June 2010

Up All Night: Angels 6, Rangers 5

Don’t tell me there are no important games in June.

The Rangers and the Angels went back and forth all night, causing a loss of sleep for this writer as I stuck around for the bitter end of a series-opening loss to the Angels.

In some regards, I’m not surprised by the loss. Once again, Scott Feldman did not come close to resembling the Scott Feldman of 2009. I think I’ve only seen two or three glimpses of that Feldman all season long. Still, he gamely pressed on, managed to get himself out of jams all night and very nearly qualified for the win before the wheels came off in the 6th.

For the Rangers, the night belonged to Vlad Guerrero. It was awesome to hear the reaction of the Anaheim crowd when he came to the plate for the first time- a warm welcome to show appreciation for all the great years he gave the Angels. Vlad did his best to give the Rangers the victory as well. His 7th inning home run brought Texas within a run, but they couldn’t get back over the hump.

Sadly, the game was lost because another former Angel, Darren Oliver, failed for the first time all month and one of the few times all year. After relieving Feldman with two on and two out in the 6th, Oliver lost his control and gave up a walk, loading the bases. Then, on a 3-2 count, he hung a curveball that Bobby Abreu smacked for a three-run double, putting the Angels up 6-3.

I’ve got to give credit to the Angels (as much as it pains me). The Rangers had a lead three times and each time, they came right back to tie it up. They took advantage of a mental lapse in the 1st to tie it at 1-1. They got the big hit when they needed it. The Rangers had their chances and twice failed to come through with the bases loaded.

I already know there’ll be a lot of second guessing on some of the other sites I visit- Ian Kinsler’s attempted bunt, maybe leaving Feldman in one batter too long, etc. My only criticism is we need to eliminate the mental lapses when playing the Angels. They take advantage of mistakes like no other team.

Tonight will be interesting, as Omar Beltre will make his major league debut in a high-pressure situation. What I’ve heard of his season at Oklahoma City is good. If he performs half as well as Alexi Ogando has so far, we should be OK and make a good game out of it, win or lose. I only hope I’ll have the time to catch it.

Tuesday’s opener might be the only game of the series I can catch, as I’m smack dab in the middle of where Hurricane Alex is expected to hit Wednesday night. Sometimes other things take precedence over my Rangers. I’ll still write, I just might not be able to witness the game in any way, shape or form.

By the way, it was a pleasant surprise to see this blog on an Angels fan link yesterday…so if you want to check out his version of Tuesday’s events go see him at angelsace.mlblogs.com! Thanks, Ace!

The Shlabotnik Non-Stars: Brian Downing, DH

In honor of Joe Shlabotnik, Charlie Brown’s favorite baseball player in the Peanuts comic strip, we recognize the Rangers/Senators players of past years who toiled in relative anonymity expect for Rangers fans.

 

 

Brian Downing Set.jpg
 

The Rangers have had a history of picking up players in the twilight of outstanding careers. Most performed just like that, as shells of their former selves. Rangers history is littered with them, the likes of Bud Harrelson and Bert Campaneris in the 70’s, Darrell Porter and Bucky Dent in the 80’s and, more recently, Richard Hidalgo and Ken Caminiti. Fortunately for Rangers fans, Brian Downing closed his career in Arlington and, while he wasn’t an All-Star, he did acquit himself pretty well.

 

Downing signed with the White Sox as an amateur free agent in 1969. It took him four years to reach the majors, but he spent twenty years there once he made it, the last two with Texas.

 

While he played pretty much wherever he was asked, Downing was primarily a catcher when he broke into the bigs. He spent the first five years of his major league career with the White Sox. In December of ’77, Downing was traded to the California Angels with two other players in exchange for Bobby Bonds, Thad Bosley and Richard Dotson. It was in California that Downing hit the prime of his career.

 

In his second year, Downing made the All-Star team for the first and only time. For the year he hit .326 with 12 homers and 75 RBI and finished 14th in the vote for AL Most Valuable Player.

 

Downing possessed a great eye at the plate. While the .326 mark of ’79 was the only year he topped .300 as a hitter, Brian could be counted on most every year to walk more than he struck out. In fact, he ended his career with 70 more walks than strikeouts. In 1987, Downing led the American League in walks with 106.

 

The biggest claim to fame for Brian Downing was being a catcher who often was in the lead-off spot in the lineup. Popular opinion says you put your fast guys at the top of the lineup, but the Angels saw it differently. Why not put your best On Base Percentage guy up there, even if he’s a slow power hitter? In that regard, Downing did an excellent job. Many games he gave the Angels an instant 1-0 lead with a first inning home run.

 

In 1982, Downing’s power game finally ramped up. After previously having a career high of 12, the home runs went up to 28 in 1982. From 1982 to 1988, Downing had less than twenty home runs in a season only once. Even then, he hit 19 over the fence.

