Thursday, June 30, 2011
Rangers searching for consistency
By Calvin Watkins ESPNDallas.com
HOUSTON -- The Texas Rangers just passed the midway point of their season, and the only real change between last season's surprise run to an American League pennant and this year's campaign has been consistency -- or the lack of it.
After 81 games last season, the Rangers were 48-33 and had a 3 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels. At the halfway point this season, their record was 43-38, but they still led the AL West by 1 1/2 games over the Angels.
Talk to some of the Rangers, from the players to the field manager to the guy who approves the checks, and you will get a similar response.
Alexi Ogando started 7-0 but has lost his last last three starts.
"Our inconsistency," team president and CEO Nolan Ryan said when asked what concerns him. "When you watch our ballclub, we go through periods where we don't play well at all and [then] we will play well, and it's not just one part of our team. It's a team effort."
Missing Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz for extended periods due to injures hurt the offense. A slow start by newly acquired slugger Adrian Beltre, a poor batting average by Ian Kinsler and missing starter Tommy Hunter, reliever Darren O'Day and closer Neftali Feliz because of injuries left the Rangers shorthanded.
"Everybody tries to count us out and we bounce back," manager Ron Washington said.
Heading into Thursday night's 7-0 loss to the Houston Astros, the Rangers had scored 42 fewer runs than last year and allowed 12 more runs.
The loss of Hamilton and Cruz -- who missed a combined 53 games -- certainly has contributed to the decrease in run produciton.
Beltre, despite his team-leading 57 RBIs -- 26 of which have come on the road -- admits he could be playing better.
He said he'll get heated up in the second half of the season. However, while playing for the Boston Red Sox last year, Beltre had a higher average in the first half (.330) than in the second half (.309). But the third baseman cut down on his strikeouts dramatically in the second half, going down on strikes just 28 times after striking out 54 times in the first half.
"OK, just OK. I could do a lot better," Beltre said of his play so far. "I've had a lot of chances; I'm being kinda streaky. Overall, I think I could have done a better job. The good thing is I've always been a better second-half player."
The pitching staff received a boost from Alexi Ogando and his 7-0 start, but the converted reliever has hit a rough patch in losing his past three starts. But Ogando's 2.87 ERA still ranks ninth in the AL.
C.J. Wilson has pitched like an All Star with an 8-3 mark and 3.14 ERA. He's in the top-10 in innings pitched (117.2) and strikeouts (100).
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The bullpen has garnered most of the attention with Feliz -- who missed time with an inflamed shoulder and has blown four saves -- and other relievers struggling with consistency.
"You know, the bullpen has been better lately than it was early," Ryan said. "You like to see consistency in it too, but the biggest plus I think we have is to get people healthy again. And we got some pitchers who hadn't pitched for us all year that will be ready here shortly and after the All-Star break, we'll have an opportunity to add people if we feel like they're ready."
Veteran utility man Michael Young said the team has responded well to the challenge of defending not only the AL West, but dealing with being the defending AL champs.
The scrutiny is probably more than what any player on this roster has dealt with in his baseball career, and that's fine for Young as the club looks forward to the next 81 games.
"I would hope a winning team has more eyes on them, and I'm hoping that's the case around here," he said. "Not so much for this year, but for years to come."
The weak AL West has helped the Rangers get away with their inconsistency, and even a little controversy -- such as dismissing hitting coach Thad Bosley -- hasn't slowed or distracted the team.
Young said the team has fun playing together and that he likes the makeup of the veteran club. Players will stay loose and joke with Hamilton about having problems seeing the baseball during day games or Kinsler wanting to play for the Isreali national team.
"One thing about us is I want to make sure we still stay the hunter," Young said. "A lot of times you get on your heels because people come after you harder. We still have to have the same type of hunger like we did last year, and that's try and beat people, not sit up here and wait for people to come to us. We have to take our game to other people, and if we do that we'll be in good shape."
Calvin Watkins is a reporter and columnist for ESPNDallas.com.