May 2010

Whatcha Gonna Do: Twins 6, Rangers 3

The Pablo Cruise song couldn’t help but pop into my brain when Derek Holland was pulled in the third inning.

Here my beloved Rangers had already dropped the first two of the three-game set at Target Field to the Twins. There had already been a lot of press about the workload of the beleaguered bullpen. And now, our starting pitcher is being pulled in the third inning, putting more stress on the pen, plus we were already down 2-0.

Sometimes all you can do is sing “Whatcha Gonna Do.”

Beyond that, getting swept on the road and seeing proof once again your team is not yet ready to succeed against the “big boys” is enough to send one’s mindset into a dark and foreboding place- the one that wonders if the team will ever win again or if they can even avoid a last place finish. This is probably what a slumping hitter feels like.

A losing streak also brings into focus the things you know are wrong with the team but ignore when they’re winning. Here are some of those things for the Rangers:

Through four innings, they force a starting pitcher like Scott Baker to struggle, walking a tightrope with a chance to knock him out early. THEN YOU LET HIM OFF THE HOOK BY GOING QUIETLY ON FIVE PITCHES IN THE 5TH!!!

You see a player like Josh Hamilton constantly swinging at the first pitch. Two years ago, that helped give Hamilton a career year and he talked often about how the first pitch is often the best one you’ll see in an at bat. Guess what, Josh? EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT NOW AND THEY DON’T GIVE YOU GOOD STUFF TO HIT ON THE FIRST PITCH ANYMORE!!! YET YOU STILL DO IT!!! Somebody needs a paradigm shift and it isn’t the pitcher.

You see the overagressiveness on the basepaths. We may be in the top three in stolen bases, but we’re in the top one in being caught stealing. IF YOU RUN EVERY TIME YOU GET ON BASE, THEY’RE GOING TO BE EXPECTING IT!!!

And the topper: Getting runners on base. Another note to my guys: THEY KNOW YOU GET OVERANXIOUS AT THE PLATE WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION, SO THEY GIVE YOU CRAP TO HIT, KNOWING YOU’RE GOING TO SWING AT IT!!!

I know we miss Nelson Cruz, but his absence is not the reason we can’t hang with the other division leaders. It’s because this team as a whole does a terrible job of executing. We didn’t hit badly on Sunday night- Elvis got two hits, Michael got two doubles, even the bottom third of the order contributed three hits, a HBP and a walk. Yet all we could manage was three stinking runs.

We’ve seen it over and over again this season and it sucks.

Thank God it’s an off day today. I don’t care if the team needs a break. I just know I need a break from this team for a day.

Maybe If I Boycott Target…: Twins 8, Rangers 3

Got to watch today’s game on the Fox nationwide feed and Target Field is one beautiful ballpark. It was also great to see a sold out ballpark for a game in May as well. Twins fans, you should be proud!

Here is a picture of the field before they opened taken from the window of the office building where my sister works (thanks, Sis!).

 

IMG00073.jpgThat said, Target Field is turning out to be no friendlier to Texas than the Metrodome. CJ Wilson pitched five great innings, a so-so sixth and a completely forgettable seventh when the Twins plated six runs to come roaring back from a 2-0 deficit to easily top the Lone Star Lawmen. We have now lost five of six, continue to perform poorly in day games and continue to stink it up on the road (1-3 on this trip so far, 8-14 overall). Thus, we could find ourselves in second place by the time the clock strikes 10 PM.

I should have known bad things were going to happen. Justin Smoak, my least favorite Rangers in terms of performance, had a double and smoked one (or is that Smoaked one?) to center field that was caught but came close to being another double. Then my second least favorite Ranger in terms of performance, Julio Borbon, somehow managed two hits (neither were particularly hard hit), two RBI and a stolen base to provide all the Rangers runs going into the 6th. When those two are both producing, I should think of it as akin to a black cat crossing my path. It only happens if there’s a deal with the devil involved. Sure enough, payback came later in the same game.

To that point, CJ Wilson was pitching a one-hit gem. Only problem was he couldn’t get through the Twins line-up the third time around. Orlando Hudson hit one over the wall in the 6th to tie it at 2-2. “OK,” I thought, “CJ will at least pitch through the 7th and save the bullpen a little bit.” Wrong again. Wilson couldn’t get an out in the 7th. Chris Ray didn’t do much better and by the time the inning ended, twelve Twins had gone to the plate and the game was pretty much out of reach.

So I can say the good news is the bottom third of the order actually came through for a change, even if I take that as a bad omen. The bad news is the top of the order got hits but couldn’t score runs (due in part to three Twins DP’s in the first three innings).

By the way, I mentioned yesterday my theory that maybe opposing teams are targeting Michael Young at third base, seeing him as a weak link. Today’s game: Six ground balls to MY, 0 grounders to Elvis Andrus. Maybe there’s something to this theory.

Seeing as the AL West is a weak division, there’s still a good chance the Rangers could finish in first this year. In all honesty, though, unless things change from the way they are now, this team has no chance of making a deep playoff run.

The Rangers come into this season as the fourth youngest team in the majors, so maybe they’ll make big strides this year. I just don’t see them being enough to be a true title contender this year. Please prove me wrong.

Where There’s Smoak, There’s No Fire: Twins 2, Rangers 1

I promised myself I wasn’t going to do a Justin Smoak pun.

When he was first called up from Oklahoma City, I saw at least half a dozen puns related to Smoak’s name, so I promised I would not become one of them.

Until tonight.

With Nelson Cruz once again out of the line-up with hamstring problems and possibly DL bound for the second time, it is more important than ever for the bottom third of the Rangers line-up to start producing. There is no more important part of the bottom three in the order than Justin Smoak.

And tonight, Smoak did not deliver. Just like he didn’t deliver against the Royals on Wednesday. Or the Royals on Tuesday. Or the Cubs on Sunday. Or the… Well, you get the idea.

About a week and a half ago, Smoak managed to get his average up to a season high .200 and I thought maybe I had misjudged him and he was finally getting ready to deliver.

Since then, Smoak has only three hits in 30+ at bats and his average has dipped to a paltry .167.

Friday night in Minneapolis, Smoak was 0-4 with three strikeouts. He’s being thrown a steady diet of change-ups and now, in addition to not hitting, he’s stopped getting so many walks plus he’s striking out more.

Unfortunately for us, Chris Davis has started slumping at Oklahoma City, so he isn’t necessarily the answer at this point.

While one can’t blame the loss to the Twins entirely on Smoak, his lack of production is truly crippling this ballclub. We’re not expecting much from Matt Treanor & Max Ramirez at catcher. Even when he’s hitting, we’re not looking for much RBI production from Julio Borbon. We do need production from our first baseman, though. I don’t have the answer, but you can bet Jon Daniels is looking for one right now.

It’s also disappointing to see the bench the Rangers have. The back-up catcher only goes in as a last resort, Andres Blanco isn’ here for his bat, just to give Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler an occasional day off. And while you might use Joaquin Arias as a pinch hitter or pinch runner, you’re not looking for him as a late inning defensive upgrade. In other words, if Cruz goes on the DL, the starting line-up has to do the job because there’s really no help on the bench in the late innings.

The lead in the West is now down to a half game over the A’s. The good news- CJ Wilson starts Saturday and Matt Harrison comes off the DL to give the overused bullpen a little more help.

Notes & Observations: 5-28-10

1) Nelson Cruz has hamstring problems again. Earlier this season tightness in his right hamstring led to a stint on the DL. Now Cruz’ left hamstring is giving him problems.

 

As of right now, the Rangers are letting him rest and hope Cruz doesn’t have to go on the disabled list again, but he looks doubtful against the Twins this weekend.

 

The last time he was on the DL, he missed games against the White Sox, Mariners, Royals and A’s. If he goes on the DL this time, he would miss games against the Twins, White Sox and Rays. Not a good time to be missing your #2 RBI guy.

 

2) Much is being made about Michael Young’s defensive struggles at third base this season. Already Young has eight errors, compared to three at this time a year ago. Part of the problem is Justin Smoak just doesn’t scoop up the low throws as well as Chris Davis did.

 

Further study shows Young has had 22 more plays at third base than he did at this time in 2009. When you also take into account the number of balls that have gotten past him for hits this year, it tells me opposing clubs are actually trying to hit the ball more to Young’s side of the infield this year, sensing it is a weakness.

 

Elvis Andrus at short has made almost the same number of plays this year compared to last year. I think Young’s being targeted and it won’t end until his defense tightens up a bit.

The Shlabotnik Non-Stars: Steve Buechele, 3B

Honoring the Rangers/Senators version of Joe Shlabotnik, the guy nobody but Charlie Brown would root for in the comic strip Peanuts.


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The Rangers have been blessed with quality third basemen throughout the years- Buddy Bell manned the hot corner for years, and we’ve also seen the likes of Dean Palmer, Jim Fregosi, Hank Blalock, Bill Madlock, Chris Davis (for a year) and, for the past two seasons, Michael Young. For me, though, one of the reasons I loved watching the Rangers in the late 80′s was Steve Buechele.

 

Buechele was a home-grown product, drafted by the Rangers in 1982 in the 5th round after a college career at Stanford. Boo’s journey through the minors was pretty rapid, as he joined the parent club for 69 games in 1985 after the Rangers traded Buddy Bell to Cleveland, hitting a meager .219 with 6 homers and 21 RBI.

 

Buechele was never a hitting machine, compiling a career .245 average over an eleven year major league career but oh, what a defensive third baseman he was.

 

The most errors Boo ever had in one season as a Ranger was 16 and he was well above the league average in fielding percentage every year he played for the Rangers. Back in the 80′s Rangers fans felt the same about Boo as they do today about Elvis Andrus. Knowing that one corner of the infield was as close to an automatic out as you’re going to get was a good feeling to have.

 

Throughout his glory days in Arlington, Buechele was never lower than fourth in the AL in fielding percentage and in 1991, his last year in his first go-round with the Rangers, he led the American League in fielding percentage.

 

Again, Steve’s bat was never more than mediocre throughout his career, which is one reason why the Rangers never could quite get over the hump during the Bobby Valentine years. Boo’s best average with the Rangers came, again, in 1991, when he was hitting .262 with career highs of 22 home runs and 85 RBI in just 121 games.

 

The Rangers thought they were selling high on Buechele when they sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of August, 1991 in exchange for two pitchers: Kurt Miller and Hector Fajardo. Miller, though, never made it to the Rangers, while Fajardo pitched in 28 games over a four-season Rangers career in which he went 5-9 with a 6.79 ERA.

 

For Boo, going to the National League didn’t improve his stats much. In two years with the Pirates he hit .248 and in four seasons with the Cubs, he did marginally better at .256 due in part to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

 

Following his release from the Chicago Cubs in July of 1995, the Rangers resigned Buechele as a free agent, hoping they could get him to reclaim some of the magic he enjoyed in his first go-round. Sadly, Boo’s days were numbered. In nine games, he hit a meager .125 and the Rangers released him 19 days after they signed him, thus ending his major league career.

 

Buechele’s days with the Rangers haven’t ended, though. In 2009 he rejoined the Rangers by taking over the managerial reins at High Class A Bakersfield, leading the Blaze to a 75-65 record and a playoff berth in his first season. This year, Buechele is managing the Rangers AA Frisco Rough Riders. As of this writing, Boo’s Rough Riders are 27-19 in the Texas League’s South Division, in first place with a four game lead on the Astros’ Corpus Christi Hooks.

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Nothing Good Lasts Forever: Royals 5, Rangers 2

As much as it would have been nice to go undefeated against any team this year, the odds are always against it happening. So it was with the Rangers, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Royals on the road Wednesday. Hey, we’re still 2-0 against both the Orioles and Angels so there’s still hope!

I heard very little of the game (darn it for having to work for a living!), so pretty much all I know is from reading the box score. That showed me Michael Young committed his second error in as many days, his 8th on the season, when he didn’t get his 7th error last year until late July. It showed me the Royals must have attempted their second suicide squeeze in as many games, but today’s attempt failed with Jason Kendall thrown out at the plate.

It also surprisingly showed me Derek Holland pitching the last inning for the Rangers in a mop-up role (and giving up a run). With two off days this week, the Rangers announced earlier there were no plans on using the down time to switch the rotation around. Today’s move gave quite the opposite impression.

I assume this means the Rangers will go with Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson and Rich Harden in the upcoming three-game set at Target Field in Minneapolis, saving Holland for a Monday start against the White Sox. If so, I don’t have a problem with the move. I’d prefer opponents not get two lefties in a row when they play the Rangers. This would split up the southpaws, plus separate Harden and Scott Feldman, the two pitchers giving the Rangers the least number of innings per start. Theoretically, that also helps keep the bullpen more rested (provided, of course, the starters going the longest continue that trend).

Bullpen will be plenty rested for the Twins series. Frank Francisco didn’t pitch at all against the Royals and all the relievers except for Chris Ray got the day off today. All hands need to be on deck this weekend as we take on the toughest team we’ve faced record-wise since the Tigers.

By the way, has anyone noticed our bench right now is pretty sucky? Andres Blanco and Joaquin Arias are barely playing, which means our bench the last few games has consisted of just David Murphy and Max Ramirez. Offensively, those are about the only two Ron Washington seems to trust, and he can only use Ramirez if he’s switching catchers. Very little flexibility.

I’m sure this is because Arias is out of options and the Rangers don’t want to lose him on a mere waiver claim. I wish Jon Daniels would figure out a trade including Arias so we can go back to a bench that makes sense- specifically including a right-handed back-up first baseman with a little power. Too bad Ryan Garko couldn’t fill that role adequately. 

All-Star Game: Rangers 8, Royals 7

After 46 games of the season, there are four Rangers who deserve a spot in this year’s All-Star Game:

Elvis Andrus

Nelson Cruz

Vladimir Guerrero

Neftali Feliz

You could also make a case for Darren Oliver, but face it, set-up guys don’t usually make the All-Star team.

At any rate, I point this out because all four of these deserving All-Stars played a major role in the Rangers fifth straight win against the Royals in 2010. Guerrero was the overall star, with a double, two home runs and 5 RBI to lead the charge. Cruz added a home run and Andrus two runs scored and his usual sterling defense. Feliz pitched the 9th, nailing the lid on the win and earning his 13th save of the year.

When talking of deserving All-Stars, you might note that I did not put Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler or Michael Young on the list. Almost seems sacreligious, doesn’t it? Ham-bone had a home run last night, Young and Kinsler are both over .300 on the year, but none of them are having the kind of year that jumps out at you like the other four are.

Young, in fact, is having a brutal season in his second year as a third baseman. He’s already committed seven errors (one last night) and his range is being questioned as well. Hamilton is doing better than 2009 but he’s been inconsistent all season and hasn’t approached the lofty numbers he put up in 2008. Kinsler hasn’t done anything to find fault with. He’s hitting well, fielding well and running the bases well. He probably hasn’t entered the conversation because he only has one home run this season, compared to being well on his way to a 30-30 year last year at this time.

Changing the subject. I’m sure if you look for the highlights of last night’s game, you’ll see each of the four home runs the Rangers hit. We won’t see it, but you know what a real highlight would be? Seeing Matt Treanor get his first stolen base of the year. I wasn’t watching at the time, so I missed it. I don’t know if it was supposed to be a hit and run and Julio Borbon missed the pitch or something else, but I would love to see that one!

Lastly, I have not been a fan of Rich Harden. He has had some of the worst pitching performances I have ever seen from a Rangers pitcher (and after 40 years of fandom, I have seen some real stinkers), but he deserved better than the final stat line from last night shows. His pitch count was down, he was victimized by MY’s poor defense in the third and the Royals had a couple of extra base hits that replays showed were good pitches that they just got good wood on. So there you go, Rich. I’ve got a kind word for you.