 

Downing spent 13 years in an Angels uniform, but after the 1990 season, the two decided to part ways. Downing had seen his power numbers drop to 14 and in 1990, he appeared in only 96 games, the first year he had played less than 100 games in a season since 1981. The Rangers came calling and offered him a free agent contract.

 

For the first time, Brian Downing wasn’t being asked to play the field. The Rangers wanted him strictly as a designated hitter. While he never approached the power numbers he had with the Angels, Downing did a credible job for the Rangers in 1991, batting .278 with 17 homers, 76 runs scored and 49 RBI in 123 games, mostly at the number 1 spot in the batting order. His OBP was .377.

 

Since he had only signed a one-year contract, Downing became a free agent again at the end of the ’91 season, but he was convinced to sign with the Rangers for one last go-round. In 1992, Downing played the final 107 games of his career in a Rangers uniform, hitting .278 with 10 home runs, 53 runs scored, 39 RBI and 62 walks, along with a .407 OBP. It was a pretty good note to go out on.

 

Downing had four 4-hit games in a Rangers uniform. Probably his best day at the plate came in a 10-8 win over Baltimore on July 25, 1992. In that game, he went 4-5 with two doubles and four RBI. His last hit as a Ranger was against his former team, the Angels. While he will never be in the Rangers Hall of Fame, Downing was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame in 2009. He still holds several career records for the Angels.

 

 

Just For Fun

Here’s the countdown towards clinching the AL West crown:

                   W       L        Magic Number

 

Rangers        46      29     

Angels          43      35      82

A’s               37      40      77

Mariners       31      44      73

 

Having Second Thoughts: Rangers 10, Astros 1

After the series finale with the Astros, someone might be having second thoughts about the Rangers trading for Roy Oswalt.

Not Jon Daniels. Not Nolan Ryan. Maybe Roy Oswalt himself.

Oswalt had a bad game against the Rangers, one of the worst of his career, in fact. That certainly gives us fans pause about getting Roy O. on our roster. On the other hand, every pitcher has at least one terrible outing every year.

What really bothers me is how Oswalt looked on the mound Sunday night. To me, it looked like the heat was bothering him. If that’s the case, there’s no way I’d want Oswalt for the stretch run and I don’t think Oswalt himself would want it either. Thanks to this game, a lot of people are going to be looking at this trade in a new way.

I don’t have the time or inclination to do all the research on the subject, but Oswalt’s last batter faced was Matt Treanor, who worked Oswalt for 11 pitches before getting a base knock. This has to be the fifth or sixth time this season I have seen Treanor do this to a pitcher. He may be only a .235-.240 hitter, but he has given the Rangers some of the most quality at bats of any player this season.

What more can be said about Josh Hamilton? Sunday night, Hambone was a one-man wrecking crew. His second inning homer was the second longest in the history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington at 468 feet. He extended his hitting streak to 21 games. He made two absolutely outstanding catches in left field and very nearly managed to throw out the only Astros runner to score. Josh has already tied a team record for most hits in a month with 47. With two games still to be played in June, there’s a good chance he’ll break that record.

Texas has been to the playoffs three times, in 1996, ’98 and ’99. I remember how those teams had great records after 75 games. The 2010 Rangers record of 46-29 after 75 games is better than all three of those division winners. We are now officially in heady territory.

After an off day, it’s three games in Anaheim. The best news is we could get swept by the Angels and still be in first place. I don’t think we’re going to get swept. That’s not discounting the Angels at all. They’ve been playing great baseball the past few weeks to stay within 4 1/2 of the Rangers. This is going to be a series of two teams that are both playing very good baseball at the same time. It’ll be a great test.

Starting Over: Rangers 7, Astros 2

Over the past four years, when one has talked about the Rangers, here are the first players that would come to peoples minds: Michael Young, Josh Hamilton (last three years), Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz (last two years).

In 2010, the name mentioned the least in that group has been Kinsler.

Ian had a 30 HR 30 stolen base year in 2009, yet he slumped so badly at the end of the year the Rangers faithful were disappointed in him. Word amongst the fans was that Kinsler was selfish and stubborn to admit his uppercut swing was hurting him.

This year, Ian missed the first month of the season with a high ankle sprain. When he came back, he came to bat with the new Clint Hurdle approach to hitting. It started out well, but the power numbers weren’t there. Now the word from the fans was Kinsler was hurting the team by not trying to hit home runs.

Just goes to show, we fans are fickle. We want what we want when we want it.

Saturday, Kinsler gave us what we wanted.

Actually, I’ve viewed Ian Kinsler this year as kind of the forgotten man in the Rangers lineup. He’s doing OK, he’s just not putting up All-Star caliber numbers. Yet.

