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05/07/09 3:28 PM ET

Defense finally matching vaunted offense

Rangers are fourth in team defense in the American League

OAKLAND -- Defense has been second only to starting pitching in driving the Rangers into first place in the American League West.

The Rangers, with a half-game lead over the Mariners, went into Thursday's game with the Athletics having committed just six errors in their last 12 games. The Rangers won nine of those games.

"Our defense has been great," third baseman Michael Young said. "That's been the fun part about this stretch, [that it] has been the pitching and the defense. We know we can score runs in bunches, but when we don't, the pitching and defense has been great. That's been the fun part of our season."

The Rangers have one error in their last seven games and are fourth in the American League in team defense. With 16 errors in 27 games, the Rangers are on pace to finish with 96 errors for the season. The Rangers committed 132 last year and 124 in 2007.

"We're making all the routine plays," manager Ron Washington said. "That's how it starts. The routine play is where you play good defense. That's where it all starts."

Young and second baseman Ian Kinsler are two examples of the Rangers' early defensive improvement. With one-sixth of the season gone, both have committed just two errors. That puts them on pace to finish with 12 errors on the season. Rangers third basemen committed 23 errors last year and their second basemen committed 20.

It's still early but there has been significant improvement at pitcher and catcher as well. The Rangers had the highest error totals at both positions last year in the AL. They committed 21 at each position for a total of 42. So far this season there have been two errors by pitchers and one by the catchers. At that rate, the Rangers would have 18 errors between the two positions at the end of the season.

Elvis Andrus has been guilty of the most errors so far this season for the Rangers. He has six, tied for the most by an American League shortstop. But he hasn't committed one in the last eight games and there's little doubt he's made up for his transgressions with several outstanding plays.

"He's got guys around him like Kinsler, Michael and even Omar Vizquel," Washington said. "When you have those guys around you, you have to take your game up another notch. He did that. He's turned it up with his concentration and focus. His mistakes were coming late in the game and he's understanding that it's late in the game when you really have to focus and concentrate. He has taken that to heart."

The bottom line on defense is unearned runs. This season, the Rangers have allowed 10 unearned runs to this point, seventh fewest in the AL West and the fewest in the Western Division. Last year they committed 107, 24 more than any other team in baseball.

Early returns -- there are still 135 games left -- suggest defense is a big reason why the Rangers were sitting in first place on Thursday morning.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.