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Tigers vs. Rangers Preview: The Rangers are weird, but probably good

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Texas has surprised so far in 2019, but can they land a playoff spot?

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Cleveland Indians v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I’m glad that our friends at Lone Star Ball are as surprised about the Texas Rangers’ 2019 success as I am, because I don’t know what to make of this team. The Rangers are currently six games above .500 and just one game out of a Wild Card spot. Their pythagorean expected record is 42-36, the exact same as their actual record, and they are out in front of the rest of a mediocre four-pack of AL West clubs not named the Houston Astros. Joey Gallo is putting up Herculean numbers, Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara have hit well, and Shin-Soo Choo is somehow living up to that monster contract he signed back in December 2013.

But... will it last? Advanced metrics don’t seem to think so. Baseball Prospectus’ third-order win percentage pegs the Rangers as a below .500 club, while FanGraphs’ projections think they will finish at 81-81.

The pitching is a big reason why. The Rangers only have four starters listed on their Baseball Reference page — a near-impossible task in this age — because they have seen 12 different players start a game for them in 2019. Some of those guys, like former Tigers prospect Kyle Dowdy, were used as openers, but outside of lefthander Mike Minor and a back-from-the-dead Lance Lynn, the Rangers have struggled to find reliable innings from their rotation this year. Shelby Miller and former Tiger Drew Smyly have combined for -1.8 rWAR in 94 13 combined innings, resulting in the latter getting his walking papers last week. Righthander Adrian Sampson deserves a mention as a positive, but he won’t face the Tigers this week.

Of course, if Jordan Zimmermann continues to struggle, it might not batter who is on the mound for Texas.

Texas Rangers (42-36) at Detroit Tigers (26-47)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, ESPN+, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jesse Chavez (2-2, 3.18 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-4, 6.03 ERA)

Game 75 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Chavez 45.1 21.7 7.9 4.51 0.3
Zimmermann 34.1 17.0 8.2 5.14 0.3

After years of shuttling between the bullpen and the rotation in other cities, Jesse Chavez has settled in nicely in a bullpen role for the Rangers. He has a 3.18 ERA on the season with his usual decent strikeout and walk rates, though his swinging strike rate has plummeted to 6.2 percent this year. And while he has made four starts, they have all come as an opener; he logged three innings and threw 47 pitches in his last start, but he has been called on to pitch multiple innings at other points this year.

Now, with Smyly currently in waiver limbo, Chavez will get a “legitimate start.” Rangers manager Chris Woodward indicated Chavez will only throw 75-80 pitches on Tuesday, but if Detroit’s struggles at home continue, that could end up being a significant portion of the game.

Either way, Chavez has largely been the same pitcher in 2019 he has been throughout his career. He has swapped his four-seam fastball for a two-seamer, according to Brooks, and is still using his cutter heavily. His velocity is down a bit this season — the fastball averages just 92 miles per hour now — but opponents are slugging just .250 against the two-seamer. His cutter doesn’t generate many ground balls these days, however, and has resulted in five of the seven home runs he has allowed on the year.

Key matchup: the Tigers vs. winning games

Here’s a not-so-fun fact; the Rangers have won 14 games in the month of June. The Tigers have won 13 games in May and June combined.

Prediction

Chavez and the Rangers storm to an easy win in game one.