By David Mullen
With two-thirds of the 2023 MLB season complete, teams are beginning to distance themselves from each other. Some clubs can see the October promised land, while others are returning to port. The Texas Rangers, despite some recent rough waters, are charging full speed ahead under their riverboat captain, GM Chris Young.
Rangers fans must hope that their team’s fast start was not a diversion and that there is still enough steam for a playoff run.
The August 1 MLB trading deadline is over, and teams that believe the playoffs are possible have stocked up for the stretch run. Teams once pegged for the playoffs — the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals — have decided to abandon ship, and the Rangers loaded up on their valuable cargo.
The Rangers have glaring weaknesses in starting pitching. Jacob deGrom is probably out for the season and 11-game winner Nathan Eovaldi is on the injured list. Rather than drop anchor, Young went searching for treasure.
On July 29, the Rangers acquired three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer from the Mets. New York also agreed to pick up $35 million of Scherzer’s remaining salary. Despite his penchant for spending money to build the Rangers into a winner, Texas owner Ray Davis just added Mets owner Steve Cohen to his Christmas card list.
In a deal with St. Louis on July 30, Texas got veteran pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton.
Montgomery will immediately go into the starting rotation, and the Rangers now have an ace in Scherzer. The only valuable player the Rangers parted with was top prospect Luisangel Acuna to New York. Acuna has yet to play in an MLB game. Not a bad haul for Young and the Rangers.
“You can never have too much starting pitching,” Young, a former big league starting pitcher, told mlb.com. “Max’s [Scherzer] pedigree is of a future Hall of Fame pitcher. The winner that he is, is a perfect fit for what we need right now.”
In a recent column, I suggested that the Rangers acquire pitcher Aroldis Chapman and his 100-mph fastball from the Kansas City Royals. On June 30, the Rangers acquired Chapman. In eight games thus far, he has one win and one save.
In the American League, 10 of the 15 teams have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. After the three division winners, three wild card teams with the best records make the postseason. The division winners appear to be either the Baltimore Orioles or Tampa Bay Rays in the East and Rangers or Houston Astros in the West.
The Central Division is an aberration, or more precisely, an abjuration to baseball. A .500 winning mark, which the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians have been straddling all season, could win the division at season’s end. The loser will not make the playoffs.
That leaves the probable East and West division runner-up, and either the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners vying for the remaining playoff spot. Any of the four teams in the East or West could fade, but it is highly unlikely. The competitive teams are bringing in reinforcements.
The Mets returned 2022 Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to Houston. Toronto got shortstop Paul DeJong and pitcher Jordan Hicks, and Baltimore received right-hander Jack Flaherty from St. Louis. Tampa got pitcher Aaron Civale from Cleveland. The Angels got outfielders C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk from the Colorado Rockies, pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the White Sox and hope to have three-time MVP Mike Trout back soon from injury.
The Rangers enter August and September with the traits of a winning team in place. They have led the West Division most of the year. They currently lead the AL in runs scored and run differential. Simply put, they score a lot of runs. Big bats win games against bad teams. Come playoff time, excellent pitching wins the big games.
With Young’s wheeling and dealing, the Ranger pitching staff is much better than one week ago. When All-Stars Eovaldi, shortstop Corey Seager and catcher Jonah Heim return from injuries, the Rangers will again be one of the best teams in the AL and are capable of making their first World Series since 2011. As an insurance policy for Heim, Texas acquired top defensive catcher Austin Hedges as the trading deadline closed.
Former catcher and current Texas manager Bruce Bochy, the Rangers’ best offseason acquisition, has a proven track record for assimilating trade deadline moves. In 2010, the Bochy-led San Francisco Giants traded catcher Benji Molina to the Rangers, opening a starting spot for minor league catcher Buster Posey. They also got pitcher Javier Lopez at the deadline. In 2012, they traded for infielder Marco Scutaro and outfielder Hunter Pence. In 2014, they got starter Jake Peavy.
The Giants won the World Series in each of those seasons and Posey — now retired — is on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Rangers remain afloat as their playoff destination comes into view. Despite taking on water recently, Young and Bochy look to steady the course. The team has six games remaining with the lowly Oakland A’s, three games with the conceding Mets, six games with an average Twins club and seven games with the disappointing Seattle Mariners. Only three early September home games remain with the rival Astros.
Time to batten down the hatches. The next seven weeks may be choppy but exhilarating. It should be a fantastic voyage.