Series Preview: One More AL West Opponent Before The Break
Image courtesy of © Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsBrief Overview:
The Rangers were seemingly stuck in a quasi-rebuild coming into 2019 as both the 2017 and 2018 team finished below .500 and there was a new captain at the helm in their new manager Chris Woodward. Their offseason was filled with interesting buy- low candidates and rebound targets in the hopes that those players could be pawned off at the deadline for prospects, as much of the roster was filled with players unlikely to carry the squad to anything substantial. Instead, those players performed too well and the Rangers now find themselves in wild card contention with a 46-40 record and a pythag W/L of 45-41 heading into Thursday’s game.
What They Do Well:
Starting pitching is the backbone of any good team aspiring to reach the playoffs and the Rangers have a solid starting rotation that ranks 10th in baseball in fWAR (thanks mainly due to Mike Minor and literally Lance Lynn whom I’ll talk about more later). Their starting pitching FIP of 4.53 is slightly worse than the mark Scott Diamond put up with the Twins (4.46), but in the modern high scoring era of MLB context, the number is much better than it looks compared to the rest of history.
Yet again, the Twins will play a team that likes to steal as the Rangers have swiped the second most bases in all of baseball. It has also been a team effort instead of just falling on a single player or two, as 10 players have swiped multiple bases for the Rangers in 2019. For comparison, the Twins only have three such players. It will be interesting to see the different philosophies regarding base stealing at play during the series and both Jason Castro and Mitch Garver will have to stay on their toes through the series.
What They Do Not Do Well:
The Rangers are very good at striking out! I suppose if you get philosophical then you could question whether striking out a lot would categorize as something you do “well” or “not well”, but that’s an argument for a different day. The Rangers have the third highest offensive K% in MLB and their 25.8% mark almost perfectly matches how often Jim Thome struck out with the Twins (Thome was at 25.9%) and just 2 Twins hitters with more than 100 plate appearances have struck out at a higher rate so far this year (Miguel Sanó and Nelson Cruz).
The Rangers bullpen is not good as they hold the fifth worst bullpen FIP in the majors at 4.93 (R.A. Dickey’s Twins FIP was 4.87 for comparison). It has been a revolving door for the Rangers pen as 20 different pitchers have gotten an out in relief for the Rangers in 2019 with one of those pitchers being named “Locke St. John”. No, I am not making that up. Along with Mr. St. John, they have also employed multiple relievers named “Jesse” and “Kyle” which would be less notable if I was talking about individuals who belonged to a fraternity in Montana, but I digress.
Individuals Of Note:
The poster boy for MLB in 2019, Joey Gallo, is having a brilliant season that has already seen him pass his career high in fWAR (it currently sits at 3.5). He’s still striking out at rates that would anger Willians Astudillo (35.8 K%), but he’s also walking more than ever and is being boosted by a .382 BABIP. Even if that BABIP comes down, he is still very capable of sending a ball deep into traffic over in right field and is one of the few hitters that make me visibly cringe in terror when he unleashes a swing.
Hunter Pence was a part of the group of buy-low players I mentioned in the beginning and he has had a phenomenal bounce back year so far as he holds a 142 wRC+ (Harmon Killebrew’s career wRC+ is 144). Pence worked hard in the offseason to rework his swing that before had looked like an antsy crackhead digging into his pockets while looking for a cigarette but now looks more like that crackhead finally found some Adderall. The reward for Pence was the starting DH job in the All-Star game but he is unfortunately on the IL, so he will miss this series along with the All-Star Game.
The Rangers also employ old friend Logan Forsythe and older friend Danny Santana and both have been above average players somehow, I really don’t know what’s happening over there but there is something in the water in Texas that brings players back to life.
On the pitching side of things, Mike Minor has been another incredible story as the 31-year old finds himself second in the AL in ERA at 2.54 after missing both the 2015 and 2016 seasons and finally returning as a reliever for the Royals in 2017. The peripherals for Minor aren’t as pretty as his ERA (3.77 FIP and 4.42 xFIP suggest regression), but he has been a great starter nonetheless and it appears that the 2019 All-Star will pitch on Sunday.
The other notable name is ...blegh ... do I have to write it? Fine, Lance Lynn. Yes, Lance “literally Lance Lynn” Lynn currently leads the AL in pitching fWAR. His 4.00 ERA isn’t the best but his pristine 2.94 FIP suggests that he is pitching better than it appears he is. I’m not sure what kind of necromancy the Rangers pulled to make this happen, but this is a sign that either there is no God or the one that exists has a sick sense of humor. If you would have told me during any of his outings last year where he was attempting to throw his 15th straight fastball out of the strike zone while runners were on the corners in the third and he already had thrown 60 pitches that this same man would lead the AL in pitching fWAR next year then I would have you taken in for being insane. Luckily, Lynn will not pitch in the series and Twins fans will get to avoid his terror.
The Rangers and Twins have not played this year but the Twins lost the season series last year by 2-4. I highly doubt any of those series can be used as a solid point of reference for how this upcoming series so I wouldn’t look too far into that.
Both teams are pretty cool right now as the Twins are 5-5 in their last 10 games coming into Thursday while the Rangers are 6-4 in the same time frame that includes 4 straight losses coming into Thursday. The Rangers did have a better June than the Twins did however as they had a .621 winning percentage and the Twins had a .556 winning mark.
The Rangers have built a respectable squad that will come in at a time where the Twins are a bit banged up and not playing their best ball. The Twins aren’t in a place yet where a series win is mandatory but it would be great to head into the break with a few more wins, especially as the Indians continue to play better baseball and look to threaten the division soon. I could see the series going either way but I’ll predict a series win for the Twins because I can feel in my gut that they’ll do it.
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