On June 28, the Rangers beat the New York Yankees in New York, 7-1. It was the team's fourth win in a row, their 12th win in a 14 game stretch, and their 28th win in a 36 game stretch. The Rangers were up 10 games in the A.L. West -- their biggest pre-ASB division lead ever -- and there was much crowing about how wrong the prognosticators who were picking the Rangers to finish third were, and silly those who were saying the Rangers were doing well because of luck and sequencing looked.
Then things went to hell. Two walkoff losses to the Yankees. Losing 2 of 3 in Minnesota, then in Boston. Losing 3 of 4 at home against Minnesota, and now losing 5 of 6 on the road since the Break. The Rangers have gone 4-14 in their last 18 games, the division lead is down to 3.5 games, and we've gone from speculating about the playoff rotation to fans asking questions on post game shows and on Twitter about whether the Rangers should be in "sell" mode.
The last three weeks have been miserable. The Rangers have looked sloppy, pitched poorly, seen guys go on the d.l., and have lost a bunch of games. The enthusiasm from earlier in the year has given way to cynicism and defeatism in many quarters, with fans saying its a matter of when, not if, the Astros pass the Rangers in the West, and laments about another late-season swoon and a big lead being blown away.
Is there reason to be concerned about this team? Absolutely. They've played awful ball, the rotation has been a disaster the past three weeks, key hitters are slumping...its been unpleasant to watch.
But is there any reason to think that the players on this team are materially different now, in terms of their quality, than they were three weeks ago? There shouldn't be. Nomar Mazara is the same guy now he was in late June, slump or no slump. He's struggling at the plate and with his approach, but he's still the stud prospect with advanced hitting ability who won Rookie of the Month in April and May. Martin Perez is still the vexing Martin Perez, the guy whose stuff hasn't fully returned since his Tommy John surgery, who is having to elicit a bunch of ground balls and minimize damage. Ryan Rua is still the lefty masher who can fill in as a regular when need be. The bullpen pieces are still as good or as bad, in terms of inherent talent, as they were at the end of June.
Yes, it is a cliche, but it is a season of ebbs and flows. For the most part, the same guys that built the 10 game lead and had the best record in team history through 78 games are the ones who've fallen on their face of late. This team wasn't as good as its record indicated through 78 games, and isn't nearly as bad as they've been the last 18 games. Its a good, not great, team that should end up with around 90 wins, have a very good shot of winning the West, and that is structured in such a way that it can do damage in the playoffs if it gets there.
Now...am I concerned about this team right now? Sure. They've given back two-thirds of a big lead in a short amount of time, they've got a gaping hole in the #5 spot in the rotation right now, and are counting on two other starters -- Perez and A.J. Griffin -- who have been struggling. They just lost Shin-Soo Choo, a key offensive catalyst, their outfield is thin right now, and while the bullpen should be a strength, bullpens are always volatile, and Texas is counting on a lot of guys without a long track record of success.
That being said...what's noteworthy about this awful stretch is that it has come during a period of time that we had, before the season even started, identified as the worst stretch of the year. Between June 27 and July 24 -- this Sunday -- the Rangers have four home games. That's a four week stretch where the only games at TBiA were the four against Minnesota. That's a brutal stretch, and one that, from the outset, we said the team would likely struggle through. And struggle they have, to an extent we never expected.
But the good news is, after Sunday, we enter a much easier home stretch to the season. As of Monday, the Rangers have 37 home games the rest of the way, compared to just 26 road games. From August 10 until the end of the year, there are just 18 road games, compared to 30 home games, with most of those 48 games against non-contenders. Things are getting better, schedule-wise.
And there's reason to believe things will be better as far as the pitching goes. The Rangers appear almost certain to get a starting pitcher in the next ten days, and have Derek Holland and Colby Lewis due back at the end of August. Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin are better pitchers than what we've seen from them the past couple of weeks. And the Rangers still have Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels at the front of their rotation, with that pair pitching Friday and Saturday in Kansas City.
As for the bullpen, Keone Kela is back, Jake Diekman is being activated tomorrow, Sam Dyson and Matt Bush are still here and looking good, Tony Barnette is doing work as a middle reliever, Shawn Tolleson has shown signs of being effective again, and we are likely to see reinforcements in the form of Jose Leclerc and Connor Sadzeck by September...and that's without even considering anyone Jon Daniels may pick up via trade.
Look, the last three weeks have sucked. No one denies that. But just like the first part of the season saw the Rangers race out to a big lead because of a confluence of good luck, hot streaks by players, and a favorable schedule, the last three weeks' disaster has been a confluence of players going cold and having a brutal stretch of schedule.
But the reality is that the Rangers will return home Monday guaranteed to be alone in first place in the A.L. West. Every one of us absolutely would have taken that when spring training started. Every one of us absolutely would have been happy with a 3.5 game lead on July 21. What's alarming isn't the record -- tied with Boston for the second best in the A.L. -- or the fact the Rangers are "only" up 3.5 games, but the direction the arrow has been pointing. If this bad stretch had hit in May, instead of July, and we were 3.5 games up with a 55-41 record right now, we'd be feeling good. But because of the recency of the stretch of awful play, its creating panic.
So to reiterate -- am I concerned? Sure I'm concerned. I'm concerned about Yu's health, Perez and Griffin's performance the rest of the way, the quality and price of the starter the Rangers will go get, the reliability of the bullpen, the corner outfield spots, the production we're getting from first base...all those things are cause for concern.
But the Rangers are 3.5 games up in the A.L. West in late July, in position to add pieces via trade, with a couple of starting pitchers due back in a little over a month, and with guys like Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar and Ian Desmond who are fun to watch play.
Baseball is fun, you guys. Let's enjoy the rest of the season, and let's keep the faith that this team is going to be okay.