The Texas Rangers have relied a lot on their bats to amass the American League’s best record, but it will be up to the bullpen to get them a championship.
The bats are strong
After all, the Rangers rank sixth in the Majors in batting average, seventh in home runs, seventh in hits, sixth in runs scored, fifth in slugging percentage, and seventh in fewest strikeouts. To say they hit well is an understatement.
While the 2016 team doesn’t boast a lineup full of intimidating sluggers that will go yard on an almost nightly basis, they do have a group of scrappy players that will amass timely hits and then put the ball in play to move runners from station to station.
In short, they have a lineup that’s really good at playing fundamental baseball. But scoring runs is only have of a team’s success in baseball.
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The starting rotation is strong
To really play well, you have to keep the opponent from scoring. As the great Vince Lombardi once said, “The best offense is a good defense.” While that is a football quote, you can look at teams like the 1995 Atlanta Braves, the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1986 New York Mets to name a few. Those teams rode the backs of their starting pitching to win the World Series.
Then of course, there’s the 2002 Anaheim Angels, the 1998 New York Yankees, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, and the 1972 Oakland Athletics that had stalwart bullpens shutting games down for them.
The starters have held their ground
This season’s Texas team has had its share of pitching ups and downs. Starter Cole Hamels can’t seem to figure out the Seattle Mariners right now, and Yu Darvish still has his problems against the A’s. Colby Lewis returned to form from his injury over the weekend to put together a very nice outing. Plus Derek Holland has exceeded expectations for a guy that hasn’t played much in recent history.
The bullpen has been shaky
Reliever Jake Diekman has hit a skid after being absolute money from May through June. But despite his recent troubles, opponents are still only batting .187 against him. He also boasts a nice 1.07 WHIP and earned the save in Monday night’s series opener.
Current closer Sam Dyson has had his own fair share of troubles, although he’s currently riding a streak of seven consecutive saves converted. He leads the team with 34 saves but did blow his fifth of the year, which led to Diekman’s Monday night save.
Finally, there’s the unsung hero of the Texas bullpen: right-hander Matt Bush.
It’s tough to imagine where the Rangers would stand had the front office declined to send a bevy of scouts to a Golden Corral in Jacksonville, Florida. Bush has been everything the pitching staff has needed, with a .987 WHIP, a 2.91 ERA, and an average of nearly a strikeout per inning pitched.
Given his back story, you might say he’s Josh Hamilton of 2008 in the form of a relief pitcher. The difference is, Bush entered the season with no major league experience. He’s been phenomenal, and should be a strong candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.
The relievers will get their moment to shine
All this to say, when the Texas Rangers bullpen has been good, they have been one of the best in the league. While they’ve had some rough outings, they’ve not been overall “bad” at any particular point. That’s why the bullpen’s performance will be pivotal to postseason success.
The MLB postseason has historically been all about pitching. Runs become harder to obtain and the match-ups become amplified. Starters also have shorter leashes with more on the line in the mid-to-late innings. Therefore, there are more chances for the bullpen to factor into the game.
With a little bit of early-season Dyson, a dash of mid-season Diekman, and a whole lot of well, all of Bush, this could be a playoffs to remember for the Texas Rangers.