The Texas Rangers lost again Friday night when the bullpen blew a 4-0 lead in the last two innings of the game against the Angels. The seeds of this loss go back to the offseason.
The Rangers had three needs to fill. Rangers GM Chris Young stated that they wanted to address the rotation, a big bat, and help in the bullpen. They really only fully addressed one of those. They spent well over $200 million on the rotation and then spent pennies on the lineup and bullpen. The lineup is still producing despite the lack of offseason investment.
The bullpen though is a different story.
Texas Rangers' lack of bullpen spending is coming back to hurt them
The Rangers have been one of those teams that absolutely refuse to spend big money on bullpen arms. Their philosophy is to take below-average arms for below-average prices and hopes to get above-average performances. It sometimes works in the case of Shawn Tolleson and Sam Dyson in the 2015 and 2016 seasons and with Matt Moore in 2022. More often than not though it leads to having a below-average pen. The last significant free agent the Rangers signed was Joe Nathan in 2012, and he made the All-star team in both seasons he pitched for Texas.
There were free agents who would have improved the pen. We saw Carlos Estevez on Friday in the 10th and how he carved through the Rangers' lineup. Matt Moore was out there and the Rangers chose not to sign him. Kenley Jensen and his seven saves were out there. A former Ranger Chris Martin was out there. Aroldis Chapman was out there as a free agent. Craig Kimbrel was a free agent. Andrew Chaffin who we saw in the Arizona series was also a free agent. The Rangers likely looked into each of these pitchers and mistakenly thought they did not need them. That they would be able to win with the pen that they had. It was a mistake back in December and January that is now leading to losses in April and May.
The Rangers put together a rotation that could lead the team to 90+ wins, a lineup that is certainly good enough to win that many games, but saddled the team with a bullpen that is far from good enough to win that many games. They made that choice knowing that this would be an issue but decided not to commit serious resources to address the issue.
I understand the hesitation of not spending on the bullpen. Through the years there have been some terrible contracts handed out to relievers. Performances from relievers tend to fluctuate from year to year. This bullpen was crying out for more high-velocity guys and they chose to bring in Will Smith who relies on a 92 mph fastball and a slower slider to improve the pen.
Also, If you are going to commit that much money to the rotation, why would you not follow that up with more of an investment in the bullpen? Nothing can derail a team faster than having a bullpen that cannot close out wins. Last night's game cost the Rangers the sole division lead. More losses on this trip and it could put them below .500, more losses after that and you are no longer looking for bullpen help at the deadline and wondering how the season got away.
That was Chris Young's big folly. He hit it out of the park with deGrom, Eovaldi, and Heaney, but came up way short of improving the bullpen. The Rangers last season were 15-35 in one-run games. There were several reasons for that, but one of them was a bad bullpen. This season through 31 games the Rangers are 1-4, having lost their last four. They are on pace to have far fewer one-run games, but they still are not winning them. The bullpen is now looking for answers to this problem. The issue is that there is no easy answers or fixes.
It is going to continue to be a roller coaster ride for the Rangers. In games where they score five or more runs, they will probably win. Their record in such games is 15-3 so far this season. In games they score less than 5 runs they will probably not win. Their record in those games is 3-10. That has to be the goal going forward: the offense has to put up more runs to keep the bullpen out of save situations.
Last night they put several runners on base, but could not get a big hit or big inning to really stretch the lead. The team as a whole left 14 men on base. The middle of the order really struggled to come through in various opportunities. The combination of Grossman, Lowe, Garcia, and Jung went a combined 2-17 with two RBI's last night. Still four runs should have been enough, but last night it was not.
The Rangers with the loss fall to 18-13 on the season and are now tied with the Angels for first place in the division. These two teams play again tonight at 8:07 p.m. CT. Nathan Eovaldi faces left-hander Reid Detmers. Eovaldi is coming off his shutout of the Yankees last Saturday night. Detmers is coming off his second loss of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers. He allowed four runs in 4.1 innings. He struck out six and walked three. The winner tonight will have sole possession of first place in the AL West.