With the Rays beginning their 3-game set with the Texas Rangers tonight, I had a chance to talk to Jared Book, the editor of the Rangers website Nolan Writin’, about the Rangers and what we can expect to see from them over the next 3 days.
Robbie Knopf: Everyone wants to talk about Josh Hamilton, and unfortunately I’m no exception. Hamilton’s overall numbers on the season are incredible as he has slammed 34 homers, driven in 107, and posted a 138 OPS+. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Hamilton has been streaky this season, starting off about as good as it gets with a .368/.420/.764 line and 21 home runs in May and June before dropping down to .202/.288/.399 with just 8 home runs in June and July. Well, now Hamilton is hitting well again, posting a .292/.343/.542 line in August with 5 home runs. Why do you think that Hamilton has been so inconsistent this season? We all know that Hamilton is one of the most talented players in baseball, but does seeing him play like this make you scared about a potential long-term commitment to him following the year?
Jared Book: Hamilton has been dealing with some personal issues, and I am not even going to venture a guess as to how much that affected his performance but that is what he had been saying. I think part of the reason he has been so inconsistent has been the fact that he got lazy in his approach. He was hitting the ball so well when he was swinging at everything early in the season and when pitchers finally adjusted, he didn’t. It took a long time for that to change and you can see some of that in his August numbers.
Hamilton already had so many black flags for any team to make a long term commitment to him. I think that the laziness – whatever caused it – really irked the Rangers brass from Nolan Ryan to Ron Washington and I think that there is very little chance that Hamilton will be back for the Rangers next year. I think both teams have distanced themselves from one another at this point but who really knows what is really going on.
RK: Is the back end of the Rangers bullpen really this good? Joe Nathan looks as good as ever and then you have Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, and the rookie left-hander Robbie Ross. Some poor middle relief work has the Rangers’ overall bullpen ERA just in the middle of the pack in baseball, but how pivotal have those four relievers been to the Rangers’ success this season?
JB: It really is and it makes you wonder what could have been had the Rangers stayed healthy. Neftali Feliz would have been another arm in the pen, and guys like Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers wouldn’t have been relied on as heavily. Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara are two guys who have been set up men on other teams. They are the middle relievers on this Texas team. The only thing that worries me is that the Rangers have used the “Big Four” a lot, and while Washington has been pretty good in giving them rest, you can see signs of Ross and Adams especially slowing down which is not good when you get into a playoff series.
RK: But what about the rotation? Are these Rangers starting pitchers good enough to make a deep postseason run? How costly is it to not have a true ace on this staff, with Matt Harrison pitching well but not being a power pitcher, Yu Darvish showing flashes but not consistency, Roy Oswalt being a shadow of his former self, and Ryan Dempster disappointing since coming from the Cubs?
JB: The Rangers rotation was never built to be the best in baseball. They were always built on depth. They might not have a CC Sabathia or Chris Sale to go in Game One and be an ace, but they were built to make sure that in Games Two, Three and Four, they would have a chance to win. The inconsistency has plagued them a lot this season but has shown signs of turning around. Harrison has been great, and has been good more often than not. He is definitely the ace of this team. Darvish, when he throws strikes, is often unhittable but as you know that has been a problem for him this season. Oswalt was never brought in to be his former self, but I think he was expected to be better than he has been. But remember, he didn’t really pitch much at all in the first half of the season so a lot of it may just be rust. As for Dempster, the Rangers are actually 4-1 in his five starts (Dempster is 3-1) and that is what he was brought to be. I don’t think they expected him to keep his National League pace. They brought him in to do what he has done for his entire career – eat innings, start games, and give his team a chance to win. However good or bad he has looked in a Rangers uniform, he has given his team a chance to win in every game he has started.
RK: What are your thoughts on the Elvis Andrus–Jurickson Profar situation? Andrus has played well this season, especially defensively and in terms of batting average and OBP as he has hit .297 and gotten on base at a .364 clip, but he lacks power and isn’t even a great basestealer, stealing just 19 of 26 bases this season. Profar is completely unproven at the big league level, but the 19 year old has 5-tool potential and has played very well at Double-A this season. How do you think will be the long-term shortstop for the Rangers? Do you think a trade will be made this offseason?
JB: I do think that a trade will be made this offseason, or at least will be discussed. The Rangers are very, very high on Profar and I think that Andrus has a lot of value to other teams around baseball. I think that a lot will depend on Profar’s play once September comes because I think he will be called up and maybe even have a role on a playoff roster. Profar has been named the best player in the minor leagues by several sources and that is a good sign, but you don’t now how good he will be at the major league level right away. There were rumblings that Andrus was discussed in trades at the deadline, but you couldn’t have just thrown Profar into the fire like that. The Rangers have been slow with their top prospects as of late, but if anything the rookie crop this season has shown that if you have talent, it doesn’t matter how old you are. That is the trend in baseball right now and if that continues, I wouldn’t expect the team to hold on to two young, talented shortstops when there is so much value associated with them.
RK: Is Michael Young done? One year after a huge 2011 season, Young has completely fallen apart offensively, posting just a .271/.304/.350 line, just a 71 OPS+ after an outstanding 125 OPS+ in 2011. Why has Young gone downhill so fast?
JB: Age is a tricky thing sometimes. Personally, I think he is done. Michael Young was a very good player for a very long time, and you expected him to break out of this cold streak but it never came. Can he bounce back next year? Possibly. But with Mike Olt and Profar on the way and the Rangers contending, I don’t think they can afford to take that chance. Young has some value as a bench piece but he hasn’t deserved the playing time he has gotten this year, and I think loyalty contributes to that but at some point the value has to be on winning games. If either Olt or Profar get hot in September playing time, I wonder how that will affect Young’s at bats. With an offense like the Rangers, you can afford to wait it out with him, but at some point you have to put a DH in that can hit and hit for power. Otherwise, you might as well just let the pitcher hit and bunt guys over. Don’t take this for disrespect of Young. It’s not his fault his manager is being stubborn. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Young and Olt swap spots by the time the playoffs come around but Ron Washington has proven to give his veterans, especially ones who have been around with the team, a lot of breathing room. But as we saw with Roy Oswalt, he has shown the presence of mind to demote a struggling veteran.
We would like to thank Jared for answering out questions, and please check out Nolan Writin’ to get an idea of the opposition before the series starts. The Rangers and Rays have begun to develop a rivalry over the past few years, meeting in the playoffs twice, and this series should be fun.