The Texas Rangers made the big splash of the MLB trading season thus far, in a Monday deal for Chicago Cubs’ starting pitcher Matt Garza that got overshadowed by news of the Ryan Braun suspension. It’s a significant acquisition for the Rangers, but it also does nothing to help their offense.
Amidst all the injuries to the Texas rotation, the complete disappointment of their everyday lineup has slid under the radar a bit. Today’s American League MLB coverage will break down the problems in the Ranger lineup and ask whether they can score enough runs to get back to the postseason.
Texas is ninth in the American League in runs scored, and when you consider the hitters’ haven that The Ballpark in Arlington is, that looks even worse. The Rangers have been hurt as much by Josh Hamilton’s absence as the Angels have been by his presence. What’s more, players that Texas reasonably counted on to hit better, have instead gone in the tank.
THE THREE TO BLAME
Let’s start with the biggest culprit, and that’s shortstop Elvis Andrus. Instead of continuing his growth as an offensive player, Andrus has regressed badly. His on-base percentage is .311 and his slugging an atrocious .290. Furthermore, there’s never been a point in the season where he even resembled an offensive threat. The man entrusted with igniting the Ranger offense has been a dud.
Next up is leftfielder David Murphy, whose stat line shows a .282 OBP/.377 slugging. Here again, we have a player who’s usually a solid complementary piece to an offense turning into a complete liability. And while it wouldn’t be fair to call first baseman Mitch Moreland a complete liability—he is, after slugging .446 with 14 home runs—Moreland does have a terrible .297 OBP, and even his power is fairly average by the standards of his position. It is fair to call Moreland’s season a disappointment.
The failures of Andrus, Murphy and Moreland have only accentuated the other spots in the lineup that were already a problem. A.J. Pierzynski (.304/.427) is nothing special, but if the other three were hitting up to snuff. Pierzynski’s numbers are tolerable for a catcher.
No one expected much out of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, the ones who ‘ve taken over for Hamilton in the outfield, but each has an OBP narrowly over .320 and they would be manageable if the Not-So-Big Three had come through. The same goes for Jurickson Profar, the young infielder who’s still in the learning process and has a stat line of .318/.342.
THE BELTRE BRIGHT SPOT
A team doesn’t get into playoff contention without at least a few bright spots, and the work of Adrian Beltre again deserves praise. Beltre is showing his usual power, slugging.522 and hitting 22 home runs. Even more important, Beltre’s OBP—often inconsistent, is at a steady .349.
Beltre may get help from Jeff Baker, who’s just back from the disabled list. Baker’s thumb injury has limited him to 92 at-bats, but he’s hit nine home runs and slugged .674. While that’s obviously not realistic over a long stretch, Texas will take anything it can get right now.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Nelson Cruz has had a pretty good year, hitting 24 home runs and slugging .501. The OBP isn’t what it could be, at .327, but Cruz has at least provided a power complement to Beltre. But the Texas rightfielder is one of the players being investigated in the BioGenesis situation, and a suspension could be coming.
Cruz could appeal and drag it out to the end of the year, but here’s where his interests and that of the team diverge. Cruz is going to be a free agent in the offseason and if an appeal, and impending suspension to open 2014 is still on the table, it will drastically hurt his market value.
That’s where this situation differs from that of Braun. In the latter case, Braun has a long-term deal and his team is having a lousy year. Everybody in Milwaukee had a vested interest in moving on quickly. Not so in Texas, where Cruz’s interest is to move on, and Texas’ is to string it out. To call this situation a little interesting is to understate.
Lance Berkman is the other elephant in the room. The 37-year-old DH had seen his power diminish, but he still had a .355 OBP in 244 at-bats when he hit the disabled list. But the inflammation in his knee is not getting any better, there’s no timetable for his return and Berkman has already started to indicate that this may be it for his career.
COMPARISON & CONTEXT
Before drawing any conclusions, let’s see how Texas ranks compared to their AL West opponents. Listed below is the ranking in runs scored, with OBP/Slugging ranks in parentheses. All rankings are within the American League.
Texas: 9th (8th/8th)
Oakland: 7th (7th/10th)
Seattle: 10th (12th/9th)
LA Angels: 8th (5th/6th)
Houston: 14th (15th/13th)
The AL West isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row, but we do have to note that Oakland is in a pitchers’ park, and we thus have to presume the gap between the A’s and Rangers offensively is considerably larger than the surface stats make it appear.
I believe Texas can hit better—is it really asking a lot for just one of Andrus, Murphy or Moreland to step up the pace in the last two months of the season? If two, or even all three, return to form, the Texas offense could really take off.
That is asking a lot though, and it’s also asking a lot to presume there will be no problems with Cruz and the BioGenesis investigation, whether that problem be an actual suspension or something behind the scenes and more intangible.
Thus, we have to conclude that it’s a good thing Texas picked up Garza, and they better get their injured pitchers back quickly. Colby Lewis is on rehab. Matt Harrison will start an assignment this week. Neftali Feliz threw in the bullpen.
The odds are that this team can’t give more than 2-3 runs a game if they’re going to get enough wins the rest of the way, and at the very least repeat their 2012 wild-card showing. The good news for Texas is that if they end up in a wild-card fight with the Boston Red Sox, the latter has concerns over starting pitching, which is worse than fretting over hitting.
THE STATE OF THE RACE
Oakland holds a commanding five-game lead coming into Sunday’s games and right now they and Texas are really all that matters. As though the Angels’ season could sink any lower, they now trail the Mariners by a game in the standings, with neither team yet in shouting distance of a wild-card.