Biggest Takeaways from the 1st Month of the Texas Rangers' Season
The first month of the Texas Rangers' 2014-15 season has been a seesaw.
It's much more exciting when you're the kid up in the air. But not so much when you're the one on the ground.
The Rangers are now 33 games into the year, and they've been the ones up and down just about equally. Despite everything that has gone wrong, they are still a 17-16 team and are just two games back of the Oakland A's and one one-hundreth of a percentage point behind the suddenly surging Seattle Mariners.
There's been a lot to like and be proud of so far. There's also been quite a bit to cause frustration for Ranger fans.
So here are some of the Rangers' biggest takeaways from the first month of their season.
Shin-Soo Choo Can Hit Lefties Just Fine
I've been saying this all season, but I don't think it would hurt to drive home the point once more: Shin-Soo Choo has done everything in his power to prove he was worth the seven-year, $130 million payday the Rangers handed to him.
Granted we're just in month No. 1 of a contract that will last 84 months. But Choo has been the Rangers' best player over the first 33 games.
Choo's play has been particularly reassuring because he's hitting lefties—which was thought to be one of his major flaws when he was testing the free-agent market. So far, he's anything but a potential platoon player.
Again, it's early. But the man has a .500/.600/.667 line off of southpaws in 40 plate appearances against them. That in itself is a small sample size as well. But that can't be held against Choo. He's doing what he was paid to do and then some.
If hitting lefties was the main concern Ranger fans had about Choo, then the rest of this season—or most of it at least—should be smooth sailing and sunny skies for him. He's second in the majors in both batting average at .370 and on-base percentage at .500.
After seeing those numbers, there can't be many people who still think Choo was overpaid. Remember, this team is playing to win now. This guy is flat out doing his part to help the team accomplish that goal.
Martin Perez Is Breaking Out, but Remains an Unfinished Product
When the Rangers learned that they would be without both Matt Harrison and Derek Holland in their rotation for a significant part of this season, they placed the responsibility on young Martin Perez to carry the load as the team's No. 2 starter behind Yu Darvish.
At the time I thought that was a bit too much to ask of a 23-year-old who had just 26 major league starts under his belt. But early on, Perez proved myself and any other skeptics out there wrong.
He started the season going 4-0 and was absolutely lights out. He's already pitched back-to-back complete game, three-hit shutouts. The first came on April 18 against the Chicago White Sox in Arlington, Texas, and then Perez followed that with a particularly masterful performance in his next start against the A's—who were hot at the time—in Oakland, Calif.
But after consecutive performances like that, things could really only get worse. And they did—Perez was hit hard in his next two outings, against the A's at home and then on Monday night against the Rockies in Colorado.
The point here: We're seeing flashes of brilliance from Perez. But it's important that the fans not expect remarkable starts from him every time out. He's still going to take his lumps every now and then, and he probably needs to add a cutter or some other late-breaking pitch to his arsenal.
Overall though, he's 4-2 with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Keep it going kid.
Michael Choice Is Here to Stay
After he tore up spring training, Michael Choice's fate was a major question the Rangers had to answer on the way out of Surprise. Ariz.
He earned a spot on the 25-man roster, but for a while, the bench was his best friend. Slowly but surely, he's gotten his opportunities to prove himself as a full-time major leaguer.
Now after 33 games with the Rangers, Choice is hitting .222 with two homers and 12 RBI in 76 trips to the plate. He's really refined his plate discipline, and he has taken 11 walks to go with his 13 strikeouts.
The more I watch him play in this lineup, the more I'm convinced that he should remain with the big league club. Earlier in the season, I was a stark advocate of the Rangers sending him back down to Triple-A to avoid stunting his development.
But now he's getting enough opportunity and is on pace for at least 350 at-bats this season. That's a good target number for him.
Choice's time is coming. For now he needs to continue to making the most of each opportunity he gets as a platoon player.
Although they aren't pitching on the level that Ranger fans are used to seeing them on, the return of Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis to the rotation is a huge boost to the club.
Right now, more than anything, this is about two established starting arms getting back into a comfortable position. This will eventually serve to ease the burden on Darvish and Perez at the top and should reduce the mileage on Robbie Ross' arm.
Lewis has made four starts since returning to the rotation. He's pitched 21.1 innings combined in those outings and has a 4.22 ERA to show for it. He's giving up a lot of hits, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is very Colby-like at 4 to 1. It all starts with command. Lewis has that right now, and once that's in place, he'll start to allow fewer hits and go deeper into games.
Harrison is also struggling to regain his old form. In two starts, he's thrown 10.1 innings and has posted a 4.35 ERA. Like Lewis, he's allowing over a hit per inning. Texas will need him to step up and begin to pitch at some level resembling his 2012-13 season.
It's unrealistic to expect these two to return and dominate immediately. Again, the most important thing here is that the Rangers have two experienced starters back in their rotation. I fully expect both of these guys to pick things up as the season progresses.
Taking Everything in Stride
It's easy to be dissatisfied with the Rangers' record after their first 33 games. After all, this club has likely spoiled its fanbase rotten by winning 90 or more games in four consecutive seasons. The incredible thrill of back-to-back World Series appearances is a feeling the fans desperately want to have back.
Don't panic, folks.
We've got 130 games left to play this season. It's imperative to take everything in stride knowing that there is another four and a half months to play.
For a while—maybe not anymore, since a few guys have returned to action—Texas was in by far the worst shape of any team in baseball. The fact that this club was 15-9 at one point is just short of a small miracle.
Here are a few things to remember about this season so far:
- The team played without roughly half of its Opening Day lineup for the first 20 or so games.
- Three of the Opening Day starters were out to start the year—Lewis and Harrison have come back but haven't pitched particularly well.
- Therefore the bullpen is weakened by the absence of Tanner Scheppers and Ross.
- Prince Fielder is in a slump that has to be one of the worst of his career.
- Adrian Beltre has exactly one home run—no hitter on this team has more than three.
- Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus have both cooled off dramatically lately.
- Choo and Rios are the only Rangers hitting consistently right now.
- As a team, the Rangers rank 28th league wide in ERA, 26th in both number of quality starts and WHIP and 29th in opponents' batting average—that's rock bottom, and things can only improve from there.
Keep all of that in mind, Rangers fans—and smile when you see that this club is still over .500, while the Seattle Mariners and LA Angels have been relatively injury-free. Oakland has also had far fewer injuries.
The major league baseball season is a long and tedious journey. There are more than plenty of games and opportunity for this Rangers club to assert themselves in the AL West.
So just relax.