Dodgers at Texas Rangers Series Preview

Dodgers at Texas Rangers Series Preview
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The Dodgers conclude their mid-season tour of the dregs of the American League West this weekend with a three game set against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers have an ugly new stadium, gaudy new uniforms, and the worst run differential in baseball, so let’s make this relatively quick.

This is the second time in two weeks that the Dodgers, who lead baseball with a +86 run differential, have faced off against the team with the worst differential (last week it was the Mariners, now it’s the Rangers at -54), the difference averaging out to about 4 1/2 runs per game. The Mariners played the Dodgers surprisingly close, but still lost three of four. In a three-game set, the Rangers, who have lost 10 of their last 11, including a three of three to the Mariners last weekend, will do well just to avoid a sweep.

On the season, Texas is dead last in the majors in run scoring, plating just 3.6 runs per game and hitting .208/.286/.337 as a team, their 71 OPS+ besting only the Pirates’ 67. The Rangers’ typical lineup against righties looks something like this:

L – Shin-Soo Choo (DH)

S – Danny Santana (1B)

L – Rougned Odor (2B)

L – Joey Gallo (RF)

R – Todd Frazier (3B)

R – Nick Solak (LF)

R – Robinson Chirinos (C)

L – Isiah Kiner-Falefa (SS)

S – Leody Taveras (CF)

Four of those players—Santana, Odor, Chirinos, and Taveras—enter this series with an OPS+ below 50. Only two have an OPS+ above 95: the rookie Solak, who is slugging .385, and three-true-outcome hero Joey Gallo, who is hitting .186 and striking out in 36 percent of his plate appearances.

The only things keeping Texas out of last place in baseball’s weakest division have been ace Lance Lynn, who will start on Saturday, and the small-sample success of their bullpen, led by former Mets prospect turned closer Rafael Montero and 23-year-old rookie righty Jonathan Hernandez.

The Rangers were one of the 14 teams that did not play on Thursday in protest of the violence against Black Americans. As of this writing, it appears the team is going to skip scheduled Thursday starter Jordan Lyles, who has posted a 10.07 ERA in five starts this season, leaving the following pitching matchups in place for this series:

Fri. 8/28, 5:05 p.m. PT: RHP Dustin May (2.79 ERA, 29 IP) vs. LHP Mike Minor (6.75 ERA, 29 1/3 IP)

Sat. 8/29, 4:05 p.m. PT: RHP Ross Stripling (5.46 ERA, 29 2/3 IP) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (1.59 ERA, 45 1/3 IP)

Sun. 8/30, 11:35 a.m. PT: RHP Tony Gonsolin (0.00 ERA, 14 2/3 IP) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (5.73 ERA, 33 IP)

A former Braves rotation prospect, Minor resurrected his career at the age of 29 after losing two seasons to labrum surgery. The lefty dominated as a reliever for the Royals in 2017, then signed with the Rangers, returned to starting in 2018, and emerged as an All-Star and Cy Young contender in 2019. However, Minor’s results last year were better than his performance. Thus far this year, a decline in performance has resulted in a collapse in his outcomes. Minor’s velocity is way down. His average fastball is nearly two miles per hour slower than a year ago (down to 91 from nearly 93), with his maximum speed falling even farther (from better than 96 mph to less than 94). Accordingly, his hard-hit rate is way up, from 30.4 percent last year to 40.7 this year. That’s particularly bad news for a flyball pitcher, even if the Rangers’ new ballpark has thus far been surprisingly favorable to pitchers. Minor has allowed fewer than four runs in just two of his six starts this season. Over his last two outings, against the Padres and Mariners, he allowed five home runs in 9 2/3 innings. The Dodgers lead the majors in home runs.

The Rangers’ other Cy Young contender from a year ago, Lance Lynn, has gone in the other direction, building off the career year he had last year at the age of 32. Working off his mid-90s four-seamer with a low-90s sinker, high-80s cutter, and the occasional curve, Lynn has combined his performance from last year with some excellent luck on balls in play (plus an increase in pop-ups) to post the third-best ERA in the majors to this point. Lynn’s 1.59 ERA trials only Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and the Braves’ Max Fried, both at 1.35. Lynn is also second in the majors in innings pitched (again behind Bieber) with six quality starts and a complete game in seven turns. Lynn hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a start yet this season, and his shortest start was five full innings. Over his last three starts, he has walked just two men in 22 innings. He’s due for some correction, but he has inarguably been one of the best pitchers in the majors this season and, really, since the start of the 2019 campaign.

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Minor and Lynn are both interesting. Former Twin Kyle Gibson is not. He’s a slightly sub-par, 32-year-old sinker/slider/change righty. Gibson got off to a good start this season with a 3.74 ERA through his first four starts, including quality outings on the road against the A’s and Rockies. Over his last two, however, at the Padres and at home against the A’s, he has allowed 11 runs in 11 1/3 innings. Gibson is tall (6-foot-6) and has an above-average groundball rate, but he’s otherwise pretty generic. Mookie Betts, who has also feasted on Minor in his career, has gone 7-for-18 (.389) with three home runs against Gibson. AJ Pollock is the only other Dodger who has faced him.

Major League Baseball is celebrating Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s famous meeting with Branch Rickey about joining the Dodgers. As a member of the Players Alliance, Betts will be donating his salary for Friday night’s game to support racial justice. It is thrilling to see players take real action on this issue after failing to make even a symbolic gesture for so long. Still, it is striking to note that, other than Betts, the only active African American player on either team heading into this series is Rangers rookie lefty Taylor Hearn. Many of the greatest players in baseball history, both before and since Robinson’s arrival in the majors, have been Black. The celebration of Robinson this year is well timed given the ongoing fight for racial justice, but the day remains an annual reminder of the degree to which the higher levels of youth baseball have become inaccessible to economically disadvantaged Americans. If Major League Baseball truly wants to honor Robinson’s legacy, it must work to make the youth game in the United States as accessible and diverse as MLB itself claims to be.

Cliff Corcoran covers baseball for The Athletic and is a former lead baseball writer for SI.com. The co-author or editor of 13 baseball books, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he has also written for USA Today, SB Nation, Baseball Prospectus, Sports on Earth, The Hardball Times, and Boston.com, among others. He has been a semi-regular guest analyst on the MLB Network and can be heard more regularly on The Infinite Inning podcast with Steven Goldman. Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffCorcoran.