The Rangers survived their first game without power-slugging right fielder Nelson Cruz last night, managing to escape with a 5-2 victory and close the AL West gap to 2.0 games.
In the process, I couldn't help but notice that this team, while there will be struggles, is well-equipped to win the division in the absence of Cruz. With that said, there were some glaring weaknesses that also showed up (and have shown up numerous times this season.
Martin Perez pitched a gem, and the bullpen backed him up, but if either of the above plays don't happen, the Rangers shut out the Angels. The obvious solution is to catch the ball next time, and while I've gone on and on about my issue with David Murphy being in the lineup at all, it appears he'll be there at least for the rest of this season.
When it all came down to it, the play that bothered me the most was Ian Kinsler getting picked off of second base.
Throughout this 2013 season so far, there have been occasions in which I've thought to myself that this Rangers team gives away too many free outs on the bases. At times, I've wondered if this is the worst baserunning team the Rangers have fielded in several years. Instead of wondering, I decided to do a bit of digging, and although what I found wasn't totally surprising, there is still a part of me that wonders how things got this bad.
This season, the Rangers have been caught stealing or picked off a total of 40 times, which rank 27th and 16th in all of baseball, respectively. 47 more times, the Rangers have been called out on baserunning plays -- for exampe, trying to stretch a double into a triple -- which does not include pickoffs or caught stealing numbers. As it concerns Outs on Base, the Rangers rank 29th in baseball, behind only Boston.
Oftentimes, a good chunk of those numbers can be tied to aggressiveness (or lack thereof for teams with better numbers), and we can't draw too many conclusions from them. Nevertheless, it is disturbing that the Rangers rank toward the bottom of baseball in those numbers.
If we dive in a little deeper, we can take a look at UBR (Ultimate Base Running) from Fangraphs, which takes the figures above -- minus caught stealings -- as well as others such as breaking up double plays and tagging up to advance a base. The Rangers have a UBR of -9.7, which puts them dead last in Major League Baseball.
It's a little more difficult to attribute the Rangers baserunning woes on simple bad luck when we look at it from that point of view, and it's something this team absolutely needs to find an answer to in the absence of Nelson Cruz.
Interestingly, although the Rangers ranked at or near the top of baseball in UBR for 2010, 2011, and 2012, never lower than 4th, coming into this season, the decision was made to switch the roles of Gary Pettis and Dave Anderson, moving Anderson from coaching at third base to first base and vice-versa for Pettis. While I won't go as far as to attribute much blame to either one of them for an entire season's worth of struggles, it's worth noting that in the series immediately following the All-Star break against Baltimore, Pettis was responsible for two outs at third base.
It leaves me to wonder if, at some point, the idea of moving the coaches back might be considered. If not, I have a hard time believing the move won't happen heading into the 2014 season.
Whatever the culprit may be -- and for the record, I think it's just as much on the players as anyone -- it's something that needs to be fixed for this team to succeed. With Nelson Cruz eligible to return for postseason play, and indications from players that they would want him back in that scenario, it seems that half the battle is just getting there. With the team back on a winning track lately, that appears very feasible, and these Rangers might just be dangerous if they get to that point.
But giving away free outs? There's no way that can help a team win in the postseason.