Making The Grade: Rangers at the break

As Major League Baseball gets set to kick off the second half of the 2007 season, Lone Star Dugout evaluates what the first half looked like for your Texas Rangers.

Back in the waning days of March, the 2007 season of the Texas Rangers was set to begin amidst an enormous amount of hope and optimism just about everywhere you looked. However, after sputtering and coughing through the first two months of the season, it seemed as though this highly capable automobile known as the Rangers would be left stranded on the side of the baseball highway.

But all may not be lost, at least not to this team.

After a June resurgence, the Rangers have found themselves playing with a renewed bounce and swagger in their step. Since falling to 19 games under .500 on June 13, the Rangers have gone 14-8, good for the third best record in baseball in that stretch of time. What could a continued stretch of momentum do for this club? Nobody can really say, but one thing's for certain: The Rangers intend to find out.

But for now, let's whip out the big red pen see how the Texas Rangers performed grade-wise in the first half.

Offense: C+

Although the team's collective batting average still stands at a relatively pedestrian .259, the team as a whole has come a long way from the woefully inept days they suffered through during the first quarter of this season. Not to mention, they're also tied for the league lead in homeruns with 106 round trippers.

One of the biggest contributors to the offense since his May 26th call up has been Marlon Byrd. His team-high .349 average in 140 at-bats is obviously quite good, but it does very little to show just what kind of added oomph his presence in the lineup card does to give the Rangers that extra jolt they need night in, night out. It'll be interesting to see how the Rangers juggle the outfielder's playing time with Mark Teixeira returning from injury and Brad Wilkerson's bat showing plenty of life.

Starting rotation: D-

Kevin Millwood's victory this past Sunday, his fourth in the last five starts, finished off the first half of the season and left the starting rotation with an 11-6 record and a 4.34 ERA in the last 23 games. It's a definite breath of fresh air compared to a 15-34 record and a rather robust earned run average of 6.92 out of the gates this season. But even with the improvement over the past three weeks, it gives the club a 5.08 team earned run average, which is the second poorest in the majors.

The blame of such a horrendous performance can easily be placed on injuries, and just flat-out under performances. Fresh off a new three-year $33.75 million contract in the off-season, Vicente Padilla has struggled to a 3-8 record and a 6.69 ERA this season, and the Rangers believe his injury may be part of the reason why. It's also been a bumpy first half for newcomer Brandon McCarthy, Robinson Tejeda, and the aforementioned Kevin Millwood.

Perhaps there's no brighter beacon of hope amongst the starters than that of Kameron Loe. His story this season is clear: First, a contender for the starting rotation through spring training. Then, ousted in favor of Jamey Wright and given the long relief role, Loe made five appearances out of the pen before re-entering the rotation due to an injury to Wright. After a 1-6, 7.71 ERA performance as a starter, Loe was demoted to Triple-A where he discovered a release point issue in his delivery. He would return to the majors a mere 10 days later a changed pitcher, and the Rangers are hoping he remains that way.

Bullpen: B+

Although trade rumors involving key members at the back end of the bullpen are continuing to run rampant, it doesn't change the fact that the arsenal of arms in relief has been among the best in baseball once again this year.

C.J. Wilson continues to soar through the 2007 season. Wilson has been lethal against left-handed batters all year long, allowing only 11 of the first 40 of them he faced this season to reach base. His success has caused the Rangers to use situational guys like Ron Mahay less and less in those types of scenarios.

At the back end of the bullpen, the tandem of Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne has been just about as good as advertised. If the Rangers continue the hot streak they've been on over the past six weeks, it'd make a lot more sense to keep the two and lock them up for awhile longer then to trade a pretty reliable tandem away for prospects.

Manager: C-

Although they've performed better as of late, Ron Washington's Midas touch on defense hasn't exactly worked here: The Rangers rank next to last in the league with a .980 fielding percentage.

Still, if somebody asked you to summarize the first-year manager in one word, here would be a good choice: Consistency. When the Rangers were staring at the ugly end of being 19 games under .500, Washington refused to change his attitude or the approach he takes into every game. Now, one man's practice of not wavering in the face of adversity may be finally getting through to his players.

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