After a 5-2 loss to Boston yesterday, the Rangers once again find themselves at .500 with a 19-19 record. As Jamey Newberg pointed out in his report this morning, Texas was 23-23 in 2011 before going 73-43 the rest of the season on the way to a 2nd World Series appearance.
In each of the two World Series seasons, the Rangers had a fantastic summer stretch of baseball, something the 2013 club was able to do before starting September terribly and falling too far back in the AL West to ever really recover.
That, I think, is something to keep in mind as we head into the heat of the summer. The possibility still remains, more likely than not I would assume, that this club will go on a hot streak, and when that happens, we won't remember -- until someone points it out to us down the road -- that this was a .500 team after almost a quarter of the season was over with.
For any kind of hot streak to happen, however, the starting rotation will be required to put up better results than what we've seen so far.
After 38 games, the Texas starting rotation holds a 4.71 ERA, good for 4th-worst in baseball and 3rd-worst in the American League. An xFIP of 4.10 doesn't look a whole lot better, as that is good for 5th-worst in baseball.
To really hammer home exactly how bad it's been, of the 3.4 fWAR compiled by all starters thus far in 2014, Yu Darvish has provided 1.6 fWAR and Martin Perez -- on account of a fantastic April -- has provided 0.9 fWAR. That means that of any of the other six pitchers that have started for the Rangers in any of the other three rotation slots have combined for an fWAR of 0.9.
With Perez struggling of late, and now to miss at least a start with Elbow inflammation, the burden has fallen entirely on Darvish. While a fantastic pitcher, Darvish can only pitch one out of every five games, and unless someone steps up soon, we could be creeping closer and closer to the territory of enduring a long summer of bad baseball, because the offense as currently comprised doesn't appear as capable of carrying the team for long stretches as it was in 2010 and 2011.
For example, we take Robbie Ross. Ross struggled again yesterday against Boston, giving up 5 earned runs on 6 hits, walking 2 and striking out only 3.
That brings us to now: a time in which Robbie Ross now holds a 5.04 ERA, and an xFIP that doesn't look much better at 3.93. After a few great starts in April, Ross has struggled to get hitters out and keep the Rangers in games. So what gives?
First off, Ross, a southpaw, has struggled to get lefties out. It's generally accepted that a pitcher is supposed to be significantly better at getting same-handed batters out, but that hasn't really been the case for Ross.
This season, righties have put up an OPS of .841 against Ross in 28.0 IP. Lefties have put up an OPS of .805 in 16.2 IP. While the figure is a little bit better against lefties, it's no so significantly better as to warrant continuing to run him out there every 5th day.
If we're being honest, those numbers are also a bit of a deterrent to those calling for him to be moved directly back into the bullpen. In 2012 and 2013, Robbie's struggles against lefties as the season progressed led to him being utilized less in high-leverage situations. I'm just not sure that moving him back to the bullpen will prove as useful as it was once thought.
The problem, of course, is that Ross was only in the rotation to begin with because of injuries, and now the Rangers find themselves in the position of considering Joe Saunders getting a significant number of innings due to the general ineffectiveness of Ross.
A week ago, it appeared that Nick Tepesch would be called up from AAA Round Rock to take the rotation spot that Ross occupies, but while we wait to see what happens with Martin Perez, the Rangers will still need Ross -- or Saunders -- to provide some innings as a starting pitcher, and that, I think is the biggest concern right now.
I still reserve some hope that the offense will flourish the way I'd hoped prior to the season, but for now, I've tempered those expectations and accepted that in order for the 2014 Rangers to succeed, it's going to fall on the shoulders of the starting rotation to keep the club in games.
In the back of my mind, I realize Derek Holland should be back soon, I hope that Martin Perez is OK -- and that his struggles recently have been at least partially due to the elbow discomfort -- and also, Robbie Ross really epitomizes the struggles of the Texas rotation right now. So maybe the Rangers will really be OK in the end. I'm just not sure Robbie Ross is part of that equation.