Texas Rangers Midseason Report
BY: Dic Humphrey
The Texas Rangers will take the field Tuesday night in Chicago to play their 81st game, the mathematical halfway point of the season. They hold a five game lead over the Angels for first place in the American League West and are on pace for a 100 win season, the first in Ranger history. They will also take the field against the White Sox with seven newly named players to the American League All-Star team.
Obviously, a lot of things have gone right to win so many games thus far, as Texas at 50-30 has the best record in baseball; but surprisingly a lot of things have not gone well. They got off to a great start – 15-4 over the first three weeks, and have never trailed in the West since. They followed that start with seven weeks of roughly .500 ball, but finished June strong to push their record 20 games over .500. They were blessed with good health early, making no changes to the opening day roster until late May. They have been blessed with depth in their system to deal with the abundance of injuries sustained since.
The biggest blessing for this team though is the pitching. That may be amazing to say with half the opening day staff on the disabled list, but Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish have been marvelous. They have carried this team with a combined record of 21-8, and the Rangers have a 23-9 record in their 32 starts.
Harrison (11-3, 3.45) been named to the All-Star team and is a candidate to be the starting pitcher in Kansas City next week. He has had a long journey to reach this level of success. He began 2010 in the Ranger rotation, and progressed downward from there, first to the disabled list, then to the bullpen when he returned to the active roster, and finally to watching playoff baseball, as he was left off the playoff roster in favor of Michael Kirkman. Harrison came to camp in 2011 as number 10 in a field of 10 candidates for the Rangers’ starting rotation. A couple of injuries bumped him up to eighth in the pecking order and he out-pitched the rest to earn a rotation spot, which he hasn’t given up. He was 14-9, 3.39 last year; and even then there were skeptics in the local media that thought he wasn’t that good. Little did the skeptics know they were right. He is MUCH better!
The Rangers won all six of Harrison’s June starts. He was the winning pitcher in five with a 1.29 ERA. That was good enough to earn the American League Pitcher of the Month as well as the Rangers’ Player of the Month. He is the first Ranger pitcher to be named A. l. Pitcher of the Month since Kenny Rogers in 2005. With one more start this week, he has a chance to push that win total to a dozen before the All-Star game.
Darvish is here because Ranger management is bold in their pursuit of putting a team on the field. It was an extremely bold move on the part of Ranger management to watch the proven C. J. Wilson walk in free agency for the $77.5 million offer from the Angels. It was an even bolder move to subsequently commit $107 million to sign Darvish, a talented pitcher, but unproven in the Major Leagues. Wilson has been great with the Angels, but Darvish (10-5, 3.59) has been far better than anyone could have reasonably expected. At times, Darvish has been dominating – a true top of the rotation, number one starter. He has a double digit strikeout total in five starts, and he is showing no signs of wilting under the more demanding schedule of American baseball. He has become a fan favorite, a true drawing card across American League cities. He very likely will become the eighth Ranger All-Star later this week when the fan vote is in for the final roster spot.
With the injuries to the rotation, the Rangers depth has been tested. At this point, 10 different pitchers have started a game for Texas, and nine of them have recorded a win. The five that were not part of the rotation when the season began have started 15 games. One of those five is Roy Oswalt, who has not looked good on the mound, but has won his two starts. Oswalt is still rounding into shape and possibly can return to “Ace Status”. The wonderful thing about the Oswalt acquisition is that he didn’t cost any prospects, as trading for a pitcher would; and he didn’t cost draft picks, as his signing was so late in the free agent season.
A contribution that can’t be understated is the one made by closer Joe Nathan. Fans forget that when the season began there was doubt about Nathan coming back from Tommy John surgery. One national writer called the Rangers’ signing of Nathan as one of the worst free agent signings of the winter. In game two of the season, he gave up a ninth inning home run in a tie game as the White Sox beat the Rangers 4-3, and three days later, he blew a save against Seattle after entering the game in the ninth with a three run lead. He has been terrific since. He has 18 saves, no more blown saves, and earned a spot on the All-Star team for the fifth time in his career. He has solidified the back end of the bullpen. With Mike Adams, Robbie Ross, Alexi Ogando before his injury and Tanner Scheppers since, this team can finish off games in which they lead after six innings.
Texas finished June with a 19-9 record, a month in which the pitching injuries came in waves. The record is proof of the tremendous depth this organization has developed. At this point, disabled pitchers are working into shape to return. Derek Holland could be back this week, after making his second minor league re-hab start in Round Rock Monday night. Colby Lewis is expected to be activated once play resumes after the All-Star break. Neftali Feliz has begun a throwing regimen. He’s farther behind the others, but improving. It is likely he returns to the bullpen when he does return; and when Alexi Ogando, who has also resumed throwing, joins him on the active roster; the bullpen will be almost overflowing with power arms.
On the offensive side, the numbers are good. Texas is hitting a Major League best .284, nine points better than their closest pursuer. They have hit 100 home runs, third to the Yankees and Blue Jays; and they have scored 427 runs to lead the Major Leagues. Five position players made the All-Star team, led by Josh Hamilton (.314, 25 home runs and 73 RBI’s). He led all vote getters with more than 11 million votes to claim one outfield spot. Adrian Beltre (.323, 14 home runs and 52 RBI’s) won the vote at third base for the second consecutive year, and Mike Napoli (.235, 12 home runs and 30 RBI’s) makes his first All-Star team as the starting catcher. Elvis Andrus (.307, 1 home run, 32 RBI’s and 16 stolen bases) and Ian Kinsler (.276, nine home runs, 40 RBI’s and 15 stolen bases) were named as reserves.
The offense has proven to have the versatility to score in different ways. Give Ron Washington credit for developing a well rounded offense. Most teams don’t run at the top of the order in front of their three – four hitters. Kinsler and Andrus usually bat one and two, and they have 31 of the Rangers 66 stolen bases. Washington doesn’t just wait around for big innings to come; he has an offense that can win low scoring games. This team has won seven games when they scored three or fewer runs.
Even the fielding has been better. The Rangers rank 10th in the Majors and sixth in the American League in fielding percentage. This is a quantum leap forward for a team that has never finished better than 11th in the A. L. since Washington took over the managerial helms.
The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline will be here soon. Once the All-Star game is played next week, trades will be the off the field focus until the deadline passes. The Rangers keep warning not to expect any spectacular moves. Most contending teams are looking for pitching, but the Rangers expect an influx of quality arms returning from the disabled list. They really don’t need to make a trade unless a spectacular name becomes available at a reasonable price.
The two spectacular names rumored to be available are Cole Hamels (Philadelphia) and Zach Greinke (Milwaukee). Undoubtedly, if these pitchers are on the market, their teams will call on the Rangers as Texas has so many quality young players. The Rangers have no business acquiring a starter unless it’s someone of this ilk. They already have pitchers as good as others likely to be moved such as Wandy Rodriguez and Matt Garza.
On the offensive side, this team always seems to need a right handed bat for the bench. Two years ago, they struck gold with Jeff Francoeur. Last year, they couldn’t find a suitable trade and missed Francoeur in the playoffs. Who knows? Maybe Francoeur will be available again this year.
Earlier this year, the Rangers and Dodgers were battling for the best record in baseball. Los Angeles recently lost seven in a row. They are no longer fighting it out with Texas for the best record in baseball, and in fact no longer have the best record in the National League West. For Texas, winning the American League West is not assured as the Angels are a formidable foe, but it will take a terrible losing streak to knock the Rangers out of the playoffs.