What the Funk?

Derek Lien
Derek Lien 12 Min Read

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write a column and quite a lot has taken place during that stretch…

My wife and I welcomed our first child to the world (it’s a girl) and she has already got me wrapped around her littler fingers.

The Rangers have called up a handful of players including Justin Foscue, Davis Wendzel, Jack Leiter and Derek Hill to name a few.

Injuries have continued to plague the big lead squad, along with setbacks for those already on the IL. Cody Bradford was pitching lights out to open the 2024 season until a fractured rib sidelined his season for the time being. Justin Foscue took a page out of Nathaniel Lowe’s playbook and strained his oblique after an impressive base hit against Josh Hader. Wyatt Langford, though not playing entirely up to his expectations, pulled a hamstring tyring to leg out an infield hit. Evan Carter’s lower back pain flared up again, forcing him to miss a handful of games and receive some injections.

It’s not just rookies hitting the Injured List. Nathan Eovaldi stepped up to be the ace of the rotation that the squad needed during the absence of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. The injury bug found him as well, sending him to the 15-Day IL with a groin strain. Speaking of groin strains, news of the day is Jon Gray will be missing his next start with a minor strain of his groin following his start last night in Philadelphia.

Don’t forget Brock Burke punching his way onto the 60-Day IL (literally).

Max Scherzer was making incredible strides in his return from back surgery this off-season. Mad Max had made his first rehab start with AAA Round Rock, but was scratched from his second start with AA Frisco due to thumb soreness that led to nerve issues in his forearm.

If all that wasn’t enough, May 10th arrived. May 10th, the Rangers travelled to Colorado to face off in a 3-game series with the Rockies who (at the time) possessed the worst record in MLB. The Rangers were coming off four consecutive series wins against the Reds, Nationals, Royals and a near 4-game-sweep of the Athletics. While they hadn’t been playing their best baseball, they were still 1.0 game ahead of Seattle for 1st Place in the AL West. All signs indicated momentum was on their side and the Colorado series was the ignition fuel to spark a much-needed winning streak.

They were swept. Two days later the Rangers left Colorado 0.5 Games behind Seattle in the AL West standings, having been outscored 6-15, and returned home to face the Cleveland Guardians and stop the bleeding; it didn’t work.

Since May 10, the Rangers are 2-9 and on the verge of being swept by the MLB-leading Phillies in the series finale this afternoon. They are scoring a mere 2.45 runs/game while allowing 5.45 runs/game to their opponents.

It’s left all Rangers fans, myself included, asking “What the Funk?”

As it stands (May 23, 2024) the Rangers are 24-26 overall and 3.0 Games behind the Seattle Mariners for 1st place in the division. They are 2.0 games above the Astros who are charging quickly up the standings following a start to the season that resembled an Astros team from 2011 when they won only 55 games. The Rangers have a run differential of (-4) and if the playoffs were to start today, they would be on the couch watching others compete for their title.

Compare this to where we were a year ago (May 23, 2023). The Rangers boasted the 2nd-best record in MLB at 30-18. They were 2.0 games ahead of the Astros in the division and they had the league’s best run differential of (+111). The offense was a juggernaut that scored 307 total runs* and the only blemish on the season was a sweep in Cincinatti in late April. *It should be noted that no teams have scored 300 runs thus far in 2024.

During the 2023 season, the bullpen was the culprit of fans frustration, blowing more games than they saved. The starting pitching wasn’t great, but it was serviceable and injuries certainly played their role (though not to the extent we’ve seen in 2024).

In 2024, it’s nearly a completely different story for the Texas Rangers. Rangers starters boast a 3.62 ERA, good for 10th-best in MLB. The relievers are still a problem with the league’s worst ERA at 5.22. David Robertson and Kirby Yates have been fantastic additions to the team, but that’s about as far as the bullpen success stretches. Cole Winn started off hot, but has since struggled to produce outs. Jose Leclerc has been up and down, but finding more success in the setup role rather than the 9th-inning closer. Jose Urena has been one of the better arms on the team, but I’m adding him to the starters list at the moment with his recent move to the rotation.

