The Commerce Journal

August 2, 2012

Rangers slipping in the West

By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — At the beginning of the season, there were some major questions regarding the Texas Rangers’ 2012 MLB season and their attempt at a third-straight World Series run. Gone was ace pitcher C.J. Wilson to division-rival the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim). The Angels also picked up the best hitter of the past decade in Albert Pujols. The Detroit Tigers nabbed slugging first baseman Prince Fielder in free agency as well.

The Rangers spent big money acquiring Japanese superstar Yu Darvish, and converted former AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz to a starting pitcher. While Wilson made the switch from closer to starter a few years ago, Alexi Ogando struggled in the middle of the season and it was unknown as to whether Feliz could handle 150-180 innings in a year.

Through the first 102 games many of those questions have been answered, but the big one still remains: are the Rangers good enough to win a World Series?

If this question had been asked during the first half of the season, the answer would have undoubtedly been yes. OF Josh Hamilton was having the best season of his career, SP Matt Harrison had developed into a consistent starter, and Darvish was as good as anyone could have hoped. But injuries and a severe slump for Hamilton have cast a shadow of doubt onto the Ballpark in Arlington.

Opening Day starter Colby Lewis is out for the season. His career as a Ranger is probably over. Feliz is also out for the season and will need the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Mid-season acquisition Roy Oswalt has been banished to the bullpen after a string of terrible starts.

Hamilton batted a terrible .177 batting average in July, and the Rangers’ lead over the Angels and Athletics has shrunk to three and three and a half games, respectively. Mike Napoli and Michael Young have both struggled after stellar 2011 campaigns.

But, the Rangers GM Jon Daniels has not been silent. Earlier this week, he snagged catcher Geovany Soto and SP Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs. Dempster is 5-5 this year with a 2.25 ERA, 83 strikeouts and a 1.04 WHIP. He instantly ascends to the top of the Rangers’ rotation, which means that Texas will (hopefully) be able to throw Dempster, Harrison, Darvish, Derek Holland and Scott Feldman/Roy Oswalt/random minor league pitcher at teams. It’s not a great rotation, but it’s not awful, either.

Soto is only batting .199 this year with four homeruns, but he’s been one of the best power-hitting catchers in the NL over the past four years and boasts a career .992 fielding percentage. He’ll be able to step in a start right away, giving Napoli the chance to play first base full time, or rotate with Soto.

The Rangers definitely aren’t as invincible as they looked earlier in the season, and with the emergence of the Oakland Athletics as wild card contender and the midseason acquisition of Zack Grienke by the Angels, Texas’ grasp on the AL West is more tenuous that ever. They are still second in the MLB in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, third in runs scored and fifth in WHIP. However, if Dempster is able to continue his fantastic pitching, if Holland, Darvish and Harrison can stay healthy, and if Hamilton can hit his way out of the slump, then the Rangers have a strong chance of making the World Series again.

NOTE: WHIP stands for ‘walks and hits per innings pitched.’ It’s a good way to measure how many times a pitcher allows the opposing team to get on base. The more a team gets on base, the more likely they are to score.