What we know about Rangers so far in '11
So the Rangers have played 18 games in 2011, that's 11 percent of the season, for those of you wondering. That means it's early to make any firm determinations about what may happen by the time we get to August -- or even June. For those of you pushing the panic button after three straight series losses, let me remind you that Texas was 8-10 after 18 games in 2010 before playing more consistent baseball and leaping to the top of the division to stay in June.
That doesn't mean there aren't some concerns with this team. They have a handful of them they must deal with going forward. And they've also had some solid play and nice surprises. Here are some things we know about the Rangers so far. Please share your thoughts and which areas you're thinking about:
* Before spring training finished, the Rangers were concerned about the bullpen. They were worried enough that they traded backup catcher Matt Treanor to the Royals so they could keep an additional reliever. A few weeks into the season, manager Ron Washington is still trying to figure out what he has in his bullpen besides closer Neftali Feliz and veteran lefties Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes. Washington knows he can't use his left-handers every game, meaning someone else needs to step up. Darren O'Day has struggled with his command, hitting two batters last night and giving up a home run. Mark Lowe had his velocity, but little movement on his fastball and is now in the minors trying to figure it out.
What's the solution? At this point, Washington has to deal with who he has on the staff. The logical step is to give Pedro Strop the ball in the eighth inning with the Rangers holding a slim lead and see if he can get it done. But with Alexi Ogando in the starting rotation, things remain in flux out there. It's an area the Rangers must fix.
* Who would have thought Matt Harrison would be the top pitcher to start the season? You could make a case for Ogando, who has also impressed, but Harrison leads the club with three wins and has the best ERA of any starter at 1.88. He has four consecutive quality starts and looks like a completely different guy than the one that couldn't hang in the rotation in 2009 and 2010.
* The Rangers need more from the top of the lineup. Ian Kinsler is hitting .200 for the season now after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He is 8-for-48 (.166) in his last 13 games to drop from a .294 average. He has drawn a team-high 12 walks to keep his OBP from a more severe drop (it's at .342). I still like Kinsler at the leadoff spot and believe he has the versatility to be strong there. Maybe getting off his feet as the DH on Wednesday and then the off day today can help settle him so that he can pick things back up. Elvis Andrus, batting in the 2-hole, is hitting .231. Another player with speed and the ability to do things when he gets on base, Andrus has a .260 OBP, the lowest of any regular. Texas needs those two players to set the table for the rest of the order.
* How do you like that Adrian Beltre signing so far? The guy is a web gem waiting to happen every at-bat and is really heating up at the plate. He started slowly on offense, but just snapped a nine-game hitting streak in which he had four homers and 12 RBIs with a .389 average. He's fortified the third base position, allowing the Rangers to move Michael Young to the various infield positions when needed. And Beltre clearly fits into the Rangers' clubhouse.
* Speaking of Young, he's been one of the club's top producers at the plate, batting .342 on the season. Young isn't worried about trades at this point, he's just playing and playing well. And the Rangers aren't too motivated to move him, either. With Hamilton out, they especially need him. Washington considers him critical, as evidenced by the fact that he's batting in the No. 3 spot, normally occupied by Hamilton. BTW, Young's 10-5 rights kick in on May 7, according to the number crunchers on service time. He'll have a right to veto any trade by then. I still don't think he goes anywhere in 2011.
* Colby Lewis hasn't had the start he wanted. He's not concerned about the velocity, which was down slightly the other night, but knows he has to command his fastball better. Lewis was one of those guys that you knew every time he went out last year that he'd throw strikes and keep hitters off-balance with his off-speed stuff. But all of that works off the fastball, which hasn't been as effective so far. Again, it's early. And on a sidenote, I don't have any patience for the folks that question Lewis' decision to take parternity leave and skip a start to be with his wife for the birth of their second child. And there have been some the past few days on the air waves and commenting on blogs about it. It doesn't matter how much money these guys are paid, they are people too. Would you want to miss the birth of your son or daughter?
* It seems clear Ogando's got something. He may end up going back to the bullpen when Tommy Hunter or Brandon Webb are ready to pitch again, but he's shown he is capable of starting. Imagine the Rangers' rotation in the future -- maybe even 2012 -- with Feliz and Ogando in it. Both could help the staff for years.
* Nelson Cruz doesn't look comfortable at the plate right now. After starting the season on a tear, Cruz is 2-for-19 in his last five games and 6-for-37 in his last 10 contests. He has 11 strikeouts in that span. He's still one of the most feared hitters on this team. But with Josh Hamilton out, Cruz has to be one of those guys that maintains a steady level on offense. I don't think there was anyone on the team that needed a day off today more than Cruz. And he may get another DH game coming up on this homestand.
* Mitch Moreland has been extremely impressive this season. We'll talk more about him on the blog tomorrow, but the first baseman has carried over his solid postseason into a good spring training and a nice start to 2011. He grinds every at-bat and has a mature approach at the plate. He's hitting .313 and nine of his 15 hits this season are extra-base hits.
* Mike Napoli has been a nice addition to the club. Now that Taylor Teagarden is on the bench as a third catcher, Washington will have more flexibility to do more with Napoli, who can play first base, catch and DH. He was obtained because of how well he hits lefties, but he's got two homers against righties so far this season too.
Those are just some of the things we know about the Rangers so far. We'll discuss more of them as the days and weeks progress.
What sticks out for you?
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.