By T.R. Sullivan MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister has a three-part outline for how his team could improve in the second half.
Banister said the offense has to be better at executing with runners in scoring position. He said the starting pitchers have to understand the importance of pitching to contact, getting early outs and going deeper into the game. Banister wants his defense to continue to improve as far as handling and securing the baseball, and making good decisions. The effort has been great, Banister said. Execution in all areas could be better.
"I'd like to think that there's not a group of players that have more heart, soul, integrity and will than that group out there," Banister said. "Sometimes that 'want to' and 'how to' have got to get a little closer. Want to and how to … close that gap. We want to, I think we know how to, it's just that we need to continue to put them both together every single night."
Below is a look back and a look ahead.
FIVE KEY DEVELOPMENTS
1. Tolleson takes over as closer
The Rangers opened the season with Neftali Feliz as the closer and ended the first half with Shawn Tolleson filling the role. Tolleson had been terrific up to his first blown save on Saturday. Feliz is now with the Tigers.
2. The return of Josh Hamilton
After a two-year exile in Southern California, Hamilton returned to the Rangers on April 27 in a trade with the Angels for nominal cash considerations. Texas just needs to keep Hamilton on the field.
3. Fielder and Moreland return
Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland both had season-ending surgery in 2014. They have both come back strong this season to provide most of the Rangers' power in the middle of the lineup. They have also switched positions with Moreland at first.
4. Rookies contribute
The Rangers have shown some depth with several contributions from the farm system. Reliever Keone Kela and outfielder Delino DeShields have had the biggest impact, but Joey Gallo, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Ryan Rua, Hanser Alberto, Spencer Patton, Alex Claudio and others have also contributed.
5. Veteran starters come through
The Rangers went to Spring Training excited about their young pitching, but the rotation has been anchored by three veterans: Colby Lewis, Yovani Gallardo and Wandy Rodriguez. All three are free agents after the season.
FIVE STORYLINES TO WATCH
1. Big boys must produce
Fielder has been good from beginning to end, but the Rangers need serious production from him, Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Beltre and Hamilton have had physical issues and Choo has battled offensively. He got off to a terrible start in April, then played well in May, but he has regressed over the past six weeks.
2. Setting the rotation
The Rangers expect a boost for their rotation in the second half when Martin Perez is activated off the disabled list on Friday. He has missed over a year because of Tommy John surgery but pitched well on his rehab assignment and will start the second-half opener against the Astros. Texas has to hope Matt Harrison can handle his spot in the rotation, otherwise the club may recall Gonzalez or Nick Martinez. The Rangers also may open a spot for one of them by dealing Rodriguez before the Trade Deadline.
3. Reinforcing catching
The Rangers are happy with Robinson Chirinos behind the plate, but backup Carlos Corporan has struggled offensively. If he doesn't pick it up sooner than later, Texas may try to move him and call up Tomas Telis.
4. Balancing the lineup
The Rangers would like another right-handed bat to balance out their predominantly left-handed lineup. They have Rua and Kyle Blanks but both have had physical issues. If one of them doesn't step up, Texas may look outside the organization for offensive help.
5. What about Elvis?
This has not been shortstop Elvis Andrus' best season. He is still engaging, upbeat and fun to be around, but he has not played well, offensively or defensively. Andrus is also in the first year of an eight-year, $120 million extension.
MVP: Fielder. The slugger has rebounded from neck surgery to regain his presence as a force in the middle of a lineup.
Cy Young: Gallardo. The righty pitched his way into All-Star consideration with 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
Top rookie: DeShields. The 22-year-old entered camp as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but that has been forgotten as he has taken over as the Rangers' best leadoff option.
Top reliever: Tolleson. The right-hander took over the closer's role on May 20 and has been perfect in save opportunities.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN SECOND HALF
Beltre: He is the best right-handed hitter on a team that has struggled against left-handed pitching.
Hamilton: The Rangers need to find a way to keep him in the lineup as much as possible.
Harrison: He has made a great comeback to get back in the Major Leagues, but he has to show he can be effective as a starter for an extended period.