Will The Rangers Come Back to the Pack
The Texas Rangers have the best record in the American League at 53-32 and have soared to a 7 ½ game lead in the AL West. Las Vegas noticed, and the Rangers are a huge 1-10 favorite to win a second straight division title. That alone makes considering the challengers potentially profitable for baseball bettors. The fact the Rangers show some signs of coming back to the back provide even more incentive to give the AL West race a second look. Consider the following...
There are some internal inconsistencies in Texas' overall offensive production that suggest the team is producing over its head right now. Texas is 4th in the American League in runs scored, but in no important individual category do they rank that high. The Rangers are 8th in on-base percentage and 7th in slugging percentage. If you want more traditional stats, they're 6th in home runs and 5th in batting average. If you like teams who drive the ball in the gaps, the Rangers are a woeful 11th in doubles. If you like stolen bases, they're only fifth there.
That Texas has made this add up to the fourth-most productive attack in the American League is either a tribute to their ability to maximize opportunities, luck or some mix of both. We're inclined to the "a bit of both" school of thinking. Too many handicappers dismiss clutch hitting too easily. We don't do that, but we're not prepared to go to the other extreme and think the Rangers can keep scoring runs like this without boosting performance in the key individual categories.
When you dig down into the individual performances we see an alarming problem with too many players having extremely low on-base percentages. Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor and Prince Fielder all have OBPs below .300, a terrible showing. All three are capable of doing more, but given performance in recent seasons it's by no means a guarantee.
The weak OBPs from those players is symptomatic of team-wide dysfunction when it comes to showing patience at the plate. Texas can hit, but no team hits well all season long - take a look at how quickly Boston fell once the bats cooled down for a stretch. It's patience and walks that keep an offense afloat during the dry spells. The Rangers are 13th in the American League in drawing walks.
Finally, there are injury problems on the pitching staff. Colby Lewis is out for two months. Derek Holland is on the disabled list. Yu Darvish is trying to get healthy, but hasn't been throughout the season. Texas is a respectable sixth in the league in ERA, but the injury situation is putting them top-heavy dependent on Cole Hamels and Martin Perez at the top of the rotation.
Being top-heavy in the pitching staff with an offense that isn't patient is fine for a short playoff series in October. But our purpose here is seeing whether the AL West will get competitive again and provide investing value of the two teams with a chance at catching Texas - the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners.
You don't have to choose whether you prefer the Astros or Mariners. Houston's odds to win the AL West are 6-1 while Seattle is available at 10-1. That's enough cushion to invest in both. If Texas simply comes back to the pack - and all indications are they will, you can have a three-team race with two of the teams in your back pocket. That's called putting the percentages in your favor.