Yesterday was about as dark a day as there has been for Rangers fans in the history of the franchise. Yesterday we learned that a rotation that was already shorthanded was likely going to be out two more starting pitchers for the 2014 season. And not just any two starting pitchers. Martin Perez, who seemingly was showing that he was ready to fulfill that top of the rotation potential he had been tagged with since he was a teenager, was revealed to have a torn UCL that will likely require surgery that would keep him out until at least the middle of 2015, and Matt Harrison, a solid #2 starter for the Rangers in 2011 and 2012, was revealed to have a back issue that could possibly be career-threatening.
The 2014 Rangers were supposed to be a team whose rotation would be a strength. But Derek Holland is still hurt, and the other two young lefties the Rangers had been counting on are gone. Many people reacted to the news by saying, in essence, the season is over...the Rangers are done, and we need to turn to 2015. And as if to punctuate that conclusion, the Rangers blew a 4-0 lead to the worst team in baseball yesterday evening, losing 5-4, and dropping under .500 on the year at 20-21.
Its a dark, depressing time to be a Rangers fan right now. But let's not overreact. The season isn't over. This is a team that can still go to the playoffs.
Now, you don't have to take my word for it...you can look at the FanGraphs playoff odds. Even factoring in getting basically nothing from Perez and Harrison the rest of the way, FanGraphs sees the Rangers as having a 31.8% chance of making the postseason.
National baseball writer Richard Justice has a lengthy blog post up, saying that he's not writing the Rangers off:
The Texas Rangers are about to become a case study in how an organization reacts to the toughest times. Here’s betting we’re reminded that they are a great franchise–deep and resilient and talented.
How? Well, as Justice explains:
So here’s how the Rangers go to the postseason for the fourth time in five years. First, their stars must perform like stars. Darvish, Beltre, Andrus, Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo have to do the things they were supposed to do.
Holland has to contribute in the second half of the season, and indications are that he will. Lewis must continue his remarkable recovery from hip surgery. And then some of the kids–Martinez, Nick Tepesch, etc.–must take advantage of the opportunity. If, say, Tanner Scheppers or Neftali Feliz can return and pitch at a high level, the Rangers have a decent chance to make a run in the second half.
That's not that far-fetched of an idea. Despite being under .500, the Rangers are just a game back of a Wild Card spot. Now, there's a ton of competition for the Wild Card spots right now -- basically, every team but Houston is a playoff contender right now, and 14 of the 15 teams are either in a playoff spot now or within 3 games of a playoff spot -- but the important thing is, as bad as the first six weeks have gone, the Rangers are still afloat.
They are going to need help with the rotation, but there are options to turn to. Dave Cameron writes that Nick Tepesch may not be much of a step down from Martin Perez, and then there's Nick Martinez and Robbie Ross filling in for now, and possibly Luke Jackson or Chi Chi Gonzalez later in the season. And if the Rangers are still in the race come July, they have the ammunition to go get a starting pitcher to fortify the rotation, go get a James Shields or some other free agent to be from a team that drops out of the race.
The Rangers have done this before. In 2010, their top two starters were supposed to be Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, both of whom were injured and ineffective. The rotation was leaky much of the season...heck, Omar Beltre and Dustin Nippert each started a couple of games for the 2010 team. But they got solid work from a converted reliever (C.J. Wilson), had a rookie righty with unimpressive stuff do solid work in the rotation (Tommy Hunter), and added a key rotation member via trade (Cliff Lee). That team started off the year slow, had lots to overcome, but still won 90 games and got to the World Series.
Now, let's be clear. I'm not predicting the World Series. I'm not even predicting a playoff berth. The Rangers are going to have to play better than they have this year in order to even stay in the playoff race. They need Prince Fielder to hit like he has the past few weeks, Elvis Andrus to hit like he has during the first couple or last couple of weeks of 2014, and not the middle part. They need Mitch Moreland to continue to hit respectably, Shin-Soo Choo to get on base, Colby Lewis to stay healthy and Derek Holland to come back.
And they also really need Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto back. Neither player is likely to be an impact bat, but the Rangers have gotten a .184/.242/.294 line from their catchers, and a .196/.259/.273 line from their second basemen. The people who say that getting those guys back won't make a difference to the lineup aren't taking into account how unbelievably awful the production from those two positions has been.
So no, its not time to give up on the season. The Rangers can still be a playoff team. That can change, of course...in June or July, Texas could be well back of the race, and we could be talking about being sellers (although, really, there aren't a lot of parts for the Rangers to sell, if we are assuming that they are planning on trying to be legit contenders in 2015). We could be talking about calling up Luke Jackson and Chi Chi Gonzalez for the rotation, or Matt West and Keone Kela for the bullpen, not because they are going to help us win the division, but because, hell, we're out of the race anyway, might as well see what those guys can do.
But that's then. This is now. And for right now, the Rangers can stay in this race, can still be playing meaningful ball in September, and can still make the playoffs.
And that's what really matters.