I should be feeling better about this opening win on a ten game road trip. CJ Wilson was outstanding once again in winning his 7th in a row and 14th on the season. Andres Blanco had another spectacular game as the fill-in second baseman. Michael Young actually played an outstanding third base last night. Nelson Cruz is back and scored the first run of the game.
Yet there was something unsettling about last night’s win. I think it’s because this offense still worries me. Eleven hits but only three runs does not fill me with confidence. Vlad Guerrero going 0-4 and seeing a grand total of 5 pitches the whole night upsets me. Despite having a good defensive game and driving in a run, Michael Young striking out regularly on low and away pitches has become unsettling. Neftali Feliz allowing a hit to the first batter he faces in the 9th has me on edge. Josh Hamilton being pulled from the field to be the DH at the last minute because of his balky knee is concerning.
All of the above I mention because they could all come into play in a playoff series. When even I can see what’s working on a batter like I’ve been seeing with Young, you know that’s all he’s going to see in the playoffs. With Young we’re already seeing teams working his side of the field defensively. If they can negate him offensively as well, he will not have a good time in the post-season. Feliz is still effective but he hasn’t been throwing a lot of 1-2-3 innings lately. Allowing an early runner in the 9th with a title on the line will only add pressure to the youngster. Vladdy is Vladdy, but I’ve seen him be slightly more selective at the plate. He certainly needs to be against the best of the best. Last but certainly not least, we can’t afford Hamilton to be down in October at all. Josh alone has been almost 30% of the rangers total offense the past three months.
So yes, I enjoyed the win. It was sorely needed after the last two games against the A’s. I just wish the wins were a little more convincing, at least from an offensive standpoint.
Cliff Lee tries to break out of his slump tonight in Game 2. This is also the last game the Rangers (and all the other teams) will have a 25-man roster.
Expect Taylor Teagarden, Pedro Strop, Craig Gentry (currently on the DL) and Chris Davis to be back up for September. I don’t see the Rangers bringing up much more than that, at least not until the division is clinched. Keep in mind Ian Kinsler, Dustin Nippert and Cristian Guzman will all be coming off the DL very soon as well.
To close out, I will say the best thing I got out of Monday’s win: Andres Blanco has pretty much solidified his spot for the post-season. Since the Rangers finally decided it was time to part ways with Joaquin Arias, Blanco has been on a tear, not only hitting well, but giving quality at-bats even when they result in outs. He’s hustled on defense as well. And CJ? He’s very much the Rangers best pitcher right now, and that includes the guy that pitches tonight.
21 feet below street level at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, there is a sign in the indoor batting cages with a heading that says “Mental Toughness”. The sign basically tells the Rangers that mental toughness is staying in the game at all times and how it is a disservice to your teammates to not be in the game at all times.
I was reminded of this sign driving home from my weekend in North Texas as I was listening to the Rangers drop the finale to the Oakland A’s. It was easy to be reminded of it because Eric Nadel brought it up on a number of occasions when the Rangers did something stupid. Mental errors this, mental errors that.
Colby Lewis had his first truly awful game in a long time. Lewis didn’t have his good stuff but then again, he was just as guilty of mental gaffes as anyone. His throwing error on a tailor made double play ended up costing him three more runs in the loss.
Another run came home when Jorge Cantu, with runners on the corners, decided against throwing to second for the first out of an inning-ending double play. Instead, he stepped on first for the first out, meaning the runner to second had to be tagged for the last out. By the time said tag was made, the runner on third had crossed the plate for yet another run.
The Rangers offense consisted of Josh Hamilton and nobody else. Hambo knocked in both Rangers runs. The Rangers ended their run of five straight left-handed starters faced with a 2-3 mark. Texas scores a full run per game less against left-handed starters than righties, which shows the importance of right-handed hitters Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler returning soon.
The past two games have seen the Rangers put four left-handed hitters in against the southpaw starter. Hamilton’s a given, David Murphy has done well against lefties, so he’s understandable. Alex Cora was in the past two games to give Andres Blanco and Elvis Andrus a day off. I guess I can go for that, too. What’s interesting to me is Julio Borbon. Check that, what’s interesting to me is Brandon Boggs.
