Could the Rangers miss the playoffs?

A month ago that question would have sounded absurd. Now, it’s not so completely out of the question. As I am writing this, the Angels are beating the Rangers 15-8, which will pull them within 4 games. (Game now finished!) The Rangers’ pitching surprisingly hasn’t been the biggest issue – the lineup has. Yes, that’s right, the lineup that put up a .292/.353/.484 (including Michael Young!) in April, has only managed a .242/.313/.369 line in July. Despite this, the Rangers still have the highest team batting average and on-base percentage in the American League – which shows you just how good they were in April and May. You may have heard of one “Josh Hamilton” who hit 4 HR in a single game back in May? Well, back in April and May, Josh Hamilton was the best player in baseball, hitting anything and everything. Many sportswriters had already filled out and mailed their MVP ballots in. Since then, instead of hitting anything and everything, Hamilton has been swinging at anything and missing everything. His line in July is .141/.229/.282. Maybe it’s a good thing the Rangers didn’t lock him up long term a couple months ago.

Others in the lineup have struggled as well. Mike Napoli and the aforementioned Michael Young have both had a severe drop off in performance this year, which was not a complete surprise. Colby Lewis is out for the rest of the year, and Roy Oswalt has been inconsistent at best. With a loss tonight, the Rangers will fall to 9-13 in July, with their run differential dropping to +77 for the season. Now, their record is still 59-42 for the season, and they’re still 4 games up on the Angels and Athletics (depending on the outcome of the Athletics game), so the odds are still in their favor. At the start of today, Baseball Prospectus had their playoff odds at 98.7%, with an 85.4% chance of winning the AL West. I’m just saying that if I was a Rangers fan I would  be a little nervous. The A’s are 18-4 (!) in July, and can seemingly come back from any deficit. The Angels are actually only 13-12 in July, but the addition of Zack Greinke greatly improves their rotation for the stretch run. Things are getting tighter in the AL West, which is surprising.

Recently the rumours are that the Rangers won’t acquire a starting pitcher at the deadline, but will instead get a reliever and move Alexi Ogando back into the rotation. Clearly the weakest spot in the lineup has been at DH, where the Rangers have continued to trot out Michael Young, even though he has hit .268/.298/.347 this season, good for -1.3 fWAR. You’d think this performance would be enough to be replaced as the designated HITTER, but this is Ron Washington we’re talking about. Besides, fWAR can’t capture things like “leadership” and “clubhouse presence”, which would obviously put Young back in to the positive.* It’s probably not likely that Young will be replaced, even though he maybe should, so the Rangers have to hope that Hamilton will regain his early season form. Maybe more media “scoldings” from Nolan Ryan will do the trick.

*Unlikely.

*****EXCITING UPDATE: Moments after I posted this, the Rangers acquired Geovany Soto from the Cubs, so problem solved!

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