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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Scouting the opponent: Texas Rangers

By Mark Saxon

The Angels proved to be the moveable object when they met the Texas Rangers and lost 7-1 Monday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Angels had come in riding a five-game winning streak and the Rangers entered it with a 6-0 record at home.

To find out what the Angels are up against in this series, we caught up with ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett for a look at the 2011 Rangers:

Was there a pattern, other than the opponent, to the Rangers starting so hot (9-1) and then cooling off in the last couple of series?

The offense was on fire to start the season, beating up on the Red Sox and Mariners at home. In fact, going into Monday's game, the Rangers hadn't even batted in the ninth inning in Arlington (six wins, none in extra innings). They got good starting pitching, but frankly, they got good enough starting pitching on this just-completed nine-game road trip, but they didn't hit well as a team. The clutch at-bats and big innings just weren't there with any consistency. Add in the fact that the bullpen was wobbly and the Rangers lost some games late.

How in the world have they managed to patch together that rotation? Is Alexi Ogando's long-term future as a starter and how badly do you think they'll miss him as a late-inning reliever?

They miss him badly in relief. Manager Ron Washington is trying to piece together the late innings to get the game to closer Neftali Feliz. Ogando was the hard-throwing righty that could come in and pitch that eighth inning. Lately, the Rangers have relied on veteran lefties Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes for that inning. But those guys can't keep up the pace they are going. The Rangers need a right-handed arm to step up. Could it be Pedro Strop? We'll see. But you can bet bullpen help is high on the list of Rangers' needs now and in the future. BTW, the back end of the rotation is what's making this happen. Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Ogando have been solid. You'll get to see Harrison, who is undefeated, on Wednesday.

Do you get the sense the Rangers are more concerned about Anaheim or Oakland as the team that could cut short what they hoped would be long-term dominance of the division?

Honestly, they are concerned about both. Oakland and the Angels have the pitching to stay in the division and the Rangers feel like both are a threat. They believe they can win the division, but I talked to several players the past few days about the AL West and all of them are expecting a tight, three-team race until the very end.

It seems Adrian Beltre hasn't gotten off to the slow start that some other big-money guys who changed teams have (eg., Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells). What kind of influence has he been on the team aside from his numbers, so far?

Beltre was actually much better at the plate on the road trip (he and Michael Young were the only two guys that really hit much at all on that trip) and comes into this series feeling better about his offense. But he's had big impact everywhere else. The guy grabs anything and everything hit his way, helping make the Rangers' infield one of the best in the majors. At times, it feels like he's playing third and short because of his range. That allows shortstop Elvis Andrus to slide a little bit more toward the bag, making it even tougher to get a ground ball through. Beltre also fits in well in the clubhouse. Like last year, this is a group of guys that are close-knit and like to have fun.



Catch us up on Mike Napoli. Is he viewed as an everyday player, a bench guy who a hybrid? What's your crystal ball tell you about his impact this season?

His role changed at the end of spring training when the club traded Matt Treanor to keep an extra reliever. Instead of mainly 1B or DH, Napoli is the backup catcher. They traded for him to provide some pop against lefties off the bench and that's still his primary role. But now he catches more and the short bench and no third catcher means manager Ron Washington has to get creative (he can't put Napoli at DH, for instance, with Yorvit Torrealba catching unless he wants to risk losing the DH). But Napoli is another good guy in the clubhouse and has worked well with the pitchers.

If you were to pick one area of this team that you think management is most concerned about for the rest of the season, what would it be?

Bullpen, as we've discussed. But they'll also monitor how this team responds to the loss of Josh Hamilton. Seems strange to think they'd add a bat, but you never know what might be available at the trade deadline. Also, it's still WAY early in the season and you can never have enough starting pitching depth. Watch to see how Brandon Webb progresses and when Tommy Hunter is ready. They could provide some key reinforcements.