Diving in to the collapse of the Texas Rangers that runs deeper than the bullpen

Sep 6, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jose Leclerc (25) leaves the game against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jose Leclerc (25) leaves the game against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The collapse of the Texas Rangers is being widely ascribed to bullpen failures. That analysis is simultaneously true and false.

The collapse is a matter of record. They’ve lost six of seven, fallen out of both first place in the AL West and the Wild Card, and been outscored 58-24 in September. They just concluded a three-game beatdown administered by the Houston Astros in which Houston averaged 13 runs per game.

There’s certainly no excusing the bullpen. This month alone, it has already surrendered 35 runs (33 of them earned) in just 30 innings of work. The Texas pen is so bad right now that if it suddenly reversed course and reeled off 30 straight scoreless innings its group ERA for the month would still be 5.25.

But the Texas Rangers’ collapse is more chronic and deep-seated than just a bad bullpen.

Both on offense and on the mound, Texas has played sub-par ball for most of 2023, and the only reason that isn’t being talked about more is the hot start the team got off to.

What is becoming obvious day after day is that Texas’ hot start masked some significant shortcomings. The Rangers aren’t just slumping this week; they’ve been trending toward life support for a couple of months now.

Here’s a deeper look at the reasons why this collapse reflects something more chronic and more serious than just a bad stretch.

Collapse 1: Jonah Heim. At the All-Star game, Heim was the starting catcher, elected by fan votes. It was a deserving choice. Heim finished the season’s first half with a stellar .846 OPS, having hit a dozen home runs and carrying a .282 average. With 59 RBI, he was well on his way to a 100-RBI season.

By comparison, the second half has been a disaster. Heim has added just three home runs and just 18 RBI in the last 31 games. He’s lost 61 points in batting average and he’s carrying a sub-standard .640 OPS. He hit .150 in August, 115 points lower than his previous worst month this year.

Collapse 2: Josh Jung. Like Heim, Jung was an elected All-Star starter at third base thanks to his .835 OPS, 19 home runs and 56 RBI. Then life intervened. His OPS fell to .716 and he homered just three times in 21 starts, all of that leading to a fractured thumb sustained in an early August game against Miami.

Jung hasn’t played since.

Collapse 3: Adolis Garcia. There’s something about the 2023 AL All-Star Game roster that put a major hex on the Rangers. Garcia was chosen as a reserve after batting .262 with 23 homers, 75 RBI and an .848 OPS during the first half.

Since then, he’s hit .207 with 11 home runs, 25 RBI and a .750 OPS. Atop that, he sustained a knee injury of undetermined severity that took him out of Wednesday’s game.

Collapse 4: The starters. Almost across the board, Rangers starters have failed to live up to first-half performance levels during the season’s second half.  That statement applies to three-fifths of a dominant first-half rotation.

Dane Dunning produced a 2.84 ERA and .639 OPS against through the first 81 games. Since then, his ERA has climbed to 5.67 and his OPS is .861. It’s no surprise, then, that Dunning, who was 7-1 at the end of June, is now 9-6.

Jon Gray had a 3.29 ERA and .664 OPS against through the first half. That encompassed his first 15 starts. Since then, he’s pitching to a 4.89 ERA and a .752 OPS in 10 starts.

With the loss of Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi was supposed to be the staff ace. For three months he was. Through June 25 he made 16 starts, went 9-3 and produced a 2.83 ERA with a .620 OPS.

But injuries cost Eovaldi six weeks between mid July and early September, and he got shelled by the Astros in his September 5 return.

Collapse 5: The whole team. For the season’s first half, Texas outscored its opponents by an average of 6.29 to 4.95 … more than a run per game. It’s no wonder that the Rangers played 35-20 ball through May 31.

Since June 1, that same team has been 41-43. Why? Because over the span of the season’s second half to date, Texas has been outscored by its opponents by an average of 7.56 to 3.91. That’s a loss of more than two runs per game in offense coupled with a rise of more than 2.5 runs in runs allowed.

The numbers raise a provocative question for Rangers fans. Is this a case of a team collapse? Or is it merely a case of a team that played over its head for the first two months, raised expectations to impossible levels, and has since returned to its natural level?

Next. Where Texas falls in this week's MLB Power Rankings. dark