What's going on with the Rangers?
It's safe to say that this season isn't going exactly how the Rangers planned. The club, which is coming off of four straight 90-win seasons, has allowed an American League-high 421 runs and stands 15 games back in the highly competitive AL West. It almost makes you wonder why the Rangers were a popular preseason pick to win the division... until you look at who's on the disabled list.
That includes projected starters Matt Harrison (spinal fusion surgery), Derek Holland (knee surgery), and Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery). Even backup starters Tanner Scheppers and Alexei Ogando were forced to the DL with cases of elbow inflammation. Both players should eventually return this season, but that likely won't make up for the damage that has already been done to Texas's record by replacement-level pitching.
The injuries to the pitching staff only tell half the story with the Rangers, though. Over the winter, the team traded away second baseman Ian Kinsler in exchange for Detroit's first baseman Prince Fielder. The deal made sense on paper. Both players have been very productive for years prior, but Texas was trying to make room for Jurickson Profar, who has been one of the top prospects in baseball for the past two years. By dealing Kinsler, the Rangers were opening up a spot at second base for Profar while at the same time importing one of the league's most consistent power hitters.
So what happened? Profar tore a muscle in his shoulder before the season even started, and the injury could keep him out for the entire season. To make matters worse, Fielder, who had played in at least 155 games in every season since 2006, got off to a slow start before being sidelined for the season with neck surgery.
Is anything going right for the Rangers? Shin-Soo Choo is getting on base at the top of the order, and Adrian Beltre is living up to his standard or excellence, but their efforts haven't been able to stop the team from losing 13 of its last 15 games and falling into "seller" mode as the trade deadline approaches.
Who are these guys?
The injury to Profar allowed Rougned Odor to make his major league debut ahead of schedule this season. For a middle infielder who weights 170 pounds, Odor has shown a good amount of pop in the minor leagues. Last year he hit 11 home runs between Advanced-A and Double-A, and he added six more this year in a quarter of a season at Double-A. In the majors, Odor isn't getting on base enough to be considered a positive contributor right now, but his solid defense and three home runs as a 20-year-old MLB regular is a good sign for the future.
Michael Choice made his major league debut in a cup of coffee for the Athletics last year, but he's really been thrown into the fire after an offseason deal sent him to Texas. With a solid outfield of Alex Rios, Leonys Martin, and Choo, the Rangers figured they were trading for an extra outfielder with a high upside. Instead, Choice has been pressed into DH duty thanks to injuries to Fielder and Mitch Moreland. In Double- and Triple-A, Choice was a high-walk guy who didn't hit for as much power as you'd like for a corner outfielder, but his .184 BABIP has held him back from making a big splash in the majors. Choice's eight home runs, though, are an indication that the 30 dingers he hit at Advanced-A in 2011 weren't a fluke.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Yu Darvish vs. Jon Niese
Even as everything goes wrong around him, Darvish continues to be one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. The 27-year-old ace is striking out about 11 batters per nine innings and has cut his walk rate this season down to 8.6 percent. Even though his BABIP allowed is a career-high .311, he's still on pace for a six-win season according to fWAR. It looked for a moment like the Mets would avoid having to see the multi-pitch demon, but Darvish was scratched from yesterday's start thanks to some rain clouds approaching Baltimore. The headline in that link says that manager Ron Washington's move "backfired" because spot starter Scott Baker didn't shut down the Orioles, but the move won't really fail unless the Mets hit Darvish hard today. That would be a fun surprise.
To get the best of Niese and the Mets, Darvish will probably have to allow three runs or fewer. That's not much of a big deal for him, but still, Niese has set a hard line with three or less earned runs allowed in 20 straight starts. Any time a player pitches so well during a season that is going this poorly, the trade winds are going to start to blow. Sandy Alderson may have just been paying Niese lip service when he said that the lefty was unlikely to be dealt, but I think Niese's affordable contract makes him more valuable to the Mets than to anyone else right now.
Saturday: Colby Lewis vs. Bartolo Colon
Lewis has been a solid asset for the Rangers ever since he returned from Japan for the 2010 season. However, he's having trouble getting back on track in 2014 after missing all of the 2013 campaign with elbow and hip injuries. A .394 BABIP is a big contributor to Lewis's absurd 5.71 ERA, but he's also walking more batters per nine (3.09) than he has ever before in his post-Japan career. Fortunately for the Rangers, the 14 strikeouts and zero walks that Lewis has posted in his last two outings are a good sign that he's turning things around.
Also in need of a bit of a turnaround is Colon, who only struck out two batters while allowing five runs during his most recent start in Pittsburgh. Before that, the veteran right-hander had been pitching excellently for over a month. Throw in the fact that he hasn't had a poor start at home this year as well as the state of the Texas lineup, and you've got a recipe for success on Saturday.
Sunday: Nick Tepesch vs. Zack Wheeler
Brought up from the minors when the Rangers put Perez and Harrison on the DL in mid-May, Tepesch has struggled with his stirkeout and walk rates when you compare those figures to what he did in his debut season of 2013. Tepesch has seen his strikeout rate drop from 18.7 percent to 15.3 percent and his walk rate rise from 6.6 percent to 9.0 percent. However, the last month may be an indication that he's getting the hang of the majors again. Tepesch has allowed zero runs in two of his last three starts, and his most recent outing was his most successful of the season with 7.1 shutout innings against Minnesota.
Wheeler continued his 2014 roller coaster ride with a performance in Atlanta that was both good and bad. First, the bad: Wheeler walked five batters in 6.1 innings while appearing to lose control of the strike zone at times. The good: He used 113 pitches to get through hose 6.1 innings even though at first it looked like he was one pace for 120 pitches in five innings. Wheeler also allowed just one run to the Braves in the 5-3 Mets loss. The start was certainly better than his recent blowup against Oakland, but Wheeler needs to develop some kind of consistency with his command if the Amazins are going to rely on him in the future.
Prediction: The Mets have got to start playing better sooner or later, but the same can be said for Texas. With Darvish on the hill, I'll settle for two of three.
How about some GIFs?
Nelson Cruz has made the Mets look bad by hitting a bunch of home runs this season after signing with the Orioles. Texas's Leonys Martin saved fans some more anguish by robbing Cruz of a potential round-tripper.
The Mets will unfortunately face Yu Darvish in the first game of the series. He does things like this.
Citi Field isn't the only stadium that is sometimes plagued by random trash blowing around. Just the other day, Elvis Andrus had to field and destroy a balloon on the field.