The Twins and Rangers entered Saturday with an identical number of victories; the same fits-and-starts frustration over the difficulty in producing a winning streak; and a similar position in the muddled middle of the standings. Yet the Texas club that arrives at Target Field on Monday is feeling far more anxiety about its win-one-lose-one season.
The Twins are trying to solidify their improvements after three desolate seasons, trying to keep the offense productive while the pitching stabilizes. But the Rangers, now almost three seasons removed from their back-to-back AL pennants, are beginning to wonder whether it’s time to tear it down and start over. They are a prime example of how careful planning and a $133 million payroll guarantee nothing.
When the most durable player in the game breaks down, you know things are bad.
“You’re not going to replace certain guys, and then when you’ve got that critical mass of injuries that we have, it becomes a secondary challenge just to field a healthy, talented club,” Texas GM Jon Daniels told Rangers reporters last week. “We’re going to stay positive and stay the course and let this team get going.”
Good luck with that. The Rangers come to town with a disabled list that now numbers 15, or fully three-fifths of the club they thought they would have. Only four of their projected regulars remain healthy, and while it’s still a talented core — third baseman Adrian Beltre, right fielder Alex Rios, shortstop Elvis Andrus and free-agent signee Shin Soo Choo, the left fielder — it’s also only a portion of the arsenal they expected to have.
The biggest blow was losing Prince Fielder, their star offseason addition, to a herniated disk in his neck that requires surgery. Fielder had played 547 consecutive games but was off to a slow start, hitting .247 with three home runs this season, a slump the Rangers believe was due to the debilitating nature of his injury. “When you talk to him and see the medical staff test his strength,” Daniels told reporters, “he has a real deficiency in his left side. I don’t have any doubts it’s affected his play.”
But it’s not just Fielder. Beltre missed most of April because of a strained quad. Catcher Geovany Soto had knee surgery and is on the 60-day disabled list. Second baseman Donnie Murphy has a neck injury that has kept him out most of the month. Corner infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff had back surgery and is out for another couple of months. And on the same day that Fielder received his diagnosis, the Rangers learned second baseman Jurickson Profar has a torn muscle in his shoulder and is out for the year.
And the pitching staff? Three starters are out, two of them for the rest of the season. Martin Perez had Tommy John elbow surgery, Matt Harrison needs back surgery. Derek Holland hasn’t pitched yet because of a foot he broke in spring training, but he hopes to return in July. Relievers Tanner Scheppers, Joe Ortiz, Jim Adducci, Pedro Figueroa? Elbow, foot, finger, elbow. Adducci is the only one sure to be back this year.
“I haven’t ever been a part of anything like this — never across the board to this degree,” Daniels said. “You try to plan all offseason to give yourself depth. ... But there is a limit to how many premium innings you can replace, and how many premium offensive players you can replace.”
The Rangers’ plight was summed up by an ill-fated promotion last week: While Fielder was wrestling with whether to seek season-ending surgery, the Rangers held Prince Fielder Bobblehead Night, sponsored by a hospital. The sponsor’s name was misspelled.
The presence of Glen Perkins gives the Twins a reliable answer at an important position, because not every AL Central team can be as confident when its closer takes the mound. A look at the situation around the division:
Indians: Piling up 70 saves in his first two seasons in Milwaukee made John Axford a star, but home runs — 10 apiece the past two seasons — caused the Brewers to give up on him.
Signed as a free agent by Cleveland, he entered Saturday 9-for-11 this year but had a 7.08 ERA in May and had surrendered three homers already.
Royals: One of the few relievers in baseball as automatic as Perkins, Greg Holland is having another All-Star season.
Kansas City’s closer had 13 saves in 14 chances, had struck out 25 batters in 17⅔ innings and had given up only four runs all year.
Tigers: Signed as a free agent to address Detroit’s nagging bullpen weakness, future Twins Hall of Famer Joe Nathan is having the good-but-not-great season that is to be expected from a 39-year-old veteran.
His strikeout rate is at a career low, and Wednesday he blew his third save in 14 chances — but he is still a huge upgrade for the Tigers.
White Sox: Figuring a last-place team doesn’t need a lights-out closer, they dealt 40-save Addison Reed to Arizona for a hitting prospect, then held auditions for closer role. Matt Lindstrom won the job, saved six games and tore an ankle ligament; journeyman Roland Belisario gets the job for now.
Tanaka will try again
The New York Yankees rotation swings back to Masahiro Tanaka on Sunday, and the Japanese righthander is really looking forward to his start against the Chicago White Sox.
It will be Tanaka’s first game since he picked up his first major league loss.
“I try to go out there to do my best every time out,” Tanaka said Saturday through a translator. “But given the outing last time, yes, I really want to go out there and perform better.”
Tanaka had his unbeaten streak stopped at 42 regular-season starts when he lost to the lowly Cubs on Tuesday. He had been 34-0 in Japan and North America the last two seasons, though he did drop Game 6 of the Japan Series last year before earning the save in Game 7.
Tanaka gave up eight hits, matching a career high, and three earned runs in six innings Tuesday.
Who’s at fault?
Carlos Gomez’s aggressiveness on the basepaths proved to be costly for the Brewers on Saturday.
The All-Star center fielder was thrown out at third base trying to advance from first on a single by Mark Reynolds for the final out of the sixth inning, which prevented Ryan Braun from scoring in a 2-1 loss at Miami.
“I made the decision to go to third because that’s how you make things happen,” Gomez said. “… That’s how we play the game.”
Braun was on his way to score easily from second, but left fielder Christian Yelich’s throw to third got Gomez before Braun crossed the plate, preserving a 1-0 Marlins lead.
“I run the bases like I do every time and I think he’s supposed to score,” Gomez said. “If you look at the replay, I think you’ll find some answers to it.”