Hamilton is always a key to the Rangers' success—there are other factors too, though.
The Texas Rangers should be all set for another AL West Division title. Yet the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim continue to hang around. And the Rangers haven't been able to recapture the magic they so easily conjured during their 12-game winning streak last month.
Ace C.J. Wilson, prior to Saturday night's no-decision, struggled mightily in his previous two starts—allowing 14 hits over just seven and two-thirds combined innings pitched.
Colby Lewis has been inconsistent as well. And with news that Adrian Beltre has aggravated his ailing left hamstring during rehab, the Texas Rangers might not be able to put their stretch run on cruise control just yet.
Closer Neftali Feliz has once again gone back to throwing nothing but fastballs. His velocity has been excellent, but it's no secret that big league hitters can adjust and hit fastballs—especially when they know it's coming.
Derek Holland, after pitching his fourth complete-game shutout of the season (at the time tying Cliff Lee for most in the MLB), failed to make out of the third inning in yet another rough start.
Despite all of the inconsistencies, injuries, and slumps, the Texas Rangers have been in first place for the majority of the season.
In the forthcoming slides, I'll highlight some moves they can make to ensure not only another AL West Division Title, but a sustainable run deep into the playoffs and possibly a second consecutive World Series berth.
Elvis is one of the best in the bigs at laying down a bunt.
Ian Kinsler—in my opinion—has proven that he can be an excellent leadoff hitter. He's shown great improvement at the plate, especially in terms of patience, as he's already walked 64 times—a career high—and although he has 37 more at-bats this season than last, he has struck out five fewer times.
Kinsler is a fine leadoff hitter, but he's not the best option at that batting slot on the Rangers. That designation belongs to Elvis Andrus.
In terms of speed, it's a win-win between Kinsler and Andrus. Both have plus speed, but Andrus is probably a little faster. Kinsler, however, has a better stolen base percentage than Andrus this season. In 23 attempts, Kinsler has stolen 21 bags (just over 91%). Andrus has swiped 31 in 37 attempts, good for 83.7%.
Granted, if Kinsler and Andrus were exactly equal and it came down to who hits better at home to decide the ideal leadoff hitter, there would be no sense in arguing. Ian Kinsler is a monster at the plate when playing in the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He's batting .291 with a .398 OBP. On the road is a different story entirely—Kinsler is hitting .180 with a .285 OBP.
Andrus home vs. away statistics aren't nearly as bipolar. At home, Andrus has a .274 BA and .323 OBP. On the road, it's .286 BA, .349 OBP.
Another area to explore is the fact that Andrus has been red-hot over the last two weeks. In that span, he's batting .318 with a .388 OBP. Kinsler has been very pedestrian, with a .163 BA and .255 OBP.
I propose the old "switcharoo." Move Kinsler to the second spot in the order, and move Andrus up to leadoff. This would be a move that better suits Andrus' speed and Kinsler's power.
We can all benefit from the occasional time off from work. Mike Napoli is a prime example of the rejuvenating ability of a few weeks' furlough.
Since his return from the disabled list on July 4th, Napoli has been exactly what the Rangers needed, especially since Adrian Beltre went down with a hamstring injury a few weeks ago.
Since his return from a left oblique injury, Napoli has absolutely crushed the ball. His batting average has risen all the way to .290, and he's third on the team in home runs, with 18.
Napoli has proven that he is not just a commodity at the plate, but behind it as well. Napoli's overall excellence this year might have to do with his being happier playing in Texas rather than Anaheim.
In an interview with the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, Napoli spoke a bit about what it's like playing for former big league catcher and current Angels manager Mike Scioscia:
"I felt like I was always looking over my shoulder to see if I was doing things right. I was so worried about my setup and the mechanics all the time. I learned a lot. I learned a lot of what I do there, but playing there just wasn't much fun."
In 34 games at catcher, Napoli has a .996 fielding percentage, and has thrown out 44% of would-be base stealers. That's a relatively small sample size given the Rangers have currently played 115 games, but his offense warrants his being the starting catcher.
