Here in Birdland, we’ve been following the good and the bad - mostly good! - of the Orioles for the whole season. The Rangers, other than the six games we’ve played them, are not so familiar, and we last saw those guys at the end of May. They’ve been on their own journey that hasn’t impacted the Orioles very much.
To get some thoughts on that team from someone who’s been following them all year the same as we have, I asked my counterpart at the Rangers site Lone Star Ball, Adam Morris, a few questions ahead of the series. Thank you to Adam for giving us some insight. Here’s what he had to say:
- What’s been the big picture story with the Rangers this season? How did their final record and placement in the standings live up to your expectations?
Adam: The big picture story has been that this has been a roller coaster of a season, though one that exceeded expectations. The team has been incredibly streaky – they started the year 40-20, then went 12-19 to end the first half. Coming out of the All Star Break they won 6 in a row, then lost 8 of 10, won 8 in a row and 12 of 14 to start August, then lost 8 in a row. They won 3 of their next 4, lost 7 of 8, won six in a row, lost four in a row, won six in a row, then lost 4 of their last 6.
At times this year, the Rangers have looked like the best team in baseball. At other times, they’ve looked like there was no way they’d claim a playoff spot. Adding to the angst, Texas has the fourth best run differential in baseball, but their 14-22 record in one run games means they underperformed their expected won/loss record by 6 games. This year they’ve been amazing, exciting, infuriating, frustrating…but never boring.
2. Who are a couple of Rangers players who Orioles fans might not know who you think were important parts of the team’s success this year? What roles did they fill?
Adam: Dane Dunning had a disappointing 2022 season, needed hip surgery after the season, and when spring training started it was expected he would start the season in AAA as the Rangers’ 7th starting pitcher for a five man rotation. Jake Odorizzi (expected #6 starter) was hurt, however, while Dunning had a strong spring, and he ended up making the Opening Day roster in the bullpen. A month into the season, after solid work out of the pen, injuries forced Dunning into the rotation, and he’s been a rock for Texas since then. He’s not a top of the rotation guy – he had a 3.96 ERA and a 4.41 FIP from the time he moved into the rotation on – but he gets ground balls and is pretty reliable. He’ll likely be the Game One starter for Texas.
A month ago, Evan Carter had just turned 21 and was playing just his 8th game at AAA. That night, Adolis Garcia hurt his knee leaping at the fence to try to catch a Michael Brantley home run. Getting almost nothing from left field, and now losing their All Star right fielder, the Rangers brought up Carter to fill in.
Carter has, to put it mildly, exceeded expectations. He slashed .306/.413/.645 in 75 major league plate appearances, facing mostly lefties, and was 3 for 3 on stolen bases while playing solid defense. Against Tampa in the Wild Card Series, he reached base 7 of 8 plate appearances, doubled twice, homered, stole a base, and made a great diving catch in Game One to snuff out a potential first inning rally for the Rays. He’s got a great eye and patient approach – earning him the nickname Full Count Carter – and the pulse rate of a marathon runner.
Finally, I have to mention Jose Leclerc, who seems to embody the Rangers Jekyll-and-Hyde season. Leclerc has solid numbers on the year – a 2.68 ERA and a 3.14 xERA – and started the season as the team’s closer. After some high profile struggles, Leclerc was replaced by Will Smith as closer, while Leclerc ended up for much of the year being used in low-leverage situations. Smith was supplanted by Aroldis Chapman, but when Chapman had issues, Leclerc, who had earned his way back into the Bochy Tree of Trust, started getting the ball in the ninth again, and finished off both wins against the Rays. Leclerc, like the 2023 Rangers, can be electric, or can be awful, and Rangers fans know not to be surprised by either outcome.
3. What’s an area where you feel like the Rangers match up well with the Orioles?
Adam: The Rangers’ strength is their offense. They led the American League in (* takes deep breath *) runs, hits, homers, walks, average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. They were second in doubles and OPS+. They have a deep lineup top to bottom, have no platoon splits as a team (790 OPS against RHPs compared to 788 against LHPs), and have a terrific balance of on base ability and power. The worst hitter in their starting lineup is Leody Taveras – and he still has a 97 OPS+, a 733 OPS, and hit 14 homers and stole 14 bases.
Baltimore has a strong lineup, as well, and Texas’s offense has disappeared at times this year – notably in the final week of the season, which saw them shutout twice by the Mariners in the final series of the year. But when the offense is clicking, they look like they did in the Wild Card Series – grinding out at bats, forcing the opposing starter to labor, and having threats from 1 to 9 that don’t give the opponent a break.
4. Where do you think the Orioles might have an advantage over the Rangers in this best-of-five series?
Adam: The bullpen. There’s probably not a reliever on the roster that Rangers fans (or, really, the Rangers) fully trust. Texas only had 30 saves all year, compared to 33 blown saves. Now, part of that is because the Rangers had a lot of blowouts, and so there weren’t save opportunities. The bullpen also, though, spit the bit way too many times (see the 14-22 record in one run games mentioned above). The pen is a strength of the Orioles, on the other hand, so if we get to the later innings and it is a close game, Baltimore would have the edge.
5. What’s your prediction for the outcome of the series?
Adam: I hate making predictions on these short series, because anything can happen in three or five or seven games, and this Rangers team is even more unpredictable than most.
I wrote this with six games to go in the regular season:
[The Rangers] could kick much ass the next few days, clinch, and allow the weekend to be pseudo-exhibitions while regulars get some time off. Or they could shoot themselves repeatedly in their collective dick and be facing the possibility of elimination this weekend, or needing to win on Sunday to take the division and avoid a three game Wild Card series starting on Tuesday. Neither would be surprising.
A dominant sweep by the Rangers wouldn’t surprise me. The bullpen melting down and blowing leads and losing the series wouldn’t surprise me. The bats going into hibernation and Baltimore sweeping while giving up 4 runs total wouldn’t surprise me.
If I have to make a prediction, though, I’ll go with what I think is the most likely scenario mathematically – I’ll say Baltimore in 5.
Thank you again to Adam for answering these. It is always interesting to hear what fans of other teams are going through. I thought some of these things sounded quite familiar, especially with the struggle by the offense at the end of the season, and no outcome being truly shocking. We’ll see how it all shakes out over the next few days.