Despite a dearth of runs and their now-customary plague of injury locusts, the Texas Rangers began Saturday only four games behind in the loss column.
Or as general manager Jon Daniels put it, “Welcome to 2015. There are 25 teams in the game right now that are in that category.”
His guess was close. As of Saturday morning, 22 of the 30 teams were within four games of, at the least, a wild-card spot.
And yet, the unifying thread among most of those 22 teams has been their inconsistency.
“We’re not a perfect ballclub,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister admitted. “We’re really not. We haven’t played like a perfect ballclub.”
Sub-standard hitting and flammable relief pitching have been the primary culprits behind the Rangers’ less-than-perfect, .500-or-thereabouts start.
“You’re absolutely right,” Daniels said. “We have not played great of late. But coming into today we were four back in the loss column. That’s the reality of it.”
As many expected, the Houston Astros have slipped back into the AL West peloton after a five-game losing streak.
And yet, despite a 3-15 home record against teams in their own division, the Rangers have shown no signs of surrender.
Instead of reaching for a white flag, Daniels has been answering the telephone and telling teams he needs bullpen arms and right-handed bats.
More than anything, though, he needs more Rangers to start measuring up to their career performance levels.
It’s hard to gain ground when five of the nine batters in your starting lineup are hitting .251 or below.
“Offensively, we’ve got to get better in our run-scoring opportunities,” Banister said. “We need to be better. Our execution rate needs to be higher. We need to have more quality at-bats in those opportunities.”
He didn’t name names, but let’s do so.
Here, listed in order of urgency, are the things that must go right for the Rangers’ lineup in order to contend in the season’s second half:
▪ 1, Shin-Soo Choo. In his first nine major league seasons, Choo was a .288 hitter with an .854 on-base plus slugging percentage. But he’s batted only .236 since signing a seven-year, $130 million contract to jump to the Rangers.
It’s the hitting, though, not the money. In 44 seasons in Texas, the franchise has never had a costlier, more disappointing free agent.
▪ 2, Elvis Andrus. His 14 errors at shortstop only underline his ongoing struggles at the plate. This is Elvis’ seventh year — he needs to be performing like a veteran.
▪ 3, Adrian Beltre. I know, I know, Beltre has been hurt. Bad finger and all, however, a .251 batting average with only seven home runs and 22 runs batted in is woefully sub-par from the No. 4 spot in the lineup.
▪ 4, Mitch Moreland. As productive as he’s been in the first half, Mitch has to avoid his career tendency to vanish after the All-Star break.
▪ 5, Josh Hamilton. Questions remain, but they are more about Hamilton remaining healthy enough to stay on the field, rather than his power stroke.
▪ 6, Center field. Either Delino DeShields, the season’s biggest surprise, or Leonys Martin, one of its biggest disappointments, will have to assert himself in the second half. If it’s DeShields, the lineup has its leadoff hitter.
The trade deadline is just two weeks away.
Don’t expect any white flags from the Rangers – yet. In the meantime, enjoy the imperfection.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697