Rangers' core must step up

ARLINGTON, Texas -- No matter what happens by Tuesday afternoon, the biggest keys to the Texas Rangers' hopes down the stretch and into the postseason aren't on someone else's roster.

The group of current players has to step things up if the Rangers want an opportunity to get back to the World Series and win it this time. And with the Los Angeles Angels coming into town hoping to gain a little ground on Texas with four head-to-head games, the time is now.

"We're in first place, but we're not playing good baseball consistently," catcher Mike Napoli said prior to Sunday's 2-0 win over the Chicago White Sox. "We in here need to get it together. We see it in front of us and we know what's going on. We're just not playing our style of baseball."

A day after the hitters had a closed-door session to try to figure out how to get out of a clutch-hitting slump, the Rangers made some progress. The stats will show they still can't get a hit with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-10 on Sunday to push the streak to 29 consecutive at-bats without a hit, the club's longest such streak since 1988 (0-for-35 for a stretch in April).

But they moved runners over, stole some bases and got aggressive at just the right time. Nelson Cruz decided to take off for home as soon as a throw was made to get Michael Young on a roller down the first-base line in a 1-0 game in the fifth. First baseman Adam Dunn's throw was late and Cruz used his speed to get the club another run.

"When you're not scoring runs, you've got to take chances," manager Ron Washington said.

Scott Feldman turned the clock back to his 17-win season of 2009, Joe Nathan got the final three outs and the Rangers made some highlight-reel defensive plays to prevent a sweep. And despite all the inconsistent play, especially at the plate, the Rangers head into the four-game series with the Halos 4½ games up in the division over second-place Oakland and five up on the Angels.

It's a big week in Texas. The trade deadline is getting closer and the Rangers continue a homestand against playoff contenders.

General manager Jon Daniels could end up providing a nice spark with some additions before Tuesday's game. A starting pitcher would certainly be nice, but it appears that market has thinned a bit. Perhaps the price drops on a few guys as the deadline nears and a deal is made. If not, the Rangers could end up acquiring some bullpen help or maybe a right-handed bat for the bench.

But no matter what Daniels and his crew do -- and they won't feel pressured to vastly overpay just because the Angels added Zack Greinke -- it's still up to the core of this team to get it done.

And they haven't been getting it done as often as they should for at least two months now, especially with the bats. They know it, too.

"We're better than this," Napoli said. "Rather than having a good at-bat, everyone is worried about having to get it done now. Before, we passed it to the next guy. If we didn't get it done, we kept our head up and moved forward and knew that guy behind us would get it done. We've got into a thing where everyone is pressing and pressing and everyone is so pissed off they didn't get it done, and thinking they had to get it done rather than just concentrating on a good at-bat and let it happen rather than pressing for it to happen. We'll settle down and get it done."

Washington was pleased that his leadership group took it upon themselves to get together and discuss things.

"It's nice that they can get together sometimes by themselves and maybe say some things to each other that they don't want to say out in the open," Washington said. "We'll see how it works. I've got confidence in them. It's not going right now, but when adversity hits, you find out what you're made of. And I know what they are made of. So, we'll see how we deal with that adversity that's hitting us right now."

The skipper even tried to change a few things, giving Josh Hamilton a day off Saturday and then dropping him in the order to fifth in hopes of reducing a little pressure on him. Plus, Hamilton should have some good feelings about the five-hole in the lineup. He hit .411 there in 207 at-bats in his MVP season of 2010. He was 0-for-2 on Sunday, but had two walks and scored the first run on a rare fielding error by shortstop Alexei Ramirez.

The club's problems the past few months aren't difficult to see. You don't even need the statistics to tell you, though they support the fact the offense has seen its clutch hitting steadily decline.

"I think we're waiting for things to happen and then starting to get going instead of forcing things like we've always done," Napoli said. "We put pressure on other teams, either with baserunning, hit-and-running, getting guys over, executing with a runner on third and less than two outs. We just haven't been doing that. We need to get back to the basics and have good team at-bats. That's what it takes."

They did most of that Sunday. Now, they just need to convert the final piece: hits once they get those runners in position.

"We feel like in no time we'll start hitting on all cylinders offensively," Young said. "We had some deep counts and didn't finish off those at-bats like we want to. But we're getting there."