June 2011

The Shortest Start In Rangers/Senators History: August 4, 1970

Texas Rangers beat writer for MLB is TR Sullivan. He has a column posted on the Rangers’ web site on the 50 shortest-lived Rangers in their 50-year history. You can read it here: http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110626&content_id=21064102&vkey=news_tex&c_id=tex

Most people will stick with those at the top of the list, like Cliff Lee, David Clyde and the like. My most vivid memory as a fan, though, came with the very last person on Sullivan’s list- George Brunet.

George Brunet

Brunet’s main claim to fame is what he did after leaving major league baseball. He pitched for a lot of years in the Mexican League and is, in fact, a member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in Monterrey.

What Sullivan says is true. Brunet had a short time with the Senators, playing only in 1970. As Paul Harvey would say, now the rest of the story.

Brunet not only had one of the shortest stints with the Rangers/Senators, he also literally had the shortest start in team history. On August 4, 1970, the Senators were in Detroit to face the Tigers. Brunet was the scheduled starting pitcher. The Senators had taken a 3-0 lead in the top of the 1st on a 3-run homer by Aurelio Rodriguez off Denny McLain. Ironically, Rodriguez was one of the pieces in the off-season trade that brought McLain to the Senators the following year.

In the bottom of the first, Brunet was taking his warm-up tosses when he injured his arm. I was a 14-year-old kid listening to the game on the radio at the time and I don’t remember exactly what the injury was, but I remember that, under MLB rules at the time, he had to actually appear in the game because his name was pencilled into the starting line-up. So Brunet threw one pitch to Mickey Stanley of the Tigers, then gave way to Jackie Brown.

Brown would end up going 5 1/3 innings, striking out 6 and giving up one run to get the win in relief of Brunet, who would never start another game for the Senators. After a couple relief appearances, the Senators traded him to the Pirates.

The Teams, They Are A Changin’

Another weekend, another lackluster Texas Rangers performance. This time, those world-beating New York Mets came into Arlington and whipped the boys in red, white and blue two out of three, pretty much putting to rest the notion that home runs win ball games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. With nary a dinger to their name compared to seven by the home crew, the Amazins were the better team, even when you throw out the bad umpiring.

I can’t attest to the bad calls on Sunday, though there were plenty of takers in the Twitterverse, but the one that really hurt was the one on Saturday that NO ONE on the field saw, but everybody else did. With Michael Young on first to lead off the 2nd inning, Nelson Cruz took ball four on a 3-2 pitch. Except nobody noticed it was ball four. Not Cruz. Not the home plate umpire. Not the Rangers dugout. Instead of two on and nobody out, the at bat went two pitches more than it should have and Cruz ended up striking out. One could argue it wouldn’t have made any difference in the 14-5 final but, at the time, it was only 3-0. The game was still within reach. Instead, Texas mildly went down in the second, the Mets added three more in the 3rd and the route was on.

I didn’t see Sunday’s game, but apparently there were two or three other bad umpire’s calls that went the New Yorkers’ way, but there was enough offense by the Mets that even good calls wouldn’t have mattered.

Meanwhile, Elvis Andrus hurt his wrist and is out of the line-up until at least Tuesday. Josh Hamilton tried red contact lenses on Saturday to see if it improved his abysmal average in day games. He struck out four times. For some reason, Ron Washington saw fit to give Josh a day off in the day game on Sunday. Any theories?

The weekend edned the same way it began, with the Texas Rangers laying claim to being the worst team in first place in baseball. I’m willing to bet the makeup of this team will have changed by this time next week. The first one is easy: as long as he performs well tonight, Darren O’Day will be activated and back on the roster Wednesday. I’m still pretty certain Scott Feldman will be activated sooner rather than later. And I can’t help but feel there’s a trade coming soon. There’s a rumor the Giants are talking to Texas about Yorvit Torrealba, but I can’t see anything happening there at least until Mike Napoli comes back from the DL. Meanwhile, Torrealba is actually one of the hottest hitters on the team right now.

The Rangers are in desparate need of relief help. They’re also in desparate need of a swift kick in the pants to get their heads into the game. The number of mental lapses this team has had in 2011 before the All-Star break I’m sure exceeds the mental errors committed by the 2010 team thorughout the entire season.

