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Texas Rangers Series Preview: Y’all ready for this?

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The stars at night may be big and bright, but KC BBQ is still way better.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels
May 25, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; Texas Rangers left fielder Hunter Pence (24) catches a fly ball hit by Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols (5) during the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

All those who expected the Texas Rangers to be hanging around .500 and playing around with a positive run differential after Memorial Day, raise your hand. Okay, you’re all liars. While the Rangers have talent, I think concerns over the pitching staff were enough that most everyone believed this would be a stepping stone year for them before maybe returning to relevance in 2020. Their offense has been a force, but not for reasons you’d expect. Okay, yeah, Joey Gallo is hitting bombs, but he’s also added a ton to his batting average and even more to his OBP. Oh and he’s playing a decent enough center field to boot. Logan Forsythe is also hitting like crazy, and that’s not even the biggest surprise as Hunter Pence is getting regular at bats in the middle of their order...on purpose. Add in a heck of a start to the season for Mike Minor and you can see how they’ve racked up some wins. Still, the pitching isn’t what you want and that’ll ultimately be their downfall, but they’ve been a surprise even if they don’t sustain it.

Meet the Rangers

Royals vs. Rangers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Rangers
Category Royals Rangers
Winning % .327 .509
Team wRC+ 91 104
Team xFIP 4.78 4.96
2019 Head to Head Wins 1 2
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 2.3 Joey Gallo, 2.7

Rangers Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Shin-Soo Choo LF 218 .295 .385 .532 10.6% 24.3% 137 1.0
Elvis Andrus SS 191 .311 .361 .480 5.8% 15.7% 119 1.5
Hunter Pence DH 149 .304 .356 .637 8.1% 18.1% 150 1.2
Nomar Mazara RF 203 .267 .320 .455 5.4% 18.7% 97 0.2
Joey Gallo CF 204 .278 .422 .636 19.6% 35.3% 166 2.7
Rougned Odor 2B 166 .166 .236 .338 7.8% 33.7% 44 -0.6
Asdrubal Cabrera 3B 181 .224 .298 .435 8.8% 23.2% 86 0.3
Ronald Guzman 1B 95 .200 .274 .494 9.5% 30.5% 90 -0.1
Jeff Mathis C 92 .149 .196 .207 5.4% 29.3% -2 -0.8

Rangers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Isiah Kiner-Falefa C 106 .226 .314 .355 9.4% 25.5% 75 -0.7
Logan Forsythe INF 163 .309 .414 .485 14.1% 23.3% 137 1.3
Danny Santana INF/OF 125 .296 .339 .478 4.0% 29.6% 108 0.6

Rangers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Shawn Kelley 19 18.2 3 1 22.5% 4.2% 2.41 4.44 0.3
Jose Leclerc 23 22.1 1 1 35.6% 14.9% 5.24 3.76 0.3
Chris Martin 20 20.1 0 2 23.2% 3.7% 4.43 3.19 -0.1

Probable Pitching Matchups

Thursday May 30th - 7:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 11 61.1 3 5 19.9% 8.5% 5.58 4.55 0.4
Mike Minor 11 70.2 5 3 25.5% 7.8% 2.55 4.07 2.0

The Royals get the Rangers ace, Mike Minor, to start the series. After a successful enough transition to the rotation last year, he’s been awesome this year, giving tons of innings and just generally being really, really good. The Royals offense was struggling to get runners home when Minor faced them a couple weeks back, but he did walk two with eight hits allowed, so he was lucky to get out of that with just one run allowed in five innings. He fills the strike zone well with about 64 percent strikes and 62 percent first pitch strikes, and that’s the time to get him really. He’s allowed a .355 average and .742 slugging percentage on the first pitch with three of the seven home runs he’s allowed this year. Of course, there’s risk in that given that first pitch hunting could keep his pitch count down and keep him in the game longer. But it’s probably worth it with how well he’s pitched this year.

Jakob Junis had his best start of the month against the Yankees on Saturday, allowing three runs in six innings but looking much more in control and finally getting the swing and miss back that he’d been strangely lacking for so many starts this season. He still did give up three runs, but the command was better and he just looked much more like the guy the Royals pinned some hopes on prior to the season. There’s still plenty of work to be done, though, as he’s just had a rough go of it basically all year. And let’s be real, this ballpark is not great for him and the Rangers lineup is not great for him. This is his first start in Arlington in his career and only his second outing against the Rangers, so maybe I’m wrong here, but I’m going to hope for the best while prepping for the worst.

Friday May 31st - 7:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 6 34.2 3 1 18.5% 8.2% 3.12 4.91 0.6
Ariel Jurado 11 23.2 1 2 16.2% 5.1% 2.28 3.85 0.5

After the Royals put a beatdown on Shelby Miller in Kansas City, he lost his rotation spot to Ariel Jurado, who has quietly been pretty good for the Rangers this year. He doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts but he’s limited walks well and hits well enough to keep traffic off the bases. Plus, he’s only allowed two home runs. He’s made just two starts, but his most recent one was really good in a lot of ways with just two runs allowed in 6.1 innings. The bad is that he just doesn’t miss bats and really didn’t in his last start with just the two whiffs in 94 pitches. It’s not that he doesn’t have enough velocity, averaging about 94 on his fastball, but he doesn’t have much spin, so there isn’t a whole lot for hitters to worry about. But this year, when they’ve made contact, it hasn’t been good contact with an average exit velocity of 82.9 MPH. Can he sustain that? I honestly kind of doubt it. It’s a very small sample this season, and the bigger sample from last season says he’s going to get hit hard, but young guys can improve and he’s only 23, so you never know, I guess.

