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Rangers have something to worry about

8/11/2010 - MLB Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers' clubhouse, we're told, is beset by a strange sort of collective, and selective, amnesia.

Certain sensitive subjects are off limits.

The players, we've been assured, don't talk about the standings. They don't talk about the bankruptcy crisis, or new ownership, or trades, or whether their next three series with the three premier American League East clubs -- including the current one with the Yankees -- might provide a preview of playoff games to come.

They don't look past the ends of their noses, much less beyond their next ballgame.

And they certainly wouldn't admit to glancing over their shoulders. Oh, no, not that.

They leave all of that serious stuff to us media pundits, the talk show gabbers and the fans. And Lord knows, we can't seem to get enough of it.

What the players had better be doing in that clubhouse is figuring out how they're going to score enough runs to protect an 8.5-game lead with six weeks to play. What they'd best be talking about is actually hitting like a playoff team for a change, or that oh-so-comfortable lead is going to melt faster than a sno-cone in the middle of August.

This season now belongs to the players, and probably it always has. From here on out, this one is on them. If the Good Ship Ranger founders on a sandbar now, it's the players who will have to take the blame. They're the ones who will have steered it onto the rocks.

The franchise, it appears, has survived its bankruptcy and ownership crisis, and the right people are in charge. The front office -- Jon Daniels and company -- has done all it can do.

Somehow, in the midst of the team's destitution and desperation, Daniels has been able to swing deals to bring in a veteran catcher, the best hired gun pitcher on the planet and reinforcements at that black hole known at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as first base.

Ron Washington's white powder revelations of the spring are a distant memory and have had no perceptible impact on the season, as was at first feared. His grip on the team has been firm, the attitude in the clubhouse, for the most part, calm and collected. There are no political agendas with this team as there so often were in the past.

Ownership, the front office and the manager and coaches have put these players in a position to succeed, perhaps beyond their wildest dreams. Now we find out what they're truly made of, whether they have the coconuts to finish what they've started. I think they do; I hope they do. But it's time to start showing it.

It is not panic time, by any means. That would be the worst possible reaction in the clubhouse. Over-reaction is expected from amongst the fandom, not the players. That said, a sincere concern on their parts would be totally appropriate.

There are no secrets here and there's no hiding, either. The main characters in this unfolding drama are at center stage and essentially have been all season.

It is up to Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz to step up and show leadership now. It is not about what they say any more. It is about what they do. It is incumbent upon Ian Kinsler to push his own physical limits, and if that means playing at 80 or 85 percent, so be it. It is time to lay it on the line.

That was amply demonstrated during the team's recently completed nine-game West Coast road trip, during which the Rangers scored two runs or fewer in five of the nine games. With Young (4-for-38) and Guerrero (7-for-31) in particular struggling, the Rangers hit just .234 on the trip.

After hitting .311 in June, the Rangers dropped off to .260 in July and were at an anemic .232 in August heading into the Yankees series. More important, they were hitting only .254 against AL East pitching this season.

The failures of first Chris Davis and then Justin Smoak at first base, traditionally the most offensive position in baseball, have been particularly damaging. The Rangers have collected an embarrassing 38 RBIs from their first basemen this season. Only Baltimore (34) is worse in the majors. Jorge Cantu and Mitch Moreland are a combined 13-for-44 (.295) since arriving from Florida and Oklahoma City, respectively, but have zero homers and one RBI between them.

I'm not sure the Rangers can wrap up the AL West unless they get more production from that position, although hot streaks from Guerrero, Hamilton and Cruz could change my mind.

In a perfect world, the Los Angeles Angels would continue to be a mere shadow of their normal championship selves. The Oakland Athletics' offensive liabilities would continue to hamstring their suddenly ultra-effective pitching. But baseball is rarely a perfect world, and the Rangers would be naïve to think they can get to the playoffs without playing better baseball than they have over the past few weeks.

No, this is personal now.

There are no alibis that will be sufficient to explain a collapse at this point. It's not about the heat, or lack of pitching, or bad ownership, or front office malaise. It's about stepping up and playing to capabilities. It's about being smart and being clutch. It's about playing like winners and staying cool; applying the pressure, not caving in to it.

At this point, it's about what Johnny Oates, the only manager to take the Rangers to the playoffs, always said it was about.

It's about the man in the mirror.

I doubt that's something they talk about in the clubhouse, either.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.