Texas Rangers: Where Does the Blame Lie for Their August Struggles?
The month of August hasn't been kind to the Texas Rangers. In fact, it's been downright harsh and not only because they haven't been the dominant team of the past few months.
Last week, with the team playing at home against the Yankees, the game time temperature was announced over the public address system to the fans. It was a few degrees over the century mark. What wasn't announced to the fans was the temperature on the field. A balmy 124 degrees. In those temperatures any pitcher is bound to struggle.
If that wasn't bad enough the Rangers played a home game, on an August Sunday afternoon. It was against the Boston Red Sox during one of the hottest days of the month. Game time temperature was reported at 100 degrees but had reached the 103 mark by the sixth inning. The temperature on the field? 120.
While the Texas heat isn't entirely to blame for the team's poor play over the last 15 games; injuries, that have kept starters out of the lineup, have taken a toll on this ballclub.
Ian Kinsler has been on the disabled list since late July. Michael Young just joined him a few days ago as did Nelson Cruz. Not only that, but the trades made by the Rangers haven't exactly worked out the way they'd planned.
On July 1st, the Rangers traded two minor league players to bring Bengie Molina over from the San Francisco Giants. While he's a solid catcher, one that has been highly praised by Giants' right-hander Tim Lincecum, Molina hasn't exactly excelled at the plate. He is hitting .219 (21/96) with three doubles, two home runs, and has driven in 11 runs since coming to Texas.
Eight days after the Molina trade, on July 9th, the Rangers made their biggest move to date. Cliff Lee, traded to Texas from Seattle for Justin Smoak and a few other minor leaguers, has picked up wins in just two of his eight starts. While that looks bad on paper, he's not entirely to blame for his 2-3 record and 3.44 ERA. He's gotten little run support in a few of those starts, bad defense in another, and another few were completely his fault.
When Lee was traded from Seattle to Texas, there were those that pointed to his struggles pitching at Rangers Ballpark and wondered if this was the right move. In 11 career starts, Lee is 5-4 with 5.72 ERA.
On July 29th, a few days prior to the trade deadline, the Rangers sent pitchers Evan Reed and Omar Poveda to the Florida Marlins for infielder Jorge Cantu. The expectation was for Cantu to play first base after Chris Davis was sent down, still struggling offensively. However, Cantu has ended up splitting time with Mitch Moreland at first base.
Since he was brought to Texas, Cantu is hitting .270 (10/37) but hasn't driven in a single run yet and only one of his 10 hits have been for extra bases.
In their last move before the July 31st trade deadline, the Rangers would again trade two minor league pitchers, Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatusko, this time to the Washington Nationals for infielder Christian Guzman. He was expected to provide depth in the infield with Ian Kinsler still on the disabled list.
This is one trade the Rangers, and their front office, are regretting so far. Guzman has just three hits in 34 at bats (.088) and has struck out nine times.
Their latest deal came yesterday when the team signed Alex Cora to a minor league contract. He's expected to play a few games with Triple-A Oklahoma City before joining the team in the next week or so. Cora played 62 games this season with the New York Mets, hitting .207 (35/169) with six doubles, three triples, and 20 runs driven in.
One bright spot, if you want to call it that, is the re-emergence of catcher Taylor Teagarden who had struggled mightily through most of this season. So much so that he had been sent all the way down to Double-A Frisco.
On July 24th, Teagarden was called back up to the big leagues. Since then, he's played in nine games, has seven hits in 23 at bats with four of those seven hits being home runs. The one thing he still needs to get under control is his strikeouts, having struck out 10 times in his 23 at bats since being called up.
What the Rangers haven't gotten all year, and something that they were hoping to get especially down the stretch, was effective pitching from both Rich Harden and Scott Feldman.
Harden has struggled all year and has spent most of the season on and off the disabled list. In 15 starts, Harden is 4-4 with a 5.45 ERA and went back on the disabled list, retro active to August 8th, with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder.
As for Feldman, the Rangers were hoping they would get the same pitcher in 2010 that won 17 games last season. Unfortunately, it hasn't exactly worked out that way. Through 20 starts, Feldman is 6-9 with a 5.44 ERA and has been delegated to the bullpen.
The biggest problem for the Rangers over the last few weeks has been the struggles of Vladimir Guerrero. A guy that looked like the best free agent signing this year has slowly started to show the Rangers why the Angels didn't re-sign him after last season.
When the All-Star break came around, Guerrero was hitting .319 with 20 home runs, 75 runs batted in, drew 21 walks, and struck out 30 times in 323 at bats. Since then, he's hitting just .232 with one home run, driven in just 12 runs, has drawn eight walks, and has struck out 19 times in 112 at bats.
Those are not the kind of numbers the Rangers were hoping for from a guy like Guerrero. But even through all this, through losing seven of their last 10 games and going 6-9 through the month of August so far, they're still eight games up on the Angels and A's.
While the Rangers should still run away with the AL West division, barring a complete and historic collapse, they may have proved their ineffectiveness against a playoff team having been swept by the Tampa Bay Rays, a team they could very well face in the first round of the playoffs.
You can't point the finger at any one person or situation. The Rangers, as a team, haven't played very well over their last 10-15 games. But, they're still in first place and they're staying afloat without a few of their top performers and starters.
Once guys like Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and Michael young come off the disabled list and are at full strength, this team will be one to watch once again.
Until then, keep the faith Ranger fans. The sky isn't falling...yet.
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