The Potentially Volatile Texas Rangers

162 is a pretty awkward number of regular season games. You know what’s even more awkward? The fact that MLB used to play 154 games before arriving at 162. But anyway;

After yesterday’s loss to the Royals, the Rangers dropped to 34-21 — still the best record in the American League. In a perfect mathematical world I would have written this two days ago, after the Rangers’ 54th game, because 54 divides evenly into 162. So pretend we live in that world.

It marks the completion of the first trimester of this season which, under Texas’s circumstances, 34-21 would have to be considered a triumphant statement. Even with a fully-loaded rotation of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando all healthy, and with a lineup featuring a healthy Ian Kinsler, and a healthy Adrian Beltre (who may or may not hit the disabled list for a hamstring pull) — us as fans would have been happy with a 34-21 record.

But that’s not how the script has played out. Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch have been pressed into delivering meaningful innings, and players like Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia have each looked slick at times.

However, is this team really as good as their 100-win pace seems to indicate?

Without horses like Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis, and the 6 innings you get from Alexi Ogando every 5th day, the Rangers have two consistent pitchers: Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Right now, Derek Holland (+2.6 fWAR) is on pace for a ridiculous 8-win season (according to FanGraphs), which would go down as perhaps the best-pitched season in the history of the franchise. Is he that guy? Because it’s Derek Holland, I keep waiting for regression to kick in, but so long as he keeps a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk rate — and 6.3% HR/FB rate — he’s the top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher we’ve been waiting for him to become.

Yu Darvish isn’t a slouch either, obviously; unless you live under a goddamn rock. Or if you live with Angels’ fans in Southern California like I do. Extrapolated over an entire season, Yu’s current +2.2 FIP-win figure projects him to finish with +6.6 fWAR. Right now he owns the best K/9 rate (11.28) and lowest xFIP (2.38) in Major League Baseball. His SIERA (2.29) is even better, which suggests his current 3.03 ERA should begin to drop. Right now what’s holding Yu Darvish back is his 15.8% HR/FB rate, which ranks 10th-worst in baseball; if he limits the home runs, he’s going to be throwing shutouts on a semi-regular basis.

I dedicated so much space to the Rangers’ #1 and #2 starters because they are the best players on the Rangers in 2013. So far. After the first 55 games, Texas ranks 6th in the American League in total team WAR among position players (+7.8 fWAR). The best player statistically on the Rangers is Adrian Beltre (+1.6 fWAR) — who ranks tied for 40th in MLB. The only other position players who have produced more than 1.0 win according to FanGraphs are Mitch Moreland (+1.2) and Ian Kinsler (+1.1).

What will most likely happen is the bats will start to heat up at the same rate as the weather, but is that something you are willing to bank on? If the leader of the team — Adrian Beltre — happens to be on the shelf for a handful of weeks, it will mean two of the Rangers’ most productive players (Beltre, Kinsler) will be away from an offense that already has a rough time bunching runs together (7th in the AL in runs scored). It forces Moreland to continue at the rate he’s on, and for secondary players like Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar to compensate for the injured slots in the order with meaningful production.

I’m not making an attempt to string together some apocalyptic worst-case-scenario; this is simply the point in the season we’re at. June is a separation month. The following weeks determine which teams will be buyers or sellers, or just bystanders, when the trade deadline rolls around.

After Kansas City leaves Texas later today, the Rangers will be faced with the toughest stretch of their schedule to date. They will begin with 6 on the road in Boston and Toronto, respectively, then head home to partake in a mammoth 11-game home-stand, which features the Indians, Blue Jays, and Athletics. The Rangers will cap off the month with 6 more road games (NYY, STL) before coming home for 3 with the Reds.

Again, I’m not saying this is make-or-break time, but the division-lead has been shaved down to 2.0 games, and right now the Rangers’ biggest obstacle is attrition. If these next 4 weeks go terribly wrong for some reason, then we’ll not only be counting on Kinsler, Harrison, Lewis, Ogando, and Joakim Soria to come back and be effective, but to perhaps overtake an A’s team that’s gunning for us. Again.

Do I think the Rangers will be fine? Yes. At the same time, I’m not inclined to believe Nick Tepesh and Justin Grimm will continue pitching like serviceable mid-rotation starters. I’m not expecting Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers to continue performing at sub-1.00 ERA clips. It’s hard to deny that the Rangers have been lucky.

But like any fan, I’ll sure as hell take it.

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