I find myself in the month of June still shockingly optimistic about baseball for the first time in years. At the time of this entry, the Rangers hold a 4.5 lead over the Angels in the AL West and are tied with the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League; in fact, only two teams in all of Major League Baseball have a better record: last year’s World Champs, the Philadelphia Phillies (Rangers are 0.5 GB), and the L.A. Dodgers (Rangers are well behind). This is a situation I am not used to seeing.
Not only that, this streak of solid baseball has been anchored by solid pitching and defense. If anything, the offense has been the most suspect this season. Millwood finally looks like an ace this season boasting a 2.96 ERA (yes a Ranger pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA), 1.26 WHIP, 1.78 K/BB ratio, and 2 CG as well. Needless to say his 5-4 record has not done him justice at all.
Even young pitchers like Harrison (whom is currently on the DL though) and McCarhty have notched CG shutouts this season as well as put together some solid stats. The Nolan Ryan mantra of getting the starters in better shape and going deep into games is ringing loud and clear. The main concern of course, is how long will this be able to last? The dog days of summer are nearly upon the Ballpark and that will be the true test too see just how much longer the Ranger arms will last.
Rookie Derek Holland has also cracked this rotation as well, and it should be noted that it seems the Rangers are being very cautious with his arm. Thankfully it seems that the Nolan Ryan school of thought is leaned far more heavily on the veterans like Millwood than young kids like Holland. While his stats are far from impressive right now, one thing that does jump out is just how often he is striking batters out. Not only is his K/BB ratio an amazing 2.4, his K/9 is 6.82 — a number that is light years ahead of any other Ranger starter. He definitely has the stuff, but right now he’ll have to take a few lumps on the head while learning to pitch in the bigs. The future definitely looks bright for this kid.
The bullpen, while not incredibly deep, has been solid as well. C.J. Wilson seems to be turning things around, but the two that stand out the most right now is early season pickup Darren O’Day and closer Frank Francisco. In 15 innings of work, O’Day has given up only 8 hits and 2 runs, leading to a 1.20 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. Francisco has been perfect converting all 12 of his save opportunities and has allowed only one run all season in his 19.2 innings of work. Right now the only concern for him though is his health as he seems to be put onto the shelf far too often.
Even though the offense has been the “worst” part of this team, there are some definite standouts thus far.
Ian Kinsler is currently hitting .274/.357/.905 (AVG/OBP/OBPS) with 15 HR and 44 RBI and has been the catalyst for the Rangers offense most of the season. Nelson Cruz has seemed to shake off the “AAAA” label hitting .292/.356/.969 with 17 HR and 42 RBI. Even Andruw Jones has shocked pretty much everyone (including myself) going a respectable .272/.400/.933 with 5 HR and 15 RBI, making him a solid contributor, and dare I say it, a solid gamble by the Rangers.
As far as defense goes, I would wager the Rangers have the best infield in all of MLB. Ian Kinsler has become more solid at 2B, and Davis has proven to be an amazing defensive 1B; however, the biggest change is on the left side of the infield. Rookie Elvis Andrus is proving to be a stud. He has made plays that I have seen no Ranger ever make at SS. The call to promote him to the bigs has been a genius move, and sliding Michael Young to 3B has make the left side of the infield simply amazing. It is no coincidence that with this improved defense, the pitching has also gotten a lot better as well. Pitchers are watching more hits get stolen from the opposition, giving them far more confidence in pitching to contact — this is further exemplified by the fact that the Rangers are dead last as a pitching staff in Ks, yet still having solid pitching all season.
While on the subject of Elvis Andrus, it should be noted that he has been an offensive force as well this season. He has hit .275/.326/.732 with 3 HR, 12 RBI, and 9 SB. Rookie of the year honors are definitely within his grasp.
If there is any “hot topic” thus far, it has been the bat of Chris Davis. Davis thus far has only put together .202/.326/.685, albeit with 12 HR and 27 RBI. The biggest number though is his strikeouts as he easily leads all of MLB with 84 (that would be a strikeout every 2.23 AB, ouch). Leading of course to people calling for his removal from the lineup as he has become the ultimate all-or-nothing batter.
Personally, I am still with Wash in letting Davis have more time at the dish to fix his issues (and in this last road trip, things did indeed look a lot better). I’m not a big fan of our other 1B options. Blalock and Jones can play at 1B, but Davis easily has the better glove.
But what about Justin Smoak? He seems to be the “easy” choice to replace Davis. I mean why not, he is going an absurd .325/.444/.947 with 6 HR and 25 RBI, so why not toss him in? Well first off, people need to tap the breaks. He is doing this in AA. The difference between AA pitching and MLB pitching is night and day. Hell, even AAA pitching is a completely different animal than what he is facing.
Also, people need to realize that Smoak isn’t even on the 40-man roster right now. For those that don’t understand what I just said, this means that Smoak can’t even be called up into the bigs right now, as you can only do that for guys that are on your 40-man roster. During the season, making a move on that roster isn’t exactly as simple as swapping people. In order to make room on the 40-man roster, you have to outright release a player, and I don’t think the Rangers are going to be willing to do that on a gamble from someone that is doing well in just AA.
Basically, it makes far more sense to allow for Davis to try to work through his issues. As I said before, there have been signs of improvement. With him in the lineup, you still have a solid glove as well, so it isn’t like he is single-handedly crippling the Rangers. However, I am sure if he continues to slide downward during the month of June, he could find himself in AAA once again and Blalock/Jones will cover 1B.
The long of the short of it though is that everyone needs to realize just what is happening right now and that is the Rangers are a year ahead of themselves. 2010 was the projected year to make a run for the AL West and now the Rangers have a very comfortable lead. Think about this, for the last few series, the Rangers have entered knowing that even if they get swept and the Angels sweep their series, they will still be in first. That is simply awesome.
There is still an abundance of young talent in the farm system as well as the current roster. Cruz is going to be a force, Andrus is looking like a stud right now, Murphy’s bat is coming around, and Holland could just be an ace-in-waiting. And that isn’t even taking into account you still have talent like Neftali Feliz and Justin Smoak waiting in the wings for seasons to come.
This is the start of something big. For the first time in ages, the Rangers finally have things set up right and we will definitely have many more seasons of solid baseball in Texas to come.