August 2011

Welcome Back!

Yesterday the rumor mills were ablaze with possibilities of Lance Berkman joining the Rangers.

Didn’t happen.

24 hours later, two deals DID happen, all to provide the Texas Rangers with insurance as we head closer and closer to the post-season.

 

Matt Treanor at Rangers Fan Fest January 2011

Texas re-acquired Matt Treanor from the Kansas City Royals, apparently in a straight cash transaction. Treanor was a key member of the 2010 AL Champions who filled in valiantly when Jarrod Saltalamacchia fell out of favor with the organization and Taylor Teagarden struck out more than he put wood on the ball. Treanor was the Rangers’ regular catