We're getting close to Opening Day and that means it is time to focus in on nine of the stories worth following this Rangers season. We'll run them down one a day between now and April 6th, with the centerfielders up for discussion in the second inning.
The old baseball axiom says that a baseball team needs to be strong up the middle if they are going to be big winners over the course of a season.
With Mike Napoli, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, the Rangers have three-quarters of their middle well taken care of entering 2012. But the final piece, center field, remains something of a question mark with the season a little more than a week away from starting.
It's only something of a question mark because we know the cast of characters in the mix to fill the job. With Leonys Martin sent down, it's down to Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon for the role of the guy who plays center when Josh Hamilton is in left field. When Hamilton slides over to center, it will be David Murphy in left.
That's almost certainly the best Rangers lineup, but Hamilton's history as baseball's version of the Samuel L. Jackson character from Unbreakable makes it hard to keep running him out there on a daily basis. That keeps giving Gentry and Borbon chances to grab the job, but neither one of them seem capable of doing it.
Gentry's problem is that he seems to emulate Hamilton's injury problems without capturing any of his other charms. His current issue has to do with dizziness, but the specifics don't matter nearly as much as the fact that the team can't count on him making it through nine innings at a time without needing a trip to the trainer's room.
Borbon stays healthy well enough, but he's got his own problems. The first is his erratic defense, something the Rangers really can't accept at a position where they would be fine if they got nothing but good glovework over the course of the season. The second is the fact that he hits left-handed, giving them none of the balance they need with Murphy and Hamilton.
The Rangers skated by with imperfect fits last season, so it's not like anyone should go calling off the season because Gentry and Borbon don't work as potential starters. More and more, though, you get the feeling that the real answer to the hole in center is a player who isn't yet on the Rangers' roster.
Given the competition for playoff spots in the American League, filling that hole might be a more pressing matter this time around. If they don't, they might just wind up proving that old axiom once and for all.