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Texas Rangers: 5 Down

The Texas Rangers have played 39 games of their 162-game season. While 39 games is not a nice and clean round number, it is just as good a time as any to take a breath and review their performance to date. The Rangers are on the eve of the start of interleague play, having played every team in the AL for one series, never playing a team twice, and there is no AL team they haven’t played. So in that way, 39 games is perhaps the best time to do a miniature-sized season in review. Despite a 24-15 record, the following are the five most negative components of the season so far. For the best five parts of the season, go here.

1. Michael Young

The captain of this team is off to a very slow start, hitting .280. More importantly, his slugging percentage is just .387, and his OPS is hovering below.700 at .692. All of these numbers would be his worst offensive performance since 2002. The 35-year old is still displaying his versatility in the field, playing half his games at DH (18), and the other half split between third base (10), second base (4), and first base (4). One positive is that he is still getting the job done with runners in scoring position, raising his average to .326 (career average is .327) in those situations. His greatest struggles have come in two-strike counts, in which he is only hitting .150. Young has a reputation for succeeding in two-strike situations, utilizing his ability to hit the ball to the opposite field. This is the point of a player’s career when his production typically begins to regress. After 39 games, it is still too small a sample to know if this is a slump, or the new normal for Young. The Rangers lineup is much more potent when he is spraying balls to the gap in right-center field, instead of rolling over into 6-4-3 double plays.

2. Matt Harrison

Harrison had an extremely strong performance in 2011, and seemed to shoot out of the gates in 2012 picking up right where he left off. Harrison began the season 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA. Since then, his record has dropped to 4-3 and his ERA has ballooned to 5.23. The good news for Harrison is that his peripherals are healthy, with walk and strikeout rates that are better than his career averages. He may just be a tough-luck pitcher right now, with a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .321, compared to his career average of .299. In early May of 2011, Harrison also had a rough stretch of starts, going 0-4 with a 7.03 ERA over a 5-start span. There is still hope, and certainly no one would like to see his struggles end more than Harrison himself.

3. The Month of May

After firing off a 17-6 record in the month of April, someone hit the brakes on the Rangers once the calendar flipped to May, as they have gone 7-9 since then. Of even greater concern is that 7 of those 9 losses have come against the Blue Jays, Indians, Royals, and Athletics – all of which are a lower tiered team on the MLB totem pole than the Rangers. Good teams beat bad teams, and so far in May the Rangers haven’t held up their end of the bargain.

4. The Bench

The Rangers have a very serviceable bench. In fact, it is also very versatile, giving Ron Washington many options to plug-and-play as he sees fit on a nightly basis. However, the Rangers are near the bottom of the barrel in terms of pinch-hitter batting average at .167. Texas does not yet have the kind of options on the bench that pose a significant offensive threat near the end of a baseball game. Look for general manager Jon Daniels to dip into the trade market to shore up that deficiency.

5. The Hunted

The Texas Rangers are two-time defending American League champions, having gone to the World Series in back-to-back years. As if that wasn’t reason enough, they were the best team in baseball in the month of April this year. A multitude of national scribes, beat writers across the country, analysts, and scouts have placed the label of “best team in baseball” on the Rangers. The amount of bulletin board material for other teams knows no bounds, if any extra motivation is required on nights they face Texas. The result is that the Rangers are getting the absolute best from their opponents day in, and day out. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to repeat as champions in a sport – everyone knows who you are and are out to beat you. So when the Royals or the A’s come into town, the motivation levels between the two teams may be disproportionate. Washington, and the team leaders in the clubhouse, will have their work cut out for them over the long haul of the season to maintain a mental sharpness, and fierce competitive nature every day.

It is hard to find five things that the Rangers need to improve on for the rest of the 2012 season. There isn’t very much that has gone wrong, nor are there many snares that are clearly visible in the future that could trip up this team. If you didn’t see it, be sure to check out my “5 up” piece here. Only time will tell which side of the coin will play a more dominant role in the rest of the Rangers season.