The Texas Rangers currently sit with the best record in the American League, at 65-47. As things stand, they would hold home field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the World Series thanks to the American League’s victor during the All-Star Game. And the expectations are sky high for Texas, with some added excitement thrown in just over a week during the MLB trade deadline.
On August 1st, deadline day, the Rangers made two bold moves. First, the team traded away several pitching prospects, including highly regarded prospect Dillon Tate. The 39 year old designated hitter, who can also be played in the outfield at times, is having an exceptional season with the bat. He is hitting over .300 with 23 home runs.
Then the Rangers took some more of their prospects and shipped them to Milwaukee, in return for former Brewers Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. Lucroy immediately stepped in to be the starting catcher, and is hitting .298 with 16 home runs of his own. Jeffress, who had been closing for the Brew Crew had 27 saves with Milwaukee and is pitching to a 2.12 ERA.
And while the deadline additions certainly make the team better, it will not be the moves that bring the club their first ever World Series title. And that is because they did not address their biggest need: starting rotation depth. Behind Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, the names are not very appealing, and that is going to cost the team when it matters most.
Now let’s remember in the playoffs, the Rangers need to win three games of the ALDS. Then in the ALCS and World Series, they would need to win four games a piece. In the playoffs, most teams go with a four man rotation. So let’s take a closer look at all of the variables.
Cole Hamels is the absolute stud of the staff. The 32 year old lefty possesses a very strong 2.89 ERA and has struck out 138 batters over the course of 140 and a third innings. He has a WHIP of 1.25 and has won 12 of his 22 starts. He is the ace, and should be starting game one of any series, setting him up for a double dip when needed.
Yu Darvish has struggled with some injuries this season, but has the talent and skills to be even better than Hamels when fully healthy. He has been a total stud in his last handful of starts, and appears to be fresh as we steam towards the playoffs. In just over 38 innings, he has struck out 54 batters this season, and keeping base runners off the base paths with his 1.12 WHIP. He also possesses a solid ERA of 3.29.
But unfortunately for the Rangers, that is where their solid options stop. And between the two of them, they can only combine for four games in any given series. Now sure, they only need to win four games to win any series, but that would mean they cannot afford a slip up or a bad break in any of the games started by Hamels or Darvish.
Behind the two aces we have the following names: Martin Perez, AJ Griffin, Lucas Harrell plus two injured starters in Colby Lewis and Derek Holland. Two of these names are likely to find themselves in a playoff rotation. But who really deserves to be?
Perez is viewed as the top option behind Hamels and Darvish by most. He has started 23 games for Texas this year, and holds an ERA of 4.33 and a WHIP of 1.45. As the WHIP would suggest, he lets guys get on base way more than he should, and that can be attributed to the fact that he is highly hittable. He has only struck out 67 batters over the course of 139 and a third innings this season. That is not the kind of arm I would have confidence in during a playoff game.
AJ Griffin is our next candidate. Over 14 starts, Griffin has an ERA of 4.05 and has struck out 60 men over the course of 73 and a third innings. His numbers are mediocre, but nothing terrible. The real issue comes in the form of how long he goes in games. He has not lasted a full six innings since May 2nd this season. This means the bullpen is going to have to be on its game if he starts a playoff game. And yes Texas has a pretty decent pen, but let’s say Perez got ripped the night before and the relievers were needed for five innings. The next day Griffin takes the hill, and the team could find themselves in a similar situation. Having him in the postseason rotation could wear on the bullpen.
Our next candidate is Lucas Harrell, who was acquired by the team in late July from the Atlanta Braves. Harrell holds a very respectable ERA of 3.46 this season. But like Perez, he allows a few too many base runners. To be more specific, he walks a lot of hitters. In nine and two thirds since being acquired by the Rangers, he has walked eight men. That means he has walked more men than he has struck out in his time with the team. And that is the type of stat that will catch up to a starter, especially come playoff time.
Next we have our first currently injured option in Derek Holland. The left-hander was placed on the disabled list back on June 22nd with left shoulder inflammation and is eligible to return August 20th. His first rehab start saw him throw 28 pitches this past Friday and he should see two more starts before returning, assuming everything goes well. But even upon his return, he is not exactly a stud. This season he has an ERA of 5.20 and a WHIP of 1.42. He was also struggling to strike guys out, with a career low K/9 of 5.33. Now the shoulder injury could very easily be used to explain some of these numbers. But that begs the question, is he truly past the injury bug and is he trustworthy come the playoffs?
Finally we have Colby Lewis, who has also been on the DL since June 22nd with a strained lat muscle. Lewis is set for an MRI on Wednesday, and if that goes well he should be cleared to begin throwing off a mound. As things stand now, he should return in early September if he does not suffer any setbacks. While he was pitching this season, he put up some solid numbers. He has an ERA of 3.21 and a WHIP of 1.o2. But he is a soft tosser, who barely hits 90 mph with his fastball when healthy. Like Perez, this makes him very hittable. Pair that with his injury questions, and he is not a name I would have a ton of faith in come the playoffs.
Now winning three games in the ALDS should not be an issue given the top two guys only need to put together three games. With their bats and bullpen, they should be a good bet for the ALCS. Winning the ALCS is also still doable for this team, but far from a given.
But the World Series is where I really see the Rangers pitching depth causing them problems. And that has to do with the rotations of the top NL teams. The San Francisco Giants will have Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner to match the Texas duo. The Chicago Cubs have Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of their staff. And finally the Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
One of these three teams are likely to be representing the National League in the World Series. All three teams have talent across their entire rosters. All of these clubs also have arms in their rotation that are clearly better than what the Rangers possess. And given all of them also have a solid one-two punch to match Hamels and Darvish, having those two win four games would not be an easy task.
Since the acquisitions at the deadline, the team is three and three. Two of their three victories they scored five runs, but two of their losses they scored one or no runs. So the offense is not a lock to win them a game whenever they need it, even with the additions of Lucroy and Beltran. Like any World Series run, pitching will be highly important.
And as things stand right now, the Rangers pitching rotation will be their Achilles heel when it comes to bringing the first World Series title to Arlington. Hamels and Darvish are one of the best combinations in the league, but they cannot do it all on their own. The Rangers will need to add some starting pitching during August if they want to win the World Series in 2016.