Evan Carter‘s fourth career home run came at the perfect time for the Texas Rangers. Carter took a fastball over the middle of the plate over the right field fence for a two-run home run, giving the Rangers a 9-5 lead over their division rival Seattle Mariners in a critical playoff race matchup.
At the time, it seemed like it tacked on a few insurance runs. Texas needed every run to win 9-8, finishing a three-game sweep over Seattle. There is still work to do for the Rangers as they must take care of business against the Los Angeles Angels and head to Seattle for a rematch. The Rangers have the chance to finally secure the division title and show why they deserve to be in the playoffs.
The Rangers Need to Show They are Contenders
The Rangers organization made massive moves to finally turn into contenders again with the signings of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. They have proved to be the cornerstone players Texas needed. Semien’s June was the only month either player posted a below-average month by wRC+. As the Rangers started to slide, both players continued to perform when their team needed them most. Over the past thirty games entering play on Monday, Semien had an .885 OPS and Seager had a .966 OPS. They are the two pillars of this roster and they have lived up to that.
Adolis García has improved more than most would have expected from his breakout a few years ago. Despite being 28 years old in 2021 when in his first full season, García’s power profile has only gotten better. He has improved his walk rates and strikeout rates every season while hitting a career-high 36 home runs so far in 2023. Even as his bat is his most impactful asset, he rates as a good defender, too.
It’s easy to dream about this Rangers lineup in the postseason when players like Semien, Seager, and García are leading the way. The offense will need to carry this team in October, and they seem up to the task.
Texas will be looking to capitalize on this window with players like Semien and Seager still in their primes. The breakthrough of some youngsters will be key to keeping that competitive window open. It just so happens they are already receiving massive contributions from players in their rookie season.
While the Rangers don’t have the same influx of youth as other teams like the Cincinnati Reds or Baltimore Orioles, Texas has some future stars already in the mix. Josh Jung has flashed serious power potential at the plate, hitting 23 home runs with an 11.9% barrel rate. He strikes out at a high rate and did so in Triple-A, as well, but that might come down a few ticks as he continues to grow at the Major League level.
Evan Carter is the most recent addition and he has not failed to make an impact in a short time. Across his first 54 plate appearances, Carter has a .318/.426/.705 slash line. That will obviously come down to earth as pitchers adjust, but it is one heck of a way to start your career. He is highly athletic and will provide plenty of exciting moments in center field. He has shown the ability to work walks and has even hit four home runs. His max exit velocity so far of 101.9 doesn’t suggest he will be a power bat for the rest of the season, but he lengthens the Rangers’ lineup while providing a defensive and baserunning asset.
Uh Oh, Where Are the Pitchers?
The Rangers’ offense is the foundation of the team’s plan, but the rotation was supposed to be just as important. Jacob deGrom missed nearly the entire season. Max Scherzer, one of their key trade deadline moves, is unlikely to pitch for the rest of 2023.
In the meantime, it has largely fallen on Jordan Montgomery, another deadline acquisition, to keep the rotation competitive. He has a 2.92 ERA over his first ten starts with Texas. Otherwise, things are looking iffy. Dane Dunning has a 6.75 ERA over his last six starts, only allowing fewer than three runs in one game. Jon Gray has a 7.99 ERA in his last six starts after two great outings in the middle of August.
Nathan Eovaldi was in the Cy Young conversation halfway through the season with a 2.69 ERA on July 18 when he went on the injured list with a forearm strain. Since his return, he has a 7.41 ERA with nearly every underlying factor pointing to serious concern. Opponents are making more contact overall, more hard contact, chasing and whiffing less, and Eovaldi’s velocity is down on all of his pitches. His season average for his fastball velocity is 95.2 MPH. In his most recent start, it was averaging 92.9 MPH.
The blame does not just fall on the starters playing below their standards at the end of a long season. The bullpen has a 5.77 ERA in September, the second-worst in the majors this month. That’s a concern once a tense playoff series starts. It’s a concern now, even just trying to qualify for the playoffs.
Texas deserves to be in the playoffs. They aren’t perfect, but most playoff teams aren’t. They held a 6.5-game lead in the division on June 23 and slowly let their dominance fade. The Rangers have received some much-needed reinforcements in the final weeks as Jung and García recently returned from injury. This final month made for some thrilling division race action, but it would be an unbelievable disappointment for a team that went all-in on players like Seager and Semien in free agency and Scherzer and Montgomery in trades.
The Rangers have to prove it in the regular season first, but the playoffs will be better with Texas slugging their way into October.
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