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Season's unexpected turn has focus on future

Injuries have left playoff hopeful in last place in American League West

Season's unexpected turn has focus on future

ARLINGTON -- This was not what the Rangers were expecting. This is not what anybody was expecting, not after four straight 90-plus-win seasons and all the other wonderful things that transpired in Arlington the past four years.

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The Rangers did not expect to be battling the Astros for last place rather than the Athletics for first. They did not expect the phrases "out until the All-Star break" and "out for the season" to be echoing through the clubhouse. They did not expect to be running into one iceberg after another.

"Tough … it has been tough," manager Ron Washington said. "Through it all, they have handled it very well. In reality, we'd liked to have handled it better and get more wins. It didn't happen, but I didn't see any letdown. There were times we weren't good enough and times we did it to ourselves."

Now the Rangers have to sift through the first-half carnage and figure out how to salvage what they can from this season.

Five key developments

1. Crush of injuries
The Rangers lead the Majors with 15 players on the disabled list. They have used the DL 21 times, also the most in the Majors. But the crusher has been the significance of the injuries, with Prince Fielder, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Jurickson Profar out for the season, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto missing the first half and others gone for two to three months at a time.

First-half awards
MVP: Adrian Beltre
In the midst of chaos, he has been a rock, and a batting title could be the next entry on his Hall of Fame resume.
Top starter: Yu Darvish
He had an excellent first half and deserves an award for being the Last Man Standing.
Rookie: Rougned Odor
The Rangers have used 15 rookies and counting, and they all have taken their lumps, but Odor has done an admirable job holding down second base.
Top reliever: Joakim Soria  
He has been effective when the Rangers have had an actual need for a closer. All others have been worked to the bone.

2. Filling on the fly
The Rangers have used 50 players in the first half, another Major League high. Fifteen are rookies. Eleven weren't in big league camp with the Rangers when pitchers and catchers reported in February. Some bright spots have emerged like Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor. Others have been flickering on and off.

3. Shutouts vs. ERA
In a bizarre twist, the Rangers lead the league in shutouts but have the highest ERA. They have 14 shutouts. Yu Darvish has started six of those games. Six were started by pitchers -- Perez, Harrison, Joe Saunders and Robbie Ross Jr. -- who are not on the 25-man roster.

4. Outfield uncertainty
The outfield was spared major injury, but Shin-Soo Choo has been dealing with a sprained ankle for almost three months. Leonys Martin has struggled to take his game to another level, Michael Choice was finally optioned to Triple-A with a .177 batting average and Alex Rios may end up getting traded if the Rangers can get something substantial in return.

5. Focus on development
The Rangers' fall from contention has refocused their attention. They will measure success in the second half by the development of their young players and how much they improve by the end of the season. The Rangers want to see guys like Martin and Odor improve as the season progresses.

Five storylines for the second half

1. Rotation recovery
The Rangers' rotation has been ravaged by injuries. They need to salvage something. Right now, Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez and Miles Mikolas have the chance to make an impression on the ballclub for next season. There is also a possibility the Rangers might take a look in September at some of their top young prospects, including Luke Jackson and Alex Gonzalez.

Players to watch in second half
Derek Holland
At some point, he is expected to return to the rotation after missing the first half because of offseason knee surgery.
Neftali Feliz
Now that he is back in the bullpen, the Rangers want to see if he can still be the pitcher he once was in 2010-11.
Nick Tepesch
This is his big chance to prove he can be a front-line starting pitcher. He has the look and the demeanor, but the Rangers need to see consistency.

2. Bullpen recovery
Neftali Feliz is back in the bullpen and coming up on his two-year anniversary of Tommy John surgery. The Rangers would like to see him re-emerge as the All-Star reliever he once was. They are eager to see what rookies Roman Mendez and Matt West have to offer. It would also be good if Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando can return from elbow injury and if Shawn Tolleson can finish off an unsung but excellent season.

3. Open for business
The Rangers have pieces to trade before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They would like to get a sizable package in return for closer Joakim Soria, who is coveted to a certain extent by a number of teams. Reliever Jason Frasor was traded on Wednesday, and Neal Cotts is also readily available. The Rangers are almost certain to listen to offers for Rios, but don't look for any fire sale to include Adrian Beltre, Darvish or Elvis Andrus.

4. Eyes on the prizes
The Rangers' farm system is not dormant. Even though they have pushed the system to the limits the last few years because of all the trades, they still have substantial talent brewing, especially Jackson and Gonzalez, infielders Joey Gallo and Luis Sardinas, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielders Nick Williams and Lewis Brinson. They are also going to get a really high Draft pick next year, possibly the highest since Mark Teixeira went fifth overall in 2001.

5. The Ultimate post-mortem
A fall this steep will undoubtedly invoke serious franchise-wide introspection as to what went wrong. The long list of injuries might lead those at the top to write it off as just a bad season and not start looking for scapegoats. But that has never been quite the Rangers' way, so impulsive reaction always lurks as a possibility.

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.

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