José Leclerc's latest implosion vs Cubs reignites Rangers bullpen concerns

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

The odds were stacked against the Texas Rangers and their monumental run to winning a World Series last year, but perhaps the most pressing cause for worry had less to do about opposing teams and more about the Rangers having a real, internal problem.

Texas' bullpen was among the worst in save scenarios in 2023, and the pitching staff as a whole had one of the worst ERAs in the league to close out the regular season, with a collective 4.28. They added Kirby Yates and David Robertson in the offseason to try to solve some of those problems, but the relievers who still remained — José Leclerc, Josh Sborz, Dane Dunning, and so on — still had a lot of work to do.

Well, maybe should say they still have a lot of work to do. Those old bullpen demons were back during Sunday's matchup against the Cubs. The teams were tied at 5-5 going into the ninth, when Leclerc came in to relieve Yerry Rodríguez. He quickly got Dansby Swanson to fly out, but then the rest of the Cubs' order came in to give him hell.

Leclerc gave up a walk to Michael Busch, a single to Nico Hoerner, and then another walk to Mike Tauchman to load the bases. He got lucky on the next play, when Miles Mastrobuoni ground into a force out and Busch was thrown out at home on a nice throw by Marcus Semien, but that was where the Rangers' fortune ended. Leclerc promptly walked Ian Happ to walk in a run and for the Cubs to take the lead.

Jacob Latz came in behind Leclerc and promptly gave up three more runs. The Rangers came back up in the bottom of the ninth, no doubt hoping to make a remarkable comeback to at least even things up again. Instead, they went down 1-2-3 with two strikeouts on Josh Jung and Adolis García.

José Leclerc and the Rangers give up four runs in the ninth as bullpen continues to suffer

Last year, Leclerc was oftentimes a bright spot in the Rangers bullpen, but he had a walk problem throughout the year. Over two appearances so far this season, it's not looking any different; on Opening Day, he gave up back-to-back walks to Busch and Hoerner, then a wild pitch and a throwing error by Jonah Heim scored Busch to give the Cubs the lead.

Just a few games in, the Rangers' pitching staff already finds themselves in the center of the pack in terms of ERA, at No. 14 with a 4.18. It's early days, yes, but Leclerc's performance on Sunday does leave room for concern. The bullpen could've been Texas' kiss of death last season, but thanks to the rotation and lineup coming up massively, they were able to skirt any season-threatening problems. But now, we're just through Game 3 of 162, so the Rangers will need to take (another) very long look at the state of the bullpen.