Unexplainable statistical quirk: Entering Tuesday evening's intradivision road skirmish in Anaheim, the second-turned-first-place Texas Rangers were a .239/.306/.401-hitting ballclub with two outs in any given inning in a 990-plate appearance sample, culminating in a sOPS+ mark -- or the OPS of any player or team batting split relative to that of the major league OPS for that same batting split -- of just 93.
Attribute it to random variance, bad luck and/or the adoption of an inadequate plate approach in two-out situations, but the 2009 iteration of the Rangers has not performed well when backed into the proverbial corner in any given inning. Perhaps that statistical backdrop helps to explain why the Rangers' six-run outburst in the top of the fifth inning -- which began with two outs and nobody on base, and eventually proved to be the game-winning rally -- felt even more astonishing than usual, which is misleading in that there is absolutely nothing usual about an inning like that.
Virtually every single contributor to that game-breaking offensive eruption had endured some significant degree of criticism thus far in 2009, from the St. Louis-bound tandem of third baseman Michael Young and center fielder Josh Hamilton to a free-swinging Hank Blalock to a struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who punctuated the rally with a two-run rocket that served as an all-too-convenient reminder of what he can still become. Redemption?
Immense promise alone doesn't win ballgames, but talent certainly does, and for all the challenges this ballclub has encountered thus far this season (from the injuries to the offensive ineptitude to the obvious glaring holes, one of which Texas has already addressed), the one thing which this organization clearly does not lack is talent:
● After previously scheduling 22-year-old southpaw Derek Holland for a Friday evening start against the Mariners, the Rangers have elected to reconfigure their pre-All-Star break starting rotation in light of Vicente Padilla's lingering shoulder soreness and supplant Holland with newly activated flamethrower Dustin Nippert, who allowed three earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 3.2 innings against the Angels on Tuesday evening, and indications are pointing to Holland remaining a major league reliever not only through the rest of this week, but perhaps through the second half of the regular season as well:
"We think Derek's ultimately going to be a starter for us, and a good one at that," general manager Jon Daniels said on Tuesday. "Right now, he may be best able to help the team in the bullpen, given the position we're in, where his stuff really plays up, especially from the left side.
"Depending how things shake out over the next few weeks, he's an option for both roles. A lot of that depends on the health of some other guys and his continued development."
Manager Ron Washington asserts that the Rangers "need [Holland] out of the bullpen [right now]" and proclaims that Holland should be able to properly develop his secondary offerings pitching out of the bullpen, which is plausible if he pitches primarily in a low-leverage, long-relief role where he can tinker with his change-up and curveball with his ballclub either trailing or leading by a significant number of runs, but otherwise seems like a rather shaky supposition on the surface.
The obvious question to ask, of course, is "Will the recurrent yo-yoing of Holland from the RedHawks' starting rotation (Triple-A Oklahoma City) to the bullpen (Rangers) to the starting rotation back to the bullpen adversely affect his development?" Difficult to say. I will say that I'm not terribly enthused about asking a talented young pitcher -- one whom the Rangers' hopes are heavily riding on -- to change pitching roles this many times in the span of three months, but Holland is a tremendously poised, confident and adaptive individual, and I don't know whether anybody can definitively state that this is absolutely a bad thing right now. We may require the lens of retrospection down the line.
The more pertinent issue, in my mind, is why Nippert has been gifted a rotation spot when he's arguably a worse rotation option at this point than Holland; Nippert's massive raw stuff has long hypnotized Rangers followers, and he has certainly enjoyed his infrequent moments of pitching luminosity, but deploying a pitcher who has posted a 6.67 ERA and been shelled to the tune of .269/.364/.480 in 11 career major league starts as your No. 5 starter when you're in the midst of a pennant race strikes me as a pretty dicey proposition. Neither hurler is really optimal as a major league starting pitcher right now, but Holland might well be better equipped right now to give the Rangers the best chance to win every fifth day.
● Regarding second baseman Ian Kinsler's insistence that his swing has not changed and that his uppercut hitting mechanics have not been exacerbated by the effects of fatigue: Should we infer anything whatsoever from the fact that his 2009 line drive rate has plunged to a career-worst 13.8 percent and that his fly ball rate has spiked to a career-high 55.5 percent, the latter of which presently stands as the highest mark in the majors?
● Assuming that the Rangers were to inquire into the potential asking price for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay (whom was notably informed by general manager J.P. Ricciardi that he might be presented with trade possibilities in the coming weeks and months), and assuming that the Rangers were able to construct a prospect-laden offer to Toronto's liking, and assuming that the Rangers were able to clear the necessary payroll space to accommodate the $20-plus million sum that Halladay will command through the final two months of the 2009 regular season and the entirety of the 2010 regular season, and assuming that Halladay were to waive his full no-trade clause, then ... well, then you'd have a deal. But not a moment before.
I recently advocated the espousal of the "go big or don't go at all" approach to baseball's mid-season trade marketplace, and Halladay does indeed embody the sort of ace-caliber pitching talent that the Rangers have previously demonstrated a willingness to pursue (Texas nearly acquired left-handed ace Johan Santana from the Twins two winters ago, with baseball executives on both sides arriving at "agreement or near-agreement" on the players involved, but the deal was reportedly nixed by Santana's reluctance to waive his no-trade clause to join the Rangers), but the crux of the notion of acquiring Halladay is simply that there are so many obstacles to overcome. And two years ago, the capital was evidently there to expand payroll. It clearly isn't there anymore.
If you're prepared to dispense a front-line package of young talent comprising at least two of the Rangers' top 10 players under the age of 24 and additional pot-sweeteners, and prepared to remove Vicente Padilla and/or Hank Blalock from the payroll no matter the cost involved (knowing full well that you'll have to include additional talent to avoid subsidizing a portion of their contracts), and prepared to offer additional monetary enticements to Halladay to convince him to waive his no-trade clause and pitch in Texas, then it's a perfectly wonderful idea. Otherwise, just slam the door on the entire notion right now and avoid wasting your time on something that has virtually no chance of actually happening.