After scouring the box score from last night’s victory against the Yankees, I couldn’t help but already feel some sense of ownership with the 2012 Texas Rangers. I look at the bundles of All-Stars inhabiting the lineup, the starting pitchers, the depth of the bullpen, and am nothing less than confident in the chances of the Rangers having as good a shot as anyone to win the World Series.
But anyway, I don’t want to get too far past the point we’ve (somehow) already reached. It seems like not too long ago that I was telling everyone to stop overreacting about how poorly the Rangers were playing in Spring Training, so it would seem a tad hypocritical for me to say that I already know how the season will unfold after a whole 19 games out of 162. Nonetheless, we’ve seen real, digestible statistics and trends; we’ve witnessed what has worked and what hasn’t. We’ve observed enough to be able to project how far this team is capable of going when (mostly) everything is clicking.
Before the season started, I outlined just how few holes this team possessed, also positing three questions (which, if you haven’t read it, related to (1) Koji Uehara’s struggles, (2) Neftali Feliz’s injury and his move to the rotation, and (3) the Rangers center field situation).
Perhaps a month is too soon to gauge the direction the needle is tilting in each aforementioned case, but to this point the results have been positive and definitive. Through three starts Neftali Feliz is 1-1 and has allowed six runs in 20 innings, with 13 punch outs on eight walks. (This is without counting his one-inning relief stint last night.) The biggest challenge he’s had to overcome from his move from the bullpen to the starting rotation is simply staying afloat, and in that respect he’s already outlived expectations. But make no bones about it, Feliz looks damn good in the rotation. He’s dialed his fastball down to a consistent 91-94, touching 95-96 when he needs to, offering a strong assortment of change ups and sliders which have kept hitters off-balance for the most part.
When Koji Uehara was acquired the day of the trade deadline last year, a lot of Rangers’ fans wondered just who the hell he was, and why the well-liked Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter were the two (thought to be somewhat sizable) trade pieces Baltimore eked back from Texas in return.
Based on raw numbers, such as a 250:34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in two and a half years and 222.2 innings of work in Baltimore, it could have been argued that at the time Koji Uehara was a much more valuable weapon in the 8th inning than Mike Adams, who was acquired from San Diego the same day Uehara was from the Orioles.
That’s not quite how it turned out, as his atrocious numbers (particularly at Rangers Ballpark) led to him being ostracized from the World Series roster completely, leaving many to wonder where his place was in the organization. After at least two trades fell through in moving Uehara during this most recent offseason, he’s still pitching in our bullpen, and looking a lot better than he did last year. In five innings of work (again, small sample, but still), he’s walked none and struck out seven, allowing two separate solo home runs in games the Rangers already had well in hand. Those two home runs have accounted for one hundred percent of the runs he’s surrendered thus far into the season, and fifty percent of how many hits he’s allowed (4).
I’m not saying let’s all run around naked in the streets joyously celebrating the fact that Koji Uehara is still on our team and not completely sucking. I’m saying he’s a good pitcher and good production is what’s expected from him. That’s why the Rangers gave up 2/25 of the Orioles’ roster to acquire him.
Lastly, center field. It seemed like there were a few different opinions in regards to what the Rangers should do. I was of the belief it would be a mistake to go with an outfield of David Murphy and not Craig Gentry, and throughout the first week I was mostly wrong due to Murphy hitting like a bat out of hell. I still think in the longterm that Gentry is the better starting option (for defensive purposes), but I’m really not going to question too extensively the method to Ron Washington’s madness and why his team has the best record in baseball.
Something worth noting: Leonys Martin (entering tonight’s game at Oklahoma City) has been raking to start the season, sitting at a slash line of .338/.420/.532 (BA/OBP/SLG). He’s hit three home runs, but maybe more impressively, has taken ten walks and only struck out 12 times in 87 plate appearances. He’s always been good at making contact, but not so much solid contact. It’s a positive sign to see him playing well, and if he keeps it up he’s a sure bet to get a look in Arlington at some point during the summer.
The Rangers are currently 15-4, winning each of their first six series’ of the season, the last three coming against the likes of Boston and Detroit (on the road), and New York (at home). If the Rangers can somehow manage the same outcome against Tampa Bay this weekend, they will be a cumulative seven-for-seven and four-for-four against the so-called superpowers of the American League, of which there are supposed to be six (including Texas).
So far, it’s been proven that there’s only one.