Closing out the two game set today with Scott Feldman. It would be so nice to see him get untracked. I honestly think Feldman will be the key to whether we can make it to October playoff baseball. If he gets it back together, watch out.

I hope that improvement starts at 1:10 Central Time today. 

The Shlabotnik Non-Stars: Scott Fletcher, SS

Honoring the Rangers/Senators version of Joe Shlabotnik, the guy nobody but Charlie Brown would root for in the comic strip Peanuts.


 

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Of all the Shlabotnik Non-Stars, this one is probably my favorite. In fact, he might be the only team member who would have been a valuable addition to the Rangers AL West pennant winners (no disrespect to Kevin Elster). His departure will forever be enshrined in a Rangers Hall of Shame. More on that later.

 

Scott Fletcher manned the shortstop hole in the Rangers line-up during the Bobby Valentine years, which saw a whole new generation of Rangers break into the league for the first time: Kevin Brown, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Guzman, Bobby Witt and Mitch Williams among them.

 

Fletcher was not a home-grown Rangers product. The Wadsworth, Ohio native, who played college ball for both the University of Toledo and Georgia Southern, had been on MLB’s radar for some time. The Dodgers tried to draft him in 1976, the A’s in the first round in January ’78 and the Astros in the 1st round in June  of ’78 all tried to sign him. The Cubs finally succeeded when they made Fletcher the 6th pick in the June Secondary draft in 1979.

 

After two cups of coffee in the NL in ’81 and ’82, the Cubs dealt Fletcher to the White Sox, where he became a semi-regular in 1983. Two years later, the Chisox dealt him to the Rangers in what turned out to be a steal: Fletcher, Ed Correa and Jose Mota for Dave Schmidt and Wayne Tolleson.

 

Fletch quickly became a fan favorite. In 1986, he played in 147 games, splitting time between second, short and third, but mostly playing shortstop. The Rangers surprised everyone by contending in the AL West, finishing 87-75 for a strong second place finish just five games behind the Angels. Fletcher was a big part of the success, compiling a .300 batting average with 82 runs scored, 34 doubles, 3 home runs and 50 RBI. At one point, Fletcher compiled a 19-game hitting streak in July of ’86, as well as a 23-game streak of reaching base at least once per game. Defensively Scott was no slouch either, ending with a .973 fielding percentage at short.

 

By 1987, Fletcher was the fulltime Rangers shortstop, appearing in all but six of the Rangers games. While the team backslid to 75-87, good for 6th place in the West, ten games behind the Twins, Fletcher was a mainstay and steadying influence on the young team. While his batting average dipped a bit to .287, Fletcher still scored 82 runs, upped his RBI output to 63 and drew 61 walks as well. Defensively, Fletch was third in the league in putouts by a shortstop and fourth in the league in shortstop assists.

 

Fletcher’s last full year with the Rangers was 1988. The Rangers backslid once again to a 6th place 70-91 record, a ******** 33 ½ games behind the division winning Oakland A’s. In 140 games, Fletcher’s average again dipped, this time down to .276. His runs, RBI’s, extra base hits and walks all turned downwards as well, though he hit a career high with fifteen sacrifice bunts, fourth best in the AL and was 3rd in the AL by getting hit with a pitch 12 times. Defensively, Fletcher excelled in ’88, committing just 11 errors at short for a .983 fielding percentage, second best in the AL.

 

In 1989, the Rangers fortunes turned around once again. By mid-season, the team was in the hunt for the AL West crown and GM Tom Grieve knew a bold move could be the turning point to getting his team into the playoffs. Rolling the dice on a hitter with a proven track record, Grieve made one of the most infamous trades in Rangers history, sending Scott Fletcher back to the White Sox in a deal that netted the Rangers Harold Baines and infielder Fred Manrique. The trade wasn’t infamous because it sent Fletcher away from the team, although there were many fans that were sad to see him go. No, what made the deal infamous were the two other players the Rangers threw in- pitcher Wilson Alvarez and a rookie outfielder by the name of Sammy Sosa. In all fairness, Fletcher probably produced the best of those players for the White Sox after the fact, but Baines never produced for the Rangers as he did for the White Sox and we all know what kind of career Sosa ended up having.

