Posted on June 17, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Texas Rangers Hunter Pence
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The Texas Rangers have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball during the early part of the season. However, the injury bug could end up playing a big role in their season. On Monday, the team placed veteran outfielder Hunter Pence on the 10-day Injured List with a groin strain. Fortunately for Texas, the loss of Pence could be mitigated by the simultaneous return of young outfielder Willie Calhoun.

Pence hurt himself Sunday trying to flag down a fly ball while playing right field. The 36-year-old has only played the field sparingly this season, getting most of his bats as the team’s DH. Ironically, he was filling in for Nomar Mazara, who is nursing a mild hamstring injury. The good news is that Mazara is likely to avoid a stint on the IL. But because he missed a couple of games, the aging Pence was forced into action and ended up getting hurt.

After a disappointing 2018 season with the Giants last year, Pence had to settle for a minor league contract over the winter. However, he’s bounced back in a big way with the Rangers. At the time of his injury, Pence was hitting .294 with an OPS of .962. His 15 home runs are the most he’s had since 2014 and actually had him on pace for a career-high. Pence was perhaps in line to be an all-star for the first time since 2014.

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Of course, Pence’s all-star hopes are now in serious jeopardy. The Rangers haven’t indicated how much time he’ll miss. But at age 36, any muscle injury could take an extended period of time to heal. The loss of Pence also means the Rangers are without their top two home run hitters, as Joey Gallo remains on the IL with an oblique strain. Being without those two at the same time could hurt a Texas team that has scored the second-most runs in the American League this season.

As mentioned, the bright side for the Rangers is the return of Calhoun. The 24-year-old began the season in the minors but was scorching hot when he was called up in the middle of May. Calhoun went 10 for 23 (.435) with two home runs and a double in six games before being sidelined with a quad injury. Obviously, the Rangers hope he can pick up where he left off. However, Calhoun has missed nearly a month of action and isn’t an established big leaguer, so there’s no guarantee that’s the case.

While both Pence and Gallo are out, Calhoun will be the team’s regular left fielder, Delino DeShields will handle center field, and Shin-Soo Choo will be the primary DH once Mazara is able to return. The Rangers may be able to get by with that group. But it’s impossible to imagine Texas not feeling the effects of Gallo and Pence both being absent from their lineup.

At the moment, the Rangers are a distant second place in the AL West, 9.5 games behind the Astros. However, they are currently leading for the second wild-card spot. It’s no fluke that the Rangers are in contention for a playoff spot. But dealing with both Pence and Gallo on the IL at the same time will be the most challenging period of their season. Their success in the weeks to come could very well determine if the Rangers remain playoff contenders in 2019.

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