If yesterday’s three-run shot and his 7th stolen base are indications that Kinsler is finally getting close to 100%, then the Rangers line-up has just gotten that much harder for a pitcher to face.

At this point, first base and catcher are the only weak offensive slots in the order. I have a feeling Justin Smoak is going to have a much better second half once he’s figured things out on the major league level (but boy, the growing pains have been WAY too fierce!) and the catching tandem is doing just enough right now to keep pitchers honest.

Truly, as long as the pitching holds up, it’s becoming harder and harder to envision this team going through an extended losing streak anymore. Saturday’s win started us on what I hope is another winning streak.

Sunday will be a tough test, with Tommy Hunter facing Roy Oswalt. A lot of people think Oswalt will be wearing a Rangers uniform before the end of July. If that is in our future, then I want us to beat him today, but only by a 2-1 or 3-2 score. If he gets shelled, I as a fan would probably think twice about wanting him to play for us.

By the way, Ian Kinsler has hit over .450 against Oswalt in his career.

All Things Must Pass: Astros 7, Rangers 4

The signs showed themselves early on.

The Astros scored a run in the 2nd inning. The hit that plated the run was a single which became a double because Julio Borbon took a bad angle on the ball.

It continued in the 3rd when Ian Kinsler, visibly showing disgust after being called out on strikes to end the inning, was ejected from the game.

And it was its ugliest when two Rangers errors on one play led to another Astros run.

Thus the winning streak ended with a gigantic thud.

This might actually have been the best way for the streak to end- definitively, with no chance to ponder how one play could have made it 12 in a row. Just take your lumps and move on.

The Astros didn’t stop the Rangers bats, although they made the pitches to get them out of jams. Josh Hamilton extended his hitting streak to 19 with three hits, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus and Justin Smoak had two apiece and Vlad Guerrero also came through. The Rangers also walked a few times, showing decent patience at the plate.

The Astros were just plain better. They took advantage of Colby Lewis’ off night and continued by scoring off Darren O’Day and Chris Ray. Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando pitched scoreless innings, but Houston threatened in the 8th and 9th as well.

The one guy I feel sorry for is Ogando. By pitching the 9th with the Rangers down by three, it would have taken a miracle to get him his 4th win in four appearances. He’ll just have to settle for being only the 3rd relief pitcher since 1900 to be 3-0 in his first three games. 

I’d have to check but I’m tempted to say this is the first game all season the Rangers have had three errors. I hope it’s the last time as well.

Saturday will be a hot one- a day game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. I’m hoping for two wins tomorrow afternoon: one for the Rangers and one for the USA in their World Cup match against Ghana. Truth be told, in this case, if only one win is to be had, I’d rather it be our soccer team, because if they lose, their season is over.

There Is A Santa Claus: Rangers 6, Pirates 5

How exhausting a day was it? So much so that your humble scribe couldn’t even stay awake to watch all of the Rangers game. Ten game winning streak on the line and I still couldn’t keep my eyes open for one second longer than about 9:11 PM CDT.

So when I nodded off, the Rangers were down 5-3. Feldman had a terrible first inning and, while the Pirates didn’t score much after that, he didn’t look a lot better after the first, either. Worse yet, the Angels were once again beating the Dodgers at the time. So, with my last bit of consciousness before the REM’s kicked in, I was fully expecting to wake up and find the winning streak over and the Angels a game closer to us in the West.

If I was slow to open my eyes this morning, it only lasted as long as the brief trip online to see the bad news.

Comeback win. Angels lose. Eleven game win streak. 4 1/2 game lead.

Eyes wide open and speechless.

Josh Hamilton is in a league of his own right now. Career high 18 game hitting streak, three more hits last night including two doubles.

Nelson Cruz again goes hitless but still manages to knock in a run.

Justin Smoak goes hitless and manages to knock in two runs.

And Vladddy is Vladdy. His 9th inning single gives the Rangers a walk-off win and their third straight sweep.

Everybody has noticed the zone that Josh Hamilton is in. If you don’t know the zone Darren Oliver is in, let me enlighten you. In the month of June, covering eight appearances: 9 IP, 2 hits, 0 Runs, 0 Walks, 12 K’s, lowering his season ERA to 1.27.

There are some who will discount this winning streak, since it has come entirely against teams with sub-.500 records. In baseball, though, even bad teams win at least one out of three more often than not. Many of us also remember last’s year’s Rangers played very well against good clubs but had a nasty habit of losing to inferior teams and/or inferior pitchers. That is not happening in 2010.

Here’s what I’ve been noticing about this year’s Rangers. Last year, they played like a team realizing they were good. Right now, they’re playing like a team that not only knows they’re good, they now know they’re better than some teams. I’d liken it to my teenage years when I started beating my father in ping pong. At first, I was just happy to win a game or two against him. Then I started beating him and realized it was because I’d now gotten better than him.

