Believe it or not, it’s actually easier to write about a team when there are things going wrong than it is when everything is going right.
When things are going wrong, you want to crawl out of the woodwork and offer your own sage advice: this guy needs to be benched, let this guy pitch instead, trade him, release him, bring that hotshot up from AAA. When things are going right? Just about all you can say is “Hey aren’t they great?”
The Rangers are scuffling right now. Since their hot start, they’ve played right around .500 ball for the last 20+ games. Fortunately, playing .500 ball when you’re already 10 games over .500 usually translates into not losing too much ground in the standings, and so it is with Texas. They still remain four games ahead of the A’s in the West, even after yesterday’s heartbreaking 5-4 loss to the A’s to end their most recent homestand.
More importantly, since Josh Hamilton has cooled off on his torrid home run pace, which had to happen sooner or later, it has started exposing what are some of the trouble spots for the two-time AL Champions.
A couple of days ago, I pointed out the horrid May being put up by Colby Lewis. When Lewis was signed three years ago after spending some time pitching in Japan, it was expected he would be the #3 starter, behind Rich Harden and Scott Feldman. By the time the season ended, he was still the #3 starter, but this time behind Cliff Lee and CJ Wilson. He was slotted into the 2 hole for the playoffs so teams wouldn’t face two southpaws back to back. In 2011, Lewis was the #2 guy behind Wilson and pretty much stayed there all year. In 2012, Lewis has started out as the #1 starter, although it has always been expected he would drop down behind Yu Darvish at some point.
The problem now is Lewis is pitching more like the #4 or #5 guy. The reason that’s a problem is the continuing problems of the guy who’s supposed to be #4, Matt Harrison. Harry, like Colby, started out the season lights out. After going 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.276 WHIP in 2011, Harrison started 2012 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA and a WHIP right around 1.00. In the five starts since then, he’s gone 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA and a WHIP of 1.837. Harry got a no decision against the A’s yesterday, but he really wasn’t fooling the Oakland batters any either.
But no case right now is more curious than that of Mr. Ranger himself, Michael Young. The all-time Rangers hits leader. Like most of the Rangers, Young got off to a hot start in April, hitting a high water mark of .414 after the first 14 games. After going 5 for 31, Young ended April still at .326 for the season. A couple of two hit games early in May pushed the average back up to .333, but since May 4th, Young has gone a dismal 8 for 54 (.148) with just one walk and 8 strikeouts. Young’s walk rate is down by half so far in 2012 and even his hits don’t seem to be with much authority these days.
I don’t know if, at age 35, Young’s bat speed has slowed one small tick that he’ll eventually compensate for or if he’s just in one of those slumps that every player has. For a guy who hits fifth in the line-up (and occasionally 2nd or 3rd in the line-up), you can’t tolerate a slump for too long before deciding to A) drop him in the order or B) sit him down for a few games. As much as I’m worried about Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison, I’m worried about Young’s performance even more. Here’s hoping he breaks out of it soon.
New Topic: This weekend begins the last official “Silver Boot” Interleague rivalry between the Astros and the Rangers. Whether they’ll keep up the tradition of the season series winner getting the Boot after Houston joins the AL West next year remains to be seen. It’s doubtful, since the whole Silver Boot concept was cooked up by the two teams’ previous owners.
Houston’s move to the AL West next year will actually affect four teams in the end, since it will end the natural interleague rivalry of both teams. In other words, there really won’t be any more “natural” rivalries for the Rangers or the Astros. If I had to guess, I’d say the new “natural” rivalries starting next year will be with the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, but that’s just a guess.