Monday, June 9, 2014
Thoughts with 99 games left in the season
By Richard Durrett
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers have now played 63 games, meaning they've got less than 100 left -- 99 to be exact -- in the season. The baseball season is no longer early. Teams have a better idea who they are, though most won't determine whether they are contenders or not until right before the trade deadline.
So, with nearly 39 percent of the season completed, a few thoughts on this Rangers team and the AL West:
Choo was signed to hit leadoff, but with so much turnover in the heart of the lineup, the Rangers would be smarter to slot him third.
• The first 10 weeks of the season are over, which also gives us an idea of the competition in the AL West. The Oakland A's are one of the top teams in the AL and have done it on the strength of the best road record in the league. Much like the Rangers used to do when winning the AL West in 2010 and 2011, they are also beating the division teams to bolster that record. Despite injuries to two members of the starting rotation earlier this year, the A's keep pitching and finding a way to deliver clutch hits. They're the team to beat in the division.
• Are the Los Angeles Angels lurking? It seems that just as Los Angeles looks primed to go on a run, they stall. An 11-17 mark against the AL West hasn't helped, yet they still sit 4½ behind and would be in the playoffs as a wild-card team if the postseason started today. Josh Hamilton has dealt with injuries (I know, that's not breaking news), but when he has played, he's played well. That lineup overall is producing more than last year, hence the reason they are playing better.
• Shin-Soo Choo has to be the 3-hole hitter. There's just no choice. I know the manager likes Choo's approach and what he does better at the leadoff spot, but what other viable option does he have? Choo's numbers aren't bad in the 3-spot -- he's hit .280 in seven games with three extra-base hits -- but he was signed to lead off. Still, everyone has to adjust. When Choo bats third, Michael Choice usually leads off. With the Kendrys Morales signing in Minnesota, there aren't any reinforcements likely coming, so Washington will have to continue to try to mix and match and see what happens.
• This team needs more from Elvis Andrus. He's shown signs the past few days that he can deliver. But several players (and Washington) have referred to Andrus as a spark plug or catalyst for this offense. He hasn't been that for much of these first 63 games. Andrus, though, started poorly in 2013, too. He hit .242 in the first 92 games thanks in part to a June in which he batted under .200. He had 31 RBIs in those games. But in the second half, he hit .313 with 36 RBIs, hitting all four of his home runs. If the Rangers are to hang around in the wild card, they must get some improved play from Andrus.
• Sellers, buyers or neither? The next four to six weeks will determine exactly where this team is heading into the deadline. But the club covets its prospects -- as it should -- and isn't likely to part with its blue-chippers unless something really special came up. This team would have go to on some kind of impressive tear to make the front office consider buying pieces at the deadline, and, even then, I don't think it would be any kind of shopping spree.
The more likely scenario is that this team hangs around the wild-card spots -- currently, seven teams are within 3½ games of the two wild-card spots. If that's the case, I still think you could see the Rangers at least see what the market bears for certain players. Alex Rios and Jason Frasor are the two mentioned by most in that they could make sense for a team in the pennant hunt. So seeing what could be obtained for them isn't a bad idea. What about Andrus and Adrian Beltre? Again, can't hurt to find out what the market looks like, but don't forget that general manager Jon Daniels and his staff must also consider the long-term ramifications in the clubhouse to a trade. Andrus and Beltre are leaders. I'm not saying that should stop them from trading them, but it's one more part of their value. And an underrated part.
• Derek Holland could really help this staff, but don't expect him to be a savior. Holland is scheduled to go through PFP on Monday and, if all goes well, perhaps go on a rehab assignment soon. He'll be a boost to the rotation. There's no doubt about that. And the fact that it's his knee and not his arm that he's recovering from should help as well. But he's still likely to be rusty and can't be expected to jump right back in as a typical No. 2 starter. He'll certainly help, though.
• Does Leonys Martin get a chance at regular leadoff duty now? The manager said he must stay flexible with his lineup. But what if Martin is given a real chance to lead off? I'm not sure he can do it. But it would benefit the organization to find out. And sporadic play up there in 155 plate appearances in 2013 didn't fully answer the question.