Series Outlook: Athletics (15-10) at Rangers (15-10), Part II

If there is such thing as disappointment after a 4-2 road trip, I'm sure -- somehow, some way -- there are fans out there who will still find a way to complain. After all, if it weren't for implosions from Neal Cotts (on Friday) and Alexi Ogando (on Sunday), there was a real chance for Texas to complete their second consecutive road sweep this week. As it turned out, the Rangers essentially gave away to the Mariners two wins they themselves stole from the A's earlier in the week, so the universe, in a sense, restored itself.

All told, injuries withstanding, the Rangers are tied for the best record in the American League (15-10) with the Yankees and division rival Athletics, the latter of which they are due to battle starting tomorrow.

On the season, Texas has a run differential of 0, while Oakland (+38) and the 11-13 Angels (+29) have been far more impressive on paper. Losing winnable games will forever frustrate the seasoned baseball fan, but as I take a step back -- realizing the Rangers aren't supposed to be this good, yet -- I find it wholly unreasonable to begrudge my favorite club for blowing games they probably shouldn't have been winning in the first place.

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It's Josh Wilson's world. We're just living in it.

Monday -- Sonny Gray (3-1, 2.25 ERA, 3.28 xFIP) vs. Yu Darvish (1-0, 1.61 ERA, 3.57 xFIP)

Darvish had his worst start of the season last week against the A's, and the damage (6.0 IP, 3 runs, 4 walks, 6 strikeouts) still resulted in a quality start. It could be that he just isn't all that comfortable on the mound in Oakland, or that the A's see the ball better out of Yu's hand than most other teams. Either way, it seems the Athletics are the kryptonite to Yu Darvish's mastery. Tomorrow, however, Darvish is back in Arlington, where he has been more than comfortable during his career (231.0 IP, 3.07 ERA, 294 Ks).

Sonny Gray was effective on Wednesday against the Rangers, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 8 in 7.0 innings of work. Unfortunately for him, the Oakland offense ran into the buzz saw that is Martín Perez, so Gray took the hard-luck 3-0 loss. 

Tuesday -- Scott Kazmir (3-0, 1.62 ERA, 3.17 xFIP) vs. Martín (4-0, 1.42 ERA, 3.42 xFIP)

If Darvish-Gray is round one of this heavyweight series, fans of both these teams won't have to wait very long for an encore.

Per FanGraphs, Perez and Kazmir rank 3rd and 4th in the AL with +1.2 fWAR and +1.1 fWAR, respectively. As last year Kazmir was getting his feet back underneath him (4.04 ERA in 158.0 IP in Cleveland), this season he's fully off and running; in 33.0 innings he's striking out almost a quarter (24.2%) of the hitters he's facing, while slashing his 10% career walk rate down to just 4.7%. So far, the 2-year, $22 million contract he signed last offseason looks good for the A's.

As for Martín Perez: What more is there I can say about him that you haven't already heard or contemplated for yourself? I still consider myself to be pretty young (24), but at 23 years and less than a month's worth of days, Perez makes me feel like I'm not doing ANYTHING significant with my life. He's fresh off of back-to-back shutouts, and is quietly playing the part of a quality #2 starting pitcher in the Rangers rotation. It's obvious his 1.42 ERA won't stand the duration of an entire season -- that goes for any starting pitcher -- but as Martín comes back to earth we can all take solace in the fact that he's still extremely young, and should only continue to get better from here. 

Wednesday -- Jesse Chavez (1-0, 2.32 ERA, 2.74 xFIP) vs. Robbie Ross (1-1, 2.45 ERA, 3.63 xFIP)

It probably gets mentioned every season, but it's still kind of weird to me that Jesse Chavez used to pitch in the Rangers organization. What's even weirder, though, is he was traded to the Pirates back in 2008 so that Texas could get its hands on Kip Wells, of all people. It was the obscure summer where the Rangers were kind-of contenders, when Jon Daniels acquired Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz from the Brewers, Wells, and Matt Stairs. There isn't much carryover from that trade spree of '08 -- Cruz is now on the Orioles -- but it will continue to be strange seeing Chavez pitch in a contending rotation. 

Robbie Ross was decent against the Mariners on Friday night... 6.0 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks and 5 strikeouts. I'm meh on the idea of Ross being a starter long-term, but at the very least he's giving the Rangers quality replacement innings in the wake of the Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison injuries. And there's value to that. In five starts in 2014 (29.1 IP), Robbie has almost reached the halfway mark in his career-high for innings pitched (65.0 in 2012), so these next few weeks should be interesting in how he deals with the workload. 

He has passed the point where we are curious whether or not he can get big league hitters out consistently as a starting pitcher; he's there. Now it's a matter of maintaining. The 58.8% ground ball rate Ross has posted thus far is damn near elite. At worst, he's a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, and the Rangers need such things. 

As for the big picture, the Rangers are right where they are supposed to be. There have been a handful of games that Texas could have won, but didn't, and perhaps even more that the club shouldn't have won, but did. It's just baseball. 

The Rangers are 6th in the American League in runs scored, 7th in the league in runs allowed. They could be 10-15 right now just as easily as 15-10, which is where they currently are. From that perspective, it's unfair to laud Ron Washington for the club over-achieving, while at the same time blaming him for the losses that have sporadically popped up. It's clear -- and it's been clear for multiple seasons -- that he isn't even remotely close to being an average tactical manager. With the neo-concepts that have engulfed baseball over the last few years, whether it be platoons or managing the bullpen or constructing the lineup, it has been proven Washington gives the Rangers no advantages.

And yet, the team continues to win. It's a testament to Washington, Jon Daniels, and the entire scouting and player development department that an injury-riddled roster... with little business being 15-10 and in first place... is, well, 15-10 and in first place.