It may not be as stunning a number as Juan Gonzalez's 101 RBI before the All-Star Break in 1998, but all things considered, the Rangers reaching 50 wins with four games still to play before the Break this year is pretty remarkable.
Only one other time in franchise history has Texas had 50 wins through 84 games - in 1996, the club's first playoff season.
With Tommy Hunter (5-0) set to go Thursday against Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie (3-10), followed by Scott Feldman (5-8) against Brian Matusz (3-9), and Matt Harrison (1-1) and C.J. Wilson (7-4) slated to face two Orioles starters to be determined to round out the first half, Texas would seem to have a good chance to pack on another three wins to that total.
Three more hitless, scoreless innings for the bullpen tonight, and Alexi Ogando may have been the best of the three relievers Texas sent out there. He drew the toughest assignment, drawing Grebeck Nix and Carlos Santana among his three slated Indians, and he retired them in order, on 15 pitches, locating 11 for strikes, including three straight good-looking sliders to Nix, who had punished Texas fastballs all series.
Ogando became the first pitcher in 42 years to start his big league career with three straight relief wins, but don't expect many more from him this year, or in the foreseeable future. He's being entrusted regularly with leads now, and justifiably so.
Major league hitters are hitting an anemic .093 (4 for 43) off Ogando, including an 0 for 13 showing by left-handed hitters, against whom he's averaging just one ball per plate appearance. The only run he's permitted (not including three inherited runners) came on a Nix home run on Monday.
Justin Smoak is 3 for his last 33, with nine strikeouts in that span (and four walks). He was a .130 hitter over one week in April, a .187 hitter in May, and a .266 hitter in June, but back to .130 in July.
I'm all for patience with young players, and there have been a couple stretches in which Smoak has hit into some hard outs, but at what point do you decide (1) for the long term, he'd be better off working on necessary adjustments at Oklahoma City, where the pressure of a pennant race would be off, and (2) for the short term, Chris Davis (.355/.404/.559) would give Texas a better candidate to contribute offensively as the club nears a brutal Boston-Detroit-Angels stretch coming out of the Break?
Maybe I'm making too much of the fact that, after playing nothing but third base in 12 games since June 23, Davis slid back over to first base in Game Two of the RedHawks' twinbill tonight.
Could it be that Davis seeing time at first base for the first time in two weeks has something to do with multiple local stories tonight that trade talks between Texas and Seattle "appear to be heating up" regarding Cliff Lee, and that the Mariners are seeking a young impact bat - implicating Davis or perhaps even Smoak, whose departure would certainly make Davis a first baseman again as far as the Rangers' plans are concerned? (Seattle has also reportedly asked indicated interest in Ogando, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, though Texas is disinclined to make the three pitchers available.)
Sure seems like if Texas and Seattle do get together on a trade, Davis is going to be a big league first baseman again, either here or with the Mariners. And even if no deal goes down, Davis is pressing the issue.
The White Sox have just finished once again putting the Angels away. The division lead is now 5.5, seven in the loss column. If you are Texas and believe Chris Davis is not part of your plans, his trade value (whatever it is) will probably never again be higher. And Justin Smoak still has plenty of trade value, despite his rookie struggles.
Some may view it as an unfortunate by-product of playing winning baseball, but Step Five is here, and it seems, given the above, that Texas ought to seriously consider trading one of their two young first basemen in the next few weeks if there's a real opportunity to significantly improve the club elsewhere, likely in the rotation.
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(c) Jamey Newberg