For those who have criticized me for being too pessimistic, too cynical and/or too critical, here's your weekly ray of sunshine: the Rangers have endured complete positional turnover at catcher and first base, historically poor performance in center field, the month-long absence of Ian Kinsler (and two-week absence of Nelson Cruz), detrimental defense at third base, in-game tactical errors, performance problems from Rich Harden/Scott Feldman and multiple bullpen meltdowns ... and yet, through all of that, have built a four-game divisional lead at the season's one-quarter point:
● The Game, a deposed member of the G-Unit rap collective, once boasted in song that "hate it or love it the underdog's on top ... and I'm gonna shine homey until my heart stop." Or, in Scott Feldman's case, until he lost several ticks of velocity and, apparently, some of the command/sharpness which rendered him effective last year in spite of a below-average strikeout rate. While it's important to recognize that his presently dreadful runs-allowed performance is partly a function of bad breaks with runners on base, I also think that his 4.21 fielding-independent ERA belies the quality of his pitching (or lack thereof), and I think there's at least some cause to be alarmed at this point.
Feldman's average fastball velocity is, to date, about 1.6-1.7 mph down from where it was last year where both his conventional heater and his all-important cut fastball are concerned; that's a bad thing in and of itself, since lessened velocity generally begets less effectiveness, but you could at least somewhat justify it if he was, say, excelling at hitting his spots. The problem is that you really can't say that he is, nor can you ignore that his opponents' well-hit batting average -- or the ratio of well-hit balls to at-bats -- has climbed from .156 last year all the way to .205 this year. I'm not entirely sure what's up with him (out-of-alignment mechanics?), but I daresay it's nothing good.
● Twenty-seven games into his major league career, and some are already clamoring to send the .184/.308/.356-hitting Justin Smoak packing back to Triple-A Oklahoma City. I don't get it, because if there's such a thing as looking very good while hitting .184/.308/.356, Smoak has fit the bill -- his walk rate is an astounding 15.4 percent and he's made consistently good contact, such that his regressed (expected) wOBA still sits above .380, meaning that the batted-ball outputs have been nothing short of excellent. The hits haven't flowed steadily yet, but at this rate it's only a matter of time before they begin to do so. Smoak isn't even remotely close to looking lost in the majors. Give it some time.