Texas Rangers: 2012 halfway

Halfway home: 2nd-half schedule stiffens

July, 14, 2012
7/14/12
9:24
AM CT
Last season, the Rangers started the second half with a four-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, turning what was a one-game lead in the AL West into a five-game lead after a win in the opening game of the series with the Los Angeles Angels. The lead ended up slipping back to one game, but the Rangers never lost that AL West cushion in part because they got a nice boost to start the second half.

Manager Ron Washington is hoping for a similar run this season, with the second half starting once again in Seattle.

“I’m looking for us to come out (of) the blocks hard, coming out of the blocks in our division,” Washington said. “We better. We certainly showed what we are made of the last two games.”

The Rangers ended the first half with two walk-off wins against the Minnesota Twins and carried that over into a 3-2 victory in Seattle on Friday night. That, coupled with a Yankees comeback win against the Angels, pushed the Rangers to a five-game advantage. Outside of the New York Yankees’ huge lead in the AL East, it’s the largest lead in the league.

But the schedule stiffens in the second half. Texas plays the AL West to start the second half on the road with three in Seattle, two in Oakland and three in Anaheim. Then two teams with playoff hopes in Boston (just 2 ½ games behind in the Wild Card) and the White Sox (tops in the AL Central) come to Arlington, along with the Angels, who are still hoping to catch the Rangers or claim a wild card spot for themselves.

Overall, it’s a tougher schedule this half with 13 games against the Angels, six against the Red Sox, four in New York vs. the Yankees and a slew of games with teams vying for playoff spots. In fact, of the Rangers’ 24 series, 18 of them are against teams that are .500 or better heading into the second half.

“It’s tough,” Washington said. “I never looked at the schedule and thought it was going to be easy. It is what it is. We’ve got Seattle coming out, Oakland and Anaheim. We’re going to go play.”

Oakland ended the first half well, signaling they could be a tougher opponent the second half than previously thought. Still, the AL West appears to be a two-team race.

“Oakland is tough. I certainly never counted them out,” Washington said. “Seattle might have put themselves in a position numbers-wise, but they’ve got three teams to jump to get to the top. I guess when you look at way Oakland has been playing and the way Anaheim has been playing, certainly don’t take anything for granted.

“Every team in our division has a chance except Seattle because they’ve got to jump three teams. I don’t think all three teams are going to fall apart.”

Halfway home: Injured pitchers give boost?

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
12:30
PM CT
Another key aspect of the second half for the Texas Rangers is how the injured pitchers return and what kind of boost that gives the club.

Derek Holland returned just before the All-Star break and gets things going tonight in Seattle. But there are others poised to join him:

* Alexi Ogando threw 15 pitches (10 of them strikes) in a perfect inning in Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday that included two strikeouts. He'll throw two innings Saturday and, if all goes well, would probably join the club Tuesday in Oakland. That would make an already solid bullpen even stronger, adding in one of the more versatile relief pieces in the league.

* Colby Lewis is feeling good and getting ready and is slated to start fifth in the rotation after the All-Star break. Because of the club's schedule, that's not actually the fifth day after the break. The Rangers get Monday off. So Lewis will go Wednesday in Oakland.

* Neftali Feliz will be stretched out as a starter coming back from elbow inflammation. He's slated to pitch two innings Sunday and would built up from there. The idea is the club wants to be sure it has options in the rotation and if there's no spot for Feliz, they could always switch him to the bullpen. But for now, he'll go in with the mentality that he's starting. He'll need some starts, so Feliz will trail behind the other pitchers a bit for now.

* Koji Uehara threw to live hitters Thursday in Arlington and should pitch Saturday in Round Rock. He'll be ready soon to rejoin the bullpen.

* Mark Lowe is throwing in Seattle and is beginning his march back toward the pen.

Put all of that together and it's difficult to see how these returning pitchers can't be a boost to the club in the second half. And depending on how they do after they return could impact what the Rangers do at the trade deadline. But as the second half starts, the Rangers appear ready to get better in the rotation. That's got to be a reassuring thing for manager Ron Washington.

Halfway home: Can Derek Holland return to form?

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
8:00
AM CT


We continue our look at some of the second-half questions with the pitching staff.

Question: Can Derek Holland return to form?

Holland signed a long-term contract in spring training and after his sensational outing in Game 4 of the World Series and a consistent, solid second-half in 2011, he appeared primed to help lead the rotation in 2012. It hasn't happened. Perhaps the innings caught up to Holland. He threw 198 innings in the regular season and another 35 1/3 innings in the postseason.

