Remember during the 2011 ALCS when Nelson Cruz set all-time records for both home runs and runs batted in during a playoff series? Remember when Michael Young used to go on two-week assaults against American League pitching? You know, back when he was one of the prime sources of generating runs for our lineup? Remember when Mike Napoli was the best hitter in baseball during last year’s 2nd half? Do you remember when Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in Baltimore earlier this year? Well, actually, a better question would be: Do you remember when Josh Hamilton could hit?
Well, do you? Do you really?
It seems like these memories are each far off in the distance. So far that, right now on July 27th, it almost seems that they never happened at all. The harsh reality is that the Rangers are second to last in baseball in runs scored during the month of July, having scored just 62 runs in 18 games (an average of about 3.5 runs/game). The only team worse? That other team in Texas, who is in the middle of a firestorm to sell off just about every money-making asset still on the roster. So, yeah, things aren’t going very well. This is the most inexplicable stretch of Rangers baseball — at least offensively — that I can remember in the entirety of my existence as a fan of the team.
Even still, Texas has at least mustered an 8-10 record during the month. So if playing near- .500 ball is the worst we should come to expect, then yes, now would be a good time to start thanking your lucky stars that this isn’t a mid-2000′s Rangers team.
I’m not sure how best to quantify the struggles on the team, because, after all, the Rangers are 58-39, just a half-game shy of the best record in baseball. I could point out uncharacteristically poor seasons from any number of players, whether it’s Ian Kinsler or Michael Young or Mike Napoli or Nelson Cruz, or, lately, from everyone’s favorite free agent to be, Josh Hamilton. But if I’m going to do that, I must acknowledge that the Rangers are still first in all of baseball in runs scored (588) and team batting average (.277). It’s almost uncanny that we’ve witnessed more than a couple dry spells from the offense, and they remain one of the heaviest-feasting offensive ball clubs in the league filled with superior offense and pitching. I can’t fully explain the weirdness of it all, so I’m simply considering the even greater potential this team can more than realistically exhibit in the final two months of the season.
Switching gears to the other end of the spectrum — Colby Lewis going down with a torn ligament in his arm was probably the worst thing that could have happened on the pitching side. Not only was he in a contract year, and likely would have found a contract to set he and his family up for life in the offseason, but he’s just generally a guy I tend to root for more than most others. He was a proven playoff workhorse, and a bonafide veteran presence every time he took the hill. I hate for him that he’s going to have to go through an intense rehab just to make it back to the Majors next year, and for me, selfishly, I hate that he isn’t going to be there down the stretch to help carry this team through the days where the games mean a hell of a lot more than they do now. But such is the reality we are all dealt with.
Before his injury, I could have conceivably pictured Jon Daniels standing pat at the trade deadline, perhaps only acquiring a couple assets to come off the bench. Now that Lewis is gone for the season, it’s almost a given that the front office brass will need to make some sort of move on the pitching end to help progress our odds during the postseason.
Zach Greinke is the hottest name on the market right now, and deservedly so. He’s among the league leaders in xFIP (a metric used to determine a pitcher’s fielding-independent value) and SIERA (a metric used to determine a pitcher’s true talent level). I won’t get into the specifics, but if you look down the line of his numbers on the season, it’s clearly evident he’s one of the top-5 pitchers in all of baseball, maybe better. There have been rumors floating around that the Angels and White Sox have interest, but they don’t have the type of prospects necessary to facilitate a deal of that magnitude, so it’s essentially a two horse race between the Rangers and Braves (who each have more than enough to make the acquisition and still have plenty left in their respective farm systems). A player the Brewers GM covets is Rangers 3rd base prospect Mike Olt, who’s currently in AA, but it remains to be seen if the Rangers would be willing to give up the #11 prospect in all of baseball (according to ESPN’s Keith Law) for a rental like Greinke, who will be a free agent when the offseason begins.
Outside of Greinke, the Rangers have also been tied to names like Josh Johnson of the Marlins, and James Shields of the Rays. According to many of the writers I’ve been reading up on, the Marlins are asking for a king’s ransom for Johnson, and Shields, who’s a solid pitcher, will likely be Plan B in case we don’t land Greinke. I’m pretty hesitant to step out on any ledges and make bold predictions, because we really don’t know what’s going through Jon Daniels’s deceptive mind at this time of year, but if I had to guess, I’d say we’ll move a player a lot of fans care greatly about (whether it’s Alexi Ogando or Neftali Feliz or Mike Olt) to land Greinke, and then acquire a couple players to help fortify our bench for what should be another exciting run through August and September heading into the playoffs.
We still have 4 days left to mull everything over, so until that point, we can all just sit patiently and wait to be given whatever it is the Rangers have in store for us.