After dropping their first series in the second half to the Blue Jays, the Red Sox will look to rebound against the Rangers. The only problem is that the Rangers are no longer a pushover in the heated AL West.
Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball joined us to answer a few questions about the Rangers, as they host the Red Sox for the first time this season.
NESN.com: It's been a while since the Rangers were this competitive for this long during a season, and their success is due to their emergence of a pitching staff. Who has been the most reliable starter through the first half?
Adam Morris: The most reliable starter in the first half of the season has probably been Kevin Millwood, although Scott Feldman has been a close second. Millwood has been the workhorse of the team after being challenged by Nolan Ryan after the 2008 season to step up, get in better physical condition and come into 2009 ready to pitch a bunch of innings. Feldman has gone from being bumped to the bullpen to make room for Kris Benson in the rotation in April to being a solid contributor in the rotation, a guy who consistently gives you six innings while allowing two or three runs.
NESN.com: Is it strange that a rotation being overseen by Nolan Ryan lacks a true strikeout pitcher?
Adam Morris: It is ironic that the Rangers' mantra for its pitching staff is "pitch to contact," given that Ryan was the very antithesis of a pitcher who pitched to contact in his career. But the rotation, as currently built, doesn't have that sort of strikeout pitcher. So it makes sense, particularly with the improved defense, to have these guys seek to put the ball in play and let the defense do the work. When Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz become permanent parts of the rotation, you'll probably see more strikeouts from the rotation, but for now, efficiency and avoiding walks are the keys.
NESN.com: Nelson Cruz is finally having the year many expected all along. What do you think took Cruz so long to realize his potential and power?
Adam Morris: The knock on Cruz had been that his swing was a little long and he had trouble with pitch recognition, but the tools were always there for him to be a successful major leaguer. Last season he made some adjustments in his approach at the plate, and it appears to be paying dividends now. He's done a much better job laying off the off-speed pitches that he historically would chase.
NESN.com: Were Rangers fans shocked or surprised to see Ian Kinsler left off the AL All-Star team, or was the decision to keep him off a reasonable one?
Adam Morris: I thought he deserved to be in, although when I really drilled down and looked at the numbers, the decision to take Aaron Hill over Kinsler was more defensible than I thought at first. I think a lot of Rangers fans are so frustrated with Kinsler's struggles the last couple of months, after a red-hot start, that they felt he didn't deserve to make the team and hoped that might serve as a wake-up call for him to go back to his more disciplined approach at the plate.
NESN.com: Who has been the biggest surprise (good or bad) for the Rangers this season?
Adam Morris: The biggest surprise this season has probably been Chris Davis. As a 22-year old last season, he looked like someone who could be a perennial All-Star at first base, posting an .880 OPS and impressing folks with his approach and his incredible power. But in 2009, he started off bad and could never seem to get it going, posting an OBP of around .250, striking out in a third of his plate appearances and finally getting sent back to Triple-A.
NESN.com: What are the keys for Rangers to winning the series against the Red Sox?
Adam Morris: The key for the Rangers winning this series is the hitting. The defense and pitching have been solid the last couple of months, but the team has slid out of first place because the offense has just stopped hitting. The Rangers have a team OPS of .699 since June 1, an astonishingly low number for a team in this park with this sort of talent. Texas isn't going to lead the league in scoring this year, but they shouldn't be the worst offensive team in baseball, either. But that's what they've been since the beginning of June.
Thanks again to Adam Morris for sharing his insight on the Rangers. Don?t forget to check out his blog, Lone Star Ball.
Stay tuned Friday for a series preview of the Orioles, as the Red Sox host the O's for three games at Fenway Park.