The Detroit Tigers kick off a three-game tilt against the Texas Rangers on Monday night. While Detroit is well out of the playoff hunt,Texas certainly is not. I asked Adam J. Morris, manager of SB Nation’s Rangers blog Lone Star Ball, a few questions about the Rangers’ playoff chances and the series against the Tigers.
BYB: Coming into this series the Rangers are 3 1⁄2 games out of the second wild card spot. Facing the Tigers followed by the White Sox gives them an opportunity to make a good run at it. Do you think they can get there, and what are your expectations of the Rangers through the rest of the season?
AM: Can the Rangers get a Wild Card berth? Yeah, I think they can. The schedule is favorable, and none of the teams ahead of them look particularly strong. Will they? Probably not. The playoff odds have them around 10 percent for the rest of the season, and that sounds about right. I'd expect the Rangers to end up in the 79-82 win range this season.
BYB: Who has been the biggest surprise for the team this year?
AM: The biggest surprise for the Rangers this year has been Joey Gallo. Written off by a lot of fans after his disappointing 2016 season and expected to start the season in Triple-A, Gallo was pressed into duty as the starting third baseman when Adrian Beltre started the year on the DL. Beltre was expected to be back after the first week, and Gallo was going to be sent down then, but Beltre re-aggravated his injury a couple of days before he was to return, and Gallo got a reprieve. All Joey has done with the chance is put up an .872 OPS and a 124 wRC+, while playing solid defense at first base, third base and left field. He still strikes out a ton, but he walks enough and hits enough home runs that he's still been arguably the best player on the team this year.
BYB: Is watching Adrian Beltre play for your team as fun as it seems like it would be?
AM: Watching Adrian Beltre play everyday is one of the best things about baseball. I truly didn't appreciate him until he came to Texas. It’s a cliche, but he really is someone you don't appreciate unless you watch him every day. He's a treasure.
BYB: Elvis Andrus is having another great season, and not only is he hitting for average, he has developed power that we haven't previously seen. What's behind his resurgence over the past couple of seasons, and do you think he's a player the team might consider selling high on by trading in the offseason?
AM: When Elvis first came up, he was a 20-year-old who was asked to be a slap hitter, beat out singles, and do the sort of things that traditional No. 2 hitting shortstops are asked to do offensively. As he grew and developed, he didn't change his approach, and had a couple of rough years as a result. Beginning in the second half of 2015, he really seemed to adjust what he was doing, being less defensive at the plate, swinging more often, and looking to drive the ball more. The result has been more pulled balls, more hard-hit balls, and more extra base hits. The "new" Elvis is legit, and I think the Rangers want to build around him rather than sell high. He can opt out of his contract after the 2018 season, but my guess is Texas will talk to him about buying out the opt-outs and doing a new deal with him, so he can eventually take over for Beltre as the team leader.
BYB: The Rangers will be starting Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin, and Cole Hamels in the upcoming series. What expectations do you have for each of those guys considering Griffin is just back from an injury, Perez seems to believe he's figured out a pitch-tipping issue, and Hamels has been pretty lights-out lately?
AM: Perez is an enigma. There's times you watch him and wonder why he isn't a No. 2 starter, and times you watch him and wonder why he's in the majors. His command comes and goes — when his command is on, he gets tons of ground balls and is efficient. When it’s off (and it’s been off more often than not lately), he struggles to throw strikes and leaves balls up in the zone. Perez is prone to the "one bad inning" syndrome, as well. Griffin is a soft-tossing righty who is extremely reliant on command and on fooling batters with his sub-70 mph curveball. He's someone who will either be okay for a couple of times through the order, or will be crushed — there isn't much in between. Cole Hamels of late appears to have gone back to being Cole Hamels — he's not the ace he was in his younger years, but he's really damn good, and appears to have his changeup mojo back.