The wheels haven't fallen off the Texas Rangers' bus, but, man, those lug nuts are getting loose.
After breaking out to a 15-4 record in to open the season, the Rangers have dropped six of their last nine games. Texas won six straight series, against the Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.
Life was good. Ranger Nation and the rest of MLB watched in awe as the club was on a torrid pace in getting runners across home plate. The starting pitchers were putting up quality starts and wins. It simply looked as if the only team that could stop the Rangers was the Rangers.
That's exactly what happened starting April 27 against the Tampa Bay Rays. I'm not trying to take anything away from the Rays, Toronto Blue Jays or Cleveland Indians. They took care of business and the Rangers didn't.
Starting pitching was one of the prime reasons the Rangers had success early. It seemed like everyone was pitching out of their mind for the most part. So, let's look at the Rangers' pitching during this mini-collapse over the last nine games, starting with the first game against the Rays. Matt Harrison took a 1.66 ERA into that contest and then seemed to lose his stuff. The 6-foot-4 lefty gave up 14 hits and six earned runs in a 10-4 loss. Harrison's ERA ballooned to 3.38.
Derek Holland has been up and down this 2012 season. When he's on, he's on. His two starts during this stretch for the Rangers is a perfect example. In his April 29 start against Tampa, Holland gave up five earned runs on nine hits and watched his ERA jump to 5.13. This was also the game in which the Rangers lost MVP slugger Josh Hamilton to a back injury.
Harrison and Holland aren't the only culprits during this slide. The Rangers took a commanding 5-0 lead against the Blue Jays on April 1, but Neftali Feliz, the team's closer the last two seasons, got roughed up in the third inning to the tune of two homers and four runs. Toronto had another big inning, scoring three more runs in the seventh to take a 7-6 lead. Texas tied it up in the ninth, but reliever Mike Adams gave up a walk-off home run to Brett Lawrie, completing an 8-7 win for the Jays.
It didn't get better May 2 against Toronto when Texas was hammered in an 11-5 loss. It was Harrison's turn of the mound again, and the team and fans were hoping his previous outing was just a minor speed bump. Wrong. Harrison was blasted for eight hits and eight earned runs and left the game with a 5.40 ERA. Reliever Scott Feldman continued to boost Toronto's confidence by surrendering another three earned runs on three hits in a little more than two innings of work.
Colby Lewis has lived up to his "ace" status by phenomenal pitching in 2012, posting three wins and two no-decisions in his first five starts. He had a 1.93 ERA in more than 32 innings. Then it was time for the Rangers to face off against the Central Division-leading Indians May 4. Lewis saw two baseballs leave the yard in a 6-3 loss. His ERA increased to 2.97.
The final loss in this skid came during a decent performance by rookie Yu Darvish in a 4-2 loss May 6 in Cleveland. Darvish struck out a career high 11 batters in six innings. But, he also gave up four runs -- three of them earned -- and a home run. His ERA jumped a little from 2.18 to 2.54.
In order for the Rangers to find success again, it has to start with pitching. Harrison has an opportunity to get Texas back on track May 7 against Cleveland.
John Ingle is a graduate of the Midwestern State University Mass Communication program with an emphasis in journalism. He's been a Texas Rangers fan when he met Bump Wills and Buddy Bell when he was in elementary school in Arlington, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @inglejohn1973.