Borbon has not done well against lefties this year, yet there he was, facing off against the lefties just about every game out when the switch-hitting Boggs was just sitting there on the bench. This is an indicator of how quickly Boggs got into Ron Washington’s doghouse after being called up from Oklahoma City. Boggs played two games in the outfield, where he had a couple of misadventures and hasn’t been seen in the lineup since. Guess who’s getting sent back to Oklahoma City Monday when Cruz is activated?
After such a great series against the Twins, it’s a bit perturbing to see the backslide against the A’s. Oakland has a great starting five to be sure, but the Rangers seem to be playing with a complacent attitude a bit. Maybe it’s the big lead. Trust me, though, that big lead can disappear in a hurry. Get this: after this series with the Royals, the Rangers go on the road to Minnesota, where they’re 0-3 this year. Then it’s on to Toronto, where they’re 0-3 this year. Then it’s home against the Yankees, who have beaten the Rangers four out of five this year before closing out with two at home against Detroit. During that time span, guess who the Angels have to play? The A’s, the Indians, the Mariners and the Indians again. The Angels may be in third place, but they have a prime chance to make up some ground here the next two weeks if Texas doesn’t get on the ball and start taking care of business. Home field advantage in the playoffs could be at stake as well.
Tonight CJ Wilson goes for his 7th win in a row at Kansas City. After the last two games, we really need that 7th in a row to happen.
You want to know who the two hardest working people at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Saturday night? They were two teenage girls sitting in our same section in left field. They struggled all night to get a wave started in the stands. Time after time after time. They finally succeeded in the 8th inning to get the crowd of over 47,000 on their feet. The Rangers sure didn’t get us going all night.
In May I saw the good Rich Harden in person. Last night it was the bad one. The wife and I had a delicious dinner at the ballpark’s Diamond Club. Note to Chuck Greenberg: Let fans in on the fact they should call ahead for reservations at the Diamond Club. We didn’t know and had to wait 45 minutes for a table. Because of this, we weren’t ready to go to our seats until after the game had started. Sure enough, we were already down a run by the time we got there.
Honestly, it wasn’t a good night for the fans. It was hot and there was no breeze at all, but we stuck it out. I’ve never sat out in left field before and found it a lot harder to track the balls off the bat. I never even saw Oakland’s home run by the right field foul pole. I thought it was just a foul ball until I saw two A’s circling the bases.
The Rangers offense did nothing the whole night- one double and three singles. The closest threat to Dallas Braden was Elvis Andrus sitting on third with two outs in the 9th, only to see Vlad Guerrero pop up to end the game.
Derek Holland, replacing Frank Francisco on the roster, relieved Harden in the 5th. The good news is Holland saved the bullpen by going the rest of the way. His line looks pretty good: 4 2/3 innings only one run given up. Honestly, though, Holland didn’t pitch that well. He struggled to throw more strikes than balls overall and I’d say he escaped without a lot of damage.. It could have been worse.
Thankfully, the Angels and Mariners once again lost so even in defeat, the Rangers keep creeping towards the division crown. Colby Lewis goes on Sunday and he doesn’t have to face Trevor Cahill for a change. This time it’s Gio Gonzalez, but he’s given the Rangers fits in the past as well. This will also be the last of the five southpaws in a row stretch, thank God.
Speaking of which, the Mercy Me concert before the game was pretty good. Josh Hamilton came out in uniform and spoke to the crowd in the middle of the show. Attention, ESPN The Magazine readers: The Mag is doing an article on Josh in the next couple of issues. They were out yesterday doing a photo shoot with Hambo at the Ballpark. I took the ballpark tour and passed the photo shoot site as they were setting up. I’ll have a separate post on the tour later.
We leave the Metroplex with a heavy heart over not seeing the Rangers win, but I still have to say any night at the ballpark is a good night when you love the game!
A few tidibits before writing about Friday night’s game for those not from the Metroplex…
I missed Thursday’s series finale with the Twins despite being in the Metroplex for the first time since seeing the Rangers-Royals in May.
