The fourth installment in the Pop-Tarts Series features the Texas Rangers, the former class of Texas. This year, with Houston on a surprising tear, the Rangers have settled for second best in the Lone Star State. Are the playoffs in the cards for Texas, or do they miss out for the second straight year?
How’s It Going?: Texas is having an inconsistent year, as is every team in the American League. Currently at 34-30, the Rangers are in a wild card spot.
Texas’s offense has been boosted by Prince Fielder in his second year in Texas. Last year sure didn’t go according to plan, so Prince came back more determined than ever to prove his worth, and he has done just that thus far in 2015. Fielder has clubbed 10 homers and driven in 45 RBI, all while hitting .341 and posting an OBP over .400 (!). Prince has never been this good in the past, but he is a heavy favorite (no pun intended) for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Around Fielder, the Rangers’ lineup lags. Elvis Andrus has been awful at shortstop, Shin-Shoo Choo should be better than the way he’s performing (.244/.355/.413) since he’s making over $130 million, Adrian Beltre has been injured and looked old before hitting the DL, and Leonys Martin was unable to win the leadoff spot before a demotion to AAA ensued. This string of disappointments from important players has cost the Rangers. On the bright side, Mitch Moreland and Kyle Blanks have been solid in a platoon at DH, Josh Hamilton raked before hitting the DL himself, and youngster Joey Gallo has showcased his other-wordly power for all to see in his 2-week crash course at third base while Beltre is on the DL. The Rangers’ bench is decent, as Delino DeShields and Ryan Rua are nice rookie outfielders and Adam Rosales can hold his own versus lefties. If Texas wants to win their division, a very weak one, they’re going to need the stars to get going and perhaps pursue upgrades at second base, where Rougned Odor has struggled heavily, and at catcher, where Robinson Chirinos cannot even hit .200 and is spotty defensively.
Ironically, one of Texas’s supposed weak spots has been a plus for them thus far in 2015. The starting pitching has been solid. Yovani Gallardo has pitched like the ace he used to be, Nick Martinez and Chi-Chi Gonzalez are top pitching prospects, Colby Lewis is a respectable back-end starter, and Wandy Rodriguez has partied like it’s 2005 with his comeback in full effect. In fact, the Rangers might as well be called the Comeback Kings, as their roster is chock full of ex-stars finding glory again, whether it be on offense with Fielder or Hamilton, or pitching with Gallardo and Rodriguez. Chi-Chi Gonzalez can be an x-factor. His stuff could make him a plus starter in this his rookie year. Factor in the return of Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and maybe Matt Harrison, and the Rangers’ rotation looks pretty good. The bullpen is a different story. While some, like new closer Shawn Tolleson, lefty Alex Claudio and rookie Keone Kela have made strong impressions early, it is the veterans that Texas was counting on that have failed them. Neftali Feliz could not reclaim his closer’s spot, Tanner Scheppers has been a mess ever since moving back to the bullpen from the rotation, and any veteran help has been just a retread and quickly discarded. Simply put, while the rookie contributions have been nice, Texas needs their proven players to pick up the slack in the bullpen to be considered a contender.
Texas is similar to lots of teams in the AL this year. They don’t have the overwhelming division lead, but could be just good enough to sneak into a wild card spot with some smart additions (and subtractions). I don’t think that Beltre is done yet, nor is Fielder, but others like Choo and Andrus could be toast. The corner outfield and infield cannot carry this offense by itself. Where is the help at second base, catcher, or center field? Nonexistent. In regards to pitching, Texas has a very good rotation, with lots of depth to spare. This is their greatest strength. If the starters can mask the failures of the Texas bullpen, and maybe a veteran rental hops aboard the relief corps, the Rangers could slide by. But just sliding by probably doesn’t cut it come playoff time. Texas has some pieces, but is missing too many to be real players for a playoff run.