The Texas Rangers' first half of the season has been one of ups and downs. They are currently sitting in first place in the American League West and look poised for another October run.
They are one of the top five teams in all of baseball in terms of batting average, runs scored and home runs. Anchored by All-Stars Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Michael Young, there is no reason to expect this to change in the second half of play.
Another strong suit for the Rangers has historically been their weakest: starting pitching. C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando represented the American League at the Midsummer Classic, but they could've been joined by Matt Harrison, who is having a solid season himself.
While starting pitching and offense will get you to first place, they won't win you a championship when the bullpen and defense have been suspect all year. Despite starting the season on a nine-game win streak and closing the first half on another seven-game streak, the Rangers find themselves only a game ahead of the surging Angels.
So what does the second half hold for the Rangers? Will it see the Rangers repeating as American League champions?
Here are seven bold predictions for what is yet to come.
There is no doubting the talent of Derek Holland. If there is, just ask the Indians and A's, who were shutout by the young southpaw this year.
This is the same guy that was mentioned in trade rumors for Roy Halladay a few years back. Amidst all those rumors he went out and threw 8.2 innings of two-hit ball while striking out 10 Mariners on July 22, 2009. His name has also been mentioned in rumors for Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke just to show that multiple teams recognize the talent that the youngster possesses.
But his whole career has been inconsistent. His 5.22 ERA is beyond troubling, along with his 1.46 career WHIP. But we saw something just before the All-Star break that I think looks more like the Holland we'll see in the second half: dominance.
Against the A's he threw a complete game shutout, allowing only four hits and two walks. This just one start removed from a game in which he could not make it out of the first inning. This was also the game in which tragedy struck Rangers Ballpark with the freak accident of Shannon Stone.
Holland has swing-and-miss type stuff with a mid-90s fastball and a very good breaking ball—all the things dominating pitchers have. The one thing he has not had consistently is control. I think he will figure out how to throw strikes more consistently and will post a sub-four ERA in the second half while maintaining his hold on the No. 5 starting job.
There is no doubt the Rangers bullpen has been the worst part of the team. Its lack of an eighth-inning guy, or any guy other than Neftali Feliz, has contributed to the 11-12 record in one-run games.
Tyler Clippard would provide that shutdown, setup man the Rangers have lacked ever since Alexi Ogando moved to the starting rotation. The 2011 All-Star has been lights-out this year with a 1.75 ERA and 63 strikeouts in just over 51 innings.
The Nationals are said to be needing a center fielder, and the Rangers have Julio Borbon sitting in Triple-A blocked by Endy Chavez this year and Leonys Martin in the future. The Rangers could structure a deal around Borbon and a low-end prospect for Clippard and avoid giving up a big-time prospect for the likes of Heath Bell or Joakim Soria.
Leonys Martin is a special talent, and this coming October he will be patroling center field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. How good is this kid? In July, Martin has seen 118 pitches for both Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He has swung and missed only five times.
Martin is a classic leadoff hitter, who would probably bat lower in the order because of Ian Kinsler's grasp on the No. 1 spot. He has plus speed and shows patience at the plate while making solid contact. In the outfield he is an above-average fielder with a decent arm.
Martin's presence has marked the end of the Julio Borbon era in Texas unless Martin suffers some kind of a setback or injury. He is sure to be an upgrade over Endy Chavez, who is sure to come back down to Earth after his torrid start to the season.
Bold prediction No. 2 for Martin: He will be the leadoff batter on opening day next season.
Last year the Rangers made the biggest splash at the deadline by landing Cliff Lee. This season will be totally different.
Despite rumors the Rockies are listening to offers about Ubaldo Jimenez as are the Cubs with Matt Garza, the starting pitching available at the deadline is looking pretty dull. Even as good as Jimenez and Garza are, they are no where near the pitcher that Lee was last year when the Rangers traded away top prospect Justin Smoak.
Jimenez and Garza would both command at least one top prospect along with a Major League-ready player and other prospects. Way too much for pitchers who have underperformed this season and for a team in the Rangers that is ready and poised to compete for the next five years.
The other starting pitchers reportedly available are Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros and Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins to name a few. The only pitcher I would consider a possibility would be Rodriguez, but even that is a long shot at best.
While it is unlikely that the Rangers would go after starting pitching, Jon Daniels has been known to pull off some surprising deadline deals in the past. Only time will tell.
Hey, I said they were bold, didn't I?
The Texas trio have been plagued with injuries throughout the course of their career leading to the dreaded label of injury-prone. And so far this season the label has been proven true in the case of Hamilton and Cruz.
Hamilton broke his arm sliding head first into home plate against the Tigers early in the season and missed more than a month before returning in June, and Nelson Cruz had lingering hamstring issues that forced him to the DL as well.
Ian Kinsler surprisingly has stayed healthy. The knock on him has always been: "He is a great player, but he gets injured every season." So far this season has an unimpressive .250 batting average but a recent hot streak has brought it up from the lower .220s. He still draws a ton of walks, hits for power and steals a lot of bases without being caught.
So here I am on the record of saying all three will remain healthy the entire second half. I'm one that hates making an argument without evidence but that's just what I'm doing here. Call it a gut feeling.
The Rangers currently sit just a game ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the West. This sounds familiar though, doesn't it? Just a few weeks ago it was the Seattle Mariners they were neck-and-neck with for first. Before that, the A's had a hot streak that had them within striking distance of first.
While I do think the Angels are much more of a complete team than the other two, I think the Rangers will maintain their lead and win the AL West.
The Angels possess a scary starting rotation of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana that will keep the race close, but their lack of a proven big bat makes me believe their offense will not hold up. The Angels did call up highly touted prospect Mike Trout and have been linked to Aramis Ramirez of Cubs, though so the jury is still out.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are the complete opposite team: a lineup with proven bats up-and-down the scorecard but a starting rotation that might be playing a little better than they actually are. The second half hinges on the pitching of Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando. If they continue to pitch lights out, the Rangers will be hard to knock off.
As evidenced earlier in this article, I think Derek Holland will be huge in the second half—he has to be. But beyond that, I think Holland is the key to whether the Rangers sink or swim in the stretch run. If he solidifies his spot in the rotation, it will give the Rangers more flexibility with the Ogando situation should he need to be sent back to the bullpen. Holland also gives them that swing-and-miss stuff they badly need in the post season.
As much as I want to say the Rangers will be in the World Series because of the bold prediction label on this article, my reasoning just won't let me. But here's to saying the Rangers will once again beat the Yankees in a playoff series.
The Rangers proved last year that they could stand toe-to-toe with the Bronx Bombers and come out victorious. But this is a different team—a Cliff Lee-less one at that.
Unless something major happens, the Rangers would go into the postseason with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and three inexperienced pitchers as their starting rotation. That's not very reassuring for a team with expectations that have inflated from next-to-nothing to winning championships in less than a year.
So how do the Rangers defeat the Yankees? Capitalizing on their weakness: starting pitching.
Besides C.C. Sabathia, this is a rotation made of Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett or Freddy Garcia. The Rangers have proven they can hit Hughes in the postseason, and you can call me skeptical on Colon and Garcia's chances of maintaining their success all the way into the playoffs. Burnett hasn't been himself the last few years and Nova is young and without experience.
Plus, Sabathia gave up seven runs to the Rangers in 10 playoff innings just last year.
I think the Rangers pull off the upset, though not as easily this time around without Lee.