By David Mullen
Two months into the 2023 MLB baseball season, the Texas Rangers are off to a great start. It’s the finish that keeps new Texas manager Bruce Bochy up at night.
The Rangers obstacle to the post season is as glaring as the sunshine in the eyes of motorists driving on Interstate 30 to Globe Life Field. The Ranger bullpen is atrocious, and Bochy knows it.
At 68-years-old and with three World Series championships with the San Francisco Giants in his past, Bochy could have remained retired, enjoying the sunny skies and pleasant Pacific Ocean breezes in Poway, Calif., just north of San Diego and east of Torrey Pines Golf Course. But Bochy saw enough in the Rangers potential to spend scorching summers in the Texas heat in the shadows of Hurricane Harbor.
In his first two months of leadership, Bochy has the Rangers in first place and well over .500 as the World Champion Houston Astros look to chase Texas down. Despite an inevitable Astros charge, and with the Los Angeles Angels again mastering mediocrity, the Seattle Mariners veering off course and the Oakland Athletics being dismantled in plain sight by their avaricious ownership, Texas appears to be playoff bound. That is, if they can close the deal.
Ownership has proven that they are willing to spend money to bring the first World Championship to Arlington since the club moved from Washington, D.C. in 1972. The first time the Texas Rangers were in the World Series, they lost to the Bochy-managed San Francisco Giants, 4 games to 1.
The 2010 Giants and 2023 Rangers are similar in many ways. San Francisco finished the season 92-70, a very reasonable expectation for this year’s Rangers. The Giants lineup was solid, if not spectacular, offensively. The Rangers overall lineup may be better than San Francisco’s, but face some of the same depth issues as the 2010 Giants outfield.
The 2023 Rangers lineup is filled with reliable run scorers led by Adolis Garcia, Marcus Semien, Nathaniel Lowe, catcher Jonah Heim, a now healthy shortstop Cory Seager and third baseman Josh Jung, getting his big-league opportunity.
The 2010 Giants lineup was supported by a stable of sturdy bats featuring first baseman Aubrey Huff, infielders Freddy Sanchez and Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, the loveable “Panda” Pablo Sandoval and a budding star in 23-year-old catcher Buster Posey, who was beginning a career that will end in Cooperstown.
San Francisco’s starting staff consisted of Matt Cain, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, former AL Cy Young Award winner (Oakland 2002) Barry Zito, 13-game winner Jonathan Sánchez and World Series hero Madison Bumgarner.
The Rangers have vastly improved their starting pitching with a rotation featuring Nathan Eovaldi, this year’s “Mr. Ranger” Martín Pérez, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and the spectacular and oft-injured Jacob deGrom, who breaks down more often than a celebrity being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. deGrom is currently spending time at his summer home on the 15-day IL.
Eovaldi leads MLB with two complete games, besting 11 other pitchers tied with one each. Bob Gibson, with 28 complete games in the 1968 and 1969 seasons, is rolling over in his grave.
There is a reason Eovaldi leads the majors, all be it feebly, with two complete games. Bochy has no reliable closer in the Rangers bullpen to finish a game. Already, the Rangers bullpen has blown nearly half of their save opportunities and has four walk-off losses. Instead of putting out the fire, the Rangers bullpen is the reincarnation of the 1977 California Angels “Arson Squad.”
In 2010, Bochy had the bearded closer Brian Wilson — the slinging righthander, not the singing Beach Boy — who posted a 1.81 ERA with 48 saves. The Rangers manager longs for the days in San Francisco when he could pick up the phone and call on reliable relief in the ninth inning. But Bochy doesn’t have that luxury in Texas.
Going into the 2023 season, the Rangers thought Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez could provide a one-two, or eighth-ninth inning punch needed to close out wins. They haven’t. Reliever Josh Sborz, in addition to needing to buy a vowel, needs to get his ERA well below 5.00 for any serious consideration.
Rangers’ reliever Joe Barlow could be another IL candidate after watching his best effort return to the Pittsburgh Pirates bleachers for a grand slam by Tucupita Maceno in a 6-4 Rangers loss on May 22. Barlow may have a serious case of whiplash.
The Rangers have drafted starting pitchers during the last few years, and they are honing their craft in the minors. There is no reliable closer on the farm to shore up the leaky bullpen. The MLB trading deadline is Tuesday, Aug. 1, and the acquisition of a closer may be the difference between late season success or missing the playoffs.
The obvious trade partners are the teams going nowhere fast. The Angels, facing possible free agency by Shohei Ohtani, may be one of those teams. Angels’ reliever Reyes Moronta is off to a great start, but he didn’t make the Rangers in a spring training tryout. The Kansas City Royals are terrible, and Aroldis Chapman — yes, that Aroldis Chapman — is a set-up man in KC and off to a surprising start. But does Bochy have the stomach, or fingernails, to run Chapman out in the ninth inning with the game on the line?
Pittsburgh right-handed NL All-Star David Bednar could be available, but the asking price would be high because he is under contract through 2026, and the Pirates are a surprise contender. Cincinnati is sinking, but the thought of the Reds parting with hard throwing reliever Alexis Diaz is a pipe dream.
Andrew Chafin is on a one-year deal, but Arizona is contending. The Colorado Rockies, deep in the NL West cellar, have closer Daniel Bard. Getting Bard may be the Rangers’ best option.
Bochy knows he needs to fix the bullpen to make the Rangers a playoff team, especially if he wants to sleep at night. A mid-season trade may make Bochy rest easy.