Hicks impressed by Rangers' tight play
Improvements in pitching and defense catch owner's eye
ARLINGTON -- Rangers owner Tom Hicks has been busy enjoying what he's been seeing of his club, which opened its three-game series with the Yankees on Monday sitting in first place with a three-game lead in the American League West."I'm pumped," Hicks said as a sellout crowd was in the process of filling Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "We're a young team, and all of a sudden you look up and see we have the best record in the American League and the second-best record in baseball. We're playing good baseball. "I like the way we're winning with pitching and defense. It's been a long time coming." Hicks also knows what's coming up ahead. These games against New York begin a stretch in which the Rangers play 16 of 20 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Dodgers -- four of the best teams in baseball to this point. "The next three weeks will be telling," Hicks said. "All of those teams have outstanding pitching. It will be a test for us. We'll see where we are after that." The next three weeks could tell what the Rangers may or may not need to address as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. Right now, everything seems to be fine. The Rangers' May ERA of 3.20 ERA is the lowest in the Major Leagues, and they are fifth in the league in team defense. Offensively, the Rangers entered Monday ranked seventh in the league in runs scored, but there are no glaring holes in the lineup. Manager Ron Washington is having more trouble trying to find playing time for everybody rather than trying to mask any weaknesses. He could have a similar problem with the pitching staff when Vicente Padilla comes off the disabled list in the first week of June. "I think it's still early," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We've still got 2 1/2 months before the Trade Deadline. Conversations have begun industry-wide, but right now getting Padilla back will help the pitching staff, and we're really pleased with the position players. We'll continue to take it slow and evaluate our team." The bullpen has been the one area that the Rangers have tinkered with, especially early in the season. But their relievers have a 3.42 ERA in their past 28 games and just three blown saves, tied with the Red Sox for the fewest in the AL. "On the whole, I've been pleased with what I've seen," Daniels said. "The bullpen has settled down. ... We'll still keep an eye on that and see how it develops." The Rangers could be in a strong position to strengthen any area because of the depth of their farm system, not only in pitching but in catching and middle infielders. Hicks said he's ready to provide some payroll flexibility if that's necessary and the right trade presents itself. "We're in good shape," Hicks said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.