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**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 7/5/12**

After losing a real nail biter Tuesday night to the Chicago White Sox (not a “nailbiter” in the traditional sense, but one in which I was nervously gnawing my fingernails worrying that the Rangers may not ever get anything remotely resembling a quality start from Roy Oswalt), we have reached the official mathematical midpoint of the season.  That being the case, now seems an ideal time to assess where the Rangers are situated moving into the second half of the 2012 season. 
Record-wise, things have never been better for this franchise.  The Rangers were 50-31 going into last night’s game, a high-water mark they did not manage to achieve in either of their two previous World Series campaigns.  It doesn’t take dropping a box of toothpicks in front of Raymond Babbitt to figure out that’s a 100-win pace.One thing that makes the Rangers’ best-ever first half amazing is several of their key performers from previous years are really struggling in 2012.  After hitting .320 with 30 HR and 75 RBI last year, Mike Napoli is hitting a paltry .235 (a whopping 95 points lower) and is on pace to finish 2012 with 24 HR (down six from 2011) and 60 RBI (down 15).

Perhaps more troubling is the significant drop-off in Michael Young’s offensive production, as he’s been a mainstay in the team’s lineup for over a decade and has been depended upon to deliver at the plate virtually that entire time.  Young’s batting average of .266 may not seem egregious in and of itself, but when you consider that he’s a lifetime .302 hitter (36 points higher than 2012) who hit a career-high .338 last year (72 points higher), it’s clear the Rangers aren’t getting what they expected from him.

The only Rangers meeting or exceeding expectations at the plate in 2012 are Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy and Craig Gentry.  Both Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz have been too up and down, while Yorvit Torrealba has been more down than up and Mitch Moreland has been more out than in.

Yet, not only do the Rangers have the best record in baseball, they lead the majors in batting average (.284, up 9 points on the second-ranked team), runs (429, up 20), RBI (416, up 26), slugging percentage (.458, up 3), on-base percentage (.344, up 4), OPS (.802, up 14), hits (803, up 26), total bases (1,296, up 49), and most impressively of all, run differential (+83, up 21).

As for pitching, the Rangers’ staff has been bitten hard by the injury bug, with seven different pitchers spending time on the disabled list so far in 2012 – six of whom are still there.  Half of those six – Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland – are from the starting rotation.  Yet somehow despite all of these injuries, the Rangers are hanging tough with the fifth-best team ERA in the American League.

And while they’ve gotten less than desirable results from Oswalt, Scott Feldman and Yoshi Tateyama, with youngsters Justin Grimm and Tanner Scheppers looking overwhelmed at times, there have been very solid numbers posted by several others.  Yu Darvish has, for the most part, been as good as advertised (and at times, even better).  Matt Harrison overcame an early-season rough patch and has emerged as a genuine All-Star.  Closer Joe Nathan has regained the form that once made him one of the most feared closers in the game.  Martin Perez showed some real promise in his first big league start.  And last but not least, where would the bullpen be without the incredible (and totally unexpected) contributions of unheralded rookie left hander Robbie Ross?

Two other areas of this team which have been strengths in recent years are baserunning and fielding – both cornerstones of any Ron Washington-led squad.  But these areas have been somewhat problematic during the first half of 2012.  Aggressiveness on the basepaths is clearly a major part of the Rangers’ identity, but there have been more boneheaded gaffes this year than I can easily count.  And while fielding as a team is not cause for concern (8th in the majors, with a percentage of .985), there has been some sub-par individual glove work so far this year.

Kinsler and Andrus – manning the two most important fielding positions – have already combined for an alarming 21 errors.  Kinsler alone has 12 of those, the most among any second baseman in the majors and one more than he committed in all of 2011, bringing his fielding percentage down to .960 (24 points below last year, and the lowest of all qualifying MLB second basemen).

So while some of the details seem rather gory, the point of this exercise was to illustrate just what a great position the Rangers are in as the second half begins.  It would seem unlikely that the prolonged offensive woes of Napoli, Young, and (to a lesser extent) Kinsler and Cruz will all continue throughout the remainder of the year.  It’s also doubtful that as many pitchers will spend as much time on the DL during the second half as the first – especially the starters.

Combine those factors with the potential for improved baserunning, fielding and even the possible addition of a top-flight arm or two (both Zach Greinke and Cole Hamels continue to be scouted by the Rangers with an eye on the upcoming trade deadline), and that 100-win pace just might become a reality.  I’m certainly no Nostradamus (though almost as old), but I see good things in store for the Rangers in the second half of 2012.  As the brilliant philosopher David Puddy (from “Seinfeld”) once said, “All signs point to ‘YES’!”

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Bob.Bland@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @SDIBob.
Bob Bland

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