Serious doubts abound regarding these Texas Rangers. Another bullpen meltdown, another loss, another day of frustration over the makeup of this team.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Texas Rangers build a lead that lasts into the late innings. The starting pitcher serves a quality start. Everything looks good on the surface. Yet, through the course of it all, an uneasy feeling looms. True to form, the bullpen comes in and wets the bed. A loss is snatched from the seemingly certain clutches of victory.
That was the case yet again in Sunday’s series finale in Seattle. It has become this team’s calling card through the early stages of the 2017 season. Alarmingly, their record sits at 13-19, which is good for last in the American League West. Worse yet, they sit a full eight games behind the division leading Houston Astros. Eight games out in the first week of May. Do the math. This isn’t astrophysics and we don’t need Stephen Hawking to tell us this is bad.
Moreover, the pervading feeling is that there’s nothing in the cards suggesting a turnaround. Cole Hamels was scratched literally moments before his scheduled start against Houston last week. While he hadn’t been the pillar of reliability that the Rangers had hoped this season, he was still getting by on a veteran’s guile and grit. The bad news got even worse in the subsequent days, however, when the news came down that Hamels had strained an oblique muscle, and would require eight weeks to recover.
Couple this with the still MIA Adrian Beltre, and you have a deteriorating recipe for further disaster. Word is that Beltre is ramping up his rehab and is aiming for a return towards the end of May. While that is somewhat encouraging, one has to wonder if he might be rushing the matter a little too quickly in order to help raise a sinking, terminal ship. But even if this is the case, having him out on the field every day would almost certainly help the fortunes of this listless squad.
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Even then, the reasons for this year’s futility go much deeper than aforementioned injured future Hall of Famers. And while a lot of blame falls at the feet of a beleaguered bullpen, the true root cause of this season’s underachievement falls directly on the lineup.
Aside from Elvis Andrus’ clock-like consistency, absolutely no every day starter hits north of .250. right now. That is simply an unsustainable blueprint for any form of success at the major league level. The hitters have to produce in order for this club to win.
So that begs the question, can the Rangers do anything to stem the tide? Sure. Relieve hitting coach Anthony Iapoce of his duties. Right now, this club’s freewheeling, swing-at-anything approach is killing them. Too many batters have little-to-no discipline at the plate. Too may hitters swing and miss at pitches that start outside of the strike zone and stay there. Virtually no one grinds a pitch count. There are too many true outcome plate appearances in the lineup to portend any stretch of sustained consistency, and that is the hitting coach’s responsibility.
So if Iapoce is preaching the opposite of what they’re doing, then the Rangers’ hitters openly rebelled from what they know they must do. If this is the case, then there are problems in the clubhouse we have no idea about. For a team that experienced such success in recent seasons, it begs the question about what goes on behind closed doors. Is manager Jeff Banister losing these guys? Are they lost without Beltre at third base every day? Does pitching coach Doug Brocail micromanage his staff to the point where they’re afraid to make mistakes?
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The answer right now is probably a little bit of everything. The simple fact of the matter is that this isn’t working. A change needs to happen before it’s too late. Given the amount of talent and money invested, the results are simply too underwhelming. The likely reality is that the championship window is closed. Early returns suggest as much. Make changes soon, or the 2017 season will be gone for good.