With a month and a half of the season gone, the Texas Rangers currently sit in 4th place in the American League West at 16-22, nine games behind the surging Houston Astros. Many did not even expect the Rangers to have 16 wins at this point in the year, so some might say Jeff Banister‘s club is exceeding expectations. However, Banister will not tell you that.
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The Rangers have lost close games thus far, but what may give fans another reason to pull their hair out is the way the team has been about as inconsistent as the Texas weather.
Take last week’s 7-6 loss at home against the Kansas City Royals. Numerous blunders, such as Carlos Peguero‘s dropped fly ball, Shin-Soo Choo‘s base running blunder, Adrian Beltre getting picked off first and Alex Claudio giving up the go ahead homerun on an 0-2 count contributed to the loss.
“To beat a team that was in the World Series last year and is playing well now, you need to make all the plays you need to make,” said Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
Choo, the outfielder whom the Rangers signed away from the Cincinnati Reds two years ago, started the year slowly, batting a humbling .096 in the month of April. His manager determined a change was needed, and, no stranger to stirring up the batting order, moved Choo back into the leadoff position. The results have been staggering.
When he is batting leadoff, Choo has hit .333 with 3 homeruns and 7 RBIs. Anywhere else in the order, his batting average drops to .141.
Unfortunately, while Choo has benefited from the changes made to the lineup, other players have failed to respond. Elvis Andrus still doesn’t look like the same All-Star caliber shortstop that helped the Rangers reach consecutive World Series. His numbers aren’t terrible, as he has produced a .235/1/10 line. It just seems like he doesn’t have the same spring in his step that he did a few short years ago.
Other guys, such as Nick Martinez, have been an incredible bright spot. Martinez is 3-0 and leads the team with a 1.88 ERA. Even more impressive, Martinez has been able to maintain his success from the start of the year.
Yovani Gallardo, the Rangers top acquisition this winter, has struggled out of the gate. Sure, his 3-5 record isn’t truly reflective of his performances, as often times Texas has failed to give Gallardo any sort of run support. Too many times the Rangers bullpen has squandered solid outings by Gallardo, who has posted a 3.94 ERA to start the year.
Speaking of the bullpen, Neftali Feliz just is not the same closer he once was. Look no further than the two blown saves he had just last week. Feliz has blown three saves this season and has an ERA of 5.51. The Dominican Republic native who used to strikeout half the batters he faced with 100 mph heat, has just 16 strikeouts on the year and rarely reaches the 96 mph mark on his velocity. Even worse, Feliz’ ERA is 3 points higher than his career mark of 2.72, as he has given up 10 runs on 21 hits in the 8th inning or later.
It hasn’t all been bad, though. Prince Fielder, who leads the team in just about every offensive category and has been a rock in the #3 hole for Banister. After missing the majority of last season with a herniated disk, Fielder has gotten back into the swing of things, hitting .344 and forcing many teams to veer away from the infamous shift that he used to hit right into.
Despite their struggles and inconsistent play, the Rangers are definitely a team ladled with talent. Despite Rougned Odor being demoted to AAA after a difficult start to May, the thought remains that he will be the future at 2nd base. Josh Hamilton will soon make his return to the Rangers, with GM Jon Daniels saying he will likely join the team at the beginning of next week. You have to think that whatever Hamilton has left in the tank will be better than Carlos Peguero, even on his best night.
At 16-22, the Rangers are only 8 games below .500. The MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint, and many teams don’t find their stride until August or even September. Just ask the Kansas City Royals team from last year. But once the Texas heat fades away, Banister’s squad must be playing consistent, fundamentally sound baseball. If they can do that, and get back on the right track, they may have something to play for come October.