The Texas Rangers have a serious issue with their bullpen
By Travis Koch
Still in playoff contention, the Texas Rangers need to find a solution to a major flaw in their bullpen. The flaw reared its ugly head over the weekend.
The Texas Rangers had a shot to take three out of four games from the Houston Astros over the weekend. They won the first two games, but faltered in the 11th inning of game three. They were in range of a possible comeback in the Sunday finale, though a seven-run seventh inning from the ‘Stros put the game far out of reach.
What stood out the most in two failed opportunities was the left-handed pitching out of the bullpen.
Right-handers Adrian Sampson and Chris Martin did tremendous work in relief Saturday night against a relentless Houston lineup, allowing no runs through 3.2 innings pitched. Then lefty Brett Martin entered the game. He executed against the bottom of the order, but was left in to face the top of the order in the 11th inning.
Martin walked leadoff hitter George Springer after getting ahead early in the count. He then got ahead 0-2 vs. Jose Altuve, but hung a curveball which was lined into the left center field gap. Springer scored from first and Houston took the lead. Alex Bregman was then intentionally walked and Myles Straw, who pinch ran for Michael Brantley earlier in the game, singled to right field to give the Astros a two-run lead in the 11th.
It was a rough inning for Martin, though, to his defense, he should not have been in that situation. Chris Woodward should have brought in a right-handed pitcher to face the top of the Houston lineup, even with two outs in the inning. Shawn Kelly threw just 11 pitches the night before, and while Jose Leclerc threw Thursday and Friday, he capped out at only 14 pitches each time out. Surely one of those two would’ve handled the task of getting one out in the 11th inning.
For reference, Springer has been equally good against righties and lefties; however, Altuve is hitting 181 points higher against lefties compared to righties, and is slugging 445 points higher. Perhaps Woodward wanted to instill confidence in Martin or conserve his ‘pen, but Altuve’s absurdly impressive numbers against southpaws should not have been overlooked. A wiser matchup could have won the Rangers the game.
Let’s move to Sunday’s embarrassing performances.
The Texas Rangers got down 5-0 in the top of the first after Ariel Jurado fooled zero Houston hitters. Though, Texas fought back for two in the bottom of the first against Justin Verlander. The score was 5-2 Houston in the top of the seventh and left-hander Jesse Biddle was on the mound.
Forget the details, the bottom line is he allowed four runs on two hits, a walk and a hit by pitch. Lefty Kyle Bird relieved him and gave up a grand slam to Altuve and a two-run homer to Yuli Gurriel… all in the 7th inning! By the time those two were done pitching, the Rangers were down 12-2.
These pathetic instances aren’t the first’s for Texas southpaws this season. On the year, Brett Martin has a 5.34 ERA and a .292 opponent’s batting average. Jesse Biddle has an 11.81 ERA over his 5.1 innings pitched with the Rangers, and Kyle Bird has accumulated an 8.31 ERA in sporadic time with the big league club.
Solutions? Go acquire someone.
The other lefties they’ve tried this year haven’t worked out either. Jeffrey Springs took a big step back after a nice 2018 campaign. He struggled to a 6.23 ERA before being placed on the 60-day IL. Locke St. John was sent to Triple-A after a brief trial run with the Texas Rangers, and don’t even get me started on Drew Smyly.
Terrible left-handed pitching is not helping a team that remains in playoff contention. Not only does it hurt from a matchup standpoint, but it gives the bullpen very little depth. If a Texas starter lapses or the relief crew has been overworked in consecutive days, the club naturally finds itself in a very vulnerable spot. They can’t use Martin, Leclerc and Kelly every game and in every situation.
It’ll be interesting to see how Jon Daniels approaches the bullpen with two weeks remaining until the trade deadline. If the organization is serious about reaching the playoffs, it needs to find some external help from pitchers who throw with their left arms.