Rangers need stronger offense, relief

Team's numbers in late innings show their biggest problems

Rangers need stronger offense, relief

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister has an open-and-shut case for getting his team headed back in the right direction.

Banister, while his team was being swept by the Athletics this week in Oakland, said his team needs to open up bigger leads and shut down opponents late in the game.

Those are the two biggest issues for Banister as his team opens a three-game series against the Astros on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

"I love our club," Banister said. "We have a club that does something to win a game every night. But we've got to do something to close it out. It has been a challenge to close it out."

That's the pitching side. There is also the offensive side.

"We've got to find a way to find space and stretch out leads," Banister said. They go together, he said.

Close games require Banister to use his best relievers. Sam Dyson has pitched in 20 of 41 games, while Jake Diekman has been used 19 times, Shawn Tolleson 18 and Tony Barnette 17.

"That's almost half our games," Banister said. "We can't keep rolling those guys out there every night."

The Rangers are second in the American League with 131 relief appearances, and they have been furiously shuttling relievers back and forth from the Minor Leagues.

Dyson will take over as the closer. Diekman and Barnette likely will be the primary setup relievers, although the Rangers appear ready to give rookie Matt Bush a more prominent role as they did Keone Kela last year. Tolleson, taken out of the closer's role, will fit in where Texas thinks it's best for him to get back to pitching effectively again.

The bullpen could be an area addressed during the summer trading season. The Rangers expect Kela (right elbow) and Tanner Scheppers (knee) to be back by the All-Star break, but their best blockbuster trade may be for a proven closer.

Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees could be the preferred target for multiple teams looking for relief help. Huston Street of the Angels and Brad Ziegler of the D-backs could also be desirable.

Much depends on which teams drop out of playoff contention as the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. But Texas knows the AL West is there for the taking, and general manager Jon Daniels has never been afraid to make moves. Dyson and Diekman were huge acquisitions last summer.

But Banister is hoping more offense will help take the load off the bullpen.

The Rangers are second in the league with 186 runs scored mainly because they have been hitting with runners in scoring position. Texas leads the AL with a .302 batting average with runners in scoring position. The team hit .251 in those situations last year, and the club record for one season is .303 in 1998.

The Rangers could use more game-breaking home runs. They have hit 42 homers, ninth most in the AL, and they don't have a player in the top 25. Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor lead with seven each. Prince Fielder has two and has gone a month since his last home run on April 19. He has 21 RBIs, but his .282 slugging percentage is the third lowest.

The Rangers are 9-1 this season when hitting two or more home runs in a game. But their 10 multihomer games are the 10th most in the AL. Opposing hitters have hit 56 home runs, and Texas is 6-10 when opponents hit two or more in a game.

"I love the fact how different guys every night contribute," Banister said. "But over the long haul, you need consistency from your core group. You need to find that rhythm. We haven't found that rhythm."

Banister pointed out the Rangers have scored 186 runs and allowed 187. That's an indication of how close the games have been. Twenty-four of Texas' 41 games have been decided by three runs or less, and the club is 13-11 in those games.

But the Rangers are 6-10 in games decided in the seventh inning or later, and they are 2-8 in games decided in the final at-bat. They need to reverse those trends. But Texas also needs fewer games going down to the nail-biting finish.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.