 

Scott Fletcher would remain in the bigs ’til 1995. After the Rangers, he had stints with the White Sox, Brewers, Red Sox and Tigers. He ended up having a 15 year career, hitting .262 and piling up over 1300 hits. And though the Rangers have had some good, even great, shortstops through the years, I think Fletcher remained my favorite until Elvis Andrus came along.

 

 

Dinky Dinks: Cubs 5, Rangers 4

Not only is it bad to end a successful home stand with two straight losses, the feeling is worse when your team pretty much loses because of dinky hits.

Of all the Cubs runs, only Alfonso Soriano’s home run in the first brought in runs that weren’t cheap. This is definitely a game where you shouldn’t believe the box score. It’ll say CJ Wilson gave up 5 earned runs in a little over five innings of work. CJ, though, was victimized by the dreaded dink hits. Two runs scored in the first because of runners who got on via the bloops and the last run was scored on another bloop hit in the 6th.

The Rangers, in the meantime, continued to struggle offensively during the daytime (two of the next four will be day games as well). Michael Young’s fifth homer made it 4-2, Julio Borbon actually knocked in a run to make it 4-3, and a Young double made it 5-4, but the good guys just couldn’t forge the tie.

Believe it or not, this is just the 6th game all season that the Rangers never had a lead in the game.

So now, with an apparent Oakland win as I write this, the lead in the West is back down to two.

Good News for the Bullpen: Three off days in the next eight.

The Challenge: The next eight games are on the road, where the Rangers are a meek 6-12. We need to improve that mark. With five of the eight against the Royals and White Sox, we can. The Royals have played better since firing Trey Hillman, so the Rangers can’t afford to overlook them. The big key to the road trip will be next weekend’s series against the Twins at the new Target Field.

I wish we had hit better, but there was no shame in this loss. A couple less dinks and it would have gone the other way.

Afternoon Delight: Cubs 5, Rangers 4 (10 Innings)

The headline only makes sense if you watched the nationally televised Rangers game on Fox last night.

If there’s one image I remember most from this game, it’s going to be the footage Fox showed of Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus and other 2009 Rangers rookies dressed in 70′s garb and singing the Starland Vocal Band’s only hit at a Rangers charity event. Apparently the 2010 version of the event is today and announcer Josh Lewin, who organizes the fundraiser, decided to promote this year’s gala by showing that gruesome video.

If anything, the bad singing only reinforces what good baseball players these young men are.

It is so easy to be pessimistic about the Rangers, even when they’re in first place. In fact, after Derek Holland gave up two homers and the Rangers fell behind 3-1, it was easy to convince me we had already lost. Holland has shown us a gopher ball problem in his two years here and, when it rears its head, it usually doesn’t end well for Texas.

We did lose, but after that point I saw: Holland recovering enough to get credit for a quality start, the Rangers getting two homers of their own from Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz (who has been an RBI machine since coming off the DL) to tie the game, and additional late-inning heroics from the top of the order against the Cubs closer, including an RBI from Ian Kinsler to almost battle back again. The Rangers never stopped fighting, which is all you can ever ask.

On one of the Rangers fan sites that I frequent, the message board almost always has a comment from a fan who is obviously a member of the anti-Ron Washington camp. That is his right. When an article on said site was recently printed that showed pride in the Rangers 4-game AL West lead, this same “fan” chimed in with how poorly we were doing against the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays (true) and how the Rangers would fold when it counted. I’m as big a critic of my team as anyone and I’m as used to failure from said team as anyone, but that last post opened my eyes a little.

I do point out what I feel are shortcomings that need to be addressed from my beloved Rangers. But please let me know if I ever get into the territory where it appears I would actually take pleasure in their failure, because that’s how this poster comes across to me on a consistent basis. I don’t ever want to get that bitter about my team, especially when we’re in an overall success mode right now. 

This is my team, warts and all. Let’s get CJ Wilson a win and take the series today!

 

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