We're Halfway There
Texas Rangers look poised for playoffs as All-Star break nears
It’s not quite the All-Star break for the Texas Rangers and All-Stars Yu Darvish, Nelson Cruz and Joe Nathan. But with a three-game series with Detroit away from the Midsummer Classic, Ron Washington and company stand 14 games above .500.
The team sits in second place, one game behind Oakland, in a division that was supposed to be a three-horse race with Los Angeles in the mix. Instead, Josh Hamilton’s inability to hit has carried over from last season, and the Angels pitching is among the worst in MLB.
And for the Rangers, this kind of performance has become the status quo over the past few years under Washington’s command. Of course there were questions headed into the season about replacing the bats of Hamilton and catcher Mike Napoli, as well as the presence of Michael Young in the clubhouse.
Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin provide plenty of speed at centerfield for a fraction of the cost and headaches that came with Josh Hamilton.
While centerfield no longer has the power of yesteryear's Josh Hamilton, the steady platoon of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin provide plenty of speed on the basepath for a fraction of the cost and headaches.
The acquisition of A.J. Pierzynski at catcher has largely offset Napoli’s move to Boston. Although Geovany Soto is an offensive liability, his rapport with Yu Darvish makes him as invaluable as anyone on the roster.
But what makes this season so impressive thus far is the fact that the Rangers are in their current position despite a rash of injuries. Fourteen players have spent time or are currently spending time on the disabled list.
Some, such as Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz, have been on there all season after recovering from surgery; both were starters last season. Throw in Matt Harrison, who hasn’t pitched since April 6, and three-fifths of last year’s starting rotation has combined for a total of two starts this campaign.
With that kind of drop-off, one could expect that the Rangers have stayed in the hunt for the playoffs by swinging some hot bats. But the pitching staff has allowed the fourth fewest runs per game in the American League while starting rookies Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch, with spot starts from guys like Martin Perez, Josh Lindblom and Ross Wolf. Alexi Ogando has been admirable in his 10 starts, posting an ERA of 2.93 and K/9 of 6.99, but he’s also been on the disabled list twice.
It’s a testament to a bullpen willing to churn out three or four innings nearly every night that Derek Holland or Yu Darvish — who just went on the DL — aren’t pitching. In fact, Holland and Darvish are the only Rangers pitchers to go more than 100 innings this season. Grimm is next at 85.7, which equates to roughly two solid outings from hitting the mark.
Guys like Joe Nathan, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor and Tanner Scheppers have been able to lock down games in later innings for a team ERA of 3.72, good for eighth best in the MLB. And those injuries to position players like Ian Kinsler, Jeff Baker, Mitch Moreland, Lance Berkman and Craig Gentry have allowed the deep farm system to prove its worth.
Young phenom Jurickson Profar has so far played second, short stop, third base and left field, proving that his defense is as advertised. Fellow rookie Engel Beltre’s speed and energy in the outfield has helped stopgap the injuries and provided a worthy back-up to Leonys Martin while Gentry and Baker work their way back from injury.
But the real MVP of this season though is third baseman Adrian Beltre. Now in his third season with the Rangers, Beltre has proven to be the anchor, playing hurt to the tune of a .318 average with 20 home runs and 53 RBI. Cruz's offense is more explosive, but Beltre's defense at third makes him invaluable.
The Rangers still have a ways to go. A wild card spot isn’t the endgame, especially after last year’s epic collapse down the stretch. But for a team that’s handled its bevy of injuries while tied for the fifth best record in the MLB, the second half stands to be an exciting time if the team can finally get healthy.