off a 67 win campaign in 2018, fired their manager and replaced him with one with no managerial experience, plus their offseason additions of struggling veterans like Lance Lynn and Hunter Pence were less than inspiring.
Well three months and over 80 games into the regular season, the Texas Rangers are ten games over .500 at 46-36 and would be a playoff team if the postseason started today.
The @Rangers and @Indians are tied for the AL's best record this month, after entering June as Trade Deadline bubble teams. If the playoffs began today, Texas would meet Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card Game. @MLB @MLBNetwork @MLBONFOX
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 29, 2019
The good vibes have continued for this surprising Rangers team under Chris Woodward and we gathered some of our staff to answer some questions about this team now that we’ve got half a season to mull over.
What stands out as the biggest difference between 2018 vs 2019?
Alex Plinck: The biggest difference between seasons is the club’s solidarity on and off the field is showing to the naked eye. It all stems from the manager, Chris Woodward. It is a roster that picks each other up, an aspect that didn’t seem to be prevalent last season. A ballclub’s camaraderie is not something that blossoms overnight. But talking with Shawn Kelley, it is one of the most unified teams he’s been a part of.
Corey Douglass: The biggest difference from 2018 to 2019 for the Texas Rangers is the fact that everyone is pushing in the same direction. A huge part of that has been new manager Chris Woodward. Woodward has changed the mindset of the younger guys, like with Joey Gallo. He’s also been able to communicate with the older guys and they are fully onboard, which I don’t think you could say for the 2018 team under Jeff Banister.
Dylan Duell: The depth stands out as the biggest difference to me and it has come in unexpected places. With injuries to Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus early in the season, multiple fringe roster guys like Logan Forsythe and Danny Santana have stepped up to help the team. When Joey Gallo missed three weeks in June with an oblique injury, Delino DeShields and Santana stepped in to fill the void in center field. When the Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez and Shelby Miller experiments went up in flames, Ariel Jurado, Adrian Sampson and now Jesse Chavez have stepped up to fill the void behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. In 2018, when someone significant went down, the team’s play went with it.
Garrett Jones: For me, the biggest difference has been the batters’ general approach at the plate- for better or worse. Joey Gallo has always walked consistently since his breakout 2017, but this year, his pitch selection is incredible. Gallo’s always been a “boom or bust” player, but this year, we’ve seen a lot more “boom.” I think this a testament to Chris Woodward’s offensive philosophy. Rougned Odor has gone the opposite direction. Even last year, Odor had a lot more boom and a hot stretch in August, but his approach is awful. He swings too often on bad pitches early in the count, and almost never comes up with multi-hit games. He’s had a harder time adjusting.
Who has been the team’s MVP to this point and why?
Alex: Mike Minor’s success on the mound is everything the Rangers and fans hoped for, and more. Outside a struggling opening day start (and just one bad inning in that start), Minor allowed three or fewer runs in all of his sixteen starts. Minor has two complete games, five starts going eight or more innings, and eight starts going seven or more. It’s the type of workhorse and ace material the Rangers irk for, especially with uncertainty at the bottom of the rotation.
Corey: The teams MVP to this point has been Mike Minor. Minor started opening day and was tabbed as this teams ace. Minor has been one of the best pitchers in baseball and currently leads all American League players in WAR. With the injuries the Rangers have sustained to guys like Gallo, Elvis and Hunter Pence, this team still sits at 10 games over .500 and in striking distance of the division with the Astros recent slide.
Dylan: Since no one else is going for it, I guess I’ll be the guy who says Joey Gallo. Incredibly, the Rangers have three players in the top ten of the American League WAR rankings. Mike Minor has been incredible and thus leads the AL in WAR with a 5.5 while Gallo and Lance Lynn are tied for tenth with 3.3 each. Joey Gallo was on a torrid pace before his injury knocked him out of a game on June 1st. He has picked up right where he left off since returning on Tuesday with four hits (two being home runs) in 13 at-bats and four walks in four games. He should be named an All-Star reserve soon and he will be a key piece for the Rangers in 2019 and hopefully many, many years to come.
Garrett: I’m gonna go outside the box here and pick Jesse Chavez. He’s not a nationally popular player and his name doesn’t jump off the page to the average fan, but I promise you Texas would not be contending without his flexibility. He’s done it all- as an opener, high-leverage reliever, mop-up duty, and now as a starter- and has done it extremely well, boasting a 2.79 ERA and a 0.49 ERA in the last two months.
Which player’s performance so far has you most excited for their impact beyond 2019?
Alex: The turnaround between last year and this year for Joey Gallo makes all Rangers fans excited for the future. Joey’s combination of discipline, outfield range, and his downright strength with the bat sees immediate results in “the process” not even through year one. Joey is making more contact, swinging at fewer pitches, and seeing more favorable counts. Even with three weeks on the injured list, Gallo immediately followed with a couple of walks and home runs in the Tigers series. The fun is just getting started.
Garrett: No doubt, Willie Calhoun. As of Friday, he’s reached safely in all 15 games he’s played. His offseason purge of Fortnite and junk food has certainly paid off, and he’s playing angry after missing the Opening Day roster. Like Gallo, he’s taken well to Woodward’s offensive philosophy, and has settled into his role in left field defensively. He’s earned the roster spot and will likely be there beyond the years of Shin-Soo Choo, Hunter Pence and Delino Deshields.
What will be the narrative around the team on August 1st and September 1st?
Alex: On August 1st, there will be questions about the Rangers decisions on the trade deadline. The club is in an interesting situation in the thick of the second wild-card spot. The club has a decision to make to sell their top pieces and keep this rebuild going, or go after possible rentals to chase a playoff spot or even division.
September 1st could be a fun time in Rangers land. The club finishes a series against the Mariners and heads to New York to face the Yankees. The Rangers/Yankees matchup is anticipating as a possible ALDS series preview. There is a Cinderella feeling with his club, and it is a reality.
Corey: I’m not sure many people thought this team would be heading into July in the middle of a postseason race, but I’m officially on board and believe this team can make the playoffs. Come August 1st, while I don’t expect the front office to mortgage the future with any deals I fully expect that we will be talking about some new additions that the team added at the trade deadline. So with that being said, I expect that there will be a ton of scoreboard watching in September.
Garrett: Texas has a tough schedule in July. The Rangers play at Minnesota before the All-Star break, and follow it up with two tough series against Arizona and Houston the week after. The nine-game cushion they’ve built over .500 helps, but after those tough games, they might find themselves back around that mark. These tough matchups and the league’s tendency to normalize as a 162-game schedule takes its toll into July and August will likely see the Rangers take a slide.
Ideally, the team doesn’t buy high and stays the course at the deadline. Texas likely won’t be out of the Wild Card race by then- but they probably won’t be leading it. A vote of confidence in the current roster and the experience added for young players would help the Rangers more than an all-out fire sale or buying at the trade deadline would.
If they stay put, the narrative around September 1 could also be very promising. The team’s on pace for 90 wins. In addition to getting young players major league experience, think that should be the goal. Tampa Bay went 90-72, but narrowly missed the playoffs. I think Texas could mirror that result- and if we’re being honest, that’s a great accomplishment for a group with limited expectations coming into the year.
A lot can change in a short time throughout the MLB season. The 162 game is one of peaks and valleys and the Rangers are enjoying a peak over the last several weeks. With bats like Gallo and Hunter Pence coming back to the lineup, the fireworks should continue to fly at Globe Life Park during its final months. But with a more difficult schedule in the final few months, will the Rangers be able to finish off this unexpected surge with a playoff push into August and September?
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