Of the 32 players to get on the field for the Rangers this season, what stands out about these five: C.J. Wilson, Alexi Ogando, Dave Bush, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Young?
I’m hard-pressed to expand that list if I’m going to name the players who have met expectations (productivity and/or health) over the first 36 games, the equivalent of two innings completed if the season were a nine-inning game. I typed Julio Borbon twice and deleted it twice, and he probably belongs, but a total of three walks in 90 plate appearances (.322 on-base) for a player of his type needs to be better, as do the decisions on the basepaths and in center field. But yeah, make it a list of six.
Six out of 32, arguably, in what has been a tale of two nine-win stretches: the first over 10 games, the next over 26. Texas is now 18-18, a .500 ballclub for the first time in more than a year.
The separator between 9-1 and 9-17, rightfully so or not, was Josh Hamilton’s bone-breaking slide home on a foulout near the on-deck circle, and in a cruel view of things a Hamilton slide may, right now, be a season’s defining moment for the second straight year.
But it’s very early.
That said, this doesn’t feel like a situation in which things just aren’t bouncing the Rangers’ way, or the result of running into a couple clubs that couldn’t do anything wrong, or a glaring hole or two brought on by injury. Three spots in the rotation have been inconsistent, the bullpen has been flickering from top to bottom, the offense from a couple key contributors has been absent (particularly since Hamilton was sidelined), the defense has been sloppy. It’s been a run of bad baseball, one that makes the brand this club played over the first 10 games difficult to remember.
But it was this roster, this rotation and this bullpen and (with Hamilton) this lineup, that busted out to that 9-1 start. We’re watching bad baseball right now, but not a bad baseball team.
Lots has to right itself, but Texas has proved over the last month that momentum and results can change quickly. So has Tampa Bay, which started the year 1-8, having lost Carl Crawford and Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano and Carlos Pena over the winter and Evan Longoria two games into the season. The Rays are now tied for first in the AL East.
Hamilton could be back in two weeks. I assume Nelson Cruz will return before that. Scott Feldman is poised for a rehab assignment, and while the reports on his knee have been positive and in steady supply, I’m dying to know whether he’s rediscovered the bite and command on his cutter (which could give Texas an interesting eighth-inning alternative). Tommy Hunter pitched well in a six-inning rehab start for AAA Round Rock yesterday, though he tweaked his groin muscle on the final pitch he threw. He’ll have an MRI today.
Brandon Webb? Still working on his mechanics.
But don’t worry about Webb right now. Getting Feldman and hopefully Hunter and, maybe sometime this half, Tanner Scheppers will help. Getting Pedro Strop ironed out will, too. (He’s only pitched once since returning to the Express, getting out of an inherited bases-loaded jam four days ago before giving up two runs on three hits in the following inning.) If Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison can build off their recent in-game adjustments, good.
Aside from Hamilton returning, two-thirds of the lineup can be better, most offensively and some defensively.
It can get better. That doesn’t mean it’s a lock. But most of these players, not just a few, have a track record better than what they’re showing right now, and the 2010 season plus the first week of this one suggest that the team itself is capable of considerably more than it’s put together over the last month of baseball. We’re starting to hear the players say publicly that they just need to relax, and while they’re talking about themselves and not us, we can probably take a hint, recognizing that in many ways the Rangers couldn’t be playing worse, and yet the standings could look much worse, and don’t.
We’ve learned enough about this team and this game to know things can turn around. I’d like to think that’s possible with this group even before Josh Hamilton gets back, starting tonight with Colby Lewis, whose own mini-resurgence could serve as a springboard for one on a much bigger scale, if you can muster up enough trust in this roster to get your head right with ball.