Despite a slow start to the season, the Texas Rangers are still very much in the playoff mix and their next series could prove to be a crucial one.
The start to a shortened 2020 season has been a rocky one for the Texas Rangers. Eight games have come and gone, over 10 percent of the season, and the Rangers sit just 3-5 without a series win under their belt. Despite such a small sample size, the mild optimism that surrounded this team built on elite starting pitching is quickly starting to dissipate. Some of this is no doubt due to the long-term injury to star acquisition Corey Kluber and a similar injury to closer Jose Leclerc. Danny Santana joined those two on the IL knocking out three players expected to be key to Texas’ campaign within a few games of the season’s start. However, despite a frustrating beginning to what was supposed to be the start of a new era in Arlington, the Rangers still sit well within reach of their division and the upcoming series against the Oakland A’s could be a crucial one in what is sure to be a wild postseason race.
On Sunday, the Texas Rangers were able to escape a series sweep on the road in San Francisco thanks in large part to the bat of Joey Gallo. That 9-5 win gave many fans a touch of hope heading into a three-game set scheduled to begin Tuesday night in Oakland. The A’s entered the season as the lone expected challenger for the Houston Astros dominance in the AL West but after a cluttered start to the AL West race, sit just 1.5 games up on Texas. Their 5-4 record is tied for the lead in the AL West with Houston who has also stumbled out of the gates a bit compared to expectations.
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With the format for this year’s MLB postseason, the division winner AND runner-up will both qualify as one of the eight playoff teams with the final two seeds going to the next two best records in the American League. That means that games against your division take on even more meaning with two of the five AL West clubs guaranteed a playoff spot.
Oakland is finishing up a four-game series with Seattle on Monday night that could push them slightly further away from the Rangers but the weight of the series stays the same. A series win could pull Texas within a game of the A’s and sweep would push them above Oakland. However, a sweep in the wrong direction could make that climb to the top two spots of the division a bit high for the Rangers to realistically climb.
Tuesday: Lance Lynn (1-0) v. Jesus Luzardo (0-0)
For the series opener the Texas Rangers will send their best to the mound in Lance Lynn. The right-hander has picked up right where he left off last season having not allowed a run in his first two starts. Opponents have just three hits off Lynn in 12 innings and he’s racked up 17 strikeouts while only walking six. His sole decision came in the Rangers’ season opener, a 2-1 win over the visiting Colorado Rockies.
Luzardo is set to make his first career start on Tuesday after debuting out of the bullpen last season and making two relief appearances this year. Oakland’s top prospect has just 18.2 career innings under his belt but the young left-hander is ranked as the 12th best prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. In his six appearances last season, Luzardo faced Texas twice and allowed just one run on two hits in four innings of work. This year he’s allowed three runs, only one earned, in 6.2 innings.
Wednesday: Kyle Gibson (0-1) v. Sean Manaea (0-2)
Offseason free agent signing Kyle Gibson will make his second start of the year for the Rangers after taking the loss in what was a strong start against Arizona last week. Gibson allowed three runs, all unearned, in his Rangers’ debut. The righty signed a three-year deal with Texas this offseason and is expected to be a key part of an Rangers’ success, especially with the loss of Corey Kluber just three days into the season.
Oakland will send Sean Manaea to the mound who is in search of his first win of the year after dropping his first two starts. Manaea has thrown just nine innings through two outings and allowed seven runs with seven strikeouts. He has yet to issue a walk but has struggled to limit baserunners allowing 11 hits to this point this season. Right-handed hitters have a .253 average against the lefty so expect to see Texas go righty-heavy on Wednesday.
Thursday: Mike Minor (0-2) v. Mike Fiers (0-0)
Mike Minor hasn’t had quite the start to the season he likely would have hoped with a 5.91 ERA through his first two starts. However, stats show that lack of quality defense could be partially to blame with Minor’s FIP just 3.42 through his first 10. 2 innings of the year. Minor was roughed up a bit in his last start against the Giants to the tune of six runs in just 5.2 innings. However Robinson Chirinos got the start behind the plate, a change from Minor’s favored battery partner, Jeff Mathis. With Texas looking to get Minor on track and Mathis off to a surprisingly positive start with the bat, we can expect to see him catching come Thursday.
