I need to get this out of the way: I had high hopes for the Texas Rangers entering the 2020 season. Even after the months-long delay due to COVID-19, I had expectations for them to be a contender in the AL West. But like most of 2020, they had a bad, horrible, no good and rotten year.
There were other disappointing teams as well, from the Boston Red Sox (half of which was due to bad luck/pitching) to the Colorado Rockies (like Charlie Blackmon, the team regressed in the second half) to the Washington Nationals (Seriously? A hangover now?). But above all, I strongly believe the Texas Rangers had the highest hopes to be contenders for an AL Wild Card at most and still disappointed. Even in an expanded playoff format that might come back, they let baseball down. But why am I insulting a team if there is no background about their talents?
Last year, the Texas Rangers went 78-84, good enough for third place in the somewhat competitive AL West. Their star position player Joey Gallo might have regressed from his 2017 and 2018 form by hitting 22 home runs, but he improved his batting average to .253 and made the All-Star Game for the first time in 2019. In addition, the Rangers had decent performances from Hunter Pence (selected All-Star starter at DH) before he went down and the middle infield combination of Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor (42 home runs, 3.2 WAR and .240 BA combined). But most of all, the Rangers had pitching, primarily starting pitching, but pitching. At the front of the rotation was a veteran southpaw by the name of Mike Minor, who struck out 200 batters and was an All-Star who dominated on the mound with a career year. In addition to his 200 Ks, he piled up an ERA of 3.59 and surrendered just 83 runs earned. Next in line in that rotation was a new acquisition in Lance Lynn. Lynn, who had stints with the Cardinals, Yankees and Twins, developed into a true ace with a 3.67 ERA and 246 strikeouts while surrendering just 85 runs. Coincidentally, both pitchers pitched 208.1 innings and had an ERA+ over 140. Both players might have been older than 30, but they were the leaders of a Rangers team that really needed just one superstar to get over the hump. The Rangers even had a solid closing option in Jose Leclerc, who may have acquired only 14 saves, but struck out 100 batters in relief and surrendered just 34 runs for an ERA of 4.33. He might not have had solid closer numbers, but he was a good closer.
Their solution was to upgrade their pitching while some young members of the hitting core developed, from Nick Solak to Scott Heineman. For their pitching resolution, Texas went out of their way to acquire Kyle Gibson in free agency and trade for Corey Kluber. Ownership was hoping Kluber would return to his prime form of 2014-2018, where he finished outside of the top 3 in Cy Young voting just once (2015), won the award twice (2014 and 2017) and went to three All-Star Games while recording 1,228 strikeouts along an ERA of 2.59, one of the best stretches of the 2010s. What the Rangers got instead was 2019 Kluber. In 2019, Kluber pitched in only seven games before he was shut down due to injury after regressing to a 2-3 record and 5.80 ERA only to get replaced as the team’s ace by Shane Bieber. What was worse, Kluber pitched only one inning with one strikeout this year before he left his first game as a Ranger due to injury. Due to the nature of the 60-game season, he was lost for the year and the Rangers now only had three veteran pitchers to rely on to go longer than five innings. What was even worse was that Mike Minor regressed from his 2019 peak form. In seven games started with the Rangers, Minor did not win a single one and surrendered 23 runs on 35 hits for an ERA of 4.89. Put simply, this was a down year, and in his walk year, Minor was sent to the contending Oakland Athletics for players to be named later, where he at least won a game. On top of that, the Rangers did not really have any solid pitchers outside of Lynn, with Jose Leclerc playing two games and losing his closer position while the rest of the rotation outside of Minor went 4-19 with an ERA well over 5.00.
Literally everyone regressed on the offense. It really says something when Gold Glove Winner Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the team’s best hitter with a .280 batting average. The team compiled a total of 62 home runs, which was 12th out of 15 teams in the AL, and ranked dead last in major hitting categories as a team, from batting average (an abysmal .217) to OPS (.648, consider that this is on-base percentage plus slugging). To put this into perspective, the Rangers hit 27 of their 62 home runs over 30 games at the brand-new Globe Life Field, while the Dodgers hit 34 in just 16 playoff games. Do not get me wrong, the Rangers can steal bases, having finished in the top 2 each of the last two seasons, but speed is not going to win today’s ballgame. This was a team last year that was in the middle of the pack for most hitting categories and then suddenly fell off a cliff somehow. The offense was so bad that they were described as the weakest offensive team, with a wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), as recorded by Fangraphs, of 67, the lowest in all of baseball. That means the Rangers were 33% below the league average for runs created last year.
The team still had young rookies and young talents, but a team entirely made of young players is not going to be as successful as a team with loads of talent. Solak appeared in all but two games last season and only hit .264. Leody Taveras and Willie Calhoun did not play in that many games, having played 33 and 29 respectively, but they were both alright, with Taveras batting .227 and Calhoun batting .190. The season was not perfect for anyone, but at the same time, the Rangers do have some reason for hope in their young core. As long as they continue to develop along with some of the veterans such as Andrus and Odor, then the team should function. However, without the veterans or veteran talent, the team will look like just a young team. There is still some hope, but with no prospects in the top 25, the Rangers have some work to do.
Despite all the negativity, the Rangers still had some bright spots. In addition to Gallo and Kiner-Falefa winning their first career Gold Gloves, Lynn was solid with 89 strikeouts over 84 innings with an ERA of 3.32 and a 6-3 record. Almost certainly, the Rangers are going to rely on Lynn to dominate against opposing hitting about 31 times next season. Overall, the team had the worst record in the AL at 22-38, and only the Pirates lost more games, which means the Rangers have the second overall pick next year. To make matters worse, a baseball team won a World Series inside of Globe Life Field, but it was not the Rangers. At least their ballpark had baseball’s craziest moment of 2020, thanks to Brett Phillips.
I cannot even say that injuries played a part in this disaster of a season for the Rangers, and there is no significant reason why things started to get worse. With the loss of multiple players such as Shin-Soo Choo and Jeff Mathis to free agency, the Rangers are going to need to respond or they will be a cellar team. Honestly, this has been Texas’ biggest disappointing moment since losing Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, no better, since getting swept by the Wild Card Toronto Blue Jays in 2016.