Right now the Rangers have the largest divisional lead of any team in baseball, at 6 games. They are 25-14, which basically ties them with the yankees and Cardinals for the best record in baseball. So, by those standards, the Rangers are arguably one of the three best teams in baseball. In fact, ESPN has them at #2 in their weekly power rankings. But, maybe we should take a look under the hood for some perspective on all this.
For starters, the Rangers have only played two teams (Boston and Tampa Bay) that have winning records. The Twins are at .500 as of today. The rest all have losing records, and the White Sox, Astros, and Cubs are the worst teams in their respective divisions. They lost 2 of 3 to both the White Sox and the Cubs. Apparently, the Rangers have a problem with teams in Chicago. On the other hand, they’ve been great against the better teams. They swept the Red Sox and won 2 of 3 from the Rays. And probably most importantly, they are 15-6 against their division. Overall though, their record, at least to some extent, reflects a soft early schedule. In their defense, I don’t think anyone thought Oakland and Anaheim would be as bad as they have been. But, reality is what it is, and right now, the Rangers have padded their record some by having the benefit of playing some pretty crappy divisional opponents whom they’ve beat up pretty soundly. The good news is, that’s what they are supposed to do.
Now, let’s look at some other stuff, that might shed some light on whether the Rangers are one of the best teams in baseball, or simply taking advantage of a soft schedule. Right now they are hitting .267 as a team, which puts them at 3rd in all of baseball. Not bad. However, they are only hitting .250 with runners in scoring position (RISP), good for 15th in the league. Not good. They have the 6th fewest strikeouts in all of baseball. That’s good. But their problems hitting with RISP has put them at 17th in baseball in team RBIs. Again, not so good.
On the pitching side, the Rangers have the 6th best team ERA in baseball at 3.48. That’s pretty good, and one of the main reasons they’ve been able to be successful. Their bullpen ERA is 3.34 which ranks 13th in the league. That’s not great, but it’s not too bad either. Their starters have a 3.54 ERA, which puts them at 7th in the league. Again, pretty good. And, thanks primarily to Yu Darvish, they rank 3rd in strikeouts (238). Darvish has 80 of those himself.
I look at these stats and see a good team. Not a great team, but a good one. Not the 2nd best team in the baseball, but a competitive team that can get better. One thing that HAS to improve is hitting with RISP. I think that’s what has frustrated me the most this season. There have been SOOOOOO many opportunities to drive in runs that have been wasted, which is why I came up with the “hits wasted” stat I wrote about here. I can’t count the times they’ve loaded the bases with less than two outs and haven’t scored a run. Last night, Nelson Cruz hit two sacrifice flies. Guess how many sac flies the team has had this year. 5. That’s right, 5. The only team with fewer is the Cubs at 4. Nelson Cruz has 3 of those 5. Pierzynski and Moreland have the other two. They’ve also grounded into 33 double-plays. That makes them the 9th worst team in the league in that respect. So many rallies killed by a bases loaded GIDP this season. That’s tough, and that’s something they MUST get better at.
How about individual players? Some have been surprisingly good, and others have been less than impressive. Let’s start with the good.
Darvish is the clear ace of the squad. He’s one of the three best pitchers in all of baseball, and at 6-1 he’s poised to win 20 games, which is what I’ve been predicting all along. He came one out short of a perfect game in his first start of the season, and he leads the league in strikeouts with 80. He has a 2.73 ERA and opposing batters are only hitting .163 against him. That’s just plain domination. Only Matt Harvey of the Mets has been better in that respect.
Holland’s last start wasn’t that great. He gave up 4 ERs against the A’s. But overall Holland has been very solid this season. He’s 3-2 with a very nice nice 2.93 ERA. In his two losses, he only gave up 2 and 3 runs respectively. A little bit better run support and his W-L record is even better. But the ERA shows that Holland has been solid, and that’s good. This shows clear signs of maturation on Holland’s part, and the thing that has really stood out this season, has been his ability to get out of tough spots. 2012 Holland would have folded in some of the situations he’s found himself in this season. But 2013 Holland has managed to get out them. In his start against Milwaukee, he went 7 innings and gave up 10 hits. But those 1o hits only resulted in 1 ER. That’s the difference between 2012 Dutch and 2013 Dutch. Last season those 10 hits would have resulted in 5 runs. This year, only 1 run and the Rangers win that ballgame.
Mitch is hitting .296. That’s good for second best on the team behind Kinsler. To give you some perspective, Mitch was hitting .258 on May 1. He’s hitting .347 in the month of May and is by far the hottest offensive threat on the team. He had a 2-run homerun and a solo shot last night. That solo shot ended up being the difference in the game. He’s now tied with Cruz and Beltre for the team lead in homers (9), and has the highest slugging pct. (.578) and OPS (.925) of any regular starter.
I really like Mitch and want him to succeed. He’s one of those guys, like Chris Davis, that you want to do well, but up until recently, just hasn’t met expectations. It looks like Mitch might finally be coming around, and not only is that great for him, but it’s great for the team, because we need a solid offensive 1B, and Mitch is looking like he can provide that. Plus, every time he bats I get to do this:
Kinsler is slowly but surely winning back my respect. It’s not just that he’s performing well, it’s that his attitude has appeared to change. He’s hustling, playing better defensively, and maybe most importantly, coming up in big spots. For example, he leads the team in hitting with RISP at .364. There was one point when I wanted to name my next child “Kinsler.” There was another point where I wouldn’t allow my daughter to wear her Kinsler shirt. Right now, I have no problem with the Kinsler shirt, but I’m not yet back to wanting to name a child in his honor. Maybe by the end of the season, we will get back there. I hope so.
Scheppers is turning into this season’s Robbie Ross. He’s sporting a .045 ERA out of the bullpen with a 3-0 record. He has 12 K’s in 20 innings, and opponents are hitting .179 against him. In short, he’s been unhittable. He’s only given up 1 run in 17 appearances. He’s the best pitcher in the bullpen. And that’s saying a lot given the next guy on our list.
Ross is continuing his good performance from last season. His .054 ERA is only bettered by Scheppers’s. He too has only given up 1 run this season, but he’s pitched fewer innings than Scheppers. These two have been the cornerstone of a pretty solid bullpen so far.
Berkman has been a most welcome addition to the team. One of the most important changes he’s brought to the lineup is that he never wastes an at-bat. He leads the team in walks (with 24). In fact, he has twice as many walks as the player with the second most on the team (12). This also means he leads the team in on-base percentage (.412-which is also good for 9th best in all of the majors), and he’s 4th in batting average at .286. He’s also hitting .321 with RISP. But it’s the quality at-bats that are so striking compared to what we saw last year from Josh Hamilton. Berkman seems like he’s often actually looking to walk. He hardly ever swings at a bad pitch, and is just as happy to take a free pass as he is to drive one to right. That makes him incredibly valuable as an offensive weapon, one I’m very happy to have on the team right now.
So, those are the good that I want to talk about. I’ll have a post later that highlights the “bad” or “needs improvement,” as well.