Fourteen games over .500, five games up in the division, and winners of eight out of 10 games. There's still something kind of strange about the offense of late that I can't quite put my finger on, something that makes this 10-game stretch of great baseball feel, uhm, less great than it actually is -- but after some of the recent scares that the Rangers have encountered, I'm just satisfied that they're winning the games that they should be winning again:
● Even when he's pitching at his best, Matt Harrison isn't the kind of pitcher who wows you in the way that, say, Yu Darvish or Derek Holland wow you when they're at their best ... and then there are the nights like last night, where Harrison is merely kind of good (6.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), and the end result is a wholly nondescript performance. Last night, however, was a night where nondescript was enough to win, as the Padres muscled only a single extra-base hit against Harrison (a 92 mph fastball that found the sweet spot of Chase Headley's bat), and plated only a single run against Harrison and the Lowe/Adams/Nathan troika despite finangling a few scoring opportunities. It wasn't very exciting, and it might have even been "boring" at times, but I'll take it.
● I'm not sure if the baseball world at large is overlooking this or if I'm the only one on this island, but David Murphy is putting together a decent little 2012 campaign in his strict platoon capacity (.282/.365/.482, .366 wOBA, 127 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR), and his two-out, two-run single in the first inning ended up being the game-winning hit, as Texasdid remarkably little from an offensive standpoint over the final eight innings of the game. (I definitely wasn't thrilled by Jason Marquis, a lifetime 5.2 K/9 pitcher, amassing 10 strikeouts in seven innings and effectively shutting the Rangers down.)
Murphy pretty much ceases to be an asset once you pit him against southpaw hurlers, and the nature of his contractual situation may end up driving him out of Texas once the 2012 season comes and goes ... but those longer-term and wider-reaching considerations took a back seat last night, because Murphy, like Harrison, performed when it mattered, and even though it wasn't spectacular by any means, it was good enough to win.
● In his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Round Rock, Leonys Martin smashed a very slick-looking double and proceeded to swipe third base with ease, and so there were some positive takeaways on the offensive front ... but he also misjudged a Mark Kotsay liner with two outs and runners on base in the bottom of the eighth inning, cutting in on the ball from his post in left field before breaking back and making the catch in a somewhat hypertension-inducing fashion. Josh Hamilton replaced Martin in the field in the ninth inning for defensive purposes after that scare, and assuming that Hamilton is good for the start on Tuesday night, we'll almost certainly see Martin optioned back to Round Rock in favor of bullpen reinforcements. He'll be back.
● For those of you who, for whatever reason, don't glance to your right at the posts in The Clubhouse, the audio from last night's bizarre Dave Barnett incident on the Rangers' telecast is available for your perusal -- an incident during which he seemed to lose control of what he was saying for a period of about 10-15 seconds and, by the end, sounded as though his microphone had been cut off by the FOX Sports Southwest technical crew. We've had quite a bit of discussion of late about the gaffes in the broadcast booth, but this was less a mistake and more just straight up frightening, and if there is, in fact, a medical problem in play that caused Barnett to go completely off the rails in the manner that he did, I can only hope that he ends up being okay.
● The continuing Michael Young offensive free fall is also frightening, albeit strictly in a baseball sense (no, I'd never think of equating the two in importance), as Young's latest 0-for-4 box score disappointment came in the form of four very weak ground outs, and his triple-slash line has now bottomed out at .270/.299/.352 (.286 wOBA, 71 wRC+) for the season in a whopping 281 plate appearances. Think about that for a second: Young has far and away been the worst hitter on the team this season, a sub-replacement player in the aggregate, and he's still on pace for roughly 670 plate appearances. And as last night illustrated, the problem isn't just that Young isn't hitting -- it's also about him looking so thoroughly hopeless at the plate on such an alarmingly consistent basis.
No, I don't think Young's true offensive talent level has eroded so quickly and to such an extreme degree that he's going to be a sub-replacement vortex of negative value going forward, but it's at least conceivable that what's besetting Young right now at the plate has less to do with a prolonged slump, and more to do with the very abrupt, very hard-hitting arrival of his decline phase. If that's the case, and if the most we can expect from Young going forward is a dead-cat bounce in his production, Ron Washington and company are going to have to make some very tough decisions on his playing time and his role on this team over the next year and a half. There's still time for Young to right the ship and prove his naysayers wrong, but time keeps on slipping.