Texas Rangers Midseason Outlook: Half Full, Half Empty

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Though not a perfect halfway point in the season, these four long days in the middle of the summer where there is no baseball of any substance are a good time to pause and reflect on what has transpired and what is yet to come on that beautiful emerald diamond of our summer nights and October dreams.

This is baseball, which means there are two sides to every story, including (especially) the 2013 Rangers season to date. All you have to do is spend two minutes on the Rangers Facebook page, or look around Twitter while you watch The Bachelorette, or get stuck in line at the Post Office to participate in or witness differences of opinions on how good/bad the Rangers are.

In every lie, there is a little bit of truth, and in every bad opinion, there can be salvaged some semblance of a rational thought. So whether you view the first half of the Rangers season in a positive manner (half full) or a negative one (half empty), you might just have a point.

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Half Full

The Rangers are 54-41, on pace for a 92-win season, which would be their 5th-best finish in franchise history. They have three seasons in their history with fewer wins where they made the playoffs.

If the season ended today, the Rangers would be in the playoffs in a wild card playoff with Tampa Bay, played in Tampa Bay. That it would be at Tampa Bay isn’t a positive, as Tropicana Field is a dump, but the Rangers are 5-0 there in the playoffs, so hey, look a silver lining.

The Rangers have done all of this while suffering from either the worst injury luck of this season, or refusing to let God’s people go and being struck by plagues. Yu Darvish, Joakim Soria, A.J. Pierzynski, Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Craig Gentry,Lance Berkman, and Jeff Baker have all spent time on the disabled list this season. Still on the disabled list are Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz,Nick Tepesch, and Michael Kirkman.

The Rangers have had to use 21 pitchers this year (David Murphy makes 22). In all of 2012, they used 20 (Craig Gentry made 21).

Texas has gotten almost no production from the second spot in the lineup, particularly because it has been occupied by Elvis Andrus and David Murphy for the majority of the season. This points to two possible areas of improvement for the Rangers: First, Ron Washington has begun using different players in that critical second spot in the order. Second, Andrus and Murphy should not continue to be as bad as they have been.

This has been a season where having Ron Washington as the manager has been an asset. Of course, it has come with the usual head-scratching game theory and strategic decisions as well. On the whole, though, Washington has done an excellent job of keeping the ship from falling apart and headed in the right direction. Jon Daniels called this season one of Washington’s best.

Despite the rash of pitching injuries, the Rangers bullpen is a force to be reckoned with. Anchored by Joe Nathan, who has only improved as the season has gone on, the bridge guys in place are all doing their jobs with a high level of effectiveness.Tanner Scheppers (1.84 ERA), Robbie Ross (2.59 ERA), and Jason Frasor (2.73 ERA) have been particularly strong, though possibly overworked. However, they have been reinforced by Neal Cotts (1.01 ERA) and Joakim Soria (3 IP, but a good-looking 3 IP plus dominant rehab appearances).

Leonys Martin looks really special out there. He’s 25.

Martin Perez does too. He’s 22.

And finally, the Rangers continue to position themselves to succeed this year, and in the years to come. They have the assets available to acquire virtually anyone available in this year’s trade market, while not solely going all-in this year and mortgaging the future. Factoring in upgrades and additions made via trade, and the return of several key individuals currently on the disabled list, the cavalry is on its way.

While Texas is two games behind Oakland, the fact that they are just two games behind Oakland speaks to their ability to overcome diversity. Once that adversity is passed, and the reinforcements arrive, it’s hard to not like the Rangers’ chances.

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Half Empty

The Rangers have a +23 run differential, which is just 7th-best in the American League, and by Pythagorean record projects them to finish the season with only 85 wins, unlikely to land them in the postseason.

The Oakland A’s are two games up, and have for the past calendar year been the better team than Texas. Oakland plays with an intensity and fight that the Rangers are often lacking in on a consistent basis, and is reminiscent of the 2010 Rangers club, a team that rode its “never say die” spirit to a franchise-first World Series birth.

While the Rangers have seen more than their fair share of injuries, there is no reason to depend on that trend reversing itself. Lewis, Harrison, and Feliz all still remain question marks to return in a meaningful way this season. Ogando is going to return to a starter’s role, which he may not be cut out for. Not injured yet this season have been Adrian Beltre (who is playing hurt) and Nelson Cruz (injury-prone), and they have been the heart and soul of the offense. As teams age, injuries are more likely to happen.

From the rumors of this season’s trade market, one could conclude that the asking prices on valuable pieces is substantial. Changes in the CBA have made draft pick compensation possible only for the team that owned a player at the start of the year, which serves as both a hurdle (“selling” team needs return that is greater than draft pick compensation) and a deterrent (“buying” team could trade prospects for a two-month rental and wind up with nothing). In addition, recent trades of R.A. Dickey,James Shields, and Carlos Beltran have proven that to get a premium talent at the big-league level, it’s going to take giving up some legitimately premium talent at the prospect level.

The Rangers did not have a single player ranked in the Baseball Prospectus Mid-Season Top 50 list. This could put them at a severe disadvantage in the trade market when trying to match or beat other team’s offers, unless Texas is willing to part with young talent at the big league level like Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez, or Leonys Martin.

Jon Daniels and his front office make every decision with an eye to the five-year plan, not just the impact to the current season. While this has led to a franchise that has sustained great success and is the model which all other franchises should admire, it dampens the likelihood of Texas overpaying in the trade market for an impact player or two in order to push for a championship this year. This is not a complaint, but it could hamper the team’s overall chances in 2013.

Overall, there is no reason to believe Texas won’t at least stay in the hunt. However, given their current position in the division and the current shape of the roster, they don’t look like a team that is headed towards its first ever World Series championship.

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The great thing about baseball is that either perspective could be true, or they both could be. There may be many more pluses and minuses that are not included here as well.

The other great thing about baseball is that even if the half empty view is the right one, it still may not even matter. In 2012, the San Francisco Giants were 53-42 through 95 games, a game worse than the 2013 Rangers. They too had an aging roster, and didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline that appeared to be remarkable at the time. And yet, thanks to some surprise performances, and getting hot at the right time, they went on to win the World Series, an unlikely champion.

Texas doesn’t find itself in the driver’s seat for the first July in the last four years, but they’re still in the conversation. Right now, that’s all that they need to be. Whether the second “half” turns out to be half full, or half empty, it is certain that it won’t be boring. Hopefully, it goes down sweeter than the first half, and leaves us all ready for a refill.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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