Monday, August 4, 2008

Crunch Time in Arlington

As the MLB trade deadline passed without any moves made by Texas whatsoever, Rangers fans are left pondering if this team has what it takes to make a legitimate run for their first playoff berth in this millenium. With the arrival of Mark Teixiera in Los Angeles and the Angels playing the best in the majors, I'm going to go ahead and wave the white flag in regards to the american league west race. The wild card is now the only chance the Rangers have, where they currently sit at just 6 games back and 4th in the wild card standings as they begin a 4-game momentum changing series against those New York Yankees, who are third in the wild card race. Texas has an explosive offense and a great manager, but this team is far from perfect. There are several problems this team must face head-on right away before they get left behind in this tight wild card playoff race:

The stand still at the trade deadline:
The only move made during the trade deadline by Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was playing a practical joke on Eddie Guardado. Manager Ron Washington went to the steam room to tell Eddie Guardado that he had been traded to the Washington Nationals. Guardado stormed into the office where Jon Daniels was meeting with some assistants, not even bothering to change out of his robe and shower shoes. Guardado began to scream at Jon Daniels. "Thanks for dressing up," Daniels said. Then the general manager broke into a smile and started laughing. "I can't hold it over you. You're still a Texas Ranger."

While I'm happy to hear that the locker room is a fun workplace, where were all the deals that were supposed to improve this team? Here at DallasDedicated, we gave Jon Daniels three wonderful moves to try to pursue before the trade deadline concluded. While the Yankees continued to make calls to the Rangers organization about acquiring Gerald Laird for some pitching, nothing ever developed into a serious discussion. The Rangers' No. 1 priority was young starting pitching, but they were also looking for veteran relievers to reinforce their bullpen for the stretch run. That was on manager Ron Washington's wish list. But the Rangers couldn't find what they were looking for -- especially a left-hander -- and didn't like what was being offered. Because no trade ended up being signed off on, we are faced with the second problem...

The lack of good starting pitching:
Yes, the Rangers do have a great number of young pitchers that have shown great upside for the years to come. This year, however, we have seen that the inability of a starting pitcher to go at least 6 innings have cost the Rangers dearly. Texas currently sits in last in team ERA (5.25). During the divisional era (since 1969), no team that ranked last in the league ERA reached the playoffs. In fact, none of them had a winning record. Another astonishing statistic is the fact that the Rangers have used 13 pitchers a total of six rookies to start a game this season, most in the majors. Vicente Padilla has been the only consistent pitcher (12-5 with 84 strikeouts), but Padilla's ERA is still at a non-impressive 4.52.

In response to the consistently bad pitching, the Rangers fired pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Dom Chiti tonight after last Friday's game. Jon Daniels said the club wanted a different voice and that's why a move was made. It is a little unfair to rest all the blame on the pitching coaches, but something had to change. The rotation has dealt with injuries and uncertainty all season. A 6.63 ERA in July with this offense just was too much for Rangers management. It is crazy that the Rangers pulled off a winning record last month with the way the pitching was. Andy Hawkins is now the pitching coach, being promoted from the AAA Oklahoma club. (Quick note on Hawkins: He once threw a no-hitter against the White Sox but still gave up 4 runs. Now that is hard is hard to do!) We will see how a change in staff effects the pitching of the Rangers. The starting pitching should not get all the criticism though, as the bullpen of Texas is the second-worst in the majors. One problem that has arose the last few weeks is the inconsistency of closer CJ Wilson, which brings me to the final problem...

The closer situation:
C.J. Wilson started the season being very dominant, but lately his play has been very shaky. Wilson has now blown four saves, three of which have come since the trade deadline. His record stands at 2-2 with a dreadful 5.28 ERA, and a 6.17 ERA since June 1. During last night's game against Toronto, manager Ron Washington had fans talking when he decided to go with Eddie Guardado in what appeared would be a save situation. Washington told reporters after the game that no closer change is coming, and that he just felt that Eddie was the right man at that point. Many fans have been begging for Ron Washington to appoint Guardado to do what he has done most of his career, close out games. Could CJ Wilson be demoted to the 8th inning spot? Getting three outs in the ninth isn't easy and isn't a job for everyone. CJ Wilson has the mental toughness to do it, but he has to start pitching more like early in the season or change could be coming.

The Rangers begin a four-game series at home against the Yanks tonight, as every game becomes crucial. Texas is 6 games back in the wild card race behind Boston, while Chicago (who are .5 games back behind Minnesota in the AL central), and New York sit ahead of Texas also. Working in the Rangers’ favor is the hope that the three AL east teams, the Rays/Red Sox/Yankees, will beat up on each other and give room for the Rangers to make a move. There are plenty of home games left against wild card opponents to make it happen, but the Rangers must first solve the challenges within the team to do it.

Later this week: As the first Cowboys preseason game is just 5 days away, we will give you a season preview of all things Cowboys. Get excited!


No comments: