Rangers have sights on fall baseball

Rangers have sights on fall baseball

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are in almost uncharted and unexpected territory as they head down the stretch toward a run at a division title.

This was hardly foreseen on a warm Spring Training day in Arizona. The Rangers, having rejoiced in their ability to win with pitching and defense, need more offensive production to take them to another level.

"This team hasn't been the offensive team of the past," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "But it's a different team with a lot of young guys learning on the job, and we have some veterans filling in the pieces.

"I think we can be a lot more consistent. If we can come through with 5-7 runs a game, that would be good. But we've got to make sure we execute better and when we get in scoring position, be good at getting them home. Create runs any way we can. We know we can hit home runs, but that can't be the main way we score runs."

The Rangers, going into the final nine weeks of the season, led the American League in home runs. But they were eighth in runs scored because they were 12th in both hitting and on-base percentage. The Rangers led the Majors in runs scored in 2008, and the drop has been as significant as the improvement has been in other areas.

The Rangers, with nine weeks to go, were seventh in the American League in pitching with a 4.20 ERA, which would be their lowest since 1992. Their starters had an ERA of 4.41, the lowest since 1993. Their defense was fifth in the American League after finishing last in each of the past two seasons.

The Road Ahead
Home games remaining: 23
Road games remaining: 35
Games vs. teams over .500: 31
Key series: vs. Angels, Sept. 18-20
at Angels, Aug. 7-9
at Angels, Sept. 28-Oct. 1
vs. Red Sox, Aug. 14-16
at Yankees, Aug. 25-27

It's the offense that's bringing up the rear.

"We need to make sure we keep pitching and playing defense," third baseman Michael Young said. "We can't let that slip. Obviously, it would be nice if we score a lot of runs, but it's important we pitch and play defense. That's why we're winning. If one of those slips, we're going to lose. The offense has been inconsistent, but our pitching and defense has been strong and we've been winning."

The Rangers have been winning with pitching and defense, but it hasn't been enough. With nine weeks to go, the Rangers were 14 games above .500, but they trailed the Angels in the American League West and the Red Sox in the Wild Card race.

"I do think we have room for improvement," Young said. "If we can do what we're capable of offensively, it would be a big shot in the arm."

The Rangers did make a far more serious effort to upgrade their pitching at the Trade Deadline than to address any specific offensive needs. They went after Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Jarrod Washburn to upgrade the rotation. From the offensive standpoint, the best they could do was make a bid on platoon first baseman Ryan Garko and investigate injured Cardinals slugger Troy Glaus.

They did nothing on the offensive front. The Rangers understand it's not that they have gaping holes in their lineup. They know they have much of the same offensive talent that scored 901 runs in 2008. They definitely miss Milton Bradley, but they miss Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler more. At least the 2008 models. And they'll be missing Kinsler until mid-August. He was placed on the disabled list Sunday with a strained left hamstring.

The Rangers know that outfielders Byrd, David Murphy and Nelson Cruz are going to be solid day-to-day players and Young is back on track for a .300 average and 200-plus hits.

They know that Andruw Jones is likely to remain all-or-nothing with his high home run ratio and low batting average. They are encouraged that Hank Blalock hit .290 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in July after taking over full-time at first base. They know their catchers and shortstop Elvis Andrus are more important defensively than offensively.

Hamilton and Kinsler are pivotal offensive players.

Hamilton hit .304 with 98 runs scored, 32 home runs and 130 RBIs in 2008. With nine weeks to go, he was hitting .222 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs while missing 46 games because of injuries.

Kinsler hit .319 with 102 runs scored, 18 home runs and 71 RBIs in 121 games in 2008 while missing the last quarter of the season because of injury. This season he is hitting .242 with 71 runs scored, 23 home runs and 63 RBIs in 96 games. His drop-off hasn't been as drastic as Hamilton's, but those are two guys who could make a big difference down the stretch.

"The way teams are put together, they need their big-piece guys to perform every day," Kinsler said. "Obviously, me, Josh and Michael have to perform every single day. I know what I'm capable of. Even at the end of last year, I felt I could still get better. It has been a little bit of a struggle, but we're in a pennant race. You can't ask more than that."

A few more runs, though, would be nice.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.