One Month In: Around The Division
“They were a great team on paper beforehand. They’re a great team on paper now.” – Jon Daniels, on the Angels signing of Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
One year ago, the Angels, proud new owners of a new Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, who perhaps had been the most important pitcher on the Rangers’ roster the previous year, woke up on May 1st frustrated with their 8-15 record and their struggling new slugger. C.J. Wilson had won the night before in a 4-3 game at home against Minnesota, improving to 3-2, but Pujols was batting .217/.265/.304 just one month into his monstrous ten-year deal. Yu Darvish had struck out 9 the night before over 7 innings, surrendering just one run and improving to 4-0.
Somehow, the Rangers’ new toy was more fun than the Angels’ more expensive new toy. The Angels were 9 games back.
May 1, 2013 – Give me 2013 Lance Berkman over 2013 Josh Hamilton. Small sample size, sure, but with their approaches to the plate, Berkman is the safer bet. The Angels have one more win than the Houston Astros.
Josh Hamilton hit .204/.252/.296 in the month of April. In the 127 games and 548 plate appearances Josh has had since June 1, 2012, he’s just .236/.307/.445. Pujols (.252/.344/.417) isn’t exactly tearing it up, either. Combine that with a pitching staff that was shaky before Jared Weaver went down, and LA just isn’t a very good baseball team.
Perhaps the biggest difference between April 2012 and April 2013 is that we didn’t know what to think of Oakland one year ago. Until the Angels climb to within 4 or 5 games of the division, Oakland should represent the focus of scoreboard-watching Rangers fans looking to exercise the hashtag #gauche. This time, the starting rotation looks a little more vulnerable, but an offense led by Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Seth Smith and Jed Lowrie has managed to manufacture 40 more runs than the Rangers have so far this season. The pitching staff has surrendered 51 more runs, 137 to the Rangers’ 86.
Seattle has performed to expectations – the Mariners sit at 6.5 games back through 29 games. Their offense, while improved from a year ago, still gets on base at a rate that still places them at the bottom of the division. Third baseman Kyle Seager has carried the offense, posting a slash of .292/.359/.491 with 13 RBIs. Newcomer Mike Morse has posted just 12 RBI despite hitting 8 home runs.
Houston is on track to lose 114 games.
Meanwhile, in Texas, the Rangers have lost Matt Harrison for half of the season, Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Colby Lewis, and Martin Perez – all of whom expected to contribute – are all riding the DL while the Rangers staff currently sits atop the MLB in ERA. Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have been fantastic in the rotation, while the bullpen – once thought of as a potential weakness – has been surprisingly effective.
Before the season started, many looked to Ian Kinsler (.317/.395/.525) to bounce back from a down 2012 in order to make up for some of the offensive holes left by the departures of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton. So far, Kinsler has answered the call – his bWAR is currently good enough to make him the highest-rated among AL position players.
Lance Berkman is 3rd in the MLB in OBP at .449. He’s healthy, and he’s doing what he does when he’s healthy. Nelson Cruz is sporting an OPS nearing .900. Derek Holland has, aside from one outing, been the Derek Holland we’ve all wanted to see for nearly three years now.
The Rangers are 17-9 and Adrian Beltre (.222/.280/.424) hasn’t even gotten started yet. Elvis Andrus hasn’t taken a walk since four days before taxes were due, David Murphy hasn’t reached the Mendoza line yet, and neither Gentry nor Martin has really gotten in a rhythm at the plate, and the Rangers are two games up on Oakland in the division. Harrison, Feliz, Soria, Lewis and Perez can only watch while they all complete their various treatments and rehab assignments. None of them have witnessed the club lose a series.
You can’t win the division in April, but all 162 games count and so far, the Rangers have to like where they stand.
Robert Pike is a Staff Writer for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Robert.Pike@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @Bob_Pike