I often give Ron Washington a pass from some of his curious in-game managing decisions. Washington is not a brilliant on-field strategist, but he is a great leader and motivator. Now is the time to give him some grief. Washington is finding out once a team has come close to the pinnacle (or passes it), they need a new motivation. Before, the chase was the motivation. It’s becoming clear to this fan that this team, or the non-pitching part of the team in particular, is playing like they deserve to be in first place instead of going out there to earn it. The only exceptions, in my mind, are Michael Young and Mitch Moreland, who have been consistent performers since Game 1.

No teams with winning records are on the Texas schedule from now through the All-Star break. It’s time to put some distance on the rest of the West. And if accomplishing that means changes have to be made, let’s start making them now.

The Job of Baseball: Josh Hamilton

One thing there is usually a dearth of in the media and that’s more stories about what players do to help themselves in their job of playing baseball. We’ll hear of a rehabbing player that he’s now swinging off a tee again or is able to resume running, things along those lines. Occasionally a paragraph will be written about some player taking extra infield practice to improve their defense. Still, most of what we see and read has to do with the games themselves and the business side of baseball- contract disputes, trade demands, etc.

That’s why I found it so refreshing to see something written recently about Josh Hamilton‘s woes hitting during the daytime. Last year, in the midst of his MVP season, Hamilton still only hit .286 in the daytime, this in a year where he hit .359 overall. Thus far, 2011 has been even worse for Josh. Going into Saturday’s late afternoon contest with the New York Mets, Hamilton stat line includes a woeful .122 BA in day games.

When asked about it, the Rangers’ left fielder responded he was trying to fix the problem. Believe it or not, part of the problem seems to be that Hamilton has blue eyes. According to one doctor’s research, there appears to be a correlation between blue-eyed baseball players and low daytime splits. Something about blue eyes not adapting to bright light as well as darker colored eyes.

As to the job of baseball, I was also impressed when I read how Hamilton is working hard to address the issue. First, he’s found another pair of the same type sunglasses he wore last year when he at least was respectable hitting in the sunshine. He’s also been fitted with new contact lenses, presumably contacts that are supposed to cut down on the glare or some such thing. Regardless, it was a rare glimpse into how dedicated professional athletes can be to their profession. That Josh Hamilton would spend this much time and effort trying to find a solution to his hitting woes when the sun is out speaks volumes about the man.

Why I Didn’t Write About The Houston Series And Other Sundry Matters

When the San Francisco Giants recorded the final out and won the 2010 World Series over the Texas Rangers, I was so emotionally drained that, beyond a few general platitudes to the Giants that night, I couldn’t write another word for this blog for a week.

Something similar happened when the Astros sucked the air right out of what should have been a three-game sweep with a dramatic 4-run ninth inning to beat the Rangers in the series finale, 5-3. Pretty much everything that has bothered me about this year’s Rangers were on display in that game- an offense that seemed to be performing well (only 2 of 9 regulars would be considered slumping right now), yet was only scoring a minimum of runs, a defense that’s supposed to be one of the league’s best yet leads the league in errors (with another one on Wednesday), and a bullpen that was more and more inclined to not come through when needed, including a closer who’s supposed to have electric stuff looking at times no better than your average AAA pitcher coming up to make a spot appearance in the majors before heading back to oblivion.

Texas leads the league in blown saves, are tied for the most errors in the bigs and have lost a game in the late innings in double figures for the year, yet somehow is still parlaying this ineptitude to a 2 1/2 game lead in the amazingly weak AL West. We all expected it to be tougher to win the West this year, but most figured it would be becuase of improvement from the other three teams in the division. What we DIDN’T expect was Seattle improving a lot, Oakland and the Angels staying the same and Texas getting WORSE.

Josh Hamilton was quoted in an article that he’s almost surprised the Rangers are in first place, considering how they’ve played, and he would be right. The reason the Rangers continue to be in first is because the rest of the AL West teams have offenses that are performing even worse than the front-runners, leaving their superior pitching staffs to shake their heads and wish they had an offense of Texas’ caliber. Hamilton went on to say the team needs to start playing with more of a sense of urgency. Again, there’s no disagreement from this end.

Yes, the Rangers’ last game was so disheartening to me, I couldn’t find the energy to write anything in this space, but it didn’t stop me from reading in other spaces. Trust me when I say I may have been disheartened but the Rangers brotherhood was ANGRY. Angry at Ron Washington for putting Neftali Feliz in the game in the first place, angry that Dave Bush was asked to pitch the 8th, angry with GM Jon Daniels for putting together such a poor relief corps, angry Michael Young was still playing third base in the late innings (Houston had two doubles down the left field line in the 9th) and angry Josh Hamilton wasn’t pulled in the 8th when it appeared he was favoring his hamstring (he chose not to try to score from 3rd in the 8th on a ground ball that normally would have brought a run home). If there was something to be angry about, it was expressed on the message boards I check.

