Mac Engel

Hobbled Rangers are going to have to be almost perfect

Elvis Andrus is out trying to steal second in the third inning with Houston Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie applying the tag.
Elvis Andrus is out trying to steal second in the third inning with Houston Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie applying the tag. Star-Telegram

Shortly after the ceremonial first pitch was thrown Friday afternoon, the former president of the United States issued a word of caution for all hopeful and eternally optimistic Texas Rangers fans.

“I think we are going to have to be patient because it’s a young team,” George W. Bush said.

The man knows his team; the Rangers boast the youngest average age in MLB at 27.4. The stunner is that despite the preponderance of youth, the team’s payroll ranks eighth highest in baseball. How does this happen, Jon Daniels?

Now it is a young team that is about to get younger. Dubya said this before the 2014 World Series Disabled List Champions added to their depth chart of wounded after the game.

Five games into the season and just about everything we feared about the Rangers is playing out — they remain cursed, more injury prone than the cast of The Walking Dead, and are their own worst enemy.

The Rangers’ 5-1 home-opening loss against the Houston Astros had it all. There is enough here to think the team can be competitive, despite the injuries, but not enough to be nonchalant in any phase.

A 162-game season is hard enough in ideal circumstances, but if this team insists on being dumb, it’s dead. If this team mails it in, for so much as an at-bat, it’s dead.

Smarts and defense can still compensate for much in baseball, something the Rangers do not always display. If they take on the personality of their manager, they will have a shot. If they big-time their manager’s message, they’re dead.

The impressive number of injuries this team suffered last season disguised one of the worst/best kept secrets on this team — they were below average defensively. Some of that can be blamed on the injuries, but not all of it.

The team posted the fourth “least good” good numbers in terms of defensive efficiency, tied for sixth in errors and committed the fourth- most errors in the American League. Other than that, though ...

If that repeats itself in 2015, forget it. The only way for this team to be good, if it insists on being injured, is to compete and play smart.

“Errors and mistakes are going to happen,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said after the game. “It’s part of the season. If you play 100 percent, positive things will happen.”

If they don’t do the “100 percent” routine, forget it.

Five games into the season, and the Rangers already have seven errors. In the home opener Friday, Prince Fielder had an error and a costly base-running mistake at second that killed a rally in the sixth inning.

In a 162-game season, mistakes are going to happen. But if this pace continues, wake me when the Cowboys report to Oxnard.

I asked manager Jeff Banister what defensive fielding number the team should hit in order to be a good defensive team.

“We need to be considered an extremely good team-defensive ball club. I am not going to put a number,” he said. “When you look at defensive metrics, it’s about inducing ground balls from the pitching staff. Create more opportunities for yourself and make the routine plays. That is the number we need to hit.”

That’s a polite way of saying, “Catch the ball, and throw it where it’s supposed to go.”

Looking at you, Andrus. And Leonys Martin. And whoever is catching. Elvis already has three errors this season, and he is a much better defensive player than he has shown since the start of 2014.

There is no way a guy whose meal ticket to the majors was his glove has suddenly become Chuck Knoblauch. Elvis was never Ozzie Smith, but he is not this bad. If he is, what’s the point?

Martin remains a raw work in progress, but for any pitching staff to have a chance to be successful in this ballpark, the center fielder must be smart and able to make Gold Glove-caliber plays. The ability is there, but the MLB instincts are fluid.

The uncomfortable truth is that with the type of injuries the Rangers continue to deal with, they are going to have to be nearly perfect in the areas they can control. Basically, if they’re dumb, they’re dead.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof

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