1. Young arms stepping up when needed.
Say what you want about Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch, but keep in mind that these two products of the 2010 draft are just 24 years old and are both under team control for several more years. Grimm has an ERA+ of 131 (Verlander has a career average of 130) and he also has 31 K in only 28.2 IP. Tepesch on the other hand has been roughed up his last two outings, but he was very effective in April and gave the Rangers chances to win in each of his outings. He doesn’t have the flashy K/IP numbers the Grimm has, but he throws strikes and induces plenty of groundballs (1.19 GB/FB ratio). Regardless of who sticks in the rotation when Colby Lewis returns, both of these guys did a great job of holding down the fort until help can arrive. It’s also important to point out the great work of Joseph Ortiz early on as well. The diminutive southpaw in his first 11.2 innings of work this season had a sparkling E.R.A. of 0.77 and opponents were hitting only .190 against him with a 10:2 K/BB ratio.
2. Kinsler appears to be back.
After a disappointing 2012 season, second baseman Ian Kinsler appears prepared to return to his 2011 form. At this point in the season, Kinsler is hitting .313/.379/.511, numbers which are similar to his 2008 season. It is still way too early to project his season stats and there is plenty of time for things to go awry, but for the time being it is nice to see Kinsler setting the table at the top of the lineup again early on this year.
3. Top of the Rotation.
2012 brought us Yu Darvish and all of his greatness, but heading into 2013 there were a few questions about his ability to be a true ace. Could Yu become a Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw type of workhorse and lead this rotation for the next several years? Well, those questions have been answered so far early on in this season as Darvish has been spectacular and has emerged as one of the top arms in all of baseball. From his first start against Houston, in which he lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth, to his last start against the Red Sox where he fanned 14 in a seven inning masterpiece, Darvish has been the ace that this club had hoped he would become when they signed him prior to the 2012 season. Darvish leads MLB in K/9 with 14.19 strikeouts and is also first in K% striking out 40.5% of the hitters he faces. An ace has emerged in Arlington and his dominance isn’t a result of smoke and mirrors either. With the injury to Matt Harrison, fellow lefty Derek Holland was thrust into the spotlight and the pressure was on for him to step up now more than ever. Holland has been better than expected and is pitching like a TORP should. His homerun ratio is the lowest it has been in his career (1.81 HR/9) and his changeup has become a valuable weapon early on in the season. When the Cobra returns in the next few weeks, it should help squelch the need for a kneejerk trade to booster this rotation, assuming Holland continues these trends throughout the summer.
TOP THREE CONCERNS
1. David Murphy.
It is well known that David Murphy is a slow starter (just ask my colleague Eddie Middlebrook) but he is off to his second worst start in his career so far this season (.185/.235/.306). In 2010, Murphy had a .162/.179/.351 slash line in April, but he saw it improve in May with a .291/.319/.407 month. The differences between this year and previous years for Murphy are two-fold because prior to this season, Murphy has never been “the guy” as an everyday starter. He was able to complement one of the best hitting outfields in the big leagues and despite his regular playing time, he was often overshadowed by the other big names out there. The other difference is that he has always overcome a poor April with a better May which usually got him going for the remainder of the summer. This April, Murphy had a .176/.227/.297 slash line and even though it is still very early in May, the at-bats and the results don’t look promising right now. Of course, Murphy could get hot and his career trends could kick in (let’s hope they do), but I think it is fair to place Murphy as one of the concerns so far this season.
2. Olt Trade Chip.
This may be nitpicking, no I’ll go ahead and declare that it is nitpicking to the extreme, but when a team is leading their division and has one of the best records in baseball, it is challenging to find a lot of fault this early on. But, Mike Olt’s struggles in the spring and in the early part of the minor league season have really hurt his trade value (if in fact that’s what the Rangers were hoping to do with him). Olt, who is currently on the disabled list with vision issues, has only one home run this season and is hitting .139 with 32 strikeouts and only 9 walks. It appears that Olt was pressing early in spring and it just carried over into his current slump. There is no doubt that he can hit and hopefully he will get hot so he can either help the big league club or serve as a valuable trade chip to help with a late summer stretch run towards the playoffs.
3. Injury Bug.
The injuries have really affected this club early on in 2013. The replacement players have done an excellent job of filling in and keeping this thing afloat, but history shows that over the long course of a season it is difficult to sustain success with a rash of injuries. Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, Martin Perez, A.J. Pierzynski, Joakim Soria (can we count the limited use of Grandpa Berkman as a half DL stint?) have all highlighted the disabled list this year. Colby Lewis and Martin Perez should be back fairly soon and Soria will return hopefully in June as well, but the concern is if more injuries occur before we can get back to full strength can this team continue their success? In 2010 and 2011, this club was fortunate and mostly avoided lengthy DL stints by most of their stars en route to their back to back World Series appearances, but eventually the injury bug will get to all clubs (see the Blue Jays for example). Hopefully, as the summer heats up the ball club will maintain a cleaner bill of health and avoid any major injury disasters.