There's just something different about this 2012 Texas Rangers team. I can't decide if it's the raised expectations that come with consecutive World Series appearances or if there really is something tangibly off with this group of players. At the beginning of the season, I was convinced that it was a roster full of guys that knew they could win, that wouldn't be denied. Maybe that's still the case and this team will really turn it on over the next couple of months, but I can't help but wonder, "What if it's the... other... alternative?"
That other alternative would be that injuries, slumps, and better competition in the division might actually leave the Rangers on the outside looking in come playoff time.
I still think this team has the potential to do something great. I don't think Josh Hamilton will return to the form he displayed over the first two months of the season, but a return closer to any semblance of a superstar would sure be nice, a sentiment that was solidified in Monday night's 15-8 loss to the Angels. Hamilton was 3 for 4, and the Rangers scored 8 runs. No, he wasn't responsible for all 8 of them, but this team is definitely better when Hamilton is contributing on offense. It makes everyone else in the lineup better. 8 runs, on most nights, will win a game.
With the trade deadline having come and gone, the big splash the Rangers were expected to make simply didn't materialize. Talks were close on Zack Greinke before the Angels swooped in and landed him, and there were various rumors on pitchers like Cliff Lee, Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, and even Josh Beckett, but in the end, the biggest move made for the defending American League champions was acquiring Ryan Dempster from the Cubs.
Many will point to Dempster's 2.25 ERA, of which one can also look at his BABIP of .244 on the year that just seems to be unsustainable over the course of the rest of the season, especially in the American League. When it all comes down to it, the fact that significant money had been tied to Roy Oswalt earlier in the season seems to have hampered the Rangers in terms of feeling they could trade for a 2 month rental and then have any chance of re-signing that player.
Whatever the case, the end-of-season results will not so much be a reflection of the lack of trade deadline acquisitions as much as what happens internally moving forward. Neftali Feliz will undergo Tommy John surgery, which will end his 2012 season and a significant chunk of 2013, which leaves me wondering just what his future with the Rangers might be. I'm also left to wonder how much of his injury has to do with his time spent as a fireballing closer, but I suppose that's better left for another discussion.
Moving forward, the importance will be whether or not the offense can bust out of what has been, for the most part, a roster-encompassing slump that has lasted for the better part of two months. More specifically, can Ron Washinton make the most glaring and necessary adjustment to fix it?
Sure, all players go through slumps, but one in particular has received a pass. His name is Michael Young. While Washington has shown frustration with Josh Hamilton's refusal to make necessary adjustments, he's been quick to defend Michael Young, going as far as to imply that fans wanting Young benched are somehow "disloyal".
I think we can all relate to the point that just because the family tells grandma she shouldn't be behind the wheel anymore doesn't mean she's no longer loved. It's just in the best interest of everyone if she isn't driving anymore. In the same way, it's simply no longer beneficial to the Texas Rangers to have Michael Young in the lineup in any capacity. He's a liability on the defensive end, and his bat speed is seemingly sapped, meaning he's become an easy ground-out to shortstop during most at-bats.
Young isn't taking walks, isn't hitting with any sort of power, and isn't finding any way to get on base. His OPS is sitting at .630, a full .214 drop from last season. Possibly the most telling and troubling number is his RE24, which measures the number of runs a player contributes as compared to the run expectancy for a given base/out situation at the beginning of a plate appearance and then at the end. Obviously a positive RE24 indicates a player contributes more runs than expected on average, and a negative RE24 indicates the opposite. Michael Young is sitting at -18.29, good for 4th worst in all of baseball. That's right, Michael Young has become one of the worst rally killers in the game, and yet, out of some sort of loyalty, Ron Washinton continues to trot him out day after day.
On one hand, I get it. Washington wouldn't have made it this far without trusting his players, even during the roughest patches. Washinton's players have notably indicated that they play hard for Washington because they trust him. On the other hand, sometimes playing hard just isn't good enough. I'm not sure this is a case of Michael Young slumping as much as maybe, just maybe, he's gotten too old to use his tried-and-true approach. All players have a shelf life, some are longer than others, and it's just become hard to imagine that Young will turn this thing around and salvage what has, at this point, become a lost season. I just can't shake the feeling that moving forward, Washington's usage of Young could go a long way in determining just how the Rangers fare in the postseason picture.
I'm not sure what upsets me more: that Young has become a shell of his former self, or that he's seemingly oblivious to that fact. Whatever the case, I just don't enjoy seeing Young in a Rangers uniform anymore, and that saddens me.