It's April 16th, and the Texas Rangers are in last place in the AL West. This team looks like a teen who is trying to find direction in life. You can see a battle with this team to find out who they really are. Is this a team that runs and guns, or one that plays small ball? Is this the homer happy team of the past, or a team that will -- gasp -- rely on pitching. We are two weeks into the 2007 season, so let's look at what is going right, and who...is going wrong.
What's going right?
1. Ian "Freaking" Kinsler - Kinsler is raking with 6 HR's (2nd in MLB behind ARod) and an absurd OPS of 1.338. Ian even only has one error so far.
2. Kenny Lofton - Kenny seems to be what he was advertised to be. Lofton is hitting .262 with an OBP of .347 with 4 steals. Not sure how long the soon-to-be 40-year old can keep this up, but for right now, he's solid.
3. Akinori Otsuka - Aki has picked up from where he left off in 2006. Although he's given up 4 hits in 3.0 innings pitched, Otsuka has shut the other teams down when he's needed to.
4. Joaquin Benoit - Has Jack finally put it all-together? It certainly appears that Benoit has turned the corner after a great spring. Benoit has pitched 4.2 innings and has only allowed 1 earned run with 7 strikeouts. Wow. If Benoit can maintain some consistency, look for another middle reliever to be traded within the next month.
5. Eric Gagne and Scott Feldman - Gagne has made it back and captured a save in his first appearance. Gagne's 1st save has to be comforting to the Rangers and now gives him something to build on. Feldman has pitched 6.1 innings and has only given up one earned run, while holding the lowest BAA (.174) on the team.
6. Kevin Millwood - Millwood has quietly been very good so far. The "ace" of the staff is averaging about 6 innings and is giving up about 2.5 runs a game. Kevin's BAA and WHIP are less than stellar, but he's getting the job done
7. Ron Washington - Wash has been saying all the right things and the confidence that he has in his players has to be helping the club, even with a few tough losses so far.
What has gone wrong? Pretty much everything else.
1. The Rangers, despite new manager Ron Washington's fielding instruction, lead the majors in errors with 13. It seems like the Rangers committed most of those errors in Sunday's game against Seattle. This team is playing very sloppy right now, and one has to hope that Wash's hands-off style will reap dividends.
2. The rest of the pitching staff. McCarthy has gotten bombed, Tejeda has been up and down, C.J. Wilson has not been good, and Jamey Wright was downright horrible. At least Loe will move into the #5 spot in the rotation, and I'm not sure he shouldn't have the #4 spot instead.
3. The hitting. Outside of Kinsler, Lofton, and bench players Kata, Hairston, and Chris Stewart, the hitting has been hideous. The Rangers are hitting .117 from the 7th inning on, and yet are somehow 1st in MLB with runners in scoring position (RISP) and RISP with 2-outs.
Teixeira's slow starts are starting to grate on fans. Tex makes you wonder if someone will actually be willing to pay him $18-20 million a year to play 1st base in 2009. Teixeira will break out of his slump as he always does, but his slow starts are contributing to a slow start that could kill the Rangers' chances in the AL West.
Blalock seemed to be getting into a groove coming out of spring training, and that groove has gone right in the toilet. It's still early, but Hank's walk-to-strikeout ratio has gone upside-down from the spring and so far he only has 2 walks to compare with his 13 K's.
You have to wonder when the Brad and Sammy experiments will come to an end. With Victor Diaz hitting .400 and Marlon Byrd hitting .296 in Oklahoma, it only has to be a matter of time before Sosa is waived. The more curious fate will belong to that of Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson hasn't hit since he came to the Rangers in 2006, and he hasn't shown signs of improving. It may be time, sooner-than-later to end Wilkerson's career as a Ranger.
Maybe the biggest surprises to the negative of the early 2007 season, are the poor hitting performances so far of Gerald Laird and Frank Catalanotto. I expect that Laird will start to hit at some point, and Frank too for that matter, but with Tex and Blalock scuffling, the Rangers can't afford to have anyone else under-performing. Wash has said that he doesn't need Laird to hit, just that he wants him to call a good game and play solid defense. At this point, the Rangers need all the offense they can get.
Nelson Cruz has struggled a bit, but I think everyone expected Nelly to go through some growing pains this year. Cruz needs to be playing everyday and not shuffled in and out of the lineup. Ron Washington's comments yesterday, seem to indicate that he is thinking the same thing.
4. The scheduling. The Rangers led off with series against two tough teams in the Angels and Red Sox, won a series against the hapless Devil Rays and then imploded in their last three-game set in Seattle. The bad news is that the schedule is not going to get any easier. The Rangers start a 14-day stretch with games everyday, including at the White Sox, Indians and injury-prone Blue Jays and home against Oakland and Seattle. I am not sure that anyone could hope for more than to see the Rangers go 7-7 in the upcoming games to end April with a record of 12-14. The really bad news is that the 1st half of May's schedule does not get any easier with a home-and-away series against the Yankees and sets with the Blue Jays and Angels at home, before finally easing up by getting the Devil Rays and Astros on the road. By the time the Rangers travel to Tampa Bay on May 15th, discussion in the DFW area may have shifted to Cowboys mini-camp talk and the Mavs and the NBA Playoffs.
At the very least, the Rangers should keep thing interesting with their dilemma of what to do with Sosa and Wilkerson. Before long, Ron Washington's project for 2007, Hank Blalock may enter that discussion as well. If this team is still scuffling going into June, Rangers' GM Jon Daniels may have his biggest decision yet -- for it might be time at that point, to rebuild this team from the ground up. Until then, Rangers' fans can only hope that April showers, will bring May flowers.