When the Texas Rangers return Friday from the All-Star break, the man who could have transformed their season will be in Arlington … in a Baltimore Orioles uniform.
Chris Davis, native Texan and former Ranger, arrives as baseball’s home run leader with 37 and second in RBIs with 93. How do you like me now, Rangers fans?
The sight of Davis — an ex-Round Rock Express star who was traded with pitcher Tommy Hunter to Baltimore two summers ago for reliever Koji Uehara (now closing games for first-place Boston) — will be particularly painful because offensive production is the one thing Texas is lacking.
“We haven’t hit well with runners in scoring position. It’s been our Achilles’ heel,” manager Ron Washington told reporters just before the break. “We don’t score as many runs, but you’ve got to give us credit for being right in it.”
For years Texas bashed opponents into the ground. The Rangers, who trail Oakland by two games in the American League West, don’t have that kind of jaw-dropping offense anymore.
In one year’s time, they’ve slipped from first to 13th in the majors in scoring, from first to 10th in batting average and from sixth to 20th in hitting with runners in scoring position. They are fourth in the AL in home runs, trailing, yep, Baltimore by 20.
The pitching numbers and fielding are virtually the same as last year, despite injuries forcing the team to use 22 pitchers, including 10 from the Triple-A Express.
Right fielder Nelson Cruz, along with third baseman Adrian Beltre, are the most indispensable members of the lineup. Cruz leads the team with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs, with Beltre at 21 homers and 55 RBIs.
Cruz has the added pressure of a potential suspension hanging over his head. He is being investigated in the Biogenesis drug scandal, though indications are that penalties might be delayed until 2014.
“There are a lot of questions, but I am focused on the season,” Cruz told reporters at the All-Star game. “I go out there every day thinking about winning. That other stuff will work its way out.”
Manny Ramirez, a man who has served multiple suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, won’t be coming to the Rangers’ rescue just quite yet, even though slumping designated hitter Lance Berkman is on the disabled list.
Reports out of Dallas say the Rangers want to see more evidence that Ramirez, 41, can pummel Triple-A pitching at Round Rock before giving him a shot. He is batting .300 with three homers and six RBIs in eight games.
“He could be an option eventually,” Texas CEO Nolan Ryan told a Dallas radio station. “You have to take him into consideration.”
A right-handed bat is a priority — White Sox outfielder Alex Rios is a possible target — but there are several holes in the lineup. Shortstop Elvis Andrus is batting just .242, Jurickson Profar .235 and outfielder David Murphy .219.
Yet the Rangers, eyeing the playoffs, seem more focused on trading for a high-end starting pitcher than anything else. Matt Garza (6-1, 3.17) of the Cubs is considered the premier starter on the market.
“Matt’s a top-of-the-rotation guy, very intense and a solid competitor,” Texas closer Joe Nathan said at the All-Star game. “That’s a guy you want on your club. The Rangers aren’t afraid to go out and make moves, so we’ll see what our team looks like on Aug. 1.”
On the starting pitching front, Yu Darvish (8-4, 3.02) is the clear No. 1, and Derek Holland (8-4, 3.08) is improving. After that, there are questions. Rookie Martin Perez (3-2, 3.00) has a chance to help, but Texas is awaiting the return to health of Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and maybe even Neftali Feliz.
The bullpen needs no help, just a bit more rest.
If the season ended today, Texas would be the No. 2 wild card and face another one-game playoff. Last year the Rangers were the No. 1 wild card and lost to the Orioles.
“We saw how vital winning the division was last year,” Washington said. “We need more than the wild card.”
One glance comparing the 2012 and 2013 Texas Rangers at the break shows the difference is all in the offense. (MLB ranks in parentheses):
2012; Category; 2013
52-34 (2nd); Record; 54-41 (6th)
5.2 (1st); Scoring; 4.3 (13th)
.280 (1st); Batting avg.; .260 (10th)
.449 (2nd); Slugging; .418 (7th)
4.2 (13th); Runs allowed; 4.1 (10th)
3.72 (8th); ERA; 3.74 (9th)
.985 (8th); Fielding; .985 (18th)
The Rangers come out of the blocks with 10 games against contenders — the Orioles, Yankees and Indians. A look at the most interesting series the rest of the way:
July 19-21 vs. Baltimore: MLB home-run leader Chris Davis return to his old stomping grounds, playing for the Orioles. Baltimore leads the majors in home runs and slugging percentage.
Aug. 2-4 at Oakland: The first-place Athletics are still thriving on their pitching, with an American League-best 3.62 ERA. Forty-year-old Bartolo Colon (12-3, 2.70) has joined the talented kids on this staff.
Sept. 2-4 at Oakland: This is the Rangers’ last trip to face their Bay Area nemesis, where they endured a nightmarish finish to the 2012 regular season. Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes could be carrying the A’s offense by then.
Sept. 9-11 vs. Pittsburgh: Back in April, who could have imagined this would be a difficult series? But the surprising Pirates have the No. 1 ERA in the majors and the second-best record in the big leagues.
Sept. 13-15 vs. Oakland: The Rangers’ last home shot at the A’s. By then they might have traded for a second strong starting pitcher to join Yu Darvish. But will they have improved the offense?
Sept. 26-29 vs. L.A. Angels: The Angels have fallen flat on their faces, but Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson would like nothing better than to wreck the Rangers’ hopes in the four-game, season-ender.
The Rangers remain bent on finally winning a World Series. To that end, they are likely to pursue a strong starting pitcher and a right-handed hitting outfielder. Here are some possibilities:
P Matt Garza (Cubs): A free agent after the season, Garza is on a rolle, going 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last five starts. Plus, he has a history of pitching well in Arlington when he was with Tampa Bay. The Rangers reportedly aren’t willing to part with Jurickson Profar or Martin Perez for a rental.
P Cliff Lee (Phillies): There’s probably too many bad vibes from Lee’s decision to sign with the Phillies in 2011, but the lefty (10-3, 2.86) would be exactly what the Rangers need. Wouldn’t that be an interesting 360?
P Jake Peavy (White Sox): If the rehabbing Peavy (rib fracture) can prove he’s healthy, he’d look pretty good in Arlington. His 2014 contract is for $14.5 million. The White Sox would want a prospect package headlined by third basemen Mike Olt or Joey Gallo.
OF Alfonso Soriano (Cubs): The streaky former Ranger is heating up, as always, this summer. He’s got 16 homers and 49 RBIs, and the Cubs are looking to deal.
OF Michael Cuddyer (Rockies): Colorado only will deal the All-Star (16 HR, 55 RBIs, .330 BA) if it is overwhelmed, but Texas has the ammo. Jurickson Profar could play next to Troy Tulowitzki in the infield.
OF Alex Rios (White Sox): Interest is cooling in Rios (11 HR, 40 RBIs, .270), who’s been in a prolonged slump and has a $13 million contract for 2014. But he wouldn’t cost all that much in terms of prospects.
Round Rock (54-44, two games out of first) returns Thursday night from the Triple-A All-Star break to start a four-game series with the Iowa Cubs (48-50) at Dell Diamond. Game time is 7:05.