If the New York Mets are going to fumble the torch for those who want teams to try and spend money (or more accurately watch it simply fall from a great height and break), we must find a new bearer to keep the dream alive. Never mix your dreams with the Mets anyway. Sure path to heartbreak. The Padres continue to sputter, two games under .500 and in third place. No, if we need a team that has changed its fortunes by doing what baseball teams used to do — buy talent, get their fans excited, profit — we have to turn to the large, abandoned Home Depot that the Texas Rangers call home. Well, they call it Globe Life Stadium but anyway…
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The Rangers sit atop the AL West, and comfortably so, as the Houston Astros have battled injuries, and a slipshod offense while the Seattle Mariners simply haven’t fired, and the Angels are only on the high side of the middling product they are destined to offer amongst the pile of skateboards that is Anaheim. And the Rangers deserve to be there. They’re second in runs scored, only six behind leaders Tampa but 25 ahead of the third-placed Dodgers. They have a top-10 rotation ERA. They have the second-best run differential in all of baseball, and only trail the Rays by 40 runs in that category! Hey, what’re 40 runs between friends?
You may remember the Rangers from such episodes as, “Hey, Isn’t That Where Marcus Semien and Cory Seager Went To Die?” and “The Future deGrom Elbow Explosion.” And the Rangers have gotten some bang for their buck. Semien is leading the team offensively, slashing .287/.382/.479. But Seager has only played in 11 games so far this season, dealing with hamstring issues, but he should be back this week.
On the pitching side, deGrom has been deGrom, when he can get to the mound, and stay there. He’s struck out 39 percent of the hitters he’s seen, good for a 2.67 ERA and a 1.59 FIP. Trouble is, he’s only thrown 30 innings and is on the IL with the foreboding combination of “forearm tightness” and “elbow inflammation.” He might as well have acetone and an open flame in there.
Bargains are paying off in Arlington
But where the Rangers have been able to surge despite not getting full return so far on their biggest investments, unlike the Mets, is that they’ve gotten help within and from some under-the-radar pickups. Jonah Helm is the only one out-hitting Semien and is becoming maybe the best catcher in the game. Ezequiel Duran was supposed to be at third, but has shifted over to short in Seager’s absence and is rocking a 120 wRC+ (though with kind of an alarming 1.6 percent walk-rate. There are little leaguers in T-ball with a better rate). Adolis Garcia has been able to carry the momentum from last year. Nathaniel Lowe at 1st has seen some of the air go out of what made last year’s numbers so popping, but has been more than solid. Leody Tavares is manning center and maintaining enough on-base while actually never hitting the ball in the air. All are either products of the system or low-level acquisitions to augment the big-ticket items.
In the rotation, the Rangers have uncovered a version of Nathan Eovaldi that’s an unholy monster. He’d be the clubhouse leader for the AL Cy Young, with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.96 FIP. Eovaldi has leaned far more heavily on a cutter this season, which he has used to ravage left-handed hitters (.219 average).
The Rangers have needed it in deGrom’s absence, as both Jon Gray and Martin Perez have been doing various dances, and enacting various charms to avoid having the roof cave in. Both are stranding over 80 percent of the runners they let on, which is a very rickety way to get along. Gray has benefitted as well from some insane BABIP treachery (.238) and that will not last.
The pen has been the real surprise, with vet Will Smith anchoring it at the back, and stalwarts from last year Brock Burke, Jonathan Hernandez, and Jose LeClerc supporting him in the innings before. The blinking light there is that the pen is in the bottom third of the league in strikeouts, and pens that allow contact are always toeing a line above some real dangers. Some of that is mitigated by the Rangers having one of the best infield defenses around (seven outs above average, 7th in MLB), but fans tend to feel safer when relievers are just sending hitters back to their dugout straight from the box.
This is where the Mets’ plan hasn’t clicked yet. They wanted to fill holes they couldn’t buy themselves out of with homegrown products, but their system hasn’t caught up to Cohen’s checkbook yet. And who knows how long the Rangers can outrun the Astros if they ever get healthy. A returning Seager extends their endurance for sure, but the roof might cave in on Gray, and Perez before too long.
Still, we need a team that was aggressive and didn’t treat outgoing cash like donating plasma. Right now, the Rangers are leading the line.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.
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