The Texas Rangers are ready to embark on their final road trip of the 2020 season as they kick things off against the Angels. What are the top three topics to watch on the West Coast?
The strange and eventful 2020 MLB season is winding to a close with the Texas Rangers looking at just 10 more games between them and what is sure to be an important offseason. The Rangers will get their final leg of the season started on Friday when they kick off a four-game series in Los Angeles against the Angels, part of a six-game road trip that is the final away stint of the year for the club. With eyes on closing out the series on a strong note, here are the top three topics to watch on the West Coast this weekend.
Keeping an Eye on Kyle Cody’s Performance in the Rotation
On an individual level, perhaps the performance I’m most excited to watch is Kyle Cody who will get the start on the mound in Sunday’s contest. Cody has been one of a few Rangers’ prospects to make a multi-level jump to the Majors this season and has been one of the most impressive while doing so.
When he got the call, Cody worked primarily in relief with each of his first three appearances out of the bullpen. Posting 5.1 scoreless innings of relief work earned him a look in the rotation where he’s now made three starts. The key though is that Cody has pitched on a strict workload largely because he has hardly pitched since 2017 after Tommy John surgery wiped out most of his 2018 season and all of his 2019 campaign.
His three starts so far haven’t lasted past the third inning by design but he’s been fairly successful allowing only one earned run in each of his last two starts. His start Sunday will likely be one of his final two scheduled starts of the season with the rotation set up for him to theoretically pitch in the final series of the year against the Astros.
Whether or not we’ll get an extended look at Cody in one of these final two starts is yet to be seen but with the Rangers looking at numerous options for the starting rotation in 2021, how Cody pitches could contribute to what we see next year. It still seems unlikely that the Rangers will fully let Cody off the leash and go as deep into games as he can, even next year, but some combination plan with Cody starting games, almost like an extended opener, could be on the table.
The Race for Kumar Rocker
The race for the number one overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft is not one the Rangers wanted to be in entering the season yet they find themselves in the heart of the mix. The wide held assumption is that Vanderbilt RHP Kumar Rocker will go first overall and based off his high school and collegiate performances, he looks like a potential difference for a franchise.
As of now, the Texas Rangers have the second worst record in baseball at 18-32 which is two and half games better than the cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates. The Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks both sit a half game ahead of Texas with the Washington Nationals a further game ahead.
Joining the Rangers in the mix though are the Los Angeles Angels who sit two and a half games ahead of Texas. This series, depending on how it goes, could take the Angels out of this mix and push the Rangers closer to the bottom with Pittsburgh. Conversely, it also has the potential for Texas to jump LA in the AL West and essentially end their chances at the top overall pick.
This topic isn’t one you’d expect to carry much weight on the field and it shouldn’t be. The players for the Texas Rangers aren’t concerned with getting the first overall pick, nor should they be. In fact they’ll be aiming to do quite the opposite and as nice as it would be for the franchise to land a talented pitcher like Rocker, there’s also something to be said for the young core of the Rangers to experience some success this year before they are more or less handed the reigns of the club in 2021.
Still, this will be a topic of discussion and with each passing game the picture for a potential draft order gets a little bit clearer. With the shortened season the draft order could be influenced by other factors besides 2020 record but the best path to Rocker is one where the loss column continues to be filled. As the Angels’ series gets underway, keeping an eye on the standings is something many Texas Rangers’ fans will be doing.
Which of Texas’ Core Players Can Build Some Offensive Momentum?
The offensive struggles of the Texas Rangers as a whole has been one of the major talking points for this team during the season. In a year where Texas was relying on his cornerstone players to take steps forward, too many regressed, some to a considerable degree. Looking at a core group of Nick Solak, Willie Calhoun and Joey Gallo, none of that trio is looking at losing out on their everyday role for next season but they are in need of some offensive momentum to carry into the offseason before the campaign wraps up.
Nick Solak has struggled to replicate the impressive offensive display he produced in his short, debut stint with Texas last season. After hitting .293 in 33 games last season and posting a stellar 126 wRC+, Solak has seen his production drop with a .258 average in 2020 and a 71 wRC+ in 49 games.
His month of September has been even more of a struggle as his average since the month began is just .242 and his wRC+ is down all the way at 29. He’s a critical part of the heart of the order for Texas in 2021 and he’ll be looking to generate more consistent production over the final 10 games.
Willie Calhoun’s offensive struggles can largely be attributed to injuries which have prevented him from having much of a long-term run of games to get his plate rhythm going. The 25-year old looks to be the leading candidate to be the Rangers’ DH in 2021 but in 20 games he’s hitting just .152 this year. Early in the year Calhoun was the victim of some unfortunate placement of hard hit balls and with a much smaller sample size than normal, he hasn’t been able to correct that trend.
Perhaps the most important of this group that is looking for momentum though is Joey Gallo who has had a frustrating campaign after he broke out with an All-Star year in 2019. The most potent bat in the Rangers’ lineup, Gallo is hitting just .185 this season and his OPS sits at just .723 which would be his lowest single season OPS since he became an everyday big league player in 2017.
Like Calhoun, Gallo has been somewhat victimized by a shortened season where slumps of any significant length carry much more weight than normal. Pair that with Gallo being one of just a couple of real threats opponents face when playing Texas and Gallo is a player looking to break slumps while often not in great hitting positions. Texas will need him to find his stride before 2021 though with Gallo not only the main man for the Rangers, but also a player entering into the final two years of arbitration which puts him in the territory for a long-term extension.