Thursday night, the Cowboys kicked off the preseason against the 49ers. For Dallas sports fans, at least those capable of looking past the issues that make watching the NFL problematic, it was a good thing. The Cowboys' first-team offense was ruthlessly efficient in a first-quarter cameo. The starting defense looked like it could be an asset this year too. That's a welcome change from the past decade or so, thanks to youth and plenty of speed. Seeing a team that appeared to be going somewhere was a respite from what's been an abysmal year-plus in Dallas sports, thanks to Rangers, Stars and Mavericks teams stuck between disappointing and downright awful.
For the most part this year, the Rangers have fallen into the first category. As they meandered through a nondescript offseason, the general thinking was, they were probably talented enough to compete for the American League's second wild card spot if everything went right. Everything hasn't gone right. Erstwhile ace Cole Hamels, traded to the Cubs at the deadline, proved incapable of pitching in Arlington this season. Right fielder Nomar Mazara, who seemed like he could make the leap from everyday player to star in his third full season, has been, as he was in 2017, just OK. Matt Moore, the talented reclamation project the Rangers acquired from the Giants in December, ended up being a disaster, putting up an 8.02 ERA in 12 starts before being banished to the bullpen.
The 2018 Rangers aren't any good. They aren't really bad either, though, so there's no real reason to have an active interest in the outcome of their games for the remainder of the season. They aren't going to make the playoffs unless they win 80 percent, at least, of their remaining games, and they aren't going to get a premium draft pick unless they lose 80 percent, at least. The 2018 Rangers are the baseball version of Revelation 3:15-16.
That doesn't mean there won't be stuff going on at Globe Life Park that's at least worth paying attention to. Events are going to transpire over the rest of this season that will affect the Rangers long after they've moved to the air-conditioned palace that's getting built next door in 2020.
The biggest things to watch as summer turns to fall for the Rangers are the twin revitalizations of second baseman Rougned Odor and first baseman Joey Gallo.
After being perhaps the worst position player in baseball in 2017 and the first couple months of 2018, Odor has righted the ship and then some, dragging his on-base plus slugging percentage up to, as of Friday afternoon, .831. If Odor can keep or raise that mark, he'll set a new career high and return himself to the All-Star career trajectory that seemed inevitable after his breakout 2016 season. Odor seems to have finally shed the super-hero persona he took on after landing his perfect right hand on then-Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista during a benches-clearing brawl two seasons ago. It's worth watching to see if he can maintain the composure and patience at the plate he's shown this summer.
Like Odor, Gallo sputtered through the spring before heating up with the weather. Over his last 30 games, again, as of Friday afternoon, Gallo has 12 home runs and an OPS of .954. He's fourth in Major League Baseball with 31 home runs, just four behind J.D. Martinez's league-leading 35. While he's yet to hit for average as a big-leaguer and likely never will, Gallo, 24, has a chance to win a home run title. Gallo's home runs, walks and baserunning far outweigh the strikeouts, as the Las Vegas native is proving again this year.
Then there's the curious case of Jurickson Profar. Six years ago, Profar was the No. 1 prospect in baseball, a seemingly can't-miss middle infielder with tools that made scouts who saw him think of players like Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar. Fast forward to 2018, and many Rangers fans view Profar as a bust. The thing is, thanks to a series of injuries and the way the Rangers roster has been constructed over the past couple of seasons, Profar never really has gotten consistent at bats. This year, thanks in large part to the Rangers being out of the race, Manager Jeff Banister has been able to find spots for Profar in the lineup. Given the opportunity, Profar, still just 25, has starred at the plate, sporting an almost .800 OPS on the way to what could be a 20-home run season.
With Odor and shortstop Elvis Andrus entrenched in the middle of the diamond for the Rangers, Profar has more value to the team as a trade asset than an everyday player. With a hot couple of months to end the year, Profar could be one of the Rangers' best assets as the trade market heats up this winter.
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