I was otherwise disposed with seeing Sheryl Crow and Colbie Caillat in a concert that started about an hour after the Rangers game started and ended about two hours after the Rangers game ended. In other words, Sheryl and Colbie put on a helluva show!
Unfortunately, so did the Twins, beating Cliff Lee, who is now a mortal 2-5 in Rangers colors, while his new team is 3-7 in his starts. Lee’s influence on CJ Wilson has been noticed by all. By all accounts he has been an influence on other Rangers pitchers as well. Yet Lee is struggling as a Ranger.
Some will blame this on Ron Washington keeping Lee on a 5-day rotation, even when there are off days. Some, like a certain nameless bonehead ESPN announcer, claim to have “inside info” that Lee hates Texas and is “mailing it in” before signing with the Yankees at the first opportunity in the off-season.
I don’t know the validity of either of these arguments. Lee could just be suffering a rough stretch. I haven’t gone back and checked what Lee’s career record in August is. If I were to buy either of the above two arguments, I might accept the one that Washington should have rested him when off-days would allow for an extra day’s rest. On the other hand, a starting pitcher conditions himself to start every five days, so not getting an extra day here or there shouldn’t be an excuse for poor performance.
The second argument doesn’t hold water either. If Lee hated Texas and was mailing it in, why would he take the time to mentor other pitchers on the staff?
Another ESPN employee wrote something a few days ago that makes more sense to me than either of the other explanations. He opined that Lee is very much a spot pitcher. He has pitch-perfect control and if he’s off even just a little bit, it can be hit a long way. Thus the 4 Orioles home runs last Saturday and Jim Thome’s blast last night. I remember another pitcher like that a few years ago. Greg Maddux, brother of Rangers pitching coach Mike. He would go through a stretch just about every year of three or four starts where he looked as average as any pitcher out. Then he’d snap out of it and throw eight quality starts in a row.
As a fan, I think I would give Lee an extra day off the next time the Rangers have an off-day. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure he’ll snap out of this funk pretty soon.
So what did this series with the Twins prove? It proved to me the Rangers are fully capable of winning a playoff series on the basis of pitching. For three games, Texas pitchers held the best hitting team in the AL in check, especially the relief corps. Pitching is a premium in the post-season. That’s why more and more in the national media are feeling the Rangers could be primed for a deep run. As wonderful as Hamilton, Guerrero and the rest of the offense has performed for the most part this season, it’s the pitching that’s going to be key to success in the second season.
The last two games and the next three with the A’s are also crucial for the Rangers. Texas is in a middle of a stretch where they’re facing 5 consecutive left-handed starters. They were 1-1 against the Twins lefties, now it’s three southpaws in a row from the A’s, starting with Brett Anderson tonight. All those lefties and yet, the Rangers (and Colby Lewis) have to be ecstatic about the lefty they don’t have to face this weekend. Trevor Cahill has squared off against Colby Lewis three times this year and has come out on top all three times.
All these southpaws point to the importance of getting the right-handed Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler back soon. Last night against Francisco Liriano, the Rangers were forced to start an all left-handed hitting outfield. Cruz will be back on Monday and Kinsler a few days after that. Their bats are sorely needed.
For CJ Wilson the last two innings were a struggle. Still, a combination of power hitting and equally powerful relief gave Wilson his sixth straight win and 13th of the season in the Rangers 3rd straight win over the Twins.
It was the best and worst of times for Michael Young and Julio Borbon.
For Borbon, a diving catch that failed led to the first two Minnesota runs. Borbon would atone for it by scoring the first run of the game for the Rangers. Then he overcompensated by making two great defensive plays, including an over the shoulder grab with one out in the 9th to save a double.
For Michael Young, it was errors. Young botched a ground ball early that didn’t hurt the Rangers. Later a high throw to first resulted in a second error. Again, Colby Lewis pitched out of it with no harm done. Young’s penance was getting the game winning hit in the bottom of the 7th inning.