But it is over now. The venting has been done. Now, as this year’s AL All-Star team manager so frequently says, it’s time to focus on the game at hand. Tonight, that is the start of a three game set with the New York Mets. One reason this series could be important beyond the Win-Loss record, is it gives the Rangers a first-hand look at Frankie Rodriguez, whose name has been linked to the rangers as a possible trade target in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, this space has noted some of the other big stories of the day- Jim Riggleman’s resignation as manager of the Nationals topped the sports pages today. I’ve heard both sides and I think Riggleman made an unwise choice, although I’m pretty sure he had every reason to feel dissed by his GM.

Meanwhile, one of the few offensive bright spots for Oakland, Josh Willingham, was placed on the DL, further helping the Rangers cause to repeat in the West.

Lastly, the Phillies placed Roy Oswalt on the DL with a bad back and Oswalt himself thinks it may be the end of the line for his career. Oswalt came very close to being a Ranger, from my understanding, but this was before the ownership change occurred and the MLB front office wouldn’t allow the Rangers to take on Oswalt’s contract at the time. Hate to say it, but I’m sure glad that happened. Who knows how Texas would have been handcuffed with that salary on the books?

Help is on its way to the Texas pitching staff. All indications are that Darren O’Day and Scott Feldman will be back soon- both are scheduled to pitch tonight for AAA Round Rock and I think both will be on the Rangers roster come Independence Day. Who goes when that happens? My initial guess is Dave Bush and Michael Kirkman. Most of us think it’s time for Texas to cut Arthur Rhodes loose, but there’s more money tied up in Rhodes than Kirkman so he’ll probably survive at least the first round of pitching changes. Bush would have to clear waivers and could be lost if someone puts a claim on him, but I doubt anyone will object if someone else claims him.

Let me close this rambling post with another “regular fan” vs. “sabermetric fan” observation. I’ve stated many times here my attempt to understand and appreciate some of the more new-fangled stats as well as the times I disagree with some of them and why. My latest observation? I’d me much more inclined to listen to more of the saber fans if some of them stopped acting like “their” stats are so superior to everyone else’s. One person who’s opinion I read regularly is constantly filling his (or her) posts with statements like “Ignore ERA. It tells you nothing.” (Nothing except the opposing team is scoring a lot of runs when he pitches); “It doesn’t matter that Ian Kinsler is hitting .235. His WAR is 2.2 so he’s having an outstanding year.” (He is doing well defensively and he’s got a good OBP, but anyone who actually watches his game on a regular basis knows he’s not performing offensively anywhere near his capabilities); and “Alexi Ogando’s FIP proves he’s no more than a good #3.” (even if it does, what’s wrong with that? Every team needs a good #3). I sometimes wonder if this person even bothers to watch the games. I’m waiting for him (or her) to say something like, “Forget that they finished 79-83. The combined WAR of this team was the best in the bigs.” OK then. But it would still make them losers.

The News Gets Out Fast, Tweet Tweet, Tweet Tweet

Having become a recent Twitterer (@RangersBlogger if you want to “follow” me), I have just recently come to realize how quickly news spreads through the Twitterverse compared to the real world.
Take Tommy Hunter, for example. Remember Tommy Hunter? Big, beefy guy. Won 13 games for the Rangers in 2010. Started Game 4 of the World Series (the game I was at!). Hasn’t been heard from in 2011 due to not one, but TWO pulled groins- one at the end of Spring Training, the other on his last pitch of a rehab outing. Oh, yeah, that guy!
Hunter has been making rehab starts at AAA Round Rock for the last couple of weeks. Today it was announced he would be pitching tonight for Round Rock- in relief. Further, all his rehab appearances from here on out will be in relief.
Ladies and gentlemen, within a span of three minutes, this tidbit had reached my Twitter In-Box from no fewer than six sources I follow. This is now news because it gives every indication that the Rangers brass has decided Hunter’s role with the big league club in 2011 will be in the bullpen. This is a nod to the job Alexi Ogando has done as a starter in Hunter’s place. Now the question is, will Hunter serve in short relief or long relief/spot starter duty?
Best guess here is that Hunter will be used as a 2-inning guy, in there to get Texas through the 7th inning before making way for Mark Lowe, Darrin Oliver and maybe Darren O’Day in the 8th. He doesn’t strike me as the kind of pitcher you’d use for one inning two out of every three games.
Speculation is also running rampant in Ranger Land that Derek Holland‘s days as a starter in 2011 may be coming to a close, as Hunter’s fellow rehabber Scott Feldman has had two pretty good outings at Round Rock. Not sure yet how I feel about that. At some point, the Rangers have to stick with a plan for Holland instead of yanking him back and forth. On the other hand, Feldman won 17 for the Rangers in 2009. If he can come close to that form, he’s a definite asset as a starter. As they say on 1st place teams, this is a good problem to have.
One other note from the minors: Chris Davis has been playing left field lately down at Round Rock. While some may say this is another way the Rangers have of increasing Davis’ trade value, I think it’s more indicative the Rangers may be trading David Murphy before the deadline, bringing Davis back to the bigs after it happens. Davis has more power potential than Murph and if he shows he can cover left field even close to what Murphy has, it would make more sense to have Davis there.
Ten minutes away from the first pitch of Texas-Houston Game 3 at RBIA. Looking forward to a sweep!

