Rangers holding place atop AL

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
By Dic Humphrey
After avoiding getting swept by Oakland with a 3-1 win Wednesday afternoon, the Rangers lead the West by 5.5 games with the best record in the American League (30-17) and the biggest lead in any division.  For a season that began with a myriad of question marks, it’s difficult to comprehend how well this team has played on the field.
Not that everything went well.  Consider that the opening day starting pitcher made two unsuccessful starts before undergoing two back surgeries that will keep him out of action until at least August, and perhaps the rest of the season.  Consider that Adrian Beltre, Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus and David Murphy got off to extremely slow starts at the plate.  Consider that Alexi Ogando and Ian Kinsler, certainly two important cogs for this team to be successful, will spend the Memorial Day weekend on the disabled list.  Consider that two rehabbing pitchers that were expected to contribute in May– Colby Lewis and Joakim Soria – have had set backs.  Lewis just made his first minor league rehab start this week and was definitely short on velocity, with his fastest fastball being clocked at only 87.  He’s not expected to be available until June, and Soria not until July.
That’s a lot of things to have gone wrong, and by no means are these the only things that went wrong.  Enough things have gone wrong to sink a normal ship, but this Ranger team has proven to be anything but a normal ship.  Obviously, a lot of things have gone right.
For starters, there is the bullpen that was missing three experienced middle relief hands from last year’s team:  Mike Adams (Philadelphia), Koji Uehara (Boston) and Alexi Ogando (the starting rotation).  In their place are second year men Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross.  Ross was excellent as the left-handed reliever in the pen.  He’s back and better than ever, having allowed just a single run and just one inherited base runner to score in 21-1/3 innings.  Scheppers is perhaps an even bigger surprise.  He was terrible early in spring training, and a week before the season began, he looked destined for AAA.  He may have been the 25th man to make the team, but he’s seized the opportunity.  He’s allowed just two runs on a pair of solo home runs in 24 innings.  Together they have proved lethal to opposing teams, and the Rangers have not lost a game yet this year when leading after six, seven or eight innings.
Closer Joe Nathan has often been shaky, but the bottom line is that this bullpen has converted all 14 save opportunities presented.  That includes a dominant performance Wednesday afternoon against the Athletics, as he needed just seven pitches to retire three Oakland batters.
When the season began, the rotation was thought to be solid at the top with Harrison and Yu Darvish, and question marks thereafter.  Derek Holland and Ogando were the next two starters in the pecking order.  Holland has stepped up his game to be as good as Harrison was expected to be.  Ogando has been more than serviceable as the number four starter.
Nick Tepesch won the fifth starter job in spring training, in a huge surprise, as he had made just a handful of appearances above the A minor league level.  Justin Grimm took himself out of the running for that spot early in spring training with awful performances.  However, he righted the ship quickly at AAA and stepped in admirably when Harrison was injured.  They both have won three games, the most by any American League rookie, and they finished first (Grimm) and second (Tepesch) in the voting for the American League Rookie of the Month Award in April.
This week, the Rangers had to dip into their AAA franchise at Round Rock for two starters.  Josh Lindblom and Ross Wolf gave the Rangers creditable performances against their closest division rivals.  It is a testament to the depth the organization has developed.  Martin Perez, who was in the Rangers’ rotation at 2012’s season end was injured in spring training.  He had a dominating performance Tuesday night for Round Rock, turning in seven scoreless innings on 77 pitches in his latest bid to get back to the Majors.  With Lewis rehabbing, there is even more depth to come.
Offensively, many wondered how the Rangers would replace Josh Hamilton.  Little did fans suspect that the answer was possibly Mitch Moreland?  Moreland is hitting .289 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs.  Hamilton is hitting .222 with six home runs and 14 RBIs.   Who knew?  The offense still lacks consistency.  Two of the games lost on the just concluded home stand were to Detroit’s Rick Porcello, whose ERA exceeded six before last Friday’s start and to Oakland’s Dan Straily, whose ERA exceeded seven before starting Tuesday night.
There was a point in time around the end of spring training when Jon Daniels in defense of roster additions that were not made told the media, “We like our team.”  So far this season, the team has shown a lot for Ranger fans to like too.

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