The Twins, the best fielding team in baseball, didn’t officially commit any errors in the game. But a ball to right-center that should have been caught went for a double and an infield single that came about because a scoop by the first baseman couldn’t get made led to Rangers runs.
Colby Lewis failed in his 8th attempt to win his tenth game of the season, but once again he kept the Rangers in the game. Mitch Moreland had a great defensive play at first, throwing home to keep the go-ahead run from scoring in the top of the 7th, leading to Young’s heroics in the bottom of the frame.
It was good to see Darren Oliver have a strong game again. Oliver’s been slumping as of late, but he went a strong inning and a third in picking up the win.
Neftali Feliz had what I believe was a first this season- he pitched for the third game in a row. He picked up the save but not before two hard hit balls had every fan watching holding their collective breath. Whether intentional or not, Feliz did something I loved seeing. With two outs, Jim Thome came to the plate. One swing could tie the game and Feliz hit him with the first pitch. If it was an accident, fine. But if it was intentional, it was brilliant. You put him on base without the muss and fuss of pitching around him and walking him. That gave Feliz more in the tank to get the last out, which he did.
After the game, I learned the Rangers have added Alex Cora to the 40-man roster and recalled him from Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Joaquin Arias has been designated for assignment, which means the Rangers have 10 days to trade him or release him, while Arias can decide if he wants to accept an assignment to Oklahoma City. To many, this move has come half a season longer than expected. Arias had no shot at making the Rangers post-season roster so his release is just as well.
Special kudos to Andres Blanco. For the first time in his major league career, the Venezuelan had his family in the ballpark to watch him. Blanco responded with two ground rule doubles, an RBI and he scored the winning run. Cora will back up Blanco until Ian Kinsler comes off the DL. Blanco’s been playing some seriously good baseball the past few games.
Two days ago, I said the Twins scared me more than the other potential playoff teams. They still do. Games one and two have gone our way, though. With CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee the next two games, I’m feeling good about doing better than a split in the series.
Somebody pinch me and wake me up.
I know this has to be just a dream. First the Rangers scored a run on the Minnesota Twins on an error, when the Twins have the fewest errors in baseball. That’s funny!
And that’s the sanest part.
Here’s where it gets weird. I’ve been watching Rich Harden, in a year-long battle with Scott Feldman for the “Worst Rangers Pitcher of the Year” crown, shutting out the Twins over 6 2/3 innings. Then it REALLY gets strange.
Not only was Harden shutting out the Twins, he didn’t allow a hit to them, even though they lead the American League in hitting! Amazing where your mind goes when those REM’s kick in, huh?
Harden did walk five batters, so I know it had to be Harden and not Nolan Ryan looking like Harden in a dream, But come on- Rich Harden throwing a no-no over 6 2/3 against the Twins? Right. This is definitely a dream.
So then, I saw Matt Harrison get Jim Thome to fly out to end the 7th. Then Darren O’Day retired the side in order in the 8th. And then Neftali Feliz came in to pitch the 9th. He struck out the first batter, walked the second and then Joe Mauer made me cry when he singled up the middle to end the combined no-hit bid, But at least my boys won the game,because otherwise that would be a nightmare.
Rich Harden, he of the 5.45 ERA coming into the game, no hitting the Twins for almost seven innings. I sure do dream strange dreams, don’t I?
By the way, you can probably tell I fell asleep during the game Monday night. So could someone please wake me up and let me know, how did Harden REALLY do against the Twins?
Yep, for those too young to know, the Minnesota Twins were once the original Washington Senators and the Texas Rangers were once the Washington Senators team that replaced the original Senators when they moved to Minneapolis. So this is really the Senators against the Senators for the next four games.
Yet another big series for the boys from Arlington. If the playoffs started today, it would be the Rangers, Twins, Yankees and Rays in the post-season and, believe it or not, it is the Twins that scare me the most of the three teams the Rangers could face.
That isn’t taking anything away from the Yankees and Rays. They’re all good teams. The Rays have great pitching, but their offense has been streaky all year (how many times have they been no-hit this year?). The Yankees are formidible, but they don’t have as many scary bats as they have the past few years. They’ve got two very good starting pitchers and an even greater closer, but their middle relievers and bottom of the rotation are vulnerable.