Minoring In Baseball

To take my mind off the first time the Rangers had been swept all year, it was time to clear my head and check out some minor league action. The boys seemed to respond to my absence, taking two of three at Atlanta to finish the ten-game road trip at 3-7. Disappointing, yes. This, however, ends a stretch of 17 road games in a 20-game period. If you had told me at the outset of the season the Rangers would come out of this three week period with an overall 9-8 mark on the road against Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, New York (Yankees) and Atlanta, I would have accepted it gladly. So, despite a losing three of four to the Twins and all three to the Yankees, overall I can’t complain too much. Plus we’re still in first place!

The Harbor Bridge dominates the skyline over the Right Field Wall

So on to the weekend. I couldn’t help but notice the Rangers’ AA affiliate, the Frisco Roughriders, were going to be in  Corpus Christi to take on the Hooks Father’s Day weekend. Seeing as Corpus is only a 2 1/2 hour trip from us, Mrs. Mariner Fan-Rangers Fan, Rangers Mother-In-Law and I took off Saturday morning for that night’s game at Whataburger Field.

For those who don’t reside in Texas, Whataburger is to Texans what In and Out Burger is to Californians. It is THE fast food chain of Texas (not that it’s really FAST food) and the very first Whataburger was opened in the 1950’s in Corpus Christi. The original Whataburger still stands down by the bayfront.

The field has great sightlines for fans. Look over the left field fence and you can see oil tanker ships going in and out of the harbor. Look over the right field fence and the majestic Harbor Bridge dominates the skyline.

Our last three outings to Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, we’ve been in the left field or 3rd base/left field seats, where the sun can be brutal looking towards home plate as sunset approaches. Knowing this, and seeing that the visiting Roughriders would occupy the first base dugout, seats were procured three rows behind the first base dugout. So, of course we discovered quickly that Whataburger Field is constructed the opposite way of RBIA, so we had the sun right in our eyes from the start of the game until about the 5th inning!

Having seen the Rangers rookie league club, Spokane, in a game last year, I went into this game expecting even higher caliber play than the well-played game I’d seen a year ago. So much for that, too. I honestly don’t remember the last time I’d seen such a poorly played game, by both sides. Starting Frisco pitcher Jake Brigham had a brutal first inning, giving up three runs on four hits and a wild pitch. Brigham would settle down to throw three no-hit innings after that before Emerson Frostad (who I believe was in the Rangers system last year) hit a 5th inning home run.

The Hooks weren’t playing much better. The top of the 2nd opened with Frisco’s Mike Bianucci (who won the game in the 13th with a 3-run HR) popping up harmlessly right in front of the plate. Pitcher, catcher and first baseman all converged….and watched as the ball fell harmlessly to the ground in front of all of them.

The Roughriders battled back, eventually tying the game at 4 in the 6th. In the 8th, they went ahead 6-4, but the Hooks came back to tie it with two of their own in the bottom of the inning. We actually left the game when it was tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 9th. We were all hungry and wanted to get to a decent restaurant before they stopped serving for the night. Frisco ended up winning the game in 13 innings, 9-6.

Guilder Rodriguez ties the game at 4 in the 6th inning with a single.

