Rangers expect improvement in second half of season

Rangers expect more from themselves in second half

07/11/2012 11:31 PM

07/13/2012 1:07 AM

The first half of the 2012 season is over, and the Texas Rangers are sitting atop the American League West even though their play of late has been below par.

Take a look at the offense, which is hitting .237 in July and has scored the fewest runs in the majors (17). Yet the Rangers continue to lead the league with a .280 average and 443 runs.

The injury-plagued pitching staff hasn't been nearly as bad, though the 19 runs allowed last week at Chicago didn't inspire a ton of confidence. Yet the disabled list is expected to shed key contributors over the next week.

A 2-5 record this month has cost them 2 1/2 games to second-place Anaheim, which has the best record in baseball (42-24) since Mike Trout was recalled April 28. Yet the Rangers still lead by four games and have the second-best record in the game (52-34).

"It was a hard-fought first half," veteran Michael Young said. "We played extremely hard. We have a lot left in the tank, and I think we have our best baseball ahead of us."

The Rangers were first-half survivors. The second half of the season begins Friday at Seattle with the first of eight straight division games, with the final three against the Angels.

The Rangers expect much more from themselves. If they can't snap out of their July funk, their two-year reign atop the AL could be snapped.

"I'm proud of our effort level," Young said. "Having said that, I think there's a lot of room for improvement. A lot of guys are hungry to get the second half started and play to our potential. It should be a lot of fun."

Here is a look at the Rangers at the halfway point:

Biggest surprise: Who led AL relievers in innings pitched in the first half and had the lowest ERA among Rangers relievers? Robbie Ross, of course. The rookie (47 1/3 IP, 0.95 ERA) has had the composure of a veteran while making the jump from Double A to the major leagues. He, not Darvish, has been the Rangers' best rookie.

Hey, Yu: The first half of Yu Darvish's major league career is in the books. He was an All-Star, albeit by the Final Vote, after going 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA. Darvish struggled in his first two starts and had two more stinkers, but overall he has exceeded expectations. So far, he looks like he will be worth the $100 million-plus the Rangers have committed to him.

Going batty: Craig Gentry made significant contributions with his legs last season, but he has made an impact with his bat this season. He has a .329 average, including a .360 mark against left-handed pitchers. The right-handed hitter has been so good that he has earned some starts against righties.

Top second-half storyline: The Rangers will have to find a spot for Neftali Feliz (elbow) when he comes off the disabled list. Wherever he lands, it will make a significant impact and cause a significant shakeup. If Feliz goes to the bullpen, he will give the Rangers another power late-innings arm to go with Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Joe Nathan. But to fit him in, someone will have to be traded or released. Feliz could join the rotation, where he started the season, in the event of an injury. But he also could serve as a replacement for Roy Oswalt if the right-hander pitches more like he did against Chicago rather than against Minnesota.

Trade show: As big players at the trade deadline the past two years, many believe the Rangers will try to get free-agents-to-be Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. But general manager Jon Daniels has made as much of an impact with lower-profile deals (Bengie Molina in 2010; Mike Gonzalez in 2011) as big ones (Cliff Lee in 2010; Mike Adams in 2011).

Minors maybe: Don't be floored if Mike Olt finds his way onto the Rangers' roster, and not just as a September call-up. The third baseman, who has 22 homers, has started playing right field at Double A Frisco while also working at first base since spring training. It might take an injury to get him to Arlington. Then again, it might not.

Scheduling conflicts: The Rangers and Angels play 13 more times -- five in July, two to open August and six in September. The Angels are as tough as the Rangers thought they'd be despite a miserable April. The Rangers also have six games each against Boston, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and four against New York.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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