Even though this streak has come against the Brewers, Marlins, Astros and Pirates, it is not to be discounted. This team of young stars isn’t just winning right now, they’re flexing their muscles.

Addendum: Baseball Time In Arlington has a great piece today, showing statistical evidence that, should they make the post-season, the Rangers might just well go deeper than one round in the playoffs. You can click on the link on the side of this blog to check it out.

Mr. Perfect Strikes Again: Rangers 13, Pirates 3

I actually remember the Rangers only other ten game winning streak (it would eventually reach 14).

It was during the Bobby Valentine years in 1991. When the streak was at eight, I actually got through on the phone lines and got to ask Norm Hitzges a question on the air during the Rangers pre-game show before their game with Minnesota. I don’t remember the specific question, but it had to do with the streak. For getting through, I also got a gift certificate for Merle Harmon’s FanFair store- useless since I lived nowhere near the Metroplex (and still don’t). Still, it was pretty cool!

So here we are at ten in a row for only the second time. Russ, my long-suffering Pirate fan, I know you’re out there and all I can say is I know how you’re feeling right now. Funny how ballplayers get over routs quickly but fans can take them harder than a close game sometimes.

If the streak was going to end, I thought it would end last night. Dustin Nippert hadn’t looked good in his last spot start and Josh Hamilton was sitting this one out. We were also scheduled to face a decent lefthander. All the elements were there to end the streak.

Nobody told the Rangers.

They came out hitting right from the start with Michael Young’s first inning home run leading the way. The Rangers ended with 17 hits, seven walks and a hit batter in the game, plus another runner reached on an error.

You’d think that would be enough for Nippert, but no. He only lasted three innings and it took 82 pitches just to get there.

This time the win would go to Mr. Perfect, Alexi Ogando. He was perfect last night- no hits and two strikeouts in three innings and he now has this great line for a relief pitcher: 3 appearances, 3-0 record, 0.00 ERA and a 1.000 batting average. Life is great when your name is Ogando.

Now the Rangers are right behind the Yankees for the best record in baseball at this point, but I refuse to get too excited. I’m actually worried that we’ve only been able to put three games onto our lead over the Angels during this streak. To go 10-0 and still have Anaheim only 3 1/2 out is worrisome. You’d think the Dodgers would give them some trouble, but the Angels are now 5-0 against ‘em. I’d still like to see us get another game or two on the Angels before interleague play ends. We are up to a double digit lead over the A’s and Mariners, though, so it’s beginning to look like a two team race in the West.

Going for our third consecutive sweep tonight with Scott Feldman looking for his third in a row as well. Things are going so well right now, I’m actually speechless for a closing line!

Revolution #9: Rangers 6, Pirates 3

Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…

Only Beatles fans will understand the reference.

Suffice it to say the Rangers won their 9th in a row Monday night, the fifth time they’ve accomplished that feat in team history.

Josh Hamilton kept up his hitting ways, contributing a double and a home run. Nelson Cruz came off the DL and was hitless but, as he usually has done this season, still knocked in a run with a sac fly.

Tommy Hunter didn’t look like he was on his game and the Buccos jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead. They extended it to 2-0 in the 4th. Meanwhile, Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf looked solid at the start, retiring the first 10 Rangers in order. I was getting worried until I saw the stat on Ohlendorf: first time through the line-up, opponents bat .229, second time through it goes up over .300.

Sure enough, Michael Young got it started in the 4th with a solo home run. By the time Ohlendorf had gotten through the line-up a second time, the Rangers had gotten four hits and had taken the lead.

The Pirates recently ended a long losing streak and recently started calling up some of their better prospects. Despite their dismal record, you can see there’s some potential there with the youngsters and I think they’ll show some steady improvement in the second half of the season. They managed to outhit the Rangers last night 10-7, facing off against three pretty good pitchers in Hunter, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz.

Game 2 has Dustin Nippert getting the start. Nippert only lasted three innings in his first spot start last week. Hopefully we can get a couple more innings out of him tonight. If not, at least the pen is pretty rested. The offense better be ready. We may need to score more than 5 to win this one.

Foul Ball!

Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays was named American League Player of the Week for the week ending June 20th.

Crawford is a great player. He also had a pretty good week. According to the article, Crawford had an on base percentage of .571 for the week and a slugging percentage of .810.

During the same week, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers had an OBP of .607, 36 points higher than Crawford. In fact, Hambone’s batting average for the week was 22 points higher than Crawford’s on base percentage. He also had a slugging percentage of .814, four points higher than Crawford.

Unless I missed a rule that states no player can win the Player of the Week Award two weeks in a row, I think the league missed the mark this time.

I’m not going to scream or turn blue in the face, but I think we know who had the better week…

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