Most adamant baseball fans across the nation understand the importance of the MLB All-Star break. If you don’t, let me fill you in. Unlike other major professional sports leagues, the MLB all-star break’s existence has relevance with regards to the scheduling of postseason play. In other words, home field advantage, in the World Series, is awarded to the team who is representing the league (American or National) that won the all-star game. This incentive makes it worthwhile for the players (at least the players who are on World Series-contending teams), who were voted in, to put quality effort into their play this evening. These players were voted in, by fans and managers, due to their exceptional play throughout the first half of the season. They are proven, everyday athletes who are capable of the daily grind. Not to say the other players around the league aren’t capable, but for some of the players, who didn’t get voted in, the all-star break is just that – a break. It’s a 4-day break from the daily wear and tear of their bodies. It’s a time to recover, both physically and mentally. For teams who were struggling prior to the all-star break, this is a perfect time to rejuvenate and prepare for the second half of the season. One of those teams, in particular, is the Texas Rangers.
Going into the all-star break, the AL West-leading Texas Rangers have lost 9 of their last 12 games and are now only 5½ games ahead of the hottest team in baseball – the Houston Astros. After starting the season 51-27, the Rangers have let their 10-game lead over the Astros slip to the aforementioned 5½ games. The Astros, on the other hand, have won 31 of their last 44 games, including a 7-game win streak in late June, and hold the best record in baseball since May 24th. To say the all-star break couldn’t have come at a better time for Texas would be an understatement.
While the Texas Rangers are currently dominating the “Silver Boot Series” against Houston, it won’t mean anything if they can’t turn their recent struggles around in the second half. Texas has won 9 out of 10 games against the Astros this season, and 22 out of 29 games, including last season. While Houston hasn’t been able to beat Texas recently, that trend could change if the Rangers’ pitching staff doesn’t get healthy or get reinforcements soon. The Silver Boot Series continues with a 3-game series, in Houston, on August 5th. The Rangers are hopeful to have at least 2 of their 3 rotation pieces back from the disabled list by then.
Texas’ starting pitcher, Yu Darvish, made his second rehab start since landing on the DL with shoulder soreness, on Sunday. In the outing, Darvish threw 72 pitches over five innings, striking out five while giving up six hits and three runs. It has yet to be said if Darvish will make his return on Saturday against the Cubs, or if he will elect for a third rehab start. Middle-relief pitcher Keone Kela also pitched on Sunday, striking out two in one scoreless inning. Kela has been extremely effective in his rehab assignment with the Frisco RoughRiders, and looks to be activated off the disabled list on Friday. One of the rotation’s southpaws, Derek Holland, started throwing briefly last Friday, but isn’t expected to be back until early August. Texas’ veteran, Colby Lewis, isn’t expected to be back in the rotation until late August, or maybe even early September. Lewis had been experiencing the best season of his lengthy career, having posted a 3.21 ERA, to add to his 6-1 record, over 98 innings of work.
After starting the year 17-28, Houston has not only found a groove, but they’re healthy. And not only are they healthy, but they have depth from looming prospects. After 25-year old first baseman Tyler White, who started the season red hot, regressed to a .211 batting average through 53 games for Houston, he was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. This wasn’t a surprise as 23-year old prospect A.J. Reed was knocking on the door, having belted 11 home runs through 59 games to justify his .509 slugging percentage. Even after hitting .143 through 13 games in the big leagues, Reed looks to remain seeing the majority of the playing time at first base, against right-handed starters, in particular, moving forward. The sudden resurgence of third baseman Luis Valbuena has made it hard for Astros manager A.J. Hinch to call up one of their top prospects – shortstop Alex Bregman. For the month of July, Valbuena is slashing .345/.412/.690 over his first 29 at-bats, raising his season average to .269. Heading into the break, he is in the middle of a 7-game hitting streak, during which he’s mashed three home runs and driven in 9 runs. This is why it has been currently difficult for Houston to promote Bregman, however the 22-year old has hit .389/.421/.889 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 36 at-bats since being called up to Triple-A Fresno. Even though it’s a small sample size, those are video game numbers and it’s hard to not notice Bregman’s hot bat. With the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa, manning shortstop for Houston, as a cornerstone of the team, it wouldn’t make sense for Bregman to be promoted to play shortstop. Without an injury to Correa, he won’t see time at the position, which is why he is now making the switch to third base for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. If Valbuena were to cool off at the plate, or fall victim to injury, expect to see Bregman in an Astros uniform very soon.
As I noted the next chapter of this season’s Silver Boot Series beginning the first weekend of August, it is important to point out the August 1st non-waiver trade deadline. By mentioning this, I’m factoring in the assumption that at least the Texas Rangers will be active in the trade market, if not Houston as well. With both teams contending for not only the AL West title, but the World Series too, look for them to be potential buyers by the end of the month. The Texas Rangers, specifically, have been linked to rumors involving Tampa Bay’s starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore, New York’s late-inning relief pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, and Milwaukee’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy. If a deal were to be made for either team, we’ll get to see some new faces, sporting either a Rangers or Astros uniform, come August 5th, when the Lone Star State battle, and race for the AL West crown, continues.