As the major league baseball season gets underway, there are three things to consider for the Texas Rangers chances of making post season.
You could say all of these factors somehow have the coronavirus weaved into them. Frequent testing will have a bearing on rosters, and the new rules will play into strategy.
But let’s take a look at three questions I think have to be answered for the Rangers chances:
Are the Astros on their way down?
The easy answer is yes, because of the penalties handed down this year in the cheating scandal. But those sanctions will hit Houston harder farther down the road.
Right now, the Astros still have a championship roster from top to bottom, even if morale is sliced a bit by the scandal. The good news for the ‘Stros is that they won’t have fans to harass them, at least early in the schedule.
Houston will no doubt be the target team for everyone in the West.
Will the 60-game schedule help?
The answer here is a reserved yes.
The short season will affect all teams to some extent. Sixty games still allow for streaks, and a good run early could mean a lot for the Rangers chances in this division- and region-only schedule. Having to play the NL West teams is no bargain, with the Los Angeles Dodgers to contend with.
After 60 games last season, Texas was 32-28, good enough for a post-season spot. Of course as it played out, the Rangers fell to five games under .500, while the Oakland A’s surged into a wild card.
This season the Rangers start with a five-game home stand against Colorado and Arizona. Then they face a tricky six-game trip to San Francisco and Oakland, which carries them through early August.
The really good news here is that Texas doesn’t get into the Houston-Dodgers part of the short schedule until late August, 30 games in.
That’s why the abbreviated schedule helps their post season chances. The Rangers could conceivably be 18-12 – dare we say 20-10? – at that point and be looking at playoff possibilities, even with a bit of a swoon in the second half.
Will the bullpen come through?
Things are unsettled here for the start, so the answer is on hold.
With top setup men Rafael Montero and Joely Rodriguez both day-to-day, and Brett Martin on COVID standby, the Rangers are certainly shorthanded in pen to start the season.
That leaves Jonathan Hernandez, with all of nine games experience but a good spring and summer camp showing, and Jesse Chavez (72 strikeouts in 78 innings last year). Jose Leclerc, the top closer with 14 saves last year, is healthy.
They will have call-ups and others, of course, plus the top men back in the fold within a couple of weeks. But at least the opening five games will be testy.
The Rangers have a good starting pitching staff and a decent batting order that can be better if guys like Isiah Kiner-Falefa (.378) and Rougned Odor (.355) can pick up where they left off in spring training.
But the first 30 games could well tell the story, and those three questions will have to be answered.