Defense was brutal. Centerfielder Engel Beltre, at one time a hot prospect for the Rangers, badly misplayed one ball for an error and got a horrible read on another that should have been caught but ended up as a ground rule double. Catcher Jose Felix, who I’d met at the Rangers FanFest in January, had a couple of hits, but he also had, officially, one passed ball. I think he should’ve been charged with three passed balls in the game, but one was ruled a wild pitch and another wasn’t ruled anything at all, even though runners advanced on the play.

I had also been looking forward to seeing the Roughriders’ Tommy Mendonca. He’s been one of the Texas League’s hottest hitters of late and considered a plus defensive 3rd baseman. Mendonca’s first at bat? One pitch, one fly out. Second at bat? One pitch, another out. Third at bat? One pitch, another out. Three pitches, three outs. Mendonca finally took a few pitches in his fourth AB and got a double, his only hit of the night. Defensively, there was one hot smash he didn’t field cleanly, but it was a tough play and was ruled an infield single.

Lastly, I was hoping to see Tanner Scheppers. The fireballing pitcher was announced to be rehabbing for Frisco for a game or two before going to AAA Round Rock. Scheppers is being talked about as an option for the Rangers’ pen by the end of the season. Friday night, he didn’t pitch, so I was hopeful to see Him Saturday. Nope. In fact, Scheppers wasn’t officially activated until today.

To sum it up: the players I wanted to see either didn’t play or didn’t play well, neither team played well, the sun was in our eyes for half the game. Even the field ump badly blew a call, calling a Frisco runner out at second when he was clearly safe. Even a Hooks fan sitting in front of me agreed it was a terrible call. Yes, all these things were part of the evening.  But you know what? It was a night at the ballpark, my team won in the end and we all had a great time! I do love this game.

Sammy, the Hooks Mascot, keeps the crowd entertained.

There Is No Joy In Mudville

There is no joy in Mudville...

It would be easy to explain away the Rangers’ back to back losses by identical 12-4 scores to the Yankees as a team that’s in a pitching slump. Indeed, you could go back to the Minnesota series before this one and see further evidence of this. The Twins scored 14 runs in the last two games of that set before sending Texas off to Gotham. Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando and Derek Hollandall had bad starts. The bullpen hasn’t been much better. 38 runs given up in a 4-game span is not a good thing.

It would also be easy to place some blame on the offense as well. Nelson Cruz has been stuck below .250 for most of the season and is currently mired in an 0-18 slide with ten strikeouts (according to Dallas media reports, Cruz has now discovered a problem in his mechanics to explain the current slump. We’ll see.) Ian Kinsler, as previously mentioned in this space, has easily the worst road batting average in the majors, although he lifted it somewhat last night with a two for three, two walk performance. Add those consistent problems to Josh Hamilton having a mini-slump and you have a recipe for offensive troubles as well.

It would be easy to look at these things as the most likely culprits as the Rangers enter Thursday’s getaway day game with the Yankees with a slim one game AL West lead over the Mariners. To a certain extent, I agree with the assessment. There is, however, something else missing that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on until watching last night’s debacle.Texas is missing Joy.

Many may scoff at such a notion. Baseball is a numbers-driven game. Whether it’s looking at the basics of BA, ERA and OBP or expanding your horizons to FIP, WAR and BABIP, most of us who love the game also find using the numbers is the best way to explain a team’s fortunes. We tend to take the human element out of it.

Indeed, it is a way of life in society to approach any job as something you don’t take personally. It’s business, after all. It has to be done and, in fact, it usually gets done better when you don’t let your feelings get in your way. We know this all the while telling ourselves and others if you find something you love doing, you’ll never “work” a day in your life.

I’m not a scientist or researcher by nature, but I’m willing to bet if you look at recordings of last year’s Rangers games and compare them to this year’s, you’ll see a certain spontaneous joy missing, whether the Rangers won or lost the games. In 2010, we had the “Claw and Antlers”, a way the team had fun and honored each other for good hustle and speed plays. That has been the most noticeable absence in 2011. It could be because the fad has run its course.

Much is written about the word “chemistry” as it applies to sports teams and whether it really exists. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but I certainly think a job is more enjoyable if everyone you work with attacks it with a positive mindset. Say what you will about his decreasing production as the season wore on last year, but few would argue Vlad Guerrero’s ever-present enthusiasm wasn’t infectious.

The departure of Clint Hurdle as hitting coach to become manager of the Pirates could be an explanation as well. Hurdle’s success with Pittsburgh thus far speaks volumes for how well he motivates players. Still, to a man Rangers players have talked about how much they love playing for their skipper, Ron Washington.

