For avid horseplayers, there comes a point in most races, especially when your steed has shot out to the lead from the opening of the gates, where it becomes pretty clear you’re going to lose. Somewhere on that far turn, your horse’s gait is shrinking, the jockey is working just a little too hard for how much there is left in the race, and some other horse is closing far too quickly, and more importantly easily, for the thrill to last much longer. You do the math of the gap closing and distance left to the wire, and the equations don’t work. You’re gonna lose, some more filthy lucre down the drain.
That’s where Texas Rangers fans probably are these days.
For most of the season, the Rangers had been maybe the perfect blend of ambitious spending and interior development to lead the AL West. Big free agents like Corey Seager and Marcus Semien were doing everything, Nathan Eovaldi was a second-tier Cy Young candidate at worst. Products of their minor league system, if not their own draft picks, like Jonah Heim and Josh Jung had established themselves as one of the best at each of their positions. And then the trade for Max Scherzer to fill in for Jacob deGrom, a role he’s played to critical acclaim on Broadway, made it feel like the Rangers weren’t just infiltrating the party and stealing all the appetizers they could before security caught on and Jazzy Jeffed them out the door.
Well, security found them.
The Rangers are 4-14 since August 15th, which has taken them from 3.5 games up on the AL West to right out of the playoffs altogether. This week saw perhaps the biggest series the Rangers and Astros have played against each other, certainly the first that had the division title hanging in the balance. They’ve lost the first two games of the series by a combined 27-7. That’s showing up for the job interview in clown shoes and nothing else.
There isn’t an area one can look at on Texas and not rush to grab the fire extinguisher. The offense has sputtered out more than the Eels. Marcus Semien has a wOBA of .278 in the past three weeks. Adolis Garcia is hitting .153. Jonah Heim, clearly struggling after a wrist injury, has an OBP of .245 in that time. They have a team .309 wOBA since that date. It’s ugly.
But not as ugly as the pen, which has been the biggest sinkhole on the team. It used to be Bruce Bochy lumbered out to the mound simply because that’s what old, crotchety baseball managers do. Now it’s certainly taking longer as he gives the most amount of time possible for some miracle solution to present itself before he gets to the mound. Because when he gets there and takes the ball and points to the pen, he knows whatever comes out of that open door is bad, store-front theater abstract performance art.
Will Smith has an ERA over 7.00 since 8/15. Aroldis Chapman is walking more than a guy per inning. Brock Burke is the Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight. Martin Perez’s low-strikeout, high-contact ways hasn’t translated to the pen. Their collective pen ERA the past three weeks is a touchdown with the PAT.
That’s hard enough to negotiate, but even harder when you need to get to the pen because the rotation isn’t doing much either. Only Scherzer has been able to keep his ERA under 4.50 in this stretch. Eovaldi came off the IL last night and got four outs. Dane Dunning, being moved to the pen to accommodate Eovaldi, was tagged for nine runs.
The horse is wheezing.
It’s not going to get much easier for the Rangers once the Astros are done with them. Four games with Toronto await, the team that just passed them in the wildcard. Seven games with the Mariners, who dusted them for the division lead a couple weeks back. That’s 12 of the last 24 against teams that have a special reason to beat the Rangers brain in, and all three are playing much better at the moment.
Maybe it all came a year too early for the Rangers, especially once deGrom went down. They only won 68 games last year, and jumping from that to an AL playoff team is a gorge-like jump. But they gave everyone a thrill and it’s easy to get intoxicated on that after that long of a time. Problem is, the comedown is pretty damn rough too.
Follow Sam on Twitter @felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social