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The injury that saved the Rangers’ season

Adolis Garcia’s trip to the injured list in September ended up being a blessing in disguise

Houston Astros v. Texas Rangers Photo by Tim Heitman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2023 Texas Rangers season has featured a number of times, games, plays that have resulted in the fanbase collectively throwing up their hands and saying, “Well, the season is over, we’re screwed now.” There are...well, I don’t want to say “countless,” because we could probably count them, and counts probably vary, but there were a whole bunch of times where the gestalt of the fanbase was some variation or combination of “the division is lost”/”we won’t even make the playoffs”/”even if we do make the playoffs we will get bounced immediately.”

We saw a version of this just this past weekend, for an almost 48 hour stretch beginning when Jose Altuve homered off of Jose Leclerc in Game 5 and ending, more or less, when Mitch Garver homered off of Framber Valdez in Game 6. The cloud of doom and negativity that settled over everyone was palpable, at a level one can only compare to London’s Great Stink.

In a roller coaster year, one can argue for any number of low points being the worst, but I would argue that the true low point — at least for us, as fans — came on September 6. That morning, I wrote a post entitled “The Nadir (we hope)”. I wrote:

One can only hope that this is it, the bottom, and it doesn’t get any worse from here.

Of course, it got worse that very night. The Rangers were blown out by the Houston Astros, 12-3, the third game of a three game set in Arlington that saw Houston outscore Texas 39-10, with Texas falling to a season-high 3 games back in the A.L. West.

It dropped the Rangers to 4-15 over their last 19 games. Fangraphs dropped their playoff odds to below 50% for the first time since early May. Max Scherzer got rocked.

And most distressing of all...Adolis Garcia looked like he’d be done for the year.

In the photo above, you can see Adolis leaping to try to snag a Michael Brantley fly ball that went into the right field seats for a home run. He came down badly, and immediately grabbed for his knee. The trainers came out, Adolis left the game, and we all feared the worst — a blown ACL, a ruptured tendon, something that would end his 2023 season and potentially sideline him for a chunk of 2024.

That’s what I get for doing a post asking if the Rangers had hit rock bottom.

September 7 was an off day, but there was some good news that afternoon — an MRI indicated that Adolis Garcia had just a patellar tendon strain. Reports indicated that Garcia could possibly return in 2023. But in the meantime, to fill Garcia’s spot on the active roster, the beats informed us that the next day the Rangers would be bringing up wunderkind prospect Evan Carter.

Here is what I wrote at the time about the Carter promotion:

In the meantime, Garcia’s absence opens the door for the major league debut of Evan Carter. Carter, a consensus top 15-20 prospect in all of MLB, has put up a .288/.413/.450 slash line this season in 108 games, mostly in AA. He earned a promotion to AAA Round Rock in late August, and was on the radar as a possible major league option even before the Garcia injury.

A second round pick in 2020, Carter, who turned 21 less than two weeks ago, is a lefthanded hitter who is considered a quality defender in either center field or left field. He has struggled against lefties this season — he has a 663 OPS against them this year, compared to a 911 OPS against righties — so he may be platooned for the time being.

Carter made his major league debut the next day against the A’s. Texas lost, 6-3, with Jordan Montgomery making the second of two consecutive rough starts, which were probably the only two bad starts Montgomery made for Texas this season.* Carter acquitted himself well in his major league debut, though, singling in his first major league plate appearance, drawing a walk, stealing a base, and throwing out Esteury Ruiz on the basepaths.

* Interestingly, Jose Leclerc came into the game in relief of Montgomery in the sixth inning. He allowed a run in an inning of work, and no doubt had folks asking why Leclerc was still on the team. Leclerc only allowed one more run the rest of the regular season — and allowed that run in the only other game in came into the rest of the regular season before the seventh inning.

That loss dropped the Rangers to 4-16 in their last 20 games. Then a funny thing happened. The Rangers started winning again. They took the final two against Oakland, then went to Toronto and stomped the Blue Jays, outscoring them 35-9 in a four game set . After losing four in a row, including three in Cleveland, Texas won six more in a row before losing two of four to end the season.

Overall, Texas went 14-9 after calling up Evan Carter. And Carter was a huge part of that. As expected, he didn’t play against lefties, but Carter was in the lineup every day against righthanded pitchers, appearing in every game after he was called up, whether he started or not. In 75 plate appearances, Carter slashed .306/.413/.645, stolen 3 bases, and put up a whopping 1.6 bWAR/1.3 fWAR.

Carter coming up allowed the Rangers to fill the one major hole in their lineup — left field, which was being filled by a grab bag of Ezequiel Duran, Travis Jankowski and Robbie Grossman. Duran and Jankowski had great first halves, but they stopped hitting in the second half — Duran slashed .226/.296/.315 after the Break, Jankowski .198/.291/.233. And Grossman mashed lefties this year (.309/.416/.536) but was helpless against righthanders (.206/.304/.329), making him the perfect platoon partner for Carter.

By the time Josh Jung (sidelined since early August due to a broken thumb) and Adolis Garcia returned to the lineup on September 18, Carter had proved to Bruce Bochy that he should stay in the lineup, against righties at least. The Rangers were back to having what they sported in the first two months of the season — a lineup that had quality hitters from 1 to 9, a lineup that gave opposing pitchers no breaks, no soft spots to attack.

Its a lineup that they have carried forward to the playoffs, a lineup that has scored 71 runs in 12 games in the postseason. And a big part of that is Evan Carter, who is slashing .308/.449/.538 in the three playoff series so far.

Prior to Carter being called up, the Rangers had a lineup that, even with everyone healthy, was missing a piece. And Carter — “our little savior”, as his teammates call him — ended up being the missing piece, the final element that the Rangers needed in their lineup.

Evan Carter joined a team that was struggling, that was in danger of missing the playoffs altogether after leading the A.L. West most of the season. He came up, hit immediately, played great defense, and provided a spark. He didn’t singlehandedly get the Rangers over the hump in those final 23 games, but he was a big part of it.

I want to say that none of that would have happened if Adolis Garcia hadn’t leapt for that Brantley home run, if he hadn’t landed wrong and had to go to the i.l. As I mentioned above, Carter was already being considered for a call up.

But the Adolis injury forced the Rangers hand. It gave them little choice but to turn to Carter, throw him in the deep end, and hope he could swim. And swim Carter did.

The Adolis Garcia injury opened the door for Evan Carter to get a chance. Evan Carter kicked the door open, announced his presence with authority, and immediately made the Rangers a better team than they were without Carter. He had a big impact down the stretch, helping the Rangers clinch a playoff spot, and has been a key contributor in the playoffs for them.

So a way, the Adolis Garcia injury, which resulted in the Evan Carter promotion, may have ended up saving the 2023 season for your Texas Rangers.