The Twins, on the other hand, are really looking solid all over. Even without Justin Morneau, their offense is pretty consistent top to bottom and Joe Mauer is hitting as well as anyone lately, including Josh Hamilton. While you may not think of Carl Pavano as an ace, he’s been all that for Minnesota this year and he anchors a rotation that’s pretty darn good. Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey all have double digits in the win column. The relief corps is just as strong plus they play better defensively than anyone in the league, just 51 errors in 124 games.
The Yankees have a lot of stars, the Twins play together as a team better than anyone. They swept the Rangers three straight at Target Field at the end of May. They’re playing better now than they were then. Even though we’re at home, we really need to at least get a split with these guys this series, Less than that and I don’t feel very confident if we get the pirvilege of facing them in the playoffs.
Tonight it’s our worst starting pitcher against their worst starting pitcher, Rich Harden vs. Nick Blackburn. OK Rangers. Time to show them what you’ve got!
Say what you will about Rich Harden, but would you have rather had Kevin Millwood back this year pitching for the Rangers?
Here’s what the Millwood trade brought to Texas in 2010: Chris Ray for half a season (he wasn’t lights out but he was a very serviceable reliever), Harden (who has stunk but still has won two more games than Millwood this season), and then Ray was turned around for Bengie Molina. The Orioles, meanwhile, have a pitcher who, after Sunday’s game, is now 2-14 on the season with an ERA in the same range as Harden. You know what? I’ll take it!
In a way, I feel a little sorry for Millwood. He threw a lot of innings for the Rangers, only to be traded away at the cusp of something special. At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice the body language he had in today’s game. He looked defeated already on the mound, although he looked similar when he was wearing Ranger red (and blue) a lot of times as well.
Honestly, Millwood is not a top of the rotation guy anymore, if he ever was. He’s an inning-eating number 3 or 4 guy who’s been expected to be #1 for two teams now, and it just ain’t working. He’s given up 38 first inning runs in 2010, including three courtesy of a Josh Hamilton bomb today. The other three runs came on Vlad Guerrero’s first home run since my birthday on July 31st. In between, Millwood pitched pretty well.
Meanwhile, for the good guys, Tommy Hunter has had fans pretty worried as of late, with three outings of only three innings in his last four starts. The first was his first bad start of the year, understandable after throwing gems eight straight times. The second time he was violently ill, also forgiveable. The last time was Tuesday against Tampa Bay on only three days rest after his illness. I wasn’t as worried as other fans seemed to be about Hunter. Today, he showed why we shouldn’t worry so much.
Hunter pitched a gem, allowing only three hits with no walks or strikeouts. He threw one bad pitch, which was deposited over the right field fence. Other than that, it was a vintage Hunter performance as he bacame the second Rangers pitcher to reach ten wins on the season. Cliff Lee doesn’t count. He has ten wins, but not all with the Rangers.
Even more heartening, though, was seeing Vlad’s home run. Guerrero’s been in an extended slump the past month and a half. He has a hitting streak going now, albeit with a modest batting average, but he seems to be hitting the ball a little better the past week.
Despite six runs, I’m not thrilled that they all came on just two long balls, but considering the run-scoring slump the Rangers have been in as of late, plating six on consecutive days is a step in the right direction.
The bad news is we had a sucky road trip at 2-5. Even worse is the lowly Orioles won the season series with us, 6-4. The good news is it’s time for a home stand. The better news is I get to see my second game of the season in person against the A’s on Saturday.
We gained a game back on the A’s, so we’re eight up on them. While I wouldn’t mind being eight up on the Angels too, I’ll settle for seven if they can beat the Twins tonight. The Central leaders have overtaken the Rangers record-wise so, if the playoffs started tomorrow, we’d have to play the Yankees again in the first round.
If the Angels can’t take care of business tonight, it’s in the Rangers’ hands as they host Minnesota the next four games. The guy we got to replace Kevin Millwood, Rich Harden, will be on the mound tomorrow night. Let’s hope he doesn’t perform like Millwood.