Texas Rangers eye 2020 playoffs with Kolby Allard debut

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 23: Kolby Allard #36 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the Grapefruit League spring training game at First Data Field on February 23, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 23: Kolby Allard #36 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the Grapefruit League spring training game at First Data Field on February 23, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Texas Rangers playoff chase is just beginning. Their hunt for the 2020 playoffs begins Friday, when Kolby Allard makes his season debut against the Brewers.

Mike Minor‘s surprising performance this season catapulted the Texas Rangers into surprise contention at the All-Star break. As the wheels fell off shortly before the trade deadline, Minor became one of the more obvious trade targets in the league.

Meanwhile, if you looked atop the fWAR leaderboard at any point in the last six weeks, you would likely be surprised to find Lance Lynn‘s name at the top. Lynn is 14-6 with a 3.71 ERA/2.85 FIP across 148 innings. His 5.4 fWAR leads the American League – Charlie Morton is second at 4.5 fWAR.

By Baseball-Reference metrics, Lynn’s identical 5.4 bWAR ranks second in the American League. Who’s first? Minor, of course, with 6.4 bWAR.

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Considering, it’s understandable the Rangers held onto their surprisingly potent 1-2 punch. They’re both signed to affordable deals – Minor at $9.83MM for 2020, Lynn at $11.33MM for 2020, $9.33MM for 2021 – prepping the Rangers rotation to make a run next season.

It’s fair to wonder if this was the plan entering 2019. The Rangers haven’t exactly been at the top of the list when it comes to teams on the verge. That would be the Padres, ticketed as the next big contender out west because of their impressive farm system, MVP-caliber cornerstone in Manny Machado, and breakout rookies Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack.

Those Padres are 52-60. The Rangers are 58-54.

But we have to ask, do the Rangers have the staying power?

That question will get a good hard look on Friday when Kolby Allard makes his first start for the Rangers. Allard was acquired at last week’s trade deadline from the Braves for reliever Chris Martin. It was the only white-flag move of consequence the Rangers made at the deadline.

Instead, they mostly added. They snagged a couple of Tampa Bay prospects in Ian Gibaut, a hard-throwing bullpen piece, and Nick Solak, a potential utility star sometimes put at the tail-end of Top-100 lists. They also took on a potential bullpen piece in the oft-and-currently-injured Nate Jones. The White Sox attached $1MM in international bonus pool money, which allowed the Rangers to sign the #3 ranked amateur in that market.

But the move with the most immediate near-term upside was the acquisition of Allard. A former 14th overall draft pick out of San Clemente High School, Allard’s stock has dipped in the last year. A regressive season in Triple-A and a rough-n-tumble opening salvo in the major-league level in 2018 have muted the excitement around Allard, making him expendable in a crowded stable of near-ready arms in Atlanta.

Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers /

Texas Rangers

If you’d never seen the 2.72 ERA/3.40 FIP from 2018, Allard’s numbers this season might spin your hat around after all. In 21 starts, Allard came to Texas with a 7-5 record, 4.17 ERA/4.66 FIP in 20 starts as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. 

If Allard can claim a rotation spot in these final two months, the Rangers outlook for 2020 and beyond starts to brighten. If not, the Rangers are looking at a bunch of question marks after Minor and Lynn.

Shelby Miller and Drew Smyly started a combined 17 games before their release. Prospect Taylor Hearn had about the worst ML-debut you can imagine before landing on the 60-day IL. He’ll enter 2020 0-1 with a 108.00 ERA.

Ariel Jurado, 23, has a 4.92 ERA/4.62 FIP over 86 innings including 13 starts. His peripherals aren’t super encouraging, but if he can start killing worms at the same rate he did in the minors, there’s at least a chance he keeps the ball in the yard well enough to sit at the back end of the rotation.

Adrian Sampson, 27, is the other guy with significant rotation time this season, but they’ll need better than the 5.72 ERA/5.49 FIP he’s given them over 113 innings in 2019.

Lest we forget, Lynn will be entering 2020 for his age-33 season, Minor his age-32 season, and if there’s any regression whatsoever from their career years and the Rangers will have a tough time contending in a stacked AL West. They need more.

Because, though Minor leads the league with 6.4 bWAR, his may be a smoke and mirrors show. By Fangraphs’ measure, Minor’s 4.14 FIP leads to only 2.5 fWAR. Considering fWAR to be the more predictive of the two, the Rangers may very well be looking at some regression from Minor next season. It might have already started, as he’s slumped with a 5.10 ERA over 5 starts after the All-Star break.

In the American League West, being four games over .500, sadly, doesn’t get the Rangers close to contention. They trail Houston in the division by an insurmountable 15 games, and they’re 6.5 our of the second Wild Card spot. The playoffs are a pipe dream – but that doesn’t mean they’re done playing games of significance this season.

Next. The Allard Trade. dark

On Friday, they begin their hunt for the 2020 playoffs when Allard makes his season debut at Miller Park. If the Rangers doubt Allard’s long-term outlook by the end of the season, the cost of the tryout (33-year-old Martin) won’t be one that haunts them. Not finding some upside potential for their 2020 rotation, however, will.