WHAT A MONTH!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The calendar flipped from April to May this morning, and the Rangers found themselves with a 17-6 record, best in baseball and the second best in team history after 23 games. They led the American League West by 6.5 games over second place Oakland and Seattle with both at 11-13. It is the largest lead in any division. The Dodgers in the National League West have the next largest at 3.5 games.

It was a month that could not have gone much better for the Lawmen. The Rangers’ .291 batting average leads all 30 major league teams. Their 36 home runs are second to the Yankees 37, and their 124 runs scored is second to Boston’s 127. On the pitching side, the staff ERA of 2.81 leads the American League. Ranger opponents have scored 68 runs, 65 of which are earned, both the lowest A. L. totals.

On an individual basis, MLB Network commentator Dan Plesac tweeted that Josh Hamilton and Yu Darvish are the American League player and pitcher of the month, and who is to argue. Hamilton hit .395, with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. The batting average trails David Ortiz (.405), while the home runs and RBIs lead the league. Michael Young and Adrian Beltre are also over .300. Mike Napoli (7) and Ian Kinsler (5) are the next two in home runs. Those four and Hamilton are the five team leaders in RBIs, combining to knock in 77.

Darvish won his fourth game in five starts Monday night in Toronto. (Texas won all five games that he started.) He is throwing a higher percentage of strikes – 64% Monday night verses 53% in his first game. He is also throwing a higher percentage of first pitch strikes – 74% against the Jays verses 40% in his debut. His ERA is down to 2.18 for the year, sixth in the A. L.

Colby Lewis at 1.93 is third and has a 3-0 record. Robbie Ross out of the bullpen has matched Darvish’s win total of four. Two rookies each winning four games in April is a first for the Rangers. Joe Nathan converted six of seven save opportunities, to lead a fine bullpen effort. Alexi Ogando has been especially lethal, not allowing a hit to a right-handed batter in 10.2 innings and leading the team with an 0.84 ERA.

Defensively, the Rangers have been rock solid. They committed just eight errors during April. That total is second fewest in the majors to the Yankees’ seven. Eight in 23 games is a pace of 57 over the course of the season. The Rangers have committed more than 100 in each of Ron Washington’s seasons as manager, so a 2012 final total in the 60′s or 70′s would be a material improvement. Defensive effectiveness has always been difficult to quantify, and in recent years, the Rangers’ defense has graded out much better in some of the more sophisticated defensive measures than it has in the traditional fielding percentage. However, a material reduction in errors committed causing material improvement in fielding percentage is good news, and will translate into more wins.

The news was perhaps even better with regard to the Angels, the team that was thought to be the main competition for the Rangers in the division. They are off to a miserable 8-15 start, having won just one of seven series. Albert Pujols, the off season free agent signing that spurred interest in the team among the national writers, was miserable. He hit .217 with four RBIs and didn’t bother to hit a home run. The Angels’ bullpen has been terrible. Starter Ervin Santana has been terrible (0-5, 5.58). They appear to have no advantage over the Rangers pitching-wise with a 3.97 team ERA, and a league leading blown save total.

Offensively, they are miles behind Texas. The team’s .236 batting average leads only Oakland in the A. L., as does their 80 runs scored. Not surprisingly, the slow start is causing controversy. Malcontent Bobby Abreu has been released, and the Angels are on the hook for his $9 million salary. Pujols is obviously feeling the heat, as he pettily criticized recernt comments made by hitting coach Mickey Hatcher to media.

The team traditionally draws extremely well, but has had two crowds below 30,000. The first on April 18 broke a streak of 689 consecutive games with crowds of at least 30,000, a streak that dates back to 2003. There is speculation that owner Arte Moreno is contemplating a move of the team to a new to be built downtown Los Angeles stadium, igniting more controversy among the current season ticket base and the city of Anaheim. On top of that, the Angels’ in-market competition the Dodgers are looking at happy days again, as the team emerges from bankruptcy proceedings with new ownership headed by Magic Johnson.

There are a lot of unsettling situations with the Angels on and off the field, The nine game deficit in the division to a team that has represented the American League in the World Series the past two years is a huge problem to overcome. The anticipated golden season may still happen, but on May 1, the future looks far less rosy for the Angels than it did a month earlier.

For the Rangers, it is just a month. April was remarkably free of significant injuries. The situation could turn around in another month, especially if significant injuuries hit. For now though, the team can bask in the glow of one of the greatest month’s in team history.

Follow on Twitter @rangerrap.

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