This isn’t where the Texas Rangers were supposed to be in 2014, a team on the precipice. They were supposed to be in the middle stages of a dynasty, maybe an epic dynasty, an organization built with sabermetric principles and great scouting and financial resources.
Think where this team was entering the 2012 season. They were coming off back-to-back World Series trips, although the second one had ended in heartbreaking, crushing defeat. But the future looked brighter than Nolan Ryan’s belt buckle. In September 2011, Grantland had run a piece titled "How television could launch a Rangers dynasty." Sure enough, the club signed Yu Darvish that winter. Baseball America ranked the Rangers' farm system as the second-best in baseball. General manager Jon Daniels had built a championship-caliber team that had payroll flexibility, young arms, foundation players such as Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre and a pipeline of talent on the way.
Now, a quarter of the way into the current season, the Rangers face the devastating news that starting pitchers Martin Perez and Matt Harrison both might miss the rest of the season, Perez with Tommy John surgery due to a partial ligament tear in his elbow and Harrison with severe nerve irritation in his back that could require spinal surgery. Both pitchers are weighing options before determining their final course of action.
It has been a long list of injuries for the Rangers, beginning with Derek Holland tripping over his dog in early January and hurting his knee. Second baseman Jurickson Profar and catcher Geovany Soto have yet to play. Beltre missed 14 games. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers is currently on the disabled list.
The Rangers are 20-21 after Wednesday's loss to the Astros, almost a minor miracle considering the injuries, Prince Fielder’s slow start and a minus-32 run differential that is second-worst in the American League.
If Perez and Harrison are indeed out of the year, you can pretty much put a fork in the Rangers. Yes, you can blame the injuries, but when you build a pitching staff built on contingencies, this is what you get. On Wednesday, Nick Tepesch became the team’s ninth different starter and 21st different pitcher already, not including the outing from first baseman Mitch Moreland.
Think of how the rotation options looked heading into the season:
Darvish: Ace, Cy Young contender.
Perez: Promising arm but unproven ability to pitch a full season.
Scheppers: Had a low ERA as a reliever last year but a poor strikeout rate and lack of experience starting in the minors suggested the transition to the rotation was unlikely to work out (he has a 9.82 ERA in four starts).
Robbie Ross: Pitched out of the bullpen the past two years but no certainty his stuff would play up as a starter.
Harrison: Trying to come back after missing nearly all of 2013 after back surgery.
Colby Lewis: Veteran reclamation project coming back from two years of injuries.
Joe Saunders: Veteran lefty coming off a terrible season in Seattle and moving into a hitter’s park.
Tepesch: Mediocre results (4.84 ERA) as a rookie.
Holland: Possible return around the All-Stark break.
Lots of candidates there, so you can't really blame Daniels for failing to collect depth and options. The problem here is pretty obvious, however: You had one proven workhorse in the group, or two if you want to include Saunders, who was really just a desperation signing in early March anyway.
Rather than signing a veteran free agent like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez to provide a more dependable No. 2 behind Darvish, the Rangers were content to give this a group a shot, a group with a lot of unknowns and questions and pitching in a park that doesn't help pitchers.
So the Rangers are now at the edge of cliff, hoping 30-year-old Fielder can turn it around and 35-year-old Beltre can have another big year and 31-year-old Shin-Soo Choo can keep up his hot start and 33-year-old Alex Rios plays every day.
How did the Rangers get here? You can also point to the trade of Chris Davis during the 2011 season, that final week collapse in 2012, Josh Hamilton’s dropped fly ball against the A’s, the wild-card loss to the Orioles, not signing Zack Greinke in the 2012-13 offseason, letting Mike Napoli leave for Boston and Hamilton -- while an economically prudent decision -- leave for Anaheim. There was the ugly split with Ryan as he and Daniels wrestled for power in the front office.
That vaunted farm system? The Rangers’ top 10 prospects heading in 2012 were Profar, Perez, Mike Olt, Leonys Martin, Neil Ramirez, Cody Buckel, Jorge Alfaro, Christian Villanueva, Rougned Odor and Matt West. Some were traded, some are still in the minors, some are with the Rangers, but they haven’t yet received much help at the major league level from this group.
Are the Rangers dead for 2014? I guess I can’t say that with 100 percent certainly, not considering the mediocrity in the American League once you get past the Tigers and A’s. But where does that leave Texas? Scrambling again for a one-game-playoff situation?
Maybe they’ll get there, and if everything lines up, they can pitch Darvish. Win that game and I suppose anything can happen.
Oh, one more thing: That 2011 team that won 96 games and outscored opponents by 178 runs? Five pitchers -- each of whom started at least 29 games -- started 157 of the 162 games. It was a group that stayed healthy.