The Texas Rangers vastly improved last season in a rebuilding year and following a great offseason they could be setting themselves up for a Wild Card spot.
When the Rangers finished the 2019 season at 78-84 and third in the AL West, itt was actually an improvement on the 67-95, fifth-place finish from 2018. Considering they were without their best player in left fielder Joey Gallo for 92 games, it is a credit to their progress they finished where they did. With moves that have bolstered their rotation and lineup for this season, it may be time for them to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
With the 2020 season being the first year for Globe Life Field, the Rangers wanted to make moves that would bring in fans and put them in contention. While they missed out on the premier targets, the biggest move of their offseason was adding two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for prospect starting pitcher Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields. With this move, the Rangers added a proven ace to their overly productive rotation from a year ago.
The rotation’s returning starters include Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, both of which finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting last season.
Minor, 32, had a career-best season in 2019, going 14-10 with a 3.59 ERA, 200 strikeouts, and a 7.7 WAR that ranked second-best for starters in baseball.
His teammate, Lynn, finished right behind him with a 7.5 WAR. He went 16-11 with a 3.67 ERA and 246 strikeouts.
If these two can come close to those numbers as the two and three in the rotation behind Kluber, the Rangers could have one of the best rotations in baseball.
The other additions to the rotation come via free agency, as the Rangers added Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. The former Minnesota Twin, Gibson, has shown that he is a solid backend-of-the-rotation starter and will more than likely be the fourth man up. Lyles has bounced around in his MLB career and can be the innings-eater a fifth starter is expected to be. If he can mirror his 4.15 ERA from last season, the Rangers could ride that group to the playoffs.
If the Rangers want to earn a Wild Card spot, their bullpen will have to perform above expectations. While Jose Leclerc has established himself as one of the better relievers in recent years, his ERA spiked to 4.33 last season which became a cause for concern. If he can recapture his dominance from 2018, he could become one of the most trustworthy closers in all of baseball.
The rest of the bullpen has a lot to show if the Rangers are going to be a playoff team, as this could be the deciding factor in them making the playoffs. It showed last season for the Boston Red Sox, whose pitching ultimately became the downfall despite another top-notch offense.
Relievers like Rafael Montero and Brett Martin should be among the first names out of the Rangers’ pen in big, non-save opportunities, as well as new addition Juan Nicasio. If they are in contention around the trade deadline (if there is one), that could be a time for them to make a big move. The bullpen is certainly the most worrisome part of this whole Wild Card hopefulness.
For the Rangers, it will come down to their lineup establishing itself as one of the league’s best this season if they want that Wild Card spot. Discussing Gallo earlier, he is far and away their leader on offense, as he was off to a phenomenal start last season before being limited to just 70 games. It was in those 70 games that he delivered his career-best batting average of .253 and still managed an All-Star appearance with 22 home runs.
The real question for the Rangers’ playoff aspirations is this: who can show to be another top lineup piece besides Gallo?
Outfielder Willie Calhoun would be the first name to come to mind, as the Rangers moved on from Nomar Mazara this offseason to give him an everyday spot in the outfield. Had he played a full season for the Rangers, there is a good chance he would be another 40-plus home run hitter in the lineup.
The presumed center fielder will be Danny Santana, who came out of nowhere last season to hit .283 with 28 home runs. If this proves to be more of a fact than fiction situation, he is yet another name of explosiveness to make up an exciting outfield. Elvis Andrus will maintain his spot atop the lineup to utilize his speed and the re-acquisition of catcher Robinson Chirinos can be one of the more underrated moves of the entire offseason.
The Rangers have plenty of potential to be in the conversation at the end of the season for a Wild Card spot, it’s only a matter of the team delivering to get there.