Rangers try to run away with AL West

Originally Published: August 19, 2011
ESPN.com

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Who's the big dog?

CJ Wilson
Wilson

Texas boasts a dangerous lineup rife with impact hitters (even more so after Adrian Beltre returns from the disabled list). But with the American League West race already under control, the biggest and most important dog of all may be staff ace C.J. Wilson. Cliff Lee's defection to the Phillies and Colby Lewis's season-long Jekyll and Hyde act left the division-favorite Rangers in dire need of a front-line starter for a potential deep playoff run. Wilson has more than answered the call, ranking fifth among all AL starters in fWAR (4.6) while bumping his strikeout rate to 8.2 K/9 and slashing his walk rate (3.1 BB/9) by more than one walk per nine innings compared to last season.

-- Joey Matschulat, Baseball Time in Arlington, an affiliate of the SweetSpot Network

Who needs to step up?

Neither Mitch Moreland (.277/.343/.437 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) nor Nelson Cruz (.264/.320/.563) has produced at the plate the way they did in 2010, but because they already are stepping it up (both have posted .400 or better OBPs) in the past 30 days, here's a pair of unsettling picks: Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, the Rangers' two heralded deadline pickups. Although both setup men have lived up to their dominant billing at times, they've incurred three late-inning losses this month and allowed four home runs in just 15 combined innings. Beyond that, bullpen convert Alexi Ogando has lost his dominant edge of late, and there's growing concern about how much gas he has left in the tank.

-- Joey Matschulat, Baseball Time in Arlington, an affiliate of the SweetSpot Network

Key stat: run differential

A pretty simple concept: Score more than your opponents, and winning is easy. No team has as high a run differential since the All-Star break as the Rangers. Even with Thursday's loss to the Angels, the Rangers' plus-69 run differential is the best in baseball. And they haven't just been mashing on offense (Texas is second in runs scored since the break) --- the Rangers' starting rotation has posted a 3.34 ERA since the break, good for fifth-best in MLB in that same span.

-- ESPN Stats & Info

Where are they going?

August has been good to the Texas Rangers. They are 11-5 since the month began, and after beating the Los Angeles Angels in three of their past four games, they have a six-game lead in the American League West.

However, as they head toward the playoffs, they have to figure out exactly what they want their outfield to look like.

In the past few weeks, manager Ron Washington has experimented with a few different options. Although Nelson Cruz has been the regular right fielder, Josh Hamilton has been bouncing between left field and center field depending on the matchup.

For more of Dave Cameron's analysis, click here. Insider