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Baseball

At This Point, the Rangers Look Exactly Like the 2022 Team (With One Big Difference)

Don't despair, Rangers fans! We might have just gotten past rock bottom.
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Rangers fans have gotten good at doing the surrender cobra. DALL-E

For a few minutes, I’m going to take the Rangers’ World Series title away from you. I promise I’ll give it back. But work with me here.

It’s two months into the 2022 season. The Rangers, coming off a 102-loss season, just went five straight series without winning any of them, and on June 8, through 56 games, sit at 26-30.

The starting catcher is Jonah Heim. The infield: Nathaniel Lowe, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, and rather than Josh Jung, who was expected to be the third baseman if not for an injury, the position is held down by a group headed up by Ezequiel Duran and Josh Smith. Adolis Garcia and Leody Taveras are the primary right fielder and center fielder, while a rookie (Bubba Thompson) gets most of the starts in left.

If all of that—right down to the win-loss record two months in—looks familiar, it should. The Rangers will play their 56th game this afternoon against the Diamondbacks, sitting on 26 wins. The lineup is virtually identical, with two exceptions: rookie Evan Carter is in left most days (with marginally better offensive numbers than Thompson had), and Wyatt Langford rather than Mitch Garver has gotten most of the DH work.  

One big difference is that in 2022, the 26-30 record felt like monumental progress. The Rangers had finished last in the AL West three of the previous four seasons, and the one year they managed a third-place showing (78-84 in 2019), they still finished 29 games out. At four games under .500, just past the one-third mark, there was genuine on-field hope for the first time in years.

Today, at three games under .500 just past the one-third mark, Rangers fans have been frozen for weeks in a collective surrender cobra. Turns out winning a World Series cooks up a different set of expectations than a 60-win season.

I wrote a story last week leaving receipts for a troubling thought I’ve had for a while now, that the combination of the intensity of last October, the outsized workloads that most Rangers carried in 2023, and the shortened offseason that followed the deepest of playoff runs (along with added demands on players’ winter time after winning a title) might have taken a real toll on this roster—and in particular the starting lineup. Maybe, I irresponsibly speculated, more than league parity is to blame for the fact that no World Series champion has repeated since 2000.

In that story, I included this graphic:

OPS+ is a park-adjusted metric that compares a player’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) to the league average, which is assigned a value of 100. So an OPS+ of 90 denotes a player whose OPS is 10 percent less than the league’s OPS; a 110 means 10 percent better.

You can see that, in most cases, Texas hitters are producing this year at levels much closer to what they put together in 2022 than their 2023 numbers. If 2023 never happened, we’d see Seager holding steady, moderate upticks for Heim and Taveras, and meaningful improvements from Garcia, Semien, Duran, and Smith. Only Lowe’s OPS+ shows a significant dropoff.  

Of course, the chart also makes it plainly clear that the lineup, basically to a man (with the exception of Lowe), boosted its production dramatically from 2022 to 2023, a year that was historically explosive from an offensive standpoint, as the Rangers led the American League in hits, runs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. (You can toss in Garver, who went from a 98 OPS+ in 2022 to a 137 last year.)   

That’s certainly why a like set of statistics and win-loss records can be at the same time inspiring (2022) and demoralizing (2024). Two years ago, we were looking for anything to embrace; today, swaddled in the cozy bamboo blanket of bragging rights that can never be taken away, we have higher expectations. Expectations the team has earned. Expectations the team certainly has for itself.

There’s another difference, we hope, between 2022 and 2024. That 2022 club, after the 26-30 start, went 42-64 the rest of the way to finish with yet another 90-plus-loss season. Along the way, manager Chris Woodward and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels both lost their jobs. This time around, with an injured list that shouldn’t sideline Jung, Langford, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Cody Bradford, Tyler Mahle, Josh Sborz, and Justin Foscue all year—not to mention a 3 1/2 game deficit in the AL West that’s certainly less daunting than the 9 1/2 games back the 2022ers were at this point—there is arguably warranted hope the Rangers have bottomed out and can get things straightened out.  

Jung’s return, though not imminent, will make a difference, and there is plenty of reason to believe that Langford, while he might not be among the league’s top run producers like he was in spring training, will be far better in the second half than he was in his first month. And you don’t need much analysis to understand the impact that folding any decent percentage of the Eovaldi-Gray-deGrom-Scherzer-Bradford-Mahle group back into action will have not only on the rotation, but also in the bullpen, where most of the arms are being relied on in higher-leverage situations than they should be. Jose Urena need not be the only starter (re)re-purposed into relief. 

And it’s not a knock on Woodward to suggest he’s no Bruce Bochy, something Woodward has in common with most men managing big-league teams. Bochy’s track record inspires a certain level of confidence; his no-panic demeanor may be even more comforting in times like these. 

2022: Yeah, we lost 94 games, but, man, we were hovering around .500 for two months.

2024: Yeah, we won the World Series, but, man, we’ve been hovering around .500 for two months.

Think back to 2022. Put yourself in that mindspace, 56 games in. You’d take this in a second. And look at it this way: I gave you the opportunity to live through 2023 all over again.

Author

Jamey Newberg

Jamey Newberg

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Jamey Newberg covers the Rangers for StrongSide. He has lived in Dallas his entire life, with the exception of a…
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