Did the Rangers Season End the Same Night As the Mavericks’?

Or did it start?

Two nights ago, I was sitting in a great sports bar – FX McRory’s in Seattle – watching the Mavericks’s season end in an embarrassing loss.  Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers dropped two in day-night double header at home against the Yankees.

Since then, the Rangers have played better and are well on their way tonight to winning a second straight game since Thursday’s double disaster. 

But while that’s encouraging, here’s what haunts me…

The two losses on Thursday crowned a 5-game losing streak for the Rangers.  Meanwhile, the team hasn’t won 3 straight so far this year.  And while the rotation has me wondering if the team is capable of winning 4 straight all season, the offense and, worse, the bullpen were the culprits in the double-defeat, the 5-game slide and a majority of losses this season.

Both Thursday games features solid starts, and the chance for the bullpen to keep the team in the game.  But Benoit and Francisco couldn’t keep the door closed.

When Jon Daniels is on record as saying the bullpen, “will be a competitive advantage” for the Rangers but even it continues to falter, what’s left?  Yes, Daniels was thinking Gagne would be in the bullpen when he said that, but that was always a risky thought (one I think was worth acting on, but just isn’t working out so far).

So can the Rangers make up for a 5 game slide and an 11-18 start?

Maybe.  There’s still a few variables to play out before that can be answered with any confidence.

If Gagne returns, and contributes the rest of the season with 1 or less additional trips to the 15-day DL, then the bullpen gets a whole lot better and hold on to win a lot more games.  Instead of Benoit, for example, Gagne would probably have been on the bump in the 8th in Thursday’s day game.  If he’s on his game, it’s unlikely he gives up a passed ball and a double to Matsui after a Texiera error that would have put Jeter away.  And with Otsuka fresh, the Rangers would likely have won or at least taken the game into extra innings.

The other variable – three usually steady bats.  Everyone is talking that the Texas lineup is in a complete top-to-bottom slump.  But when I investigated, I was surprised to see that most guys are performing about at a rate to be expected – with the huge exceptions of Young, Catalanatto, and Lofton.  Those three will do better, but when?  If they don’t get things going this month, it will probably be too late.   

The final major variable – an anchor in the lineup.  The Rangers need a powerful, steady bat to anchor this lineup, and Texiera is not it.  He’s a .280, 35-HR hitter.  That’s good, but too much of his production tends to come later in the season and in too inconsistent spurts, which make his contributions just not good enough to make everyone else in the lineup better.  As good as the Rangers’ offense has been for years, they still need a batter that every opposing manager and pitcher circles when they come to town out of fear.  There’s plenty to be nervous about in this Rangers lineup – top to bottom (except Laird) – but not a lot to cause constant fear in opponents all season.  Carlos Lee proved that last year, as he is the type of guy who can do that, and in so doing, make the rest of lineup reach or sometimes exceed expectations.  The Rangers need someone else to anchor their lineup. 

Baseball is a game of thin margins and many variables.  But I think these three will tell us in the next three weeks whether the Rangers season is salvageable.  And let’s hope the two-win streak completed with a 5-RBI performance from Young while I was writing this is the start in the right direction.

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