Chasing the A’s

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, July 26th, 2013
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Coming into the 2013 season, the Texas Rangers were expected to win the AL West despite the departure of Josh Hamilton, who signed a massive deal with the Angels.
Those expectations may still materialize, but the Rangers will need to catch the Oakland A’s, who have proved (yet again) that Billy Bean knows how to assemble a potent roster. Trailing Oakland by 3 games – with a little more than 60 games to play – the Rangers have some work ahead. Here are three things to consider as we push into August:
Pitching
The Rangers’ greatest strength is clearly their starting rotation. Star pitchers Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Orando and Martin Perez all boast ERAs under 4.00 for the season, which is unheard of for a starting rotation as a whole.
The staff will get even better in the second half when you consider the acquisition of Cubs’ pitcher Matt Garza, who is 6-1 this season with a 3.17 ERA.
Of course, manager Ron Washington’s starters have contributed their share of quality starts, but their performances have been helped immensely by a powerful bullpen.
Texas relievers own a 2.98 ERA, the 4th best in the league. Key transition men Jason Frasor and Robbie Ross, along with the power and reliability of closer Joe Nathan, have made the Rangers one of the more difficult teams to beat in the later innings. (Note: That was true until Tuesday night, where Nathan blew a save opportunity against the Yankees.)
One point of potential concern for the bullpen: the strikeout department. While Texas starters are third in the league in strikeouts, the bullpen ranks a meager 24th. The low ERA seems to indicate that total strikeouts don’t matter – but it’s a stat that could prove troublesome as we head down the stretch.
Lineup
While the Rangers’ pitching has been consistent all season, their batting lineup hasn’t delivered like in recent years. Sure, Adrian Beltre is having another solid season, but this club clearly misses the big bat of Josh Hamilton (even if he’s disappointing fans in Anaheim.) Unless Justin Grimm is pitching, this team doesn’t provide its pitchers with enough run support.
While Texas sits in the top half of the league in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage, they don’t lead any key category. That might make for “decent” and “average,” but it’s not good enough for a pennant.
The question is: After 100 games played, will that really change – or is this Texas Rangers team just limited offensively?
If the postseaon is a reality, the Rangers need to start hitting – so the pitching staff isn’t always winning each game.
First basemen Mitch Moreland must improve his offensive production, and the Rangers need to help from the designated hitter slot, which currently ranks 11th in production in the American League.
Texas should also anticipate the loss of outfielder Nelson Cruz, who may get caught up in the Biogenesis scandal that caused Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension.
Additionally, the Rangers could use improvement in the fielding department. With 55 errors so far this season, Texas ranks 13th in the league. Not terrible by any means, but a title contender can’t afford so many mistakes in arguably the easiest phase of the game.
Schedule
Early in the season, the Rangers feasted on the second softest schedule in the league, as the jumped out to a 32-18 start. But the tide changed. The Rangers’ schedule got much tougher after those first 50 games – and they struggled accordingly, posting a sub-.500 record.
These two distinct parts of the season led to their current record of 55-45. The Rangers’ schedule won’t get easier, so they will really have to address their batting issues.
Texas simply can’t afford the type of slump they experienced from the end of May until the All-Star break if they want to remain in the AL West hunt.
While the Rangers are a quality team at the moment (after all, they are 10 games above .500), there’s a sense that Oakland may be too strong.
Tuesday night’s loss to the Yankees – where Nathan couldn’t hold a one-run lead heading into the ninth – certainly didn’t help.
Consistent offensive production is the most important component for the Rangers to improve on going into the latter half of the season. In order to challenge the similarly staffed Oakland A’s, Texas will need to beat them head-to-head in the second half – and take advantage of weak division rivals in Houston and Seattle.
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