It’ll be the battle of the Mikes with Mike Fiers set to take the mound for Oakland. Fiers has had himself an eventful offseason as one of the central figures in the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal after alleging to The Athletic the tactics Houston had used in previous years to try and gain an advantage on opponents. This season he’s had two starts and thrown exactly 10 innings with a 5.40 ERA. He has just three strikeouts so far so the Rangers will be looking to take advantage of hittable pitching and jump on the 35-year old.
Joey Gallo (TEX)
It’s no surprise that Joey Gallo has been the main catalyst for the Rangers’ this season and we should look for more of the same in Oakland. Gallo has picked up pretty much where he left off last season when he broke out as a legitimate MVP caliber player. Through the first eight games of the 2020 campaign Gallo is hitting .310 with an 1.153 OPS and three home runs under his belt. He also has been fairly impressive in right field and while there are times you can see that he’s still learning the nuances of the position, his natural athleticism and strong arm give you a glimpse of what he can be with a little more seasoning.
Ramon Laureano (OAK)
The Oakland center fielder is off to an impressive start this season with a .290 average and .917 OPS through nine games. The 26-year old was phenomenal for the A’s last season with a .288 average and 24 homers in 123 games. He’s stout at the plate and in the field and is an important part of the core of this Oakland club. He helps anchor the top part of the lineup batting second in nearly all of his appearances this season and the Rangers can expect to get a healthy dose of Laureano this week.
Wille Calhoun (TEX)
With the Rangers set to face two left-handers in this series it’ll be interesting to see how much we see of Willie Calhoun. The Rangers though feel that he is a cornerstone piece of the future of the team so they won’t solely play the matchup game with him. I would anticipate seeing Calhoun in the starting lineup at least twice against Oakland. He’s played in seven games this season and is off to a rough start at the plate with an .056 average. He’s had a number of hard hit balls though in his past few games that give you the feeling he could be on the verge of a breakout. For a Rangers’ team starved for offensive production, Calhoun is a key player to watch considering the offensive talent we know he has.
Khris Davis (OAK)
Joining Willie Calhoun in the underperforming category is Oakland mainstay Khris Davis. He’s a name that probably evokes nightmares for long-time Rangers’ fans and joins a list of players around the league that can be dubbed ‘Rangers’ Killers’. He has 74 career games against the Rangers with a .272 average and a 1.038 OPS. His OPS and 32 home runs are the largest totals for Davis against any individual team and he’s broken hearts in Arlington more than a couple of times in his career. His .048 average is well below par this season and it’s starting to cost him ABs. If there’s ever a time for the Rangers to face a Khris Davis team its now and if there’s ever a time for Davis to see Texas, I’m sure he’d choose now.
Strength vs. Strength, Weakness vs. Weakness
Poor Offenses Face Off
The A’s are one of the few teams in baseball with a team average below the .195 mark set by the Texas Rangers. Currently, Oakland’s team average sits at just .188, only higher than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their seven home runs on the year trails Texas by one and their 3.33 runs per game average is just shy of the 3.375 runs per game for the Rangers. If you’re looking for offensive fireworks this week, I probably wouldn’t search for them in this series.
Expected Strength and Actual Strength
The Rangers entered the season with a pitching staff that should be a net benefit for the club. Losing Corey Kluber and Jose Leclerc takes some shine of this group that is also still without hard-throwing lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez and last season’s breakout, bullpen star, Rafael Montero. The Rangers will send their three best starters to the mound against Oakland and face a pitching staff that is ranked among the best in baseball to this point. Oakland’s team ERA sits at 3.07 compared to Texas’ team ERA of 4.24. In terms of home runs allowed, total earned runs, WHIP and strikeouts though, the teams are both fairly middle of the road.
Texas has a real opportunity to right the ship early this season if they can win a couple of games on the road at Oakland. Not only would it close the gap in the standings, but it would also add back some needed optimism for a team that should be sniffing around a Wild Card spot at least come the end of this season. The Texas Rangers have to get their offense going early in the series and consistently produce throughout the game, something they’ve struggled with so far. This isn’t what you’d categorize as a must win series, not this early in the year. But, Texas feels like they should be close to the contenders and what better way to prove it than taking a road series against one of the better teams in baseball last season.