As crazy as it might seem, the Texas Rangers have struggled through the first half of the season. They still have a four game lead in the American League West and they are tied for the most victories in baseball, yet they have lost half of their opening day pitching staff to the disabled list, experienced a stagnant offense and just recently went on a five-game losing streak. There have been plenty of positives this season and there are plenty of factors for the struggles, but the following five players can play a major hand in helping the Rangers have a stronger second half than first half of the season.
Oh Mike Napoli, where have you gone? That is the question that many have asked all season long. The Nap-O-Li chant took over Rangers Ballpark in Arlington last October and was strong for the first few months of the season, but Napoli's season long slump is causing it to slowly fade away.
Napoli obviously had unbelievable second half of 2011 and to expect him to duplicate that this season would be a bit unfair, but he can still be a much more productive hitter than he has displayed during the first half. He has career lows in almost every offensive category with the exception of on base percentage which is due to 36 walks during the first half.
During the second half of 2011, Napoli was patient at the plate and locked in on just about every pitch, including pitches on the outer half of the plate. This season just about everything is off. He is pulling off pitches and his timing has been off for weeks. It is not to say he needs to repeat last season's second half, but any improvement would go a long way to helping out a struggling offense.
The first step for Holland turning his season around was to get healthy and the second is to find the consistency he had in the second half of 2011. Who knows how much his weight loss, fatigue and sickness led to his struggles during the first half of this season, but the Rangers need another consistent arm in the rotation to go along with Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish. Holland can dominate hitters better than anyone in the Rangers' rotation and that has yet to be seen in 2012. He finished 2011 with four shutouts and that was with a weak first half of the season. This year, he has yet to make it through the eighth inning. Holland's performance over the next few weeks could play a major role in determining how hard the Rangers go after pitchers like Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels. Whether the Rangers go after Greinke or Hamels or not, they still need Holland to pitch like he is capable of.
A year ago everyone expected Young's offensive production to do down and then he fired off a season where he once again had 200 hits, hit .338 and drove in 106 runs. It had seemed that the DH role had fit him well and that led to similar expectations for 2012. That has been far from the case and he is having his worst season at the plate since 2002. He is currently hitting .270 has only driven in 35 runs and only has 20 extra-base hits. Ron Washington finally dropped him down in the order and both Young and Nelson Cruz have responded to the change in the order. Young does not need to hit .330, he just needs to be productive as the DH on this club. He is not expected to do much of anything defensively these days, but he has to hit.
It's pretty crazy to say that someone who would be considered for the AL MVP if the season ended today needs to pick up their game, but that is the case. Hamilton is the most potent bat in any lineup in baseball, when he wants to be. Who knows what the reason is, but even the most casual baseball fan can tell what is wrong with Josh when he is not going well. He is fishing at off-speed stuff away and is beyond impatient at the plate. Hamilton hit .395 in April, .344 in May, .223 in June and is currently hitting .174 for the month of July. Hamilton is constantly behind in counts and when he is swinging the bat like he currently is, every pitcher in baseball knows how to pitch him.
There are not many players who can consistently hit .350, but Hamilton is one of those players. He can dominate the game and is the type of hitter who can carry his team when everyone else is struggling. For Josh, he is having a remarkably healthy season so far and he needs to keep it that way, but he also needs to bring back the focus he had at the plate during the first two months of the season.
How in the world can Scott Feldman make an impact on this club? Well, for starters he can back up his words and second he can simply take advantage of his opportunities. Everyone knows that Feldman wants to be a starter, because he has let everyone know that. Last season everyone knew he did not want to accept his assignment to Round Rock, because he refused it. He has the complete right to do everything he says and does, but he needs to be more productive if he is going to do so. It's kind of like that old saying, "put your money where your mouth is."
This was the season for Feldman to take advantage of his opportunity. The Rangers have seen the starting rotation impacted by injuries to Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando, yet Feldman lost his first six starts in the rotation. He had the opportunity to spend extended time in the rotation and prove his value as a starter, but his struggles have not allowed that. He is back in long-relief and if Colby Lewis is unable to make his scheduled start after the All-Star break, Martin Perez will get his third start of the season. Feldman has been much better in long-relief, but no matter where he is asked to pitch, he needs to do so with more consistency.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.