ARLINGTON -- For the first time in four years, the Rangers are not sitting alone in first place in the American League West at the All-Star break. That honor belongs to the Oakland Athletics, who have shown that last year's second-half surge to a division title was no accident.
As the Rangers get ready for the second half though, they profess not to be too concerned about the standings. After all, they're still in the lead for one of the two Wild Card playoff spots.
Instead, the Rangers are more concerned about getting healthy, especially when it comes to their starting rotation. One year after the rotation was clobbered by injuries, the situation has become even worse. The Rangers went into the All-Star break with seven pitchers on the disabled list, including six starters.
The Rangers went through all that -- plus their share of injuries to position players -- and are still well-positioned in the playoff races, giving them hope that they'll be ready to make a strong run in the second half.
"It's been a grind in the first half with the challenges we've been put up against," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But we've done a good job dealing with it, and going through it can't help but make you stronger. Through everything we've been through, we're still in a good position. We've had spurts but I don't think we've hit our stride like some teams. We haven't sustained anything like some of these other teams have, and we're still right there.
"We very easily could get the mindset that we can't compete with what we've got, but that's never been our mindset. I believe we beat the odds and beat them well, and we'll continue to beat the odds and beat them well."
That the Rangers are where they are is a testament to many things. No. 1 is their bullpen, led by closer Joe Nathan. Secondly is their pitching depth, which has allowed them to plug the many holes created by injuries with internal replacements. There is also their internal confidence born from three straight years in the playoffs and two trips to the World Series.
The Rangers are built around many of the players who brought about that success, and those that have been brought in since then have also experienced much success in the Major Leagues. The Rangers remain a team that believes it should win no matter what happens.
|MVP: Nelson Cruz Adrian Beltre is right there with him but Cruz has been the more consistent run producer.|
|Cy Young: Derek Holland He has pitched well and is the last man standing in the rotation.|
|Rookie: Martin Perez All the Rangers rookie starters have had their moments but Perez was the hottest hand at the end.|
|Top reliever: Joe Nathan In reality he could be the MVP and Cy Young winner of this team as well.|
"We're not too concerned about outside agendas and negative attention, whether a guy is on the disabled list, who's pitching tonight, who is getting called up and who is getting sent down," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Nobody cares about that stuff, and that's a good quality to have. As long as we maintain our concentration on winning, everything else will take care of itself."
The Rangers now await the cavalry off the DL. Yu Darvish is expected to be activated on Monday to pitch against the Yankees. Alexi Ogando, who has been on the DL twice, should be activated at some point next week and Nick Tepesch should be an option again by the end of the month if there is still a spot for him in the rotation.
The Rangers will cross their fingers and hope that Colby Lewis is near the end of a year-long recovery from flexor tendon surgery. He could return to the rotation by the beginning of August. There is also a possibility that Matt Harrison, who is recovering from two back operations, could be back by the end of August as well. Neftali Feliz, who had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery on Aug. 2, is throwing in Arizona and might be added reinforcement to the bullpen for the stretch run.
"A couple of times, I tried to stop the season until we get healthy and they wouldn't let me," Washington said.
Players to watch in second half
|Lance Berkman He has fought physical issues and his .377 slugging percentage was not what the Rangers expected.|
|Yu Darvish He has pitched well for the most part but is dealing with some fatigue and the Rangers are 10-8 in his 18 starts.|
|Alexi Ogando Rangers counting on him to reinforce the rotation.|
The Rangers offense would get a boost if Lance Berkman can stay healthy once he returns from the DL. The Rangers also expect right-handed batters Jeff Baker and Craig Gentry to come off the DL shortly.
All of that presupposes no further calamities hit the pitching staff and that these pitchers will be able to return to their former levels of performance. Both are tenuous propositions. But that's what the Rangers are counting on unless general manager Jon Daniels gets really busy in the trade market. That is always a strong possibility given his track record.
There are other ways the Rangers can improve. Defensively, they are in the middle of the pack as far as errors committed and double plays turned, and they've allowed the fourth most unearned runs in the league. Offensively, the Rangers have been hurt by a sometimes stunning inability to deliver with runners in scoring position.
The Rangers are hitting .245 with runners in scoring position, the third lowest in the league. That's 30 points below what they hit in those situations last season and would be the lowest since they hit .227 with runners in scoring position in 1992.
"There's no secret we've underachieved with runners in scoring position," outfielder David Murphy said. "We can do a better job there, but we've got plenty of tools to be consistent offensively. We've been inconsistent for most of the first half, and we know we can do a better job. That being said, we're in a good spot."
Right now, through all the injuries, the Rangers are a playoff team. They await to see if their luck will change or there is more misfortune ahead. They believe it can only get better.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.