Ninth-inning rally falls short vs. Dodgers
Rangers continue trend of slow starts in series finale in LA
It’s a year of growth and rebuilding for the Rangers in 2021, and the weekend series against the Dodgers showed just how hard those growing pains can be.
A day after putting up 12 runs on 17 hits off Trevor Bauer and the Dodgers, Texas’ offense was mostly held in check in a 5-3 loss in the series finale on Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The Rangers snapped a 16-game road losing streak on Saturday but still haven’t won back-to-back games on the road since May 5-6 at Minnesota.
On Sunday, the Dodgers put up one run in the first inning and three in the third. An insurance run in the seventh added to the lead as the Rangers failed to put any runs on the board until a belated rally in the ninth inning.
After 14 come-from-behind wins this season, the Rangers were unable to add one more to it. The offense scored three runs early in the ninth and had the bases loaded with no outs, but failed to get more runs across with Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen holding firm.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward has emphasized all season that the young squad needs to find a way to win those close games.
“I think early on in the game is where we kind of fell behind,” Woodward said. “There were things that we could have done a little bit better, both offensively, on the pitching side and defensively. But overall, at the end of the day we had our best hitters [Joey Gallo and Nate Lowe] out there with the game on the line. And we’ve got to take advantage.”
Heading into an off-day before a two-game series in Houston, the Rangers sit at 25-41 with a 10-25 record on the road. With about a month until the All-Star break -- 14 1/2 games back of the American League West-leading A’s -- there is still plenty of improvement left to be made for the young Rangers.
Offensive struggles early in games
Perhaps the biggest criticism of the Rangers has been the early struggles on both sides of the field, but there’s been a stark difference in the club’s at-bats early in games opposed to the final three frames.
The Rangers are averaging 2.53 runs per game this season in the first six innings, which sits 26th in MLB. But they’re averaging 1.44 runs per game in the seventh onward, which is tied for 11th, illustrating how often the offense comes alive late in games.
Texas was 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position Sunday but stranded 12 runners. The offense had a chance to strike first after Dodgers starter Walker Buehler walked the bases loaded in the first inning but ultimately couldn’t get it done.
“We had him on the ropes there in the first inning,” Woodward said. “… That's where we got to take advantage. Getting a big hit changes the entire game. If we strike first right there, the whole game changes. And if we break through early in the first couple of innings, I think, obviously, the game would have been a lot different.”
Woodward credited a lot of the struggles to younger guys such as Nick Solak and Lowe still trying to make adjustments at the big league level.
Lowe, for his part, seems to have put it together. He has gone 4-for-9 with a walk and three RBIs over the past two games. Even rookie catcher Jonah Heim had a solid weekend against the Dodgers, going 2-for-3 with a walk on Sunday and recording five hits in the series.
Solak got a day off in the Rangers’ win Saturday night but was 0-for-4 on Sunday. His batting average for the month of June sits at .161 as he struggles to fix his timing through a tough stretch. Solak put together a good final at-bat but lost the battle with Jansen for the final out of the game.
Woodward said it’s both encouraging and frustrating to have all these late-inning surges of offense when there’s not much payoff to show for the progress.
Pitching still has a ways to go
The Rangers’ pitching has been one of the biggest roller coasters of the season. Injuries -- José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández in the spring, Matt Bush and Kohei Arihara during the season – have, no doubt, affected how Woodward manages the bullpen.
Only veteran starter Kyle Gibson has remained consistent from start to finish.
Gibson ranks in the top 10 in the Majors among qualified pitchers in ERA and top 20 in opponent batting average. Only two other Rangers starters -- Jordan Lyles and Mike Foltynewicz -- are qualifiers, and neither sits in the top 50 in either of those categories.
The starting pitchers have suffered from the same fate as the offense in struggling to start hot. They often have allowed multiple runs in the first inning, only to buckle down as the game goes on.
“They need to figure that out and figure it out as quickly as possible, so that way they're sharp and they can actually pitch from the first batter,” Woodward said. “It’s something all our pitchers have to work on. Pitchers are most vulnerable in the first inning, and we need to solve that.
“Some of these guys are young, some of them are a little bit older -- but you got to attack from pitch one. I think it's more of a mentality than an ability to execute. Sometimes they’re kind of feeling their way through the game instead of just being in attack mode.”