Torrealba is a more-than-adequate backup, allowing Napoli to play a little first base. Regardless, Napoli's bat needs to be in the Rangers' lineup every day.
Okay, this suggestion may be considered a little time-sensitive. There really isn't much wiggle room on the Texas Rangers' roster right now. Obviously, when Beltre is available for activation, someone will be optioned back to the minor leagues.
On September 1st, though, rosters expand from 25 to 40 as teams get ready for playoff contention. With a little bit of luck, Beltre will be back and at 100%. His arrival will not only improve the defense (one that has really struggled at times in 2011) but it clearly bolsters an already potent offense.
That being said, the Rangers have a chance to improve their bullpen and possibly provide some options in the rotation, should any member consistently struggle.
Teagarden is likely the odd man out when Beltre comes back up. He can be added permanently for the postseason to provide some depth at catcher.
With Chris Davis now a Baltimore Oriole, the Rangers are a little thin at third base. Tommy Mendonca might be an option for promotion from Double-A Frisco. Mendonca has played a solid third base for the Rough Riders, and has hit .299 with 22 home runs thus far.
Perennial roster-expansion call up Esteban German is once again tearing up Triple-A and making a case for a utility role with the Texas Rangers. German is batting .295 with 34 stolen bases. Matt Kata, German's teammate and starting second baseman, is batting .294 while playing solid defense.
The promotion that everyone wants to happen would be to get 20-year-old Venezuelan Martin Perez up and in the Rangers' bullpen. Perez has struggled since his promotion to Triple-A, however, and now is sporting a robust 5.76 ERA. He may need some more seasoning.
Eric Hurley, who has big league experience, may be the wiser move for promotion. Hurley, who has battled injuries in his career—some freakish in nature—is 6-0 with a 3.65 ERA in 11 Triple-A starts. He could be an excellent bullpen piece, and one—similar to the recently departed Tommy Hunter—who is ready to slide into the rotation should the need arise.
This is a good-to-great Texas Rangers team right now. Come September, this team will be even better.
UPDATE: VARIOUS SOURCES ARE NOW STATING THAT MILLWOOD HAS SIGNED WITH THE ROCKIES. GO AHEAD AND READ THE FOLLOWING THOUGH, IF FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHY I DON'T GAMBLE.
Former Ranger Kevin Millwood was released by the Boston Red Sox yesterday. Millwood, 36, fell out of favor with the Red Sox when they acquired Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners in a trade deadline deal.
He pitched for Triple-A Pawtucket and was 5-1 with a 4.38 ERA and 66 strikeouts. Over his career, Millwood is a proven innings-eater (6 plus IP per start over ML career), and a solid No. 2 or 3 starter.
The Rangers could sign Millwood and place him on their Triple-A roster for a possible September 1st call-up. Millwood could be valuable as a long-reliever or spot starter.
Should the Rangers pickup Millwood (probably doubtful), this would be his third team in 2011 and fifth since 2009. He last pitched in the Major Leagues for the Baltimore Orioles last season and went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA.
Neftali Feliz, last year's AL Rookie of the Year, undoubtedly has closer "stuff". After an early-season stint on the disabled list, Feliz's nuclear-fastball has regained its peak velocity.
The only problem with that is, it is just about the only pitch Feliz throws nowadays. Granted, if I could flirt with triple digits, I'd throw it incessantly as well, but I'm no big league pitcher.
A prime example of throwing the fastball way too much occurred two nights ago, when the Rangers once again rallied to a ninth inning lead, 4-3 against the Cleveland Indians. Feliz was lit up and the Rangers wound up losing 7-5.
The additions of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara did more than just improve the bullpen. They also added two viable closer replacements should Feliz continue to falter. I have no doubt that Feliz will figure it out, but with the Angels hot on the Rangers heels—just one game back—the team can no longer give Feliz the opportunity to blow another save, or time to figure things out.
Adding a more consistent closer might be just what the Texas Rangers need, not only to become playoff-bound, but to become World Series ready come October.