Frauds or for real? Complicated Rangers grinding for respect in AL playoff race

Two versions of the Rangers emerged Thursday night at Fenway Park, one after the other.

The first: Texas banishing David Price to its graveyard of high-caliber AL starters. The left-hander entered the contest sporting a 2.70 ERA, and he exited having surrendered six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings, no match for the second-highest-scoring offense in MLB.

The second: Boston using four home runs to rally for a 7-6 win, denting a Rangers pitching staff that’s already endured plenty of pockmarks this season.

Manager Chris Woodward knows his squad’s dueling forms well.

“These are the games you have got to win,” Woodward told the Dallas Morning News. “You have to win when you have a 6-1 lead.”

Such frustration may seem out of place considering Texas (36-32) recently passed the Red Sox, A’s and Indians for a wild card position. Eight of the 10 teams in a postseason spot at this point last year wound up playing in October. But the Rangers come off as flawed and conflicted on these types of nights, letting uncertainty crawl beneath the seal of 19 wins in 29 games.

Outside of ace Mike Minor (2.52 ERA) and veteran right-hander Lance Lynn (4.40 ERA), Texas hasn’t started anyone more than nine times, reflecting how difficult its search for mound consistency has become. Playing at Globe Life Park puts strain on even the most resilient staffs; Rangers starters have ranked bottom-10 in ERA four of the past five seasons, this year included. Ultimately, whether unheralded arms such as Adrian Sampson and Ariel Jurado can hold their own as back-end starters could make the difference between a .500 team that reveled in a couple of hot weeks and a legitimate playoff contender.

Thursday offered an example what Woodward wants to avoid: a stellar offensive effort overshadowed by shaky pitching.

Half an inning after Price was pulled, Sampson gave up a three-run home run to Jackie Bradley Jr. He served up a solo shot to Michael Chavis in the fourth, then a game-tying long ball to Rafael Devers in the fifth. Still, Texas remained level and in position to win when its starter exited after five frames.

But Xander Bogaerts took relief pitcher Peter Fairbanks deep in the seventh, driving the ball over the Green Monster to give Boston the lead. Bullpen reliability is another problem for the Rangers: Jose Leclerc (5.28 ERA), supposed to be one of the better closers in the league, was removed from the ninth-inning role in early May, and none of the team’s other options have earned sufficient trust. Fairbanks is one of several arms Woodward is experimenting with in important situations.

So how exactly does Texas have a winning record given its tenuous rotation depth and relief pitching?

There is that other version of this team, just as prevalent and just as powerful. The one trailing only the Twins in runs scored this campaign.

Resurgent veterans Hunter Pence and Asdrubal Cabrera have combined for 24 home runs, and each has tallied more than 40 RBIs. Nomar Mazara is on pace for another 20 long balls. Others have chipped in too. That’s helped the Rangers survive with star outfielder Joey Gallo on the IL since June 2. They’ve gone 6-5 without him and have averaged 5.7 runs over those 11 games.

Once Gallo comes back from his oblique injury, and once prospect Willie Calhoun (quad) returns as well, Texas can lean on its offense even more. Those reinstatements could come by the end of this month.

Gallo, of course, was on track for a career-best year before he went down, amassing 17 home runs to go with a 1.074 on-base plus slugging percentage across his first 50 games. Calhoun has long been regarded as a potential 30 home run guy, though his defense lags somewhat behind. They’re key cogs in Woodward’s order.

In the meantime, with Gallo and Calhoun out on Thursday, and with Mazara getting a night off, the Rangers still wiped out one of the better starters in the AL. They still managed to threaten Boston in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth as they tried to make up for the mess their pitching staff left behind. They still exited Fenway Park having won two of four against a Red Sox squad angling for the postseason position they currently hold.

Texas will live by its lineup and often live large in that regard. It hopes its other, darker side doesn’t stand in the way of what could become a memorable final year at Globe Life.

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