'Tis Better To Play With Joy Than Sorrow

[The question is, does the apparent lack of joy being exhibited by the Rangers of late have to do with their playing underneath their capabilities? Or are they playing under their capabilities because they’re taking themselves too seriously as defending AL Champions?It is a chicken and egg conundrum, to be sure.

Look at this team top to bottom and you’d be hard-pressed to find any reason for them to be a mere three games over .500 at this point of the season, even taking the DL stints of Cruz and Hamilton into account.

I think the answer is as clear as the classic “Casey At The Bat”. There is no joy inArlington. I honestly believe if it stays that way, there will be no World Series, and maybe even no playoffs, in 2011.

All-Star Game Picks 2011

As a lifelong loyal Texas Rangers fan, it would be easy to say, “Here’s the Rangers’ line-up. These are my picks for the All-Star Game.” Sadly, your humble scribe treats his All-Star Game ballot with a fair and open mind. Sad to say, that means I have very little justification for putting almost any of “my” players on the ballot to start the mid-season classic. Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz are performing below expectations so far. Elvis Andrus has been better offensively than a year ago, but his defense has been anything but superb. Mitch Moreland has had a good year, but not compared to other AL first basemen. Josh Hamilton has performed at an All-Star level, but missed six weeks due to injury, so I won’t be naming him either.

 Yes, when it comes to All-Star Game starters, I have a criterion and most of my Rangers aren’t meeting them. First off, my selections are based strictly on 2011 performance. Sorry, Ichiro. You don’t qualify this year. Love your quest for 3,000 hits, Derek Jeter, but you’re not an All-Star starter in my book this year.

 Herewith are my All-Star starter selections:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

 Catcher: There are a few sexy names out there, but there are only four regular catchers in theAL even hitting above .250 on the season. Only one is hitting above .300, so my pick is the decidedly unsexy Alex Avila of the Detroit Tigers (.301, 9 HR, 35RBI, 3 Steals).

 First Base: This position has a lot of deserving candidates. One could make a case for Paul Konerko of the White Sox, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, even the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira. But my pick has to be Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez (.341, 13 HR, 60RBI)

 Second Base: This became a surprisingly hard pick this year, mainly because most of the usual suspects are having down years in 2011. Howie Kendrick of the Angels is having a nice season but, since home field advantage for the World Series is on the line, I need to go with more of an RBI bat here with Robinson Cano of the Yankees (.285, 12 HR, 41 RBI), even though his numbers are down from a year ago.

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is having a pretty good year in 2011. Here, however, I’ve got to be a homer and put in one of the few Rangers who’s having a year worthy of an All-Star nod: Adrian Beltre (.265, 12 HR, 48 RBI)

Shortstop: Elvis, you really let me down with your defense this year. You’re not even in the discussion. In fact, based on numbers alone, I don’t see how anyone could argue against Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians (.301, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 9 Steals).

Left Field: If Josh Hamilton had been healthy all year, it might be closer, but since he hasn’t been, this is the easiest pick in the AL: The Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista (.338, 21 HR, 42 RBI)

Center Field: Another easy pick. Curtis Granderson of the Yankees is having a phenomenal year (.278, 20 HR, 47 RBI, 10 Steals).

Right Field: Ichiro is having a down year for the first time in his career. It would be nice to give him a nod, but current production is all that counts for me and I don’t see how you could keep Carlos Quentin of the White Sox out of the line-up (.269, 17HR, 47 RBI). An honorable mention for the outfield would be Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Rays (.328, 10 HR, 34 RBI), who appears on his way to a career year.

Designated Hitter: My guy, Michael Young, is having a pretty decent year serving primarily in the DH role. Still, I have to admit he’s being outperformed. The nod here goes to Big Papi, David Ortiz of the Red Sox (.325, 17 HR, 43 RBI).

 I don’t pick pitchers for the All-Star team, since the picking process is so different between starters and relievers. I will state categorically it would be a sin not to pick Alexi Ogando of the Rangers for the team. Ogando is arguably having the best season of any pitcher in the AL and, if he has two more strong starts, I would even have to consider him to be theAL’s starting pitcher this year.

 NATIONAL LEAGUE

 I’m not a National League guy, so I won’t spend as much time explaining my picks here. Suffice it to say, since I use 2011 performance alone in my decision, one Albert Pujols will NOT get a starting nod from me. Here are my NL picks:

Catcher: Brian McCann of theAtlantaBraves (.303, 9 HR, 37 RBI)

First Base: Even if Pujols were having a typical Pujols year, I still might not give him the starting nod due to the career year being enjoyed thus far by the Brewers’ Prince Fielder (.303, 19HR, 58 RBI).

