At 3-7, the sky is already falling for some Texas Rangers fans. After a 3-3 start, losing four straight in the way they have has been a little disheartening.
However, it's important to remember that this season is not about wins and losses. The Rangers should be focused on one thing and one thing only: the growth and development of their players.
This is a very young group. The median age of the current active roster is 26.8 years old. The current plan from management will not weigh where the Rangers finish in the standings in 2021. Rather, all effort and attention will go toward finding which players in their organization can be a part of the next contending core.
In other words, let's keep things on perspective. Even so, we can take stock in what we've seen so far. And for the most part, it's gone as expected (with the exception of a no-hitter).
In an effort to make this as concise as possible, I'll limit my points of observation to the same number as the Rangers' current losing streak.
1. Add Joe Musgrove to the list of pitchers that include Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow to leave Pittsburgh and take their game to completely new level. And the Rangers got to face two of them in the past four games.
Normally, I'm going to reflect on Rangers-centric stories, but I can't ignore a no-hitter. Not only is it the first one I've covered professionally, but it's the only one I've seen in person. It doesn't matter what side you're on or if you don't have a dog in the fight, witnessing a no-hitter is something that will stick with you. What a cool moment.
Quite simply, Musgrove was sensational. Chris Woodward and the Rangers hitters won't make excuses, but the San Diego native had everything working on Friday night. If Musgrove can consistently have the same movement and command of his slider, that could make him a very dangerous pitcher in a rotation that already includes Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and, next year, Mike Clevinger.
To add some Rangers perspective here, don't let Musgrove's no-hitter be an indictment on the Texas lineup. They're young and far from battle tested. However, Musgrove earned the first no-hitter in Padres history. He was dealing. And as Rangers manager Chris Woodward described it, they ran into a "buzzsaw" on Friday. It's just one game of 162. You've gotta move on.
2. Speaking of the Texas offense, they actually performed above expectations to start the season, scoring 21 runs in three games against Kansas City and beating a former Cy Young runner-up in Hyun-Jin Ryu in the following series.
However, the lineup has iced up in rapid fashion. The Rangers were not only no-hit on Friday, they were shut out again in consecutive games on Sunday and Monday.
If you expected this lineup to rival Murderers' Row or some of the top lineups of 2021, you will probably be very disappointed. This season is all about growth. Seldom do players come into the big leagues and figure out the best pitching in the world quickly. It takes time.
Even some of the more established hitters like Isiah Kiner-Falefa are aiming for a higher ceiling. Young guys like Leody Taveras and Anderson Tejeda did not go through the typical build up through the minor leagues. And their lack of development is on display.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. This season is about the growth of these young hitters. That means growing pains will be a part of this season. They're going to have stretches where they just can't figure anything out. It's up to Woodward and the coaching staff to keep these guys in a good mindset. Hitting is hard and the biggest hurdle for any big league hitter is between the ears.
3. The Rangers pitching might be better than people expect. Kyle Gibson isn't a No. 1 starter on almost any other team in baseball, but he beat Ryu last Wednesday. Mike Foltynewicz has more to prove that he can regain his 2018 form, but he's off to a great start. What's more, the younger pitchers are flashing some very encouraging signs that the Rangers might have some legitimate rotation options in 2022 and beyond.
That being said, I want to primarily focus on three younger arms in particular. As good as a veteran like Jordan Lyles has looked in his first two starts, he likely won't be in the Texas rotation beyond this season. If things go really well for Gibson, the Rangers could flip him for a modest return at the trade deadline.
Dane Dunning might have the highest potential of the group. There's a reason he is the highest-ranked pitching prospect on MLB Pipeline. He has a deep repertoire, but commands the corners and attacks hitters with his sinker-slider combination. That has been on display in two starts where he's logged nine innings with only one earned run, 11 strikeouts, and a 0.78 WHIP.
Taylor Hearn has only a three-pitch mix, but his four-seam fastball, according to manager Chris Woodward, is unlike any other from the left side. He's thrown it over 74 percent of the time so far, with only a .217 average against. His biggest challenge this season is maintaining success beyond one inning.
Each time out thus far, he's improved. Most recently, he logged three innings as the piggyback behind Dunning, allowing only one run and struck out seven hitters. That is the type of tangible growth that will keep coaches and fans satisfied.
Wes Benjamin best personifies the Rangers' mantra of attacking the strike zone. He won't blow away hitters, but his fastball has excellent vertical movement, along with his curveball. The path to success for Benjamin is going to be how well he sequences his pitches and moves the ball throughout the strike zone. The Rangers will always have room for a guys who attacks hitters.
I don't want to leave off guys like Kyle Cody and John King, who have flashed some of their potential as well. It's just been a bit too small of a sample size to react either way yet.
4. I'm not one to make others eat crow, but the FanGraphs blogger who relied on a computer to evaluate Isiah Kiner-Falefa and his ability to play shortstop is due to get a large helping of it.
Kiner-Falefa has definitely passed the eye test at the most crucial defensive position in the field. In addition, the defensive metrics are favoring the Hawaiian-born, axe-swinging shortstop. In just 10 games, he already has a 0.4 defensive bWAR, which is second among American League shortstops. Only Cleveland's Andrés Gimenéz has a better mark of a 0.5 defensive bWAR.
Offensively, Kiner-Falefa's modest .701 OPS may not hold up — and I mean that in a good way. His average exit velocity is 94 mph, which is good enough for 18th in all of baseball. It's also second on the Rangers behind the most obvious candidate in Joey Gallo, who is only 0.2 mph ahead of Kiner-Falefa. Not even Nate Lowe and his 14 RBI has a higher average exit velocity (93.4 mph).
If Kiner-Falefa can flirt with the .800 OPS mark this season, it will really take his game to the next level. He also is off to a great start is his quest to be the first player in MLB history to win Gold Gloves at third base and shortstop.