2009 Record: 26-17 (.605)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 24-19 (.558)
2008 Record: 79-83 (.488)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 76-86 (.469)
Manager: Ron Washington
General Manager: Jon Daniels
Home Ballpark: Rangers Ballpark (100/101)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Chris Davis and Hank Blalock split up Milton Bradley’s at-bats
- Elvis Andrus replaces Ramon Vazquez
- Omar Vizquel replaces German Duran (minors)
- Nelson Cruz inherits the playing time of Brandon Boggs (minors)
- Andruw Jones replaces Frank Catalanotto
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia inherits Gerald Laird’s playing time
- Taylor Teagarden replaces Saltalamacchia as the backup catcher
- Derek Holland is filling in for Vicente Padilla (DL)
- Matt Harrison takes over Kason Gabbard’s starts
- Brandon McCarthy takes over the starts of Sidney Ponson and Luis Mendoza (minors)
- Darren O’Day replaces Josh Rupe
- Jason Jennings takes over Jamey Wright’s innings
- Kris Benson is filling in for Dustin Nippert (DL)
- Warner Madrigal is filling in for Joaquin Benoit (DL)
1B – Chris Davis (L)
2B – Ian Kinsler (R)
SS – Elvis Andrus (R)
3B – Michael Young (R)
C – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
RF – Nelson Cruz (R)
CF – Josh Hamilton (L)
LF – David Murphy (L)
DH – Hank Blalock (L)
R – Andruw Jones (OF)
R – Marlon Byrd (OF)
R – Taylor Teagarden (C)
S – Omar Vizquel (SS)
R – Kevin Millwood
L – Derek Holland
R – Scott Feldman
R – Brandon McCarthy
L – Matt Harrison
R – Frank Francisco
L – C.J. Wilson
L – Eddie Guardado
R – Darren O’Day
R – Jason Jennings
R – Kris Benson
R – Warner Madrigal
15-day DL: RHP – Vicente Padilla (strained shoulder); RHP – Willie Eyre (groin); RHP – Dustin Nippert (strained back/side)
60-day DL: RHP – Joaquin Benoit (torn rotator cuff); RHP – Eric Hurley (torn rotator cuff)
R – Ian Kinsler (2B)
R – Michael Young (3B)
L – Josh Hamilton (CF)
L – Hank Blalock (3B)
R – Nelson Cruz (RF)
L – David Murphy (LF)
L – Chris Davis (1B)
S – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C)
R – Elvis Andrus (SS)
When I look at this year’s Texas Rangers, who currently boast the best record in the American League, I see this year’s Toronto Blue Jays: a team that has scored a lot of runs and played great defense, but has yet to be challenged by its schedule.
The Rangers enter this week’s three-game series against the Yankees with a 4-8 record against teams that are currently above .500. Three of those four wins came at home against the Angels. The only other winning teams they’ve played are the Blue Jays (1-2) and the Tigers (0-6).
Credit the Rangers for cleaning up against the league’s lesser teams, but a reckoning is coming. Starting tonight 16 of their next 20 games are against the Yankees (six), Jays (four), Red Sox (three), and Dodgers (three). Remember, the Jays had the best record in the AL when the Yankees arrived in Toronto two weeks ago. They then dropped two of three to the Bombers and have since lost their last six to the Red Sox and Braves, falling off their perch atop the AL East in the process. The Rangers could be in for a similar fall, though no one in the West appears ready to overtake them in their division.
The Rangers (or Texas Texases as some are calling them due to the fact that they no longer wear a uniform that says “Rangers” on it), are indeed scoring a lot of runs, but a year after leading the majors with 5.56 runs per game, their sixth-place 5.40 R/G feels underwhelming, particularly given the overall increase in scoring in the majors thus far this year (4.77 R/G up from 4.65 a year ago). Some of that is due to the fact that Josh Hamilton has fought oblique and groin injuries which have cost him both playing time and production. Part of it is due to the fact that, while Chris Davis and Hank Blalock have combined for 21 home runs, they’ve also combined for a mere .272 on-base percentage, while Davis is leading the world in strikeouts with 64 in just 42 games played.
The Rangers have gotten great production from Andruw Jones as the short side of a left-field platoon, and from Michael Young, who has flourished in the wake of his move to third base. Ian Kinsler and right-fielder Nelson Cruz are both hitting for power and stealing bases, combining for 23 homers and 17 steals in 19 attempts thus far, but the team on-base percentage is well below league average, and the Texases are scoring a below-average 4.47 runs per game on the road. Unfortunately for the Yankees, their playing Texas in Texas this week, where the Texases are 14-6 on the season and scoring 6.45 runs per game.
The Rangers’ pitching has thus far been a pleasant surprise, boasting a staff ERA comfortably above league average (4.41 vs. 4.58) after finishing a distant last in the majors in staff ERA last year (5.37 to the Orioles’ 5.15), but what looks like improved pitching has a great deal to do with a tremendous turnaround in team defense.
The Rangers were last in the majors in defensive efficiency last year. This year, they lead the AL and trail just three National League teams in turning balls in play into outs. The decision to move 2008 Gold Glove winner Michael Young to third base and install rookie Elvis Andrus at shortstop has a lot to do with that. Despite winning that award, Young was actually one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball last year. Andrus, however, is legitimately excellent at the position. Young is still pretty bad at the hot corner, but Ian Kinsler has shown a sudden and surprising turn around at the keystone, and Chris Davis has been excellent at first base, giving Texas three-quarters of an excellent defensive infield.
In the outfield, Nelson Cruz has made as many highlight shows for his play in right field as for his power at the plate and has the highest Ultimate Zone Rating on the team. Josh Hamilton, when healthy, has been almost as good in center, and David Murphy has played a strong left field, while Andruw Jones, formerly the best defensive center fielder in baseball, isn’t doing the team any harm on his days in the field, despite the complete errosion of his skills that occured last year. On top of all that, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, one of the key pieces in the Mark Teixeira trade, is throwing out 36 percent of baserunners and hasn’t allowed a passed ball, and has made just one error all year.
Tonight, the Yankees face another product of the Teixeira trade, 23-year-old Matt Harrison. A big lefty with a sharp slider, Harrison doesn’t strike out many men, though his .307 BABIP suggests he hasn’t benefited unduly from the strong defense behind him. Harrison got off to an ugly start, posting a 9.20 ERA in his first three starts, all Texas loses. Since then, he’s gone 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA and a 5.25 K/BB ratio thanks to his walking just four men in his last five starts. His last outing, however, looked more like the first three, as he allowed five runs on nine hits, three of them home runs, in just five innings in Detroit.
The Yankees counter with Phil Hughes, who has allowed three runs in five innings in each of his last two starts, both of them Yankee wins. Hughes has showed an increasing ability to work out of trouble in those two starts. His last time out, facing what he thought would be his last major league start for the time being, he decided to stop futzing about and lean on his fastball. Hitting 94 miles per hour with regularity, Hughes struck out a career-high nine Orioles against just one walk, the latter being as impressive as the former given that he had walked ten men in his previous three starts. Still, Hughes did give up two home runs and has allowed six taters in his last four outings. Keeping the ball in the park will be especially challening in Arlington, but Hughes had no problem with that the last time he pitched in this ballpark, when he threw 6 1/3 hitless innings in his second major league start.