Every start Danny Duffy makes, I feel more and more confident in the next one, which sets me up for a gut punch. Could this be the start that punch comes? I think he’s been very good and I’ve been really encouraged by all the swings and misses over this last two. He’s now shut down the Rays, Astros, Angels and Yankees over his last five starts. His lone hiccup in there is a weird start against the Rangers where the Royals offense made him sit for a long time because they scored so many runs. And after a rough inning then, he bounced back to be very good in his final two frames. His velocity is still a concern. He topped out at 94.2 against the Yankees and averaged just 92.4. That average is in line with his previous starts, but the max velo hit 96 in his previous start against the Angels, so you had to hope maybe it was coming back. But still, he’s getting results lately and shutting down very good lineups, so like I said, I’m closer to feeling good about Duffy starts again while simultaneously fearing each one.

Saturday June 1st - 3:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Homer Bailey 11 51.1 4 5 21.9% 10.3% 5.79 4.36 0.6
Lance Lynn 11 67.2 6 4 24.0% 7.5% 4.66 4.04 2.0

There’s been a fair amount to like about the first third of Lance Lynn’s three-year deal with the Rangers. He’s getting strikeouts and he’s limiting walks. He’s also giving a consistent six innings just about every time out, which has value even with the 4.66 ERA he’s sporting. Because he’s done well with the strikeouts and walks and home runs as well, FIP, xFIP, SIERRA and DRA all think he’s underperformed. So where’s the issue? He’s running an awfully high BABIP for the second year in a row and that’s with an extremely low hard hit rate and barrel rate. So maybe it’s as simple as that. He has struggled in Arlington in just four starts with a 5.92 ERA, coming largely on the back of singles with just six extra base hits allowed at home. So there’s some of that bad luck as a potential reason. I’m sure there’s a good reason why he’s underperformed by basically every metric beyond luck, but in this space, I’m having a hard time finding it quickly. He went seven innings against the Royals and gave up just one run back in Kansas City, so they might be in for a bit of a slog in this one.

The Royals counter with Homer Bailey who looked good in his last start but couldn’t make it through five because of Mother Nature. He was running his fastball at 93-94 with a solid splitter and getting his share of swings and misses. How much of his success was weather related? We can’t know that, but it was the first time he looked good in awhile. The Texas native has faced the Rangers just once in his career and that was earlier this season and he got lit up pretty good with six runs on eight hits over 4.1 innings in Kansas City. As is always the case with Bailey, if the split is working, so is he. And we often know pretty early, so at least it won’t be a surprise come the third if he’s pitching well or poorly.

Sunday June 2nd - 2:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 12 71.0 3 6 15.2% 13.3% 4.56 5.31 0.8
Adrian Sampson 12 51.2 3 3 15.4% 5.7% 4.53 5.30 0.6

Adrian Sampson was never anything special in the minors and he hasn’t been anything special in the majors, but he has been serviceable for the Rangers over the last two seasons. This sounds worse than he is, but Sampson is basically the generic righty you used to find in video games. He has a fastball, changeup, curve and slider, averaging 93 with the fastball, using the slider way more with two strikes and the changeup way more against lefties. His fastball, which is really more of a sinker, doesn’t move a whole lot and doesn’t have a lot of spin and has been hit hard with an opponents average of .352 and slugging percentage of .620. His slider and curve both get some whiffs, but nothing is really elite here. He has handled lefties much better than righties, so in a day game in that park, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler play the game of who can hit the ball the farthest again.

There was some strange progress for Brad Keller in his last start against the White Sox. He walked just one batter. It’s the second time all season he’s walked fewer than three actually, with both against the White Sox. In this one, though, command remained an issue as he caught the zone too much actually with 73 strikes in 110 pitches and 10 hits allowed. They were all singles, but it was still enough to give up four runs, which was one too many because the Royals only scored three. I’m not sure what the solution is here honestly. Maybe the one walk means he’s getting closer to the 2018 version of himself, but I just don’t see it. He looks way out of whack. On the bright side, he did get back to getting a ton of ground balls with 14, after getting just six in his win over the Cardinals, so maybe just maybe, we’re starting to see signs of him coming out of it.

Prediction

The Royals pitching staff is built for a bigger park, and they struggle to succeed there, so there’s very real concern about how they’ll fare in Arlington. I think they win one game and drop the other three, starting another streak of not winning a series but not getting swept, which is, I guess, something.

Poll

Can the Royals Finally Win a Series?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Convincingly yes, Royals sweep
    (4 votes)
  • 15%
    Yeah right, Rangers sweep
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    They sure can, Royals win three of four
    (2 votes)
  • 54%
    Stop dreaming, Rangers win three of four
    (43 votes)
  • 22%
    Neither team is good enough to win, it’s a split
    (18 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now