Josh Sborz is battling injuries but has been serviceable during his time when healthy. Jacob Latz has been a bright spot at times, but his inexperience has caught up with him at times as well. Grant Anderson is Grant Anderson, effective at times and uneffective at others.

As for Yerry Rodriguez, Jonathan Hernandez, Austin Pruitt (60-Day IL) and Brock Burke (60-Day IL), it might be too little too late.

More concerning in 2024 than the bullpen is the offense. With essentially the same lineup that led MLB in 2023, is now average across all of baseball. The Rangers offense is currently 11th in runs, 7th in hits, 28th in doubles, 13th in home runs, 11th in BA and 15th in SLG. Thankfully, they are in the bottom-third in overall strikeouts and top-third in overall walks.

Josh Jung has been a missing link after suffering a broken thumb in the fourth game of the season. Prior to that, he was hitting .412 on the year with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in. Josh Smith has filled in nicely during Jung’s absence, but while as impressive as Smith has been, he doesn’t possess the same power that Jung provides the lineup.

Marcus Semien has been the teams best offensive weapon thus far, slashing .286/.379/.422 with 9 HR and 34 RBI. Behind him, Adolis Garcia is slashing .251/.296/.486 with 11 HR and 35 RBI. Garcia’s crutch has been his chase rate this year, continously expanding his zone trying to create offense in moments where the team has fallen short.

Corey Seager is a shell of his 2023 self, struggling to keep his BA above .220 at one point. He has currently homered in three straight games, and appears to be turning his season around after missing spring training recovering from a sports hernia surgery.

Nathaniel Lowe missed the first couple of weeks due to an oblique injury, but fired back nicely in his return to provide another power threat to the lineup. More importantly, Lowe provides a patience at the top of the order to keep opposing pitchers from starting games with a quick (and low pitch count) top half inning.

Evan Carter can’t hit against lefties (they literally won’t let him). Jonah Heim has been good, but can’t get many days off as Andrew Kizner isn’t providing much relief with his .122 BA. Wyatt Langford isn’t seeing the same success he saw in the minor leagues, but still a threat at the plate. Leody Taveras is slumping, but somehow homering at incredibly important times. Travis Jankowski and Ezequiel Duran have stepped up when called upon, but not seeing enough playing time to make the needed impacts to the lineup. And Robbie Grossman was re-signed from the White Sox to help against lefties but is currently only a threat to walk instead of hit his way on base.

It’s early in the season, and if you were to compare the MLB schedule to that of the NFL, we would be at Week 5. The dog days of summer are upon us, and it does look like the offense is beginning to find some strides at the plate. The starting rotation continues to deliver quality starts, though their run support is still a work in progress. But through it all, they are still only 3.0 games back of 1st place.

If the Rangers are going to make a run and start winning games again, a few things NEED to happen:

  1. Hitters need to capitalize with runners in scoring position. Currently, the Rangers are 23rd in baseball for runners left on base with 14.88 per game.
  2. The Defense needs to get back to basics and focus on the fundamentals. The Rangers commit 0.58 errors per game and have 29 total errors this season; 10 of which have taken place since May 10th.
  3. Bullpen needs to back up their starters and start throwing up zeros. Robertson/Yates this message isn’t for you. To everyone else, time to step up and find your rhythm.

Here’s to a better stretch of competitive and winning baseball. Here’s to getting healthy and adding players to the lineup rather than scratching them. Here’s to gold glove performances and better outfield communication. And here’s to Rangers Baseball, the Summer pastime we all love to keep us on our toes!

About

Covering the Texas Rangers farm system since 2019. Credentialed media with the Frisco RoughRiders.

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Die-hard Rangers fan from the Upper Midwest. Growing up in an area with no professional sports teams, you have to look elsewhere for your fandom...lucky for me I found the Rangers!
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