Writer: Aaron Hendon
Question One: The Bullpen
Spring training is underway and we are just days away from opening day baseball in Arlington against the defending World Series Champions Houston Astros. Jeff Bannister enters his 4th season with the club with a slightly different look to them. The team struggled mightily because of how inconsistent the bullpen was, adding a few guys to the competition, and slamming the door when a lead is given is the goal this year.
X Factor: Can the bullpen hold onto leads?
In 2017 the Rangers led the American League in losses when leading after the 6th inning. Something has to give, with an offense that excelled in hitting bombs and scoring runs in bunches, but often struggles on a night to night basis when it came to timely hitting or manufacturing runs in general. When the bats give the team a chance to win, and the games are lost by an inconsistent back end of the bullpen that cannot hold onto inherited leads, or often could not get the 3 outs in the 9th to closeout a win. The Rangers have not had a bullpen finish the year with a total ERA in the top 15 of the league since 2013, surprisingly enough over that span, they have found a way to make the playoffs 3 times.
Important matchups in later innings, during these situations often dictate the finish. Jeff Bannister has a set of guys that have the ability to hold onto leads they inherit and close out games. In 2017 they hit a bump in the road very early in the year as they watched Sam Dyson completely fall out of the closer role then later off the team. While struggling the next few weeks trying to find their identity they never seemed to find the rest of the season.
Now coming out of spring training they have plenty of options on who their closer can be. Keeping Matt Bush in the bullpen will add competition to the race. Keone Kela is a name people have wanted to hear in the 9th on a consistent bases for a while now. Kela has has great stuff, a live fastball with a good breaking 12-6 curveball but has been prone to injury only logging 72.2 innings over his last 2 seasons. Other potential options could be Jake Diekman, a shortened season last year making his first appearance in September tossing 10.2 innings with a 2.52 ERA.
Dark horse candidates could look towards newly signed Chris Martin or Tim Lincecum, both of which have just 2 major league saves combined between the 2 of them. Newly signed Kevin Jepsen has had a phenomenal spring with a 0.43 WHIP in 9 appearances. If the Rangers answer correctly on the bullpen X factor, the team should be in a good spot come late September.