This weekend is a pretty good indicator of the differences between the American League and the National League.
Between the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, the AL still likely has three of the four best teams in baseball, but it’s the bottom halves of both leagues were the difference really stands out. Simply put, a good chunk of the AL is tanking, while just about every team in the NL is still trying to make the playoffs.
The Texas Rangers come to Miller Park tonight at 2 games over .500 at 58-56. If they were in the NL, they’d be one game behind the Brewers for a playoff spot, between the New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks in a playoff race that also includes the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and (now) the Cincinnati Reds.
In the AL, the Rangers are 7 games out of a playoff spot.
That’s why they were partial sellers at the trade deadline after losing 9 of 10 games in late July (they really likely should have sold high on Mike Minor, but like every other team with a starting pitcher to trade they just...didn’t) and are starting two rookies and Minor this weekend.
Brewers pitching won’t have to deal with Joey Gallo this weekend, as the young slugger and first-time All-Star is on the Injured List. In 70 games this year, Gallo hit 22 home runs with a career-best .253/.389/.598 line. The injury looks like it could cost Gallo his third straight 40 home runs.
Longtime Brewer Killer Hunter Pence will be back in town, though, enjoying a late-career surge with the Rangers at age 36, making the All-Star team again this year and hitting .287/.337/.550 with 16 home runs in 71 games this year.
With Gallo out of the lineup, the only other Ranger with 20 home runs is infielder Rougned Odor, who is on the Orlando Arcia plan with an OPS barely over .700 despite the home run production, hitting .204/.271/.434.
Friday, August 9th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Kolby Allard vs. Gio Gonzalez
The 21-year-old lefty is making his debut for the Rangers after being traded to Texas for reliever Chris Martin the day before the trade deadline. Allard appeared in 3 major league games for the Braves last year, including one start. He’s struck out 106 batters in 115 innings in Triple-A this year with a 4.17 ERA, which is actually pretty good in a year with the average Triple-A hitter has an .815 OPS. Allard’s 4.17 ERA was the 4th-best in the International League.
Saturday, August 10th - 6:10 p.m. CDT
Pedro Payano vs. Adrian Houser
This will be Payano’s third career start, although one of his two relief outings before moving into the rotation came after Texas tried to use an Opener and Payano pitched 5 innings of “relief.” The 24-year-old rookie has been solid to this point, striking out 13 in 15.2 innings with a 3.45 ERA, but he has struggled with walks in his past two outings, giving out 7 free passes in his last 10 innings.
Sunday, August 11th - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Mike Minor vs. Jordan Lyles
Minor spent the better part of July the subject of trade rumors -- including ones involving the Brewers -- but publicly complained about the rumors and the Rangers ended up not trading the veteran lefty (likely because their asking price was too high, not because of the public complaints). Minor is in the middle of a career year, coming into this start with a 3.06 ERA that FIP (4.14) says it a little lucky, but the All-Star has struck out 148 batters in 147 innings, and has an AL-best 167 ERA+.
Player to Watch
Shin-Soo Choo is now 36 years old, but has never stopped hitting. The veteran has very quietly turned in a very good 15-year career, but this year’s baseball is allowing him to hit for the kind of power he hasn’t had since his prime in Cleveland. He comes into the weekend with a .276/.374/.480 line, which would be his highest slugging percentage since 2010, when he hit .300/.401/.484 for Cleveland.
Without the benefit of the DH, though, it will be interesting to see how Texas manager Chris Woodward puts together his lineup -- will he play both Choo and Pence in the outfield, sacrificing some defense? That would likely mean sitting young outfielders Willie Calhoun (hitting .291/.326/.575 with 9 home runs in 36 games) and/or Nomar Mazara (.262/.312/.444 with 15 home runs in 99 games).
Woodward went with both Pence and Choo in the outfield next to Delino DeShields, Jr. the last time the Rangers played in a National League park (June 16th in Cincinnati), but that was before Calhoun joined the team and before the Rangers’ season objective may have shifted to looking to the future.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference