The Rangers Are Fine, and Don't Let Anybody Tell You Otherwise
Over the past week to week and a half, as the Rangers have muddled their way through the first nine games of the 2017 season, a sense of despair has settled in among some of the team's less faithful. The lamentations on social media have come hard and fast.
There are those who are already fantasizing about the haul the Rangers' veteran stars might bring back at the trade deadline:
@TepidP Off topic. How many top prospects could Hamels, Beltre, Yu, Nap, Lucroy, Gomez, & Choo bring us? Tanking to rebuild is almost enticing 2 me— Eric (@Martinez_EricM) April 13, 2017
And those members of the media who haven't learned their lesson from giving up on Dak Prescott before Halloween last season:
This is going to be a long season. pic.twitter.com/EYHe1RNQFi— Robert Wilonsky (@RobertWilonsky) April 12, 2017
Don't despair, yet. There are a wealth of signs pointing to this year's team being the franchise's best since 2011.
The 2017 Rangers can really hit. — The Rangers scored eight runs Thursday afternoon, thanks in large part to home runs from center fielder Carlos Gomez and right fielder Nomar Mazara. Through nine games, the team has scored 54 times, averaging an even six runs a game. Throughout the lineup, there are bright spots. Rougned Odor has already homered four times and is showing no signs of backing down from his stalwart 2016. Mazara, in just his second season, has already been named American League player of the week once and is on the verge of taking the leap to stardom.
All of those things are happening, and it's not even the young season's biggest offensive bright spot. That honor is reserved for Elvis Andrus. Andrus, earning catcalls about his $120 million contract as recently as last spring, is continuing an offensive renaissance that began late last summer, hitting for more power than he has at any point in his career. While he isn't going to hit 54 home runs, the number he's on pace for now, his three home runs so far already better or equal the number he's hit in three complete seasons. Andrus, for the first time in his career, is showing a sustained ability to drive the ball — one out of every four balls he puts in play have been a line drive, per Fangraphs — and is becoming a force in the middle of the Rangers lineup.
Joey Gallo doesn't look lost. — When Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre's calf injury forced the future Hall of Famer to start the season on the disabled list, Joey Gallo got a chance to prove the haters wrong. Coming off a 2016 where he didn't look like he belonged in Major League Baseball, the former top prospect is well on his way to showing he is a capable big league regular in 2017.
While he still isn't hitting for average, improved plate discipline has led to Gallo getting on base getting on base more than 34 percent of the time, compared with just 20 percent in 2016. The light-tower power is still there, too. In nine starts for Beltre, Gallo has two home runs and a triple, including this moon shot against the Indians.
While he'll likely return to the minors when Beltre comes back, Gallo is at least making a case for staying up with the big club.
The bullpen hasn't been that bad. — While it's true that the Rangers could be 7-2 if not for three late leads coughed up by a bullpen that was supposed to be one of the teams strengths, the suck has been isolated. Sam Dyson, the Rangers closer to start the season, has played a large part in all three of the blowups, showing a complete inability to command the sinker that made him such an asset over the last two seasons.
While the Rangers will be a better team if Dyson gets right, they don't need him to do so. There are enough good arms still in the 'pen, even without the injured Matt Bush, to carry the team deep into October. Jeremy Jeffress had a fantastic outing Wednesday night after a slow start to the season, Tony Barnette has replicated his unexpected success from last year and, most importantly, Jose Leclerc, the big rookie with dynamite stuff, is keeping his walk rate down for the first time in his career.
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There is enough talent available to Rangers manager Jeff Banister that the bullpen will be fine, as long as he doesn't stick with any guys who've lost it too long. His willingness to demote Dyson early shows that he's not eager to do so.
Yu's been great. — Rangers ace Yu Darvish went seven scoreless Thursday, striking out 10. He looked dominant for the first time in 2017, and looks ready to embark on the type of year that will get him the big free agent contract he wants after the season. If Darvish can put together 200 healthy innings the Rangers will have the best 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in the American League, thanks to the ever-steady Cole Hamels.