Texas Rangers go only as far as pitching takes them


Scooping the Texas Rangers banner -- Mike Maddux

Texas Rangers Tanner Scheppers throws a pitch.
The Texas Rangers need more reliable arms like Tanner Scheppers in the bullpen. (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

When the Texas Rangers had the best record in baseball and looked to be running away with the AL West division race, most wondered if this kind of run would continue. Could a team with five guys on the disabled list, without the big bats of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, without Michael Young, the long time face of the franchise, and with two young pitchers, Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch, at the back of the rotation?

Others wondered when the other shoe would drop and the team would come back to the pack or be overtaken by the likes of the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels.

Through two months of the season, the Texas Rangers, while looking over their shoulder at the suddenly hot Oakland team, are doing what most didn’t think they could do.

However, what happens from here will not be based on their offensive output, but the input of the starting rotation as well as the bullpen.

What we saw from Michael Kirkman on Thursday afternoon against the Arizona Diamondbacks is something this team cannot afford. They do not need a reliever who, every time you hand him the ball, you do it with very little confidence or you do it with enough cushion to allow for a run or two. But why have a guy there who you can’t call on in a close game because you know, more often than not, that lead will be gone by the time he walks off the mound?

You also have Jason Frasor who hasn’t exactly been as bad as Kirkman, but every time he takes the ball, you almost get that same nervous feeling. Is he going to be able to hold a lead, or are we going to be sitting on the edge of our seats watching a big lead dwindle away to almost nothing by the time he’s done?

Thus far, right-hander Tanner Scheppers and left-handers Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts have been the guys manager Ron Washington calls upon and knows the job will get done. Normally, I would include closer Joe Nathan on that list, but it seems every save opportunity he gets turns into a nail-biting situation.

Everyone wants to talk about adding another bat in the lineup, especially Miami Marlins’ outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, but with every hit and every game fans watch from Jurickson Profar, the more Texas Rangers fans wonder if they want to trade him in the first place.

The Texas Rangers can add the pieces they need without giving up top players in the minor league system or even their best, tradable, pieces from the big-league club. Of course, it won’t bring in the best names in baseball or even the biggest names some fans will begin to talk about from now until the July 31st trade deadline.

When this organization lost back-to-back World Series, it wasn’t because the Texas Rangers didn’t have enough offense. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the “big bats” in the lineup, and if you’ve read my previous posts, you might think I sound like a broken record by now.

What will carry this team to the top of the mountain, somewhere this organization has never been, is a strong bullpen that will complement an already good starting rotation.

They can’t have guys the manager can’t count on. They can’t have relievers who are only given the ball in blowout situations, and although I get the “mop up” situations when you’re up big, you don’t want that guy who can’t hold a five-run lead.

When the trade deadline comes up, it wouldn’t surprise me to see general manager Jon Daniels acquire another bat for the lineup but not the kind of guy most people are hoping for.

What you’re more likely to see is Daniels acquiring another reliever or two for the bullpen and, perhaps, another starter for the rotation.

At this point, as well as Profar is playing, I don’t know that you can trade him even for a potential superstar like Stanton or a top-of-the-rotation starter like Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price. You may need to go out and get someone in the next tier.

The Rangers have talked to the Chicago Cubs before about right-hander Matt Garza and may have interest again despite the injury that kept him out for nearly the first two months of the season.

James Shields has been on the lips of the Texas Rangers before, but with the Kansas City Royals acquiring him less than a year ago, a deal for the right-hander might be a little more unlikely than it was when Shields was with the Rays.

Another name out of Florida who’s been discussed in the past, and could be again in the next month or so, is Marlins 30-year-old right-hander Ricky Nolasco. He is in the final year of a three-year, $26.5 million deal signed in 2010.

One name you might want to keep an eye on, although it might be a complete shot in the dark, is San Diego Padres right-hander Jason Marquis. He was signed by San Diego to a one-year deal as a free agent prior to the 2013 season and could be had for cheap come July. He’s a guy who gives you the Colby Lewis type veteran in the rotation as well as a long reliever if you need him.

As far as solid relievers, there are any number of names you could take a look at, including Tyler Clippard of the Washington Nationals or Jared Burton of the Minnesota Twins among a host of others.

The Texas Rangers have the bats and they have the offense to hang with anyone they face for the remainder of the season. What they can’t afford is a bullpen that fails to hold a lead, especially down the stretch. It’s the one thing the front office will need to address before the trade deadline if they want to be able to hold off the A’s and Angels, no matter what kind of charge they might make.

While Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz are due to return at some point this season, I have to wonder how affective either will be when, or if, that return date comes. Will Soria be the guy he was during his days in Kansas City, and will Feliz have the same type of stuff he had as the team’s closer during their two runs to the World Series?

If you asked the question, “what are the unknowns about this team?”, most would talk about the starting rotation and bullpen. It’s the one area I believe will be addressed before the July trade deadline.

Not saying Daniels and company won’t acquire another bat for the lineup, but don’t expect the big names most have been talking about since December of last year.

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