This season, Holland is 5-4 with a 5.05 ERA in 13 games (12 starts). Holland was inconsistent in the first half last year, going 7-4 with a 4.68 ERA in 18 starts. Then, Holland turned it on. He went 9-1 with a 3.06 ERA in his final 14 starts and then ended his season with Game 4 in the World Series.

The Rangers need to see the 2011 second-half Holland in this second half. One plus to Holland's disabled list stint is that he should be rested. He's had one start after returning and had a quality outing. He'll start things off tonight in Seattle for the club in the second half and gets a chance to see if he can put the first half behind him and pitch like he did in 2011.

Halfway home: Can Michael Young get going?

July, 12, 2012
7/12/12
11:00
AM CT
We continue our look at some of the second-half questions that face the Texas Rangers as they prepare to resume play Friday night in Seattle.

Halfway home: Can Michael Young get things going again?

It was a little odd to see eight Rangers players at the 2012 All-Star Game and not have Young among them. The seven-time All-Star has provided the game-winning hit twice for the American League and has been a Rangers' staple in the game. But a struggling first half meant he was at home during the All-Star break and not in Kansas City.

Things didn't start that way. For the first month of the season (28 games between April 6 and May 7), Young hit .322 with three homers and 19 RBIs. He had a .347 on-base percentage and was collecting clutch hits.

Since then, Young is batting just .243 with no homers and 16 RBIs (55 games). He has a .280 on-base percentage. For his career, Young has a .451 on-base percentage. He's got a .303 on-base percentage for the year. His lowest total over an entire season was .330 in 2010. But that year he also hit .284 and drove in 91 runs.

Perhaps Young's final game before the break can provide an important springboard for him. He went 4-for-6 against the Minnesota Twins, including a two-RBI double in the ninth to tie the score in a game the Rangers eventually won in extra innings.

The Rangers need Young's bat. He's now hitting sixth in the lineup -- and I've got to think manager Ron Washington will keep him there starting Friday -- and that's a spot that can still be a big run producer. Young has been a consistent clutch hitter his entire career, but that hasn't been the case for much of this season. It's strange to see Young in this kind of a slump for this long. Young, though, remains confident and can rely on his track record to help get him out of it. He was spraying balls on Sunday against the Twins, certainly a good sign. But he knows getting out of a slump means putting things together in more than one game.

Watch Young over the next week. He'll be playing against division teams and has a chance to get something going on the road. A lineup that has been inconsistent on offense certainly could use a productive Young.

Will Mike Napoli have another hot second half?

July, 12, 2012
7/12/12
8:00
AM CT
Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli is glad the first half of the season is over. It had a feeling of déjà vu for him.

Napoli hit just .228 and had 12 homers and 30 RBIs in the first half of this season.

“It was the same way last year,” Napoli said.

Yep. He hit .232 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in 2011. But there was one big difference: playing time. Napoli came into last season as the backup catcher to Yorvit Torrealba and had 155 at-bats in the first half. This season he’s played in more games and has 241 at-bats, yet hasn’t been able to match his production from the second half of last season.

Napoli came out of last season's All-Star break ready to go (he was actually hitting well in the week or two leading up to the break, too). He ended up batting .383 with 18 homers and 42 RBIs in 214 second-half at-bats. That momentum carried over to the postseason, where he seemed to come through in the clutch consistently. Napoli would have been the club’s World Series MVP had they closed the deal in Game 6.

So is knowing that he’s capable of that kind of stretch helpful going into the second half this season?

“I think it helps,” said Napoli, just prior to starting at catcher in the All-Star Game. “I had a bad first half last year and I had a great second half. It’s something to look to.”

Napoli sought out the council of several of his teammates recently, asking them how they approach getting out of prolonged slumps. Some of the advice that Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre gave Napoli: Don’t forget that you can’t get your average up 60 points in one at-bat.

“I’ll take that approach, keep working and do what the situation calls for me in the game,” Napoli said.

He said he’s not getting too frustrated and that he’s confident he can bounce back. The key is getting comfortable at the plate, and he feels like he’s had a few games in the past week that have felt much better to him.

Napoli’s offensive tear was a key to the club’s second-half charge (they pushed ahead from a close division thanks in large part to his exploits last July and August), and for an offense that has been stagnant the past six weeks, they could sure use Napoli’s bat again.

How do you think he’ll do in the second half? It’s not feasible to think he’ll repeat last year, but can he hit .300 or more in the second half?

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Colby Lewis
WINS ERA SO IP
10 5.18 133 170
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Beltre .324
HRA. Beltre 19
RBIA. Beltre 77
RA. Beltre 79
OPSA. Beltre .879
ERAC. Lewis 5.18
SOY. Darvish 182