The weirdest part of the news of Jacob deGrom’s impending season-ending Tommy John surgery, which in all likelihood could keep him out of the Texas Rangers’ rotation until the beginning of the 2025 season, is that the first-place team in the American League West doesn’t need him. Is deGrom a massive security blanket and one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy? Absolutely. Have the Rangers gone from irrelevance to contenders despite the almost-35-year-old’s injury? Abso-frickin’-lutely.
More than a third of the way through the season, Texas is 40-21, with a 4.5-game lead over the Astros and a 27.5-game lead over the Athletics, because it’s never too much to point out how much Oakland sucks. deGrom only pitched 30.1 innings this year, earning two wins in six starts and 0.7 wins above replacement. The scary thought is what the Rangers would be capable of with him healthy, although foreseeing this predicament wasn’t exactly hard to predict. Texas has the second-best record in the American League and all of baseball. The only team better is the Rays, who host the Rangers for a three-game series this weekend in St. Petersburg.
This Rangers team isn’t reminiscent of any from the past, and that’s a good thing. Texas spent two seasons atop the American League more than a decade ago but got hot at the right time of year. The 2010 Rangers went 21-6 in June. Every other month’s record at best was three games over .500, including April and August concluding with losing records. The Rangers ended the regular season 18 games over .500 but put away the Rays and Yankees before getting clobbered by the Giants in the World Series. The greatest team to never win the World Series was the 2011 Rangers, who were much more consistent with May being the franchise’s only losing month of the season. A 19-6 September put Texas 30 games over .500 to end the regular season. A somber tale follows for the Rangers, with ALDS and ALCS victories over the Rays and Tigers, before being one strike away from a World Series title twice against the Cardinals, only to lose the championship tilt in seven.
What let both of those teams down, in the long run, was pitching, and it’s really been the franchise’s output from the mound that has hampered the Rangers for their entire existence. Trading away promising prospects like Kevin Brown, unable to maintain solid starters like Mike Minor or truly unleash the wrath of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels has become tradition in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. It’s almost weird to see how a deGrom-less Texas rotation has been consistently great. Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, Martin Perez, and Andrew Heaney have a combined win-loss record of 29-9, with Heaney’s trio of losses being the most for any one player. The Rangers could confidently win games 9-8 with the starting pitching of Chan Ho Park and try not to toss wins away like Oprah’s favorite things with Shawn Tolleson coming into close (yuck), but trying to win pitcher’s duels was akin to running into the ocean.
Texas isn’t just relying on pitching in a complete 180 from where history resides. Nine players have at least 24 RBIs and seven have at least six home runs, bringing back memories of the days when there wasn’t a hitter to pitch around in the Rangers’ lineup. This team is far as Texas hasn’t won a playoff series since the aforementioned 2011 ALCS against the Tigers. And if you exclude 2010 and 2011 from the Rangers’ resume, they’re 0-5 all-time in playoff series, including those back-to-back seasons with ALDS losses to the Blue Jays, sandwiching Rougned Odor smacking the daylights out of Jose Bautista in May 2016. The Rangers haven’t cracked 80 wins since 2016 and have been an afterthought of the postseason. As long as the team’s pitching continues at this pace, and deGrom isn’t coming to help, a chance at playoff redemption is within reach.