Consistency is key for the Rangers
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admits that when it comes to peaks and valleys, his team seems to have a knack for climbing high and dropping low.
He'd prefer something in between.
"The challenge for this club is to find that consistency and not have the highs be so high and the lows be so low," Daniels said. "We haven't found our pace yet and we're going to need to."
The Rangers return home from a long road trip this weekend to face the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners in a seven-game homestand. They will do so in first place of a weak but tight American League West. Through two months of the season, the Rangers have shown an ability to contend with other divisional teams, but haven't been able to separate from the pack.
"We've certainly seen the good and what we're capable of and we've seen the bad, the lack of execution at times," Daniels said. "We've talked at length about the talent that we feel is on this club. You can always improve in certain areas. But we have confidence this team is capable of winning the division. At this point, two months in, it's time to stop just talking about it and start doing it."
The lack of execution that Daniels refers to has shown up in the club's inability to perform well against the top teams in the league. Texas is 4-15 against teams with winning records from the other AL divisions. They'll get another test this weekend when Tampa Bay, sporting the best record in the majors, comes to town.
Daniels doesn't take any solace in the fact that outside of the Rays, the Rangers face teams with .500 records or worse from now until the All-Star break.
"Every series is important; every game is important," Daniels said. "I don't think it's about that. You have to beat the good teams and the teams you're supposed to beat. I think that's kind of a cop-out to start evaluating the other way."
Daniels, as any general manager should, looks at his team with the big picture in mind. But he isn't busy painting smiley faces and thinking everything is fine. He's also not moping around the offices at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington waiting for his team to collapse or expecting the worse.
He sees a club whose starting pitching hasn't performed consistently, forcing the bullpen to work overtime. He knows that he paid a lot of money for Rich Harden and the right-hander has yet to show he can pitch at a level that he attained a few years back. Scott Feldman, the team's best pitcher a year ago, isn't nearly as effective so far in 2010, though he has started to make slow progress his last few starts. Derek Holland is on the disabled list and Matt Harrison is in the bullpen after an injury and a shaky start to his season.
"Each guy has shown at times what he's capable of, but not as consistently as we're going to need," Daniels said. "Our guys on average are throwing too many pitches to get through innings. You'd like to see the ball put in play early in the count. This is not news. It's not something they're unaware of."
Daniels knew when the season began that he was asking a handful of young players to prove they could handle critical jobs. Two months in, the Rangers have made some changes. Chris Davis is no longer the first baseman and has turned things over to Justin Smoak, who is going through his own adjustment period in the majors. Catcher remains a position that Daniels is seeking to upgrade with Opening Day starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia still at Triple-A trying to stay healthy and get his throwing issues under control. Julio Borbon remains the center fielder despite a bat that has yet to heat up. Not all the young players have had slow starts. Elvis Andrus has seized his role as the leadoff hitter and has become very reliable. Neftali Feliz was named the closer after the first week of the season and has taken advantage of his opportunity. Tommy Hunter, who pitched well when given a chance a few months into 2009, returns to the mound this weekend with a chance to once again solidify a spot in the rotation.
"Part of winning with young players is dealing with the learning curve," Daniels said. "I think that's to be understood. There's a level of patience that's required. You can't just juggle guys in and out every time someone hits an extended slump. You have to see improvement in the approach and ultimately the results."
Daniels was quick to say he's been pleased with what Smoak has done the last week or two, showing patience and having better at-bats.
"He struggled for the first time maybe in his baseball life," Daniels said. "It's a different competition. Mark Teixeira was hitting .170 and .180 well into May his rookie year. The team was in a different position at that time, not expected to contend, but that's part of the game. You have to see improvement in the thought process."
Daniels' job is to put his club in the best position to contend in the second half of the season. That means constantly evaluating what's on the market to improve the team. He isn't sure whether new ownership will be in place by July 31, when the trade deadline arrives.
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"You have to prepare for both scenarios," Daniels said. "In the short term, we understand the limitations that the situation brings with it. We'll look to upgrade the club as best we can. If that means promoting from within or looking at moves that don't require a significant financial commitment, we'll do that. We've got to be prepared if and when the situation resolves itself. We have to have our options lined up."
Daniels is encouraged by the fact that despite all of the external ownership stuff, not to mention the growing pains of young players, his team has remained at or near the top of the AL West.
"We clearly haven't played our best baseball, both on an individual level and a team level," Daniels said. "We should reasonably expect a little more. Despite that, we're in a good position in the standings. There is plenty of time left. Every team in the division still has a very realistic chance. We can't worry about the other guys. We just have to play more consistently."