Sports heartbreak descended on Dallas with its usual gravity-fueled pomp and circumstance yesterday afternoon as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their playoff series. The Clippers took the series 4-3 and will now play the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals, which begin Tuesday. So to bring everyone up to date on North Texas sports right now: No Mavs, no Stars, no Cowboys. It’s all up to the Rangers.
I’ll begin by telling you that I’m somewhat indifferent to the Cowboys, which is a bit unusual for someone who grew up just outside Dallas when Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin were all on the team and Super Bowl appearances were not outside the realm of possibility. Normally in the fall I’m watching my alma mater Texas A&M Aggies play football on Saturdays and maybe watching the Cows on Sunday if I want to have some background noise on while I read a book.
Of course, I could also watch playoff baseball, but it seems laughable that the Rangers will still be playing in October. Hockey and basketball will be back in late October, but that’s at least 18–20 weeks from now. So, that leaves baseball and baseball only.
The bad news is that the Rangers, despite our continued coverage (click here, here, here, or here for more), aren’t very good. They’re not great at home and they’re positively dismal on the road. The pitching is inconsistent, the hitting is lackluster (they have been no hit TWICE this season and there are literally 101 games remaining as of today), and they keep having the misfortune of playing teams right when that team is getting hot. All of those factors add up to a bad record.
But fear not, because there are some bright spots. The first bright spot is Adolis Garcia (pictured). He’s a rookie in his late-20s and the thing that sets him apart, aside from being a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, is how cool he is under pressure. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Ben, you just told us the Rangers suck, what kind of pressure could there possibly be? And that’s a fair question. But here’s the fair answer: he’s a rookie, and the Rangers have mounted some unsuccessful but very entertaining comebacks this season.
Garcia has hit 16 home runs in 51 games this year, which is fifth in the entirety of Major League Baseball. He also doesn’t commit many errors and has that rare ability to turn at-bats into seven or eight or nine pitch events. His instincts are good, his eye for the strike zone is good, and he’s hitting .277, which while not phenomenal (40th in MLB) is still good for second on the team for players who have played more than 5 games. He is far and away the most exciting Ranger to watch at the plate.
The other bright spots are Isiah Kiner-Falefa (pictured; I will call him “IKF” throughout because I will misspell his name otherwise) and Willie Calhoun. IKF is one of those guys who can just do anything. He has appeared in games as a catcher, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, and DH in his three seasons with the Rangers, and performed well at each position. In fact, I wish he would catch more because the Rangers’ full-time catcher, Jose Trevino, has committed four errors this year and has a caught stealing percentage of 25%, which is technically above-average in the American League but still isn’t great. But enough about Jose Trevino.
IKF is leading the team in batting average and generally looks the most consistently composed at the plate. He’s the guy you want at the plate with two outs late in a game. He’s also sure-handed at short this year. His fielding percentage is .977, which doesn’t look great but is eighth in the league for shortstops with at least 50 appearances this year. Plus, he always looks like he’s having fun when he plays, and there’s something to be said for that. Some big-time infielders in history like Dustin Pedroia, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, and even Chipper Jones do not look (or did not look for the retired guys) like they were enjoying themselves.
Finally, there’s Willie Calhoun (pictured). Willie has 41 hits in 43 games this year, which is good because the Rangers need more consistent production like that. He has not committed an error in 24 games in the outfield, and he has DHed 17 times this season. He is one of those guys that is just fun to watch, even though there aren’t a lot of tangible reasons I can come up with to support it. He tries hard, he cares, he has fun, and there’s just some sort of aura around him sometimes where you can feel a good play coming. Even if it’s some old-school, small-ball lame thing like a sacrifice fly or hit-and-run, he just always looks like the kind of person who could stretch a double into a triple. He also isn’t as stiff as he has been the past couple seasons and looks a lot more comfortable in the field and at the plate. It’s nice to watch.
So that’s the answer to “now what?” Watch baseball! The Rangers have today off but will be back on the field at home against the San Francisco Giants tomorrow. In the meantime, we’ll also keep an eye on the basketball offseason to see what the Mavericks will do to help get Luka Doncic the support he needs to really take the team to the next level.
Happy Monday, and y’all be safe out there.