Second Base: It really isn’t that strong a year for NL second basemen. I could go with Ricky Weeks of the Brewers for power potential but, in the end, decided to give the pick to Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds (.284, 5 HR, 36 RBI), who has more RBI despite less than half the homers of Weeks.

Third Base: Once upon a time, third base was considered one of the power positions in baseball, where sluggers abound. Not in the NL this year, partially due to injuries to the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval. Still, no disrespect intended, but it’s REALLY a down year for third basemen when my pick is the power-challenged Placido Polanco of the Phillies (.309, 4 HR, 37RBI).

Shortstop: This was my hardest choice of all because I had to choose between speed and power. In fact, my mind was made up all the up to the point I started typing this out. Because of the dearth of power at the 3rd base slot, instead of going with the very deserving Jose Reyes of the New York Mets (.342, 3 HR, 11 Triples, 26 RBI, 20 Steals), I’m switching my pick to Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies (.270, 13 HR, 45 RBI).

Left Field: OK, he’s a center fielder really, but All-Star Game outfielders often don’t play their natural positions because of the popular vote. That’s why my left fielder is going to be the LA Dodgers’ Matt Kemp (.332, 20 HR, 56 RBI, 15 Steals). 

Center Field: I moved Kemp to left field because, thanks to actually playing like a team that belongs in the NL instead of a minor league team posing as a big league club, it’s time to see a Pittsburgh Pirate back in an All-Star Game starting line-up. Let’s give it up for Andrew McCutchen (.292, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 11 Steals).

Right Field: After having a monster month of May, I’m ready to put Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds in right (.287, 17 HR, 48 RBI).

Designated Hitter: I know the National League doesn’t have a DH, but this would be a good place to recognize the fine comeback season being enjoyed by Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals (.317, 16 HR, 46 RBI).

Those are my starters. Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

The 2011 All-Stars vs. The Rangers

As a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, one of my annual duties which I’m glad to do is to name my picks for July’s All-Star Game. And I will do that…tomorrow.

You see, when I started thinking about the All-Star teams, I started to think about who I’ve seen in games against the Rangers. After all, they’re my team. That led me to this thought: What if I chose the American League All-Stars based solely on how they’ve done in 2011 against the Texas Rangers? This probably came to mind after seeing Michael Cuddyer hit two three-run bombs over the weekend for the Twins against Texas pitching. So before I present my real picks for the All-Star Game, here’s who would be going to the game based on their performance against my team this year:

Catcher: That would be that no-brainer Brayan Pena of the Kansas City Royals (.429, 3 HR, 10 RBI)

1st base: None other than the Toronto Blue Jays’ Adam Lind (.412, 3 HR, 8 RBI)

2nd Base: OK, a little obvious here. Robinson Cano of the NY Yankees (.208, but with 2 HR and 6 RBI)

3rd Base: That perennial All-Star Mike Aviles of the Kansas City Royals (.357, 2 HR, 5 RBI)

Shortstop: The third Royal on the list, Alcides Escobar (.310, 0 HR, 3 RBI). Not so much for the bat as the incredible defense he’s played against the Rangers this year. He’s even put Elvis Andrus to shame with the glove!

Outfield: Josh Willingham of the Oakland A’s (.304, 3 HR, 8 RBI)

Outfield: Another obvious choice- Curtis Granderson of the NY Yankees (.450, 5 HR, 8 RBI)

Outfield: The inspiration for this column, Michael Cuddyer of the Minnesota Twins (.636, 2 HR, 8 RBI)

Designated Hitter: The Blue Jays’ Juan Rivera gets the honor (.500, 2 HR, 5 RBI)

Kind of a different All-Star team, don’t you think? I’d be interested to hear from others on the teams they’d come up with strictly based on performance against their teams. Let me know and I’ll be glad to share the results!

My real All-Star picks come tomorrow.

The Sweet Smell Of Inconcistency: Rangers Drop 3 Of 4 To Twins

Oh, how this team toys with this fan’s emotions. Just one week removed from sweeping a four game set ON THE ROAD to the best team in the AL Central, the Texas Rangers drop three of four on the road to the team that not only is in last place in the AL Central, they carry the worst record in the American League. In fact, they carried the worst record in the majors going into the series.

