ARLINGTON -- Observations on the Rangers 4-0 start from my perch in Section 230.
1. Beware the small sample size. Repeat after me: the Rangers have completed exactly 2.47 % of the schedule. Standings are meaningless until June. The Yankees went 1-4 to start the 1998 season and won 114 games, etc. You get the point. Nelson Cruz isn't going to hit 162 dongs this year.
2. That said, these boys can rake. Everyone expected the Rangers to hit, but the offensive bukkake against the Red Sox 1-3 starters in front of three packed houses was an awesome display. Two quick questions: (1) How many of the Rangers' 13 homers has Josh Hamilton hit? Answer: Zero. (2) Is Adrian Beltre off to a hot start? Answer: He's hitting .118 with two hits [although one of them was big, see below] . In other words, the 3-4 slots in the order haven't been doing the heavy lifting. Obviously, Cruz and Kinsler stand out. Kinsler became the first man in MLB history to lead off the first two games with a homer (he has 3 already), but his bat path doesn't suggest that he's going up there trying to go yard. Watch Kinsler's walk totals this season now that he's back in the leadoff spot. He's been bringing his K/BB ratio down over the last three years, but he really needs to get it under 1.
Cruz is a monster. On Sunday, he became the second right-handed hitter in the history of RBIA to hit a ball the opposite way into the upper deck -- and it was a line drive. (Hit Tracker estimated the distance at 447 feet.) On Monday night against the Good Ship Mariner, Yorvit Torrealba and Beltre each hit bombs to deep center that died just in front of the 404 sign on a chilly night (the same balls will go out in the hotter months to come). Cruz's dinger was a 429-foot liner to the same spot. He tied a major league record with 4 consecutive games with a homer to start a season (Willie Mays in 1971, Mark McGwire in 1998).
Of course, we expect this kind of thing from Cruz. One of the Rangers' biggest projects of the off-season was getting Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon to drive the ball for extra bases. Early returns look pretty good. Andrus hit his first homer in over 700 ABs (dating to Sept. 2009) last night and has a pair of doubles. Borbon has tripled twice in 10 PAs to drive in three runs.
3. The boomsticks were nice, but the two most important things that happened were... Matt Harrison and Derek Holland pitching themselves out of trouble to get wins Sunday and Monday. For a team who needs a couple of young pitchers to make the jump until others get healthy or Jon Daniels can make a deal, Harrison's start must have left management with a collective hard-on. Joey Matches wisely advises caution (again, remember that sample size thing) since we've seen flashes of this before from Harrison. What I haven't seen, though, was the testicular fortitude he displayed in the 7th inning on Sunday. Wash left him in a 3-1 game with the bases loaded and 2 out to face Jacoby Ellsbury, and Harrison got the strikeout to end the inning. He pitched inside with command and had more life on his fastball (up into the mid 90s): 7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 2 BB & 8Ks. Holland's line yesterday against a weaker Seattle team wasn't as impressive, but his 5th inning was big balls. After giving up a run and putting the tying run at third with one out, Holland came back from a 3-1 count to strike out Milton Bradley, then got Jack Cust on a soft grounder to first. It was a nice confidence booster for both guys, but it's meaningless unless they can establish some consistency.
4. Highlights I'd love to watch while sitting in the Angels clubhouse: In a rough offseason for the Rangers, there was this: The Angels wouldn't talk to Texas about Mike Napoli during the winter meetings, but ended up trading him to Toronto in the "I'll Eat Your Shit Sandwich if You Eat Mine" trade of 2011, a/k/a the Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells deal. Four days later, the Jays flipped Napoli to the Rangers for Frankie Francisco (who is now on the DL). For his part, Napoli made quite the first impression on opening day, hitting a 3-run dong off Red Sox ace John Lester in the Rangers' come-from-behind win. Overall, Napoli is 4-8 with two homers.
5. Trend to watch for: scoring with 2 outs. In 2010, the Rangers were second in MLB in 2 out runs (accounting for 41% of their total), and led the majors in scoring with 2 outs and runners in scoring position (RISP). Scoring with 2 outs demoralizes your opponent while it keeps everybody on your team, bench included, energized. In its first four games this year, Texas scored half of its 32 runs with 2 outs. The 2 out, RISP breakdown is currently .444/.545/1.222. The Rangers can't keep that pace (again, kids ... sample size), but if they can replicate last year's performance, it will give their offense a relentless feel. On Saturday night, the Rangers tagged Lackey for six runs in the 4th inning. With runners on second and third with 2 outs, Lackey walked Hamilton to pitch to Beltre, who was hitting .170 lifetime against Lackey. Beltre hit a 1-0 pitch out to left center for a grand slam. Ouch.
6. Imagine what this lineup can do if the big boys can stay off the DL. The shaky pitching got all the ink coming out of spring training (deservedly so), but a close second on my list of concerns was the specter of injuries. Josh Hamilton is like Roy Hobbs in more ways than one -- in particular, his penchant for ending up in the hospital at inopportune moments. Lord knows what the man's insides look like after his running four-year chemistry experiment, but compounding the problem is Hamilton's reckless abandon in the field and on the bases. That said, Hamilton's 31 days on the DL in 2010 was a marked improvement from his 82-day stint in 2009. The bigger problems last year were Kinsler and Cruz, who spent 69 and 59 days on the shelf, respectively. Baseball Prospectus rates all three players as high risk for DL trips of 30+ days, and the Rangers need to do whatever they can to mitigate that risk. This is why Hamilton will see the majority of his time in left rather than center, David Murphy will get plenty of playing time in left and right, and The Skillet will occasionally spell Kinsler at 2B (painful though it may be to watch; hopefully Andres Blanco will do this more often than Young).
4 down, 158 to go.