The Rangers surprised a lot of people by staying competitive during the first half. Heading out of the break, they find themselves in a limbo of sorts in the ever-present “buyer or seller” debate.
In a way, it’s fitting that the Texas Rangers play in the American League West. No, not just because of Arlington’s location in terms of geography, but also because just eight games separate the first-place Los Angeles Angels and the last-place Oakland Athletics.
Only the AL East, which has just a 6 ½-game gap between the first-place New York Yankees and last place Boston Red Sox, is a more wide-open division at the All-Star break.
That means the second half could truly be the Wild, Wild West for the Angels, Houston Astros, Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Athletics.
Of course, the main question fans want to know after the break is whether their team will be buyers or sellers in and around the MLB Trade Deadline at the end of July.
Well, for teams in close divisions like the Rangers, the answer to that question is TBD, as in to-be-determined.
Texas hasn’t had a bad first half under new manager Jeff Banister. The Rangers have been quite strong away from Globe Life Park, with a 26-20 road record, but are just 16-26 at home.
The Rangers also are second in the AL with 68 errors at the break, another definite area of concern.
But there has been plenty of good, namely on the offensive end from Prince Fielder. The big slugger has not only shown he’s fully recovered from spinal fusion surgery in 2014, but he has been Texas’ most dependable and productive hitter and is the Rangers’ lone representative at the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.
First baseman Mitch Moreland has also been doing his share, recovering nicely from an early-season elbow injury which sent him to the disabled list and adding some pop to the lineup behind Fielder.
Veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre has been productive – when healthy – and is still getting over a thumb issue, but Belts hit nicely towards the end of the first half-ending series with the San Diego Padres, a very encouraging sign.
Josh Hamilton also seems to be getting back to his old pre-injury self, another good sign for a team which needs more parts of its lineup regularly contributing besides Fielder and Moreland.
The starting pitching has been uneven to say the least. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo saw his scoreless streak end at 29 1/3 innings last week but has been as good as advertised pitching close to his hometown.
Fellow newcomer Wandy Rodriguez has been up and down, delivering a quality start one outing and then getting shelled in his next trip to the mound.
But the good news is the Rangers got Matt Harrison, who has made just six starts since the 2013 season, back on the mound late in the first half. His return wasn’t pretty, but it was definitely something to build on.
And it also appears the return of young lefty Martin Perez, out since last May because of Tommy John surgery, is imminent. Perez is set to finish a minor-league rehab assignment and could rejoin the Rangers later this week.
The timeline for the return of Derek Holland appears less defined. Holland has yet to go out on a rehab assignment as of the start of the break and there hasn’t been much talk about when he will, so his return could come by the end of the month if not a while longer.
Now, what about the bullpen? Well, the bullpen has been a point of contention for the Rangers for much of the season. Uneven starting pitching has taxed the bullpen thus far in 2015, pitching 283 1/3 innings in the first half, fourth-most in the AL.
There has been a seemingly never-ending rotating cast through this bullpen. Ross Detwiler, who started the season as a starter, a role he struggled in, got injured and was put in the bullpen after returning. Detwiler has since been designated for assignment.
Former closer Neftali Feliz met a similar fate and has landed with the Detroit Tigers. Other than rookie righty Keone Kela, the Rangers have struggled to find any sort of consistency from most members of their bullpen, although newcomer Anthony Bass has been an absolute workhorse in the first half and leads all AL relievers with 47 2/3 innings pitched.
Not to state the obvious, but anytime a team’s long man, a role Bass has been employed in and has fared well at, has pitched the most innings of any reliever in the league, it’s not a good sign.
The Rangers are hoping Harrison regains his form and that Perez and then Holland both have successful returns, which they hope will solidify the rotation. Veteran Colby Lewis continues to be an innings eater for Banister, which is nothing new.
The thought is that if the Rangers get their rotation squared away, then their bullpen won’t be taxed nearly as much in the second half and the cracks present in the first half will be minimized or maybe even disappear.
So, do the Rangers buy or sell? Well, that’s a question we may not know the answer to until the end of the nine-game road trip they start on Friday in Houston.
After three with the Astros at Minute Maid Park, Texas will play three at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies before finishing up the trip with three at the Angels.
How the Rangers fare in this nine-game block, especially against division foes Houston and Los Angeles, will tell a lot about what direction they head closer to the deadline. But as strong as Texas has been on the road thus far in 2015, seeing them start the second half strong wouldn’t be a shock.
Then again, they did finish the first half 1-7, but does that malaise carry over post-break?