There are collapses, and then there's what's happened to the Texas Rangers. With a 3-0 loss to the Angels on Friday night, the Rangers have now lost six games in a row, nine of their last 10, and 20 of their last 23 games, as an overwhelmed cast of minor leaguers and past-their-prime veterans can't overcome a tidal wave of injuries.
The narrative for the Rangers' lost 2014 is short and simple: Potential AL West favorites coming into the year, Texas instead lost its starting first baseman, designated hitter, second baseman, catcher and two-fifths of its starting rotation in the season's first half. Fill-ins were either felled by injury or proved incapable even of approaching replacement level, with the rotation proving to be a particular sore spot. With Matt Harrison and Martin Perez done for the year, and Derek Holland still making his way back from offseason knee surgery, the starters have been Yu Darvish and a cast of names dug out of the furthest depths of the minors. Nick Martinez, Nick Tepesch, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Miles Mikolas ... all have been thrown into the meat grinder that is Texas' rotation, and all have been spit out with mangled ERAs and bloated WHIPs.
Since last reaching .500 back on June 16 with a win over Oakland, Texas' pitchers have been battered to the tune of 147 runs in 24 games, or 6.1 per game. The team's ERA in June was 4.97, the worst mark in the AL and ahead only of Colorado. In July, things have gotten even worse: A 7.84 ERA, not including Friday's loss, in 85 innings. Unsurprisingly, that's 30th among all major league teams, a full run worse than the Astros. This month, opposing batters are hitting .313/.367/.558 off Texas pitchers; in other words, they've turned every hitter they've faced into Miguel Cabrera.
All of that has added up to a season ERA+ of 83, also worst in baseball, and that's despite Darvish's 115 1/3 innings of 136 ERA+ ball. But even Darvish hasn't been immune to the ills that have befallen the Rangers, getting struck by a line drive before batting practice earlier in the week, then turning in a clunker against the Astros on July 9, giving up six earned runs in six innings on 10 hits, though he did strike out eight. That start was nothing, however, compared to Colby Lewis' last outing, which will likely go down as the worst by any starter in 2014. Against the Angels in the first game of this series on Thursday, Lewis was obliterated: 13 runs, 11 earned, on 13 hits in just 2 1/3 innings. By Game Score, Lewis' -16 is the worst outing by a starter since A.J. Burnett, while with the Pirates, was blown up for 12 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings on May 2, 2012 against the Cardinals.
But amidst all the gore of Texas' rotation and the decimation of its lineup, have there been any bright spots? A few stand out. Despite some poor defensive numbers (-4 Defensive Runs Saved) and a weak strikeout-to-walk ratio of 69/18, Alex Rios has posted a 110 OPS+ and would likely bring back a nice package of prospects in a deadline deal. Adrian Beltre continues to be ageless on offense, leading the Rangers with 13 home runs and a 155 OPS+. Pressed into service by Jurickson Profar's injury, Rougned Odor has managed to stay above water in his first trip to the major leagues, and in the bullpen, Joakim Soria has re-emerged as a late-inning force, striking out 40 in 29 1/3 innings while recording 16 saves.
But most everything else has gone wrong. Texas' unexpected tour of its minor league rotation depth hasn't unearthed anything of use or value, and those young pitchers who did have a future, like Nick Martinez, have instead ended up on the disabled list. Too many innings have been given to the likes of Lewis and the recently-released Joe Saunders and Scott Baker.
More alarming is the performance of Texas' long-term contract holders. Coming off a power-sapped 2013, Prince Fielder managed only 42 games before a neck injury ended his year; he still has six years and $104 million left on his deal, of which the Rangers are responsible for $74 million. Elvis Andrus' .655 OPS and 82 OPS+ are worrisome figures for a player still owed another $118 million until 2022; what's worse, Andrus' defensive numbers have been sliding, and he's been caught seven times on 26 stolen-base attempts so far this year.
Then there's Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers' big free-agent pickup of the offseason. Acquired to be a table-setting force atop the lineup, Choo's .369 on-base percentage is solid, but a far cry from last year's .423. Despite the move to hitter-friendly GlobeLife Park, Choo's slugging percentage has fallen to a career-worst .387. And Choo's defense has also been a problem, despite a move to leftfield from center, with Choo posting a DRS of -10 this year.
It's too late for the Rangers to salvage 2014, which makes the rest of this season one big testing ground for the Rangers' young players, a shot to lock up a high draft pick, and a chance for the likes of Choo and Andrus to bounce back and instill some hope for the next year. Assuming better health, 2015 will see far better results, with the returns of Fielder, Profar, Perez and Mitch Moreland, plus the presence of Odor and potentially top prospect Joey Gallo. But next season's potential won't make this year any more watchable or bearable for fans or the front office. Once thought to be a sure thing, first place and playoff contention fade further into the background for Texas, night after night.