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Rays series preview: Who are the Rangers?

 
Starter Tyson Ross, left, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right, have struggled immensely this season.
Starter Tyson Ross, left, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right, have struggled immensely this season.
Published Aug. 4, 2017

The road trip is done, but the Rays will still face a western team, as they take on the Rangers in a three-game series at Tropicana Field. Here's the information you need to know about Texas before the action kicks off.

Record: 45-50, fourth in AL West

While Texas topped the AL West in 2015 and 2016, a three-peat looks unlikely, as the club has hung around .500 this season. During their run atop the division, the Rangers were incredibly fortunate — despite a Pythagorean winning percentage of .508, they went 183-141, thanks in part to a historically great record in one-run games. This season, the luck has dried up, and so have the victories. The team's hitters can run the bases with the best of them, but they haven't produced at the plate, and the bullpen has blown the second-most saves (17) in MLB. With the trade deadline looming, some big-name stars could find themselves on the block.

"The Rangers would like to add a relief piece or two to their roster. They do not want to sell off assets -- and have not engaged with any trade partners -- yet. But the team on the field is making it more and more difficult to hold to that strategy." (Evan Grant, The Dallas Morning News)

"Of the many teams occupying the gray area between buying and selling this month, the Rangers are perhaps the most intriguing. The defending American League West champions, they haven't played anywhere close to their potential and have been remarkably consistent in their mediocrity, going 11-14 in April, 15-14 in May (despite a 10-game winning streak), 13-13 in June and (so far) 6-8 in July." (Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post)

"In their 46 seasons since arriving in Texas, the Rangers have employed 16 pitching coaches, including the resident scapegoat, Doug Brocail. There surely will one day be a 17th pitching coach, and Brocail knows that. But this year, this bullpen, this chargrilled dumpster? Firing Brocail would be a cop-out, something a discontented fan would Tweet from his sofa." (Gil LeBreton, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Although the Texas bullpen has labored this year, the rotation has held its own, ranking 13th in the majors with a 4.38 ERA. Of the three right-handers Tampa Bay will see this weekend, one is a star starter, while the other two are has-beens.

Friday: Yu Darvish (125-1/3 innings, 3.45 ERA) — As a front-of-the-rotation starter in his walk year on a middling team, Darvish could see himself on the move soon. Per FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, the Rangers recently said they might trade the Japanese right-hander, who's been his usual, dominant self this season. His strikeout rate has dipped a bit, but he's compensated for that by limiting walks; if he remains on the team for this game, the Rays will have their work cut out for them.

Saturday: Andrew Cashner (88 innings, 3.58 ERA) — In his first season in the American League, Cashner has struggled, although his ERA doesn't reflect it. The righty has one of the lowest strikeout rates (11.6 percent) in the majors, along with one of the highest walk rates (10.2 percent). He's scraped by with a low home run rate, which he probably won't maintain for the remainder of the summer. Perhaps his regression will come against a power-hungry Rays lineup.

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Sunday: Tyson Ross (28-2/3 innings, 7.22 ERA) — From 2013 to 2015, Ross was one of the best (and least heralded) starters in baseball, riding his nasty slider to a 3.07 ERA in 516-2/3 innings for the Padres. Alas, he injured his right shoulder in April 2016 and hasn't been the same since. His velocity has plummeted, which means hitters are chasing less often, making more contact and putting the ball in the air. That's not exactly a recipe for success.

Infielder Joey Gallo might not look like a guy on a hot streak: Over his last 20 games, he's hitting just .189. But that sub-Mendoza Line batting average belies his true success. In those 20 games, Gallo has earned a walk in more than 25 percent of his plate appearances, inflating his on-base percentage to .412. And he's swatted four home runs in just 37 at-bats, which has given him a .568 slugging percentage. While he won't hurt you with singles, Gallo is a patient hitter who does some serious damage when he makes contact.

As Gallo's swing-for-the-fences strategy has paid off, catcher Jonathan Lucroy has bottomed out: He's posted a .197/.254/.246 slash line in his last 17 games. Although he's maintained his disciplined approach at the plate, he's put the ball on the ground 64 percent of the time — never a good sign for a catcher — and hasn't hit a long ball since June 9. As a free agent-to-be, Lucroy needs to turn things around if he wants to cash in.

The Rangers have been prone to injuries for several years, but most of their key contributors are ready to go for this series. A few pitchers won't be with the team — starter A.J. Griffin is rehabbing in the minor leagues, while starter Chi Chi Gonzalez and reliever Jake Diekman should join him there soon. Griffin has been one of the worst starters in baseball since coming to Texas last year, and Gonzalez hasn't lived up to his top prospect potential. Diekman, though, could be of use to the beleaguered bullpen; with him out, expect some shaky performances in the late innings.