The Rangers are two games into their second* longest road trip of the season. They’ve split the first two games of the trip, and play two more against the Astros this weekend before heading to the West Coast for two games at Anaheim and four games against the A’s.
* It was going to be tied for the longest road trip of the season, but since the lockout scrambled the early season scheduling, the Rangers play a road game in Miami on the Thursday after the All Star Game before heading to the West Coast for ten games. Thanks, Manfred.
The Angels and the Astros are battling for first place in the A.L. West, while the A’s are rebuilding (though playing better than I think many expected). The Rangers have an off day on Monday, which makes things a little easier on the pitching staff. They have Mitch Garver back from the i.l., which helps the lineup, even if he’s limited to DH duty for now.
At 18-20, the Rangers are also, at least as of now, putting up a respectable record. Their run differential is at -5, which means their record is about the same as what would be respected with their runs scored and allowed. MLB as a whole is scoring 4.17 runs per game — the Rangers are scoring 4.16 runs per game and allowing 4.29 per game, which puts them right around league average, at least without park adjustments. And given we are still figuring out the adjustments for the Rangers’ new park, and given we are dealing with the mushball this year, I am not going to worry too much about park adjustments right now.
So after a 2-9 start, the Rangers have slowly been digging themselves out of their early hole, and are currently to a place where you can say that they are “decent.” Which isn’t great, of course, but in this first year of the expanded playoffs, when six teams per league will make the playoffs, “decent” may well be enough to get a team to at least the fringes of the playoff hunt. And while we have been trained in recent years to want our teams to be either good or terrible, and not in between, the expanded playoffs and the introduction of the draft lottery provide more incentive to strive to be decent rather than terrible.
I suspect that the organization, while not expecting this to be a playoff team, would like to see this team at least be on the fringes of the race late in the season. I suspect the front office would like to have some of the young players on the team get experience playing meaningful games in September, be doing something other than playing out the string over the final month or two, as part of developing the winning culture they are striving for. And I know ownership would like to see a winning record and some reason for fans to be enthusiastic heading into 2023.
I was mulling over all this when looking at the Rangers upcoming schedule. I tend to mentally break the schedule into chunks, look at a particular upcoming stretch, and consider what the Rangers might do, and what they need to do, in terms of wins and losses in order to meet their goals, or my own expectations, or whathaveyou.
To me, the next eight games are pretty meaningful for the Rangers, in terms of what I think the organization is striving for this year. Really, the entire ten game road trip is pretty meaningful, but since the first two games of the trip are in the past, and I’m just thinking and writing about this now, we are left with eight meaningful games.
Texas has played more home games than road games this year — 22 home games, to 16 road games. That disparity is going to generally make a team’s record better than a more even split would, even though the Rangers are actually .500 on the road so far this year and 10-12 at home. On a long road trip like this, a team like the Rangers is hoping to tread water — not lose too much ground.
A split of the next eight games would be a successful outcome for the Rangers, all things considered. That would give the team a .500 road trip, keep the team within spitting distance of .500. It would allow them to keep working their way back out of the early season hole they dug, without making it too much bigger.
Going 3-5 over the next eight? Just from an odds standpoint, that’s probably the most likely scenario. It wouldn’t be an awful outcome. It would bring Texas back home at 21-25, with a stretch of four games against the Rays, three against the M’s, three at Cleveland and three at the ChiSox where they could try to work their way back up to .500.
Anything worse than 3-5 would be a significant disappointment. It wouldn’t be exactly surprising, to be clear — but for a team that is aiming for respectability this season, that is wanting to show progress, it would be a disappointment.
It does appear that the Rangers are treating this trip as significant. Nick Solak was sent down when Mitch Garver was activated, rather than Josh Sborz, as I expected. After all, on May 30, the Rangers are going to have to drop a pitcher and add a position player anyway. Solak hadn’t been terrible, and in a full on rebuild, he probably would have stayed up and continued to get playing time. Garver might have gotten another day or two on a rehab assignment. But the Rangers are trying to win right now, and continuing to give Solak playing time to get straightened out wasn’t viewed as a move to help them win.
There’s part of me that thinks this segmentation is silly, that a game is a game is a game and thinking about these particular blocs isn’t logical. And that may be so. But it certainly feels to me that these next eight games are pretty meaningful — that come Memorial Day, we will have a much better idea as to where this team is headed.