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Past the Halfway Mark, the Texas Rangers Look Like Contenders and Pretenders

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While the All-Star Game is two weeks away, Your Texas Rangers are officially past the halfway point in the season and sit seven and a half games back of Los Angeles in the American League West following last night's drubbing at the hands of the New York Yankees. Which means it's that time of year where you find out whether teams are playoff pretenders or contenders. So can the Rangers actually make a run at the division with a second-half surge?

Let's begin answering that with a look at the current roster. As was suggested here back in April, Chris Davis has been called up to play first base, and he hasn't disappointed. Davis clubbed a homer in each of his first two starts, drove in the winning run a couple nights ago against the Yanks with a double and hit yet another home run last night.

At second base, Ian Kinsler should be the no-brainer selection to start the All-Star Game, but the rabid fans in Boston have been able to keep last year's AL Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia, in the lead. Kinsler will surely be selected as a backup, as he's hitting .323 with 13 homers, 27 doubles, 50 RBI and 23 stolen bases. Essentially, he's turned into Alfonso Soriano with fewer strikeouts.

Speaking of Soriano, remember how awful he was at playing defense? After leading all second baseman in errors each year from 2001 to 2003 with the Yankees, he came to Texas and topped the majors at his position with 23 in 2004 and 21 in 2005. It was his poor defense that made GM Jon Daniels trade him to Washington to make room for Kinsler, and the Nationals quickly moved Soriano to left field.

Why do we bring this up? Because Kinsler took the ball-dropping torch from Soriano, leading all second basemen with 18 errors in 2005 and another 17 last season. Amazingly, he already has 16 errors at the halfway point -- including a massive foul-up last night.

Like Soriano, Kinsler is a great offensive weapon, but his defense is a liability. It's long past time to move him to left field, which would give Texas an outfield of Kinsler, MVP-candidate Josh Hamilton (.308 BA-19 HR-82 RBI) and ROY-candidate David Murphy (.266-10-52) for the next few years. (Although to be honest, it looks like Tampa's Evan Longoria has wrapped up AL ROY.)

Moving Kinsler to left also would allow Milton Bradley to attempt to stay healthy by staying permanently in DH spot. Then German Duran can be given a full-time shot at second base.

The burning question right now is what to do with Hank Blalock when he comes off the disabled list. Although he said he'd move to first base, Blalock should be back at third, splitting time with Ramon Vazquez, who has been a pleasant surprise this year with a .314 batting average. If Blalock can stay healthy and productive, Vazquez can serve as a super-utility player and could also be used at second if Duran can't secure the job.

So with a lineup of Kinsler in left, Young at short, Hamilton in center, Bradley at DH, Murphy in right, Davis at first, Blalock at third, Duran at second, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Max Ramirez sharing duties behind the plate, the Rangers have a solid lineup to not only compete this year, but for several years to come.

But, as always, the pitching staff simply isn't strong enough. Eric Hurley's promotion has been successful as he's pitched well in his four starts with a 3.57 ERA, but, while he's hopefully in the rotation to stay, the rest of the season will be filled with plenty of ups and downs. The only way the rotation can be formidable is if the team had a legitimate No. 1 starter.

Landing a big-time ace like C.C. Sabathia or Rich Harden via trade would help the Rangers pass the A's and make an interesting run at the Angels. And with four teams in between Boston and Texas for the wild card, the Rangers best bet is to win the West.

Sabathia and Harden won't come cheap, so GM Jon Daniels would need the opportunity to negotiate a long-term deal with either player before biting down and giving up a solid group of talent. Just who might be on the table? Well, if you can land a Sabathia or Harden, you gotta go into it with no minor leaguer as an untouchable.

When Daniels tried to deal for Josh Beckett, the deal evaporated because John Danks was supposedly untouchable. Of course, Danks suddenly became available and was later flipped to Chicago for Brandon McCarthy. And back when Roger Clemens was on the market during his prime, it was the Rangers' reluctance to trade Ruben Mateo that lead to Clemens heading to Toronto.

In the end, you gotta give something to get something. And for every Danks that you regret dealing, there are hundreds of Ruben Mateos out there.

However, if Daniels is unable to land a big fish, he should quickly switch from buying to selling mode, putting players like Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Eddie Guardado, Milton Bradley, Marlon Byrd, Frank Catalanotto and Gerald Laird on the market. The Braves and Cubs have already been kicking the tires on Millwood, and plenty of teams will be calling about Padilla (10-4, 4.13 ERA, 104.2 IP, 71 K) and Bradley as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

And by the time we hit the All-Star break, a clearer picture of Daniels role as a buyer or seller will emerge. The Rangers head to Baltimore for a three-game series before coming home for four games against the Angels and three against the Central-leading White Sox. Yes, the next 10 games will be biggies, and it begins tomorrow afternoon with Padilla facing Jeremy Guthrie.

The Angels are vulnerable, as they've scored just 12 runs more than they've allowed this season. Their offense has been inconsistent, with Vladimir Guerrero no longer the force he once was. And while Joe Saunders (12-4, 3.04 ERA) and Ervin Santana (9-3, 3.28 ERA) have been phenomenal on the mound this season, it's likely they will be unable to duplicate their success in the second half. If the Rangers are gonna pass them, the time is now.

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