Some thoughts on a team at the crossroads


The Rangers are 3 back of Oakland in the A.L. West, heading into a 4 game set against Oakland

Who would have thought, two months ago, that we might be sitting here in the early summer waiting anxiously for Mitch Moreland to return so he could start carrying the Ranger offense?

The Rangers won, 3-2, in Boston on June 5, the day that Moreland was injured. They were 36-22 at the time, a game and a half up on Oakland. Since that time, the team has gone 2-9, while being outscored 57-27 by their opponents. Texas is scoring less than 2.5 runs per game in that stretch while allowing a little more than 5 runs per game.

Really, though, the tailspin started earlier -- a week and a half earlier. On May 26, the Rangers were looking to complete a three game sweep of the Seattle Mariners. A win would keep them 5.5 games up in the A.L. West. The game went into extra innings tied at 2, the Rangers scored a run in the top of the 11th, Joe Nathan allowed a homer to Raul Ibanez in the top of the 11th, and then Jason Bay singled off of Ross Wolf to bring in a run in the 13th to win the game.

Texas went off to Arizona afterwards and got swept in a Memorial Day doubleheader, won the only game weather allowed be played at home against Arizona, then took two of three at home against Kansas City in a series that ended June 2. That was the last series the Rangers won. They've lost 2 of 3 at Boston, 2 of 3 at Toronto, 2 of 3 at home to Cleveland, and just got swept by the Jays at home in a 4 game set. That's 6-14 from the date of the extra-inning loss in Seattle, during which time the A's have gone 15-6.

And that's part of what makes this such a frustrating stretch...if the A's just go, say, 11-10 over their last 21, the Rangers are still in first place. It is like a repeat of late last isn't just the Rangers going poorly, it is the A's playing great baseball, which means a huge lead has disappeared in the blink of an eye.

And of course, the offense has been awful during this time, which makes for even more maddening baseball. The Rangers' runs scored, by game, in the month of June:

1, 3, 5, 3, 3, 1, 3, 6, 6, 2, 2, 1, 0, 1, 2

Looking at that, its a miracle the Rangers have won 4 games this month.

Now, the reality is that the Rangers are better than they've played the last few weeks, and the A's aren't as good as they've played. For all of you who say the Rangers' recent string of losses shows they are not a good team -- that good teams don't go through streaks like this -- remember that the A's went 10-21 over a 31 game stretch earlier in the year. If the Rangers aren't a good team, neither are the A's.

So the Rangers are going to play better. Even with this bad stretch and all the injuries they've suffered, this team is on an 89-win pace. This isn't a sub-.500 team.

The problem with saying all that, though, is that while they may not be a sub-.500 team, they are certainly playing like one. And if this losing streak drags on much longer, they're going to find themselves in a hole that is going to be real hard to climb out of.

Mitch Moreland coming back should help -- he's better than Chris McGuiness, no question -- but in April, he was someone many of us were asking be replaced. His 899 OPS on the year is great, but I don't think anyone is expecting him to continue this stretch. What the Rangers need is for Elvis Andrus to put up better than a 600 OPS, for David Murphy to start hitting, for the Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry combo to be more productive, for Ian Kinsler to resume hitting like he was pre-injury.

That's where the improvement has to come from, offensively...from the guys that are here now. And I'm confident that this team will get it in gear and start playing like the 90+ win team I think they are.

The problem is that, with Oakland coming to town for a four game set, they need to get it in gear now. Barring rainouts, this series will end with either the Rangers up by a game on Oakland, or with the A's up by one game, three games, five games, or seven games. Anything other than a split would be bad for Texas. Oakland coming in a sweeping the Rangers would be devastating. A seven game lead isn't insurmountable -- as we as Rangers fans well know, given how quickly we've seen our seven game lead evaporate -- but that's a huge problem to overcome.

The other bright spot out there, of course, is the Wild Card. With Cleveland and Kansas City falling back, and the Rays and Blue Jays hovering around .500, the Rangers are still well-positioned for a Wild Card berth. At this point, the Rangers are a game-and-a-half back of Baltimore for the #1 Wild Card spot, and are tied with the Yankees for the second spot. Getting into the playoffs as a Wild Card team would be disappointing, but it is better than nothing at all. And regardless of what happens over this four game stretch, the Rangers should still be in the Wild Card mix.

Still...that just drives home how big this series potentially is. Because I don't want to be, in June, basically writing off the A.L. West and hoping that we can get hot enough to grab a spot in the Wild Card game.

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