If the Rangers finish the season behind a competitor by a single game, Sunday's outing in Seattle against the Mariners will be the one fans will wish they had to do over. Somehow, in the span of four hours at Safeco Field, the Rangers managed to cough up both a five-run, third inning lead and one-run, ninth inning lead, losing to the Mariners 8-7.
For the fourth time this season, Rangers closer Sam Dyson played the biggest role in making sure his team took a loss, their eighth in 12 games to start the season. After Nomar Mazara hit a tie-breaking home run in the top of the ninth, Rangers manager Jeff Banister went to Dyson, despite the right-handers' 24.75 ERA. Dyson proceeded to retire just one of the five batters he faced, coughing up the lead and the game.
Banister now faces an early season crisis. His established closer is displaying a complete inability to get big league hitters out, despite a terrific season the year before, something that's eerily reminiscent of last season's dilemma with Shawn Tolleson.
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Dyson's downfall is more surprising than Tolleson's. The Rangers' sure-to-be deposed closer showed no signs of regression during spring training or the World Baseball Classic — where he starred for the tournament winning United States squad. But Dyson's been in free-fall this season, starting his surrender of three-runs in a tie game to the Indians on opening night. His Win Probability Added, a stat the calculates how many wins, or losses, a player's individual performances have added to a team's record, is -2.6. That's the worst number in baseball for a reliever in 2017 and worse than any reliever over all of 2016.
Throughout Dyson's struggles, Banister has shown a reluctance to let anyone else close games, desperate to preserve whatever confidence his pitcher retains. The fact remains, as it did last year, that Banister has two pitchers in the big league bullpen — and one in Triple A — suited to finish games. Dyson's primary strength is his 98 mph sinker. When it's on, it's a double-play causing bowling bowl, but it also leaves Dyson with very little to go to when things go sideways. Righties Matt Bush and Jose LeClerc, both of whom pitched well over the weekend, both have the traditional swing-and-miss stuff that makes successful closers.
Earlier this week, after a three-inning ninth to the Angels ending in a 6-5 loss, Banister signaled he is losing patience, saying the team "can't continue to lose baseball games in this manner." The Rangers are off to their first 4-8 start since 2006, the last year Buck Showalter managed the team. Maybe the Rangers aren't fine after all.