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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

No Longer a Lone-Star Team, Texas Isn't to Be Messed With

September 19, 2004|ROSS NEWHAN

In the shadow of their bullpen suspensions, as the calendar forecloses on what became a surprising season of last-to-first possibility in the American League West, the Texas Rangers believe, as shortstop Michael Young put it in Anaheim, that "we've definitely turned a corner now and will continue to improve."

The Rangers are still alive in the division and wild-card races, but reality points to 2005.

With a posse of young players, and the likelihood that a still-suspect rotation will be addressed in the off-season, it won't be a surprise if the Rangers are even more of a playoff contender next year.

If there was a sense this season that the Rangers were determined to prove they could compensate for the headline departure of Alex Rodriguez, his replacement at shortstop said there was more to it.

"The real motivation," said Young, "is that we were tired of losing. We had finished last each of my first three years here.

"It's nice to know we can make adjustments as a team and start to get things back on track. It looks like we've got a group of young players who are going to be here for a while."

Much of the promise is found in the infield. Texas became only the second team in big league history -- the 1940 Boston Red Sox were the other -- to have each of its four infielders hit 20 or more home runs.

First baseman Mark Teixeira, possibly emerging as baseball's next great power hitter, has 37, third baseman Hank Blalock has 31, second baseman Alfonso Soriano has 28 and Young, who moved from second to fill the A-Rod gap, has 20.

"It's something we can be proud of and may mean more to us when the season is over and we have more time to reflect on it," Young said.

"To this point we feel like we've had a productive and collective effort, and we hope they keep the four of us together so we can help build the Rangers into a great organization."

The Rangers may be on the right track, but Soriano -- the oldest of the four infielders at 28 -- may not stay for the ride.

In fact, now sidelined for the season because of a hamstring injury, he may have appeared in his last game for Texas on Thursday.

His 23 errors, periodic lack of hustle and eligibility for arbitration may prompt the Rangers to try to trade him for needed pitching.

"None of that is coming from anyone in here," Young said of the clubhouse. "We love Sori. He's had a great year."

True love? Time will tell.

*

It's hard to keep track of the disarming developments regarding the Dodger rotation.

The latest:

* Miracle worker Jose Lima has a hairline fracture of his right thumb and will be replaced in today's start against the Colorado Rockies by Edwin Jackson.

* Hideo Nomo was hammered again by the Rockies on Friday night in what may have been the final start of his career with the Dodgers and is scheduled to be replaced Wednesday night in San Diego by Brad Penny.

If the still-rebounding Jackson is likely to have the Dodgers holding their breath in mile-high Denver today, who knows how Penny will perform in his return at sea level?

They are running out of pitching alternatives, and the most menacing development is that Barry Bonds is on the horizon.

Of their last 13 games, six are against the San Francisco Giants. Pitch to Bonds or don't pitch to him?

Always a tough question for Jim Tracy and more so amid the increasing intensity of the race, not to forget the watchful eye of Commissioner Bud Selig.

Reacting to last week's comments by Arizona Diamondback Manager Al Pedrique that he did not want Bonds to hit any milestone home runs in Phoenix (Pedrique would even walk Bonds with the bases empty in the seventh inning of a game he was losing, 5-0), Selig said:

"Managers should do what they think gives them the best chance to win a ballgame. Obviously, these games all have [playoff] implications. You have to let the manager manage. [But] when you make a comment that no matter what the situation is, you're going to do something, then I have to worry about the integrity of the sport."

Despite all of the walks and without lineup protection, Bonds has produced one of the greatest five-year power displays since Babe Ruth averaged 49 homers, 151 runs batted in and 144 walks over a seven-year span starting in 1926. The accelerated Bonds drive is personified by the fact that it has taken him only 3 1/2 years to go from 500 homers to 700. It took Ruth just under five years and it took Henry Aaron just over five.

Will Tracy pitch to him? Maybe next April.

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