Game 1 was easily within the Rangers grasp but, for those who have read the recaps, apparently were done in in part due to terrible umpiring. A clear out at second that was ruled safe by the umpire allowed one inning to last a little longer, leading to a three-run homer by the Twins. Then, in the 9th, a ball that should have been ruled foul was ruled fair, resulting in a lead-off double and led to the Twins walk-off win in the 9th. To be sure, as Michael Young stated after the game, you can’t blame a loss on anyone but the players and the Rangers didn’t do enough to win. Still, it was a bitter loss to take, especially as it left the Rangers at 0-8 at Target Field.

Friday’s game ended the schneid, as the Rangers pounded the Twins into submission, 9-3. CJ Wilson pitched brilliantly, going seven strong innings despite only one K on the night for Texas and a 7-run second inning quickly left little doubt as to the final outcome of the game.

After that, the lights went out. Texas managed a mere two runs on 7 hits… IN TWO GAMES!!! Even worse, Colby Lewis was torched for the second consecutive outing in Saturday night’s game, giving up 6 runs on 7 hits while getting only 4 outs, ballooning his ERA up to 4.97. I don’t know what to make of Colby-san these days. He’s either great or he sucks, with very little in between.

Sunday Matt Harrison was hoping he wasn’t about to have his second consecutive bad outing. Harry’s had some kidney stone problems that still haven’t gone away, but he acquitted himself nicely on Sunday. After giving up a run in the first while battling command problems, Harry settled down and threw zero after zero against the Twins until the 7th, when a line drive off the pitching arm prematurely ended his day. Mark Lowe came on an stunk up the joint. By the time the 7th came to an end, a 1-0 Twins lead had become 6-0. The box score will say all the runs were unearned because of an error by Elvis Andrus, but I don’t see how that could have been called an error, as far in the hole as Andrus had to go to get to the ball.

Meanwhile, the Rangers went down in order in the 1st…and the 2nd…and the 3rd…and the 4th…and the 5th…and the 6th. Yes, Francisco Liriano was tossing a perfecto through 6 against what is supposed to be one of the best offenses in the AL. Liriano had tossed a no-hitter earlier in the year, albeit one with six walks. Sunday, he looked unstoppable. There are days when a pitcher does well when you don’t think he should (more on this below) but this was not one of them. Give Liriano all the credit. That was probably the best game pitched against the Rangers all season. The perfecto finally escaped Liriano in the 7th, when Elvis Andrus reached on an error by 3rd baseman Luke Hughes, but the no-hitter was still intact after 7.

Problem was, the Twins took a half hour to get through the bottom of the 7th. When Liriano came out in the 8th, you could tell some of his command had left him. Adrian Beltre led off the 8th with a no-doubt single on a 3-2 pitch and would eventually score on the Rangers’ only other hit of the day, a Yorvit Torrealba single. Kudos to Liriano. Your win was well-deserved.

Can’t say I felt the same about the Twins Saturday win. Obviously, Minnesota deserved to win after torching Lewis, but the Rangers offense was held in check by Scott Baker, who pitched a complete game 5-hitter. Now I don’t mean to disparage Baker, but his game was what I referred to earlier, a good game that should not have been. His pitches didn’t look that sneaky, his command not that sharp, yet he managed to go through four perfect innings to start the game himself before Texas finally broke through. Like Liriano on Sunday, Baker did have some help with some exceptional defense, in particular a diving full-out catch by center fielder Ben Revere that robbed David Murphy of a sure double.

Still, despite losing three of four to the Twins, the rest of the AL West didn’t fare much better. The Mariners finally won on Sunday to gain a game to pull within a game and a half of the lead. The A’s changed managers and still lost three of four themselves and the Angels only gained a half game, thanks to being off on  Thursday.

After such a long recap of the weekend, here’s the stuff I really like when I watch the games- learning trivial tidbits like:

    1) Thursday’s 5-4 loss was the first time the Rangers have EVER lost a game in which both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz homered.

   2)  I didn’t catch whether it was a team record or just passing someone on the list, but Scott Baker now has more strikeouts than former Twin Kevin Tapani. I find this interesting only because I love being reminded of a player I had long since forgotten and Kevin Tapani is one of those players.

Off day Monday, except for Josh Hamilton, who has an appearance scheduled on David Letterman Monday night. Then it’s three games on the road against the Yankees- the last trip into Yankee Stadium in 2011, unless they meet in the playoffs again.

As for me, I’ll use the off day to make my All-Star Game picks for 2011. They probably won’t look anything like the likely starters.

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