The time has never been more ripe for someone other than the California Angels of Los Angeles or Anaheim to win the American League West. You can never count the Angels out, not with their manager and track record, but it really seems as if the Angels can't hit enough and can't pitch enough to get the job done this year. Meanwhile, the Oakland A's, after a good start, have fallen on hard times due to injuries to key players and the Mariners can't seem to hit enough to be a factor. That leaves the Rangers with a golden opportunity to grab the division.
For almost two decades, the Rangers have been an all-hit, no-pitch kind of team. They could always slug with the best in baseball with guys like A-Rod, Ivan Rodriguez in his prime, Juan Gonzalez and others. But their pitching was always the lamest in the land. You knew they were going to get feasted upon. Let's face it, if Millwood was your best pitcher, you know you're pitching staff sucks. But the Rangers have re-invented themselves.
The Fan doesn't know if Nolan Ryan is the catalyst for the makeover or if the credit goes to the collective, but the Rangers focus much more now on pitching and defense. And they did so with determination. That process was never more in focus than when Elvis Andrus was handed the shortstop position and Michael Young, a perennial all star was told in no uncertain terms that he was headed to third base.
The Rangers now have four guys in their starting rotation that can keep you in the ball game. Harden and Feldman are the anchors and Wilson and Lewis were brilliant pick ups. Only Harrison remains as a weak link and if the Rangers could find a hot hand in the minors to take Harison's place, their rotation would really be dynamic.
The bullpen has been a work in progress. Frankie Francisco has struggled but had a good outing on Sunday before having another bad one on Monday. But he'll be okay in the long run because he's always been okay before. Neftali Feliz had struggled earlier in the season, but is coming on strong. He bailed out Francisco in last night's game by coming in and blowing away the opposition to save the game. Meanwhile, the aged Darren Oliver has struck out 13 in 12 innings of work while only walking one. He's been great. Also great have been Darren O'Day, who hasn't given up a run yet this season and Chris Ray, who has struggled with his control, but still posts a 1.69 ERA. Nippert and Mathis are useful too. O'Day's work so far seems like a fluke though. He's pitched in eleven games so far and has only struck out one batter. Now that's pitching to contact!
Over all, the Rangers' pitching staff ranks in the top five in most categories. Their only negatives have been walks and homers. They are eighth in the fourteen team league in homers allowed and are twelfth in the league in walks given. That number in particular has to come down. Harden has been uncharacteristically wild to date, but last night he struck out nine and gave up no walks in his seven innings of work. That's a great sign.
This Fan thinks the offense will come around. They currently rank in the bottom five in just about all offensive categories. But remember that Kinsler has been out most of the year and just recently came back. Josh Hamilton was in a funk most of the early part of the season but is starting to come on now. The Chris Davis experiment didn't work out and now Smoak is up to take his place. Smoak has started slowly, but he's been steadily improving and he has more walks currently than strikeouts. That leads this writer to believe that he will be just fine. Vlad is Vlad and will continue to have a very good season. Nelson Cruz needs to hurry up and get back as he was carrying the team earlier.
The most glaring weaknesses so far for the Rangers have been behind the plate and now Treanor has taken over and it looks like he can at least give you professional at bats. So that position has stabled out. The Rangers also have to stop giving at bats to Garko and David Murphy. Garko is that minor league slugger that makes your eyes dance but has never put it together in the majors. He's now batting .074. Ugh. Make it stop! David Murphy is another out machine. He has struck out 17 times with only two walks and is batting .174. Enough already.
Another concern has been Michael Young's defense. He's already made six errors and they have all been on throws. Does he have a bad arm? What's going on there? Young has never been what anyone would call a great fielder. But he was serviceable last year at third if not spectacular. But he is throwing everything away so far this year. For a team based on pitching and defense, that has to be a bit annoying.
But the Rangers are on the right track. You can never count the Angels out. But the Fan thinks you can count out the A's and the Mariners which leaves the Rangers in a great position. This could be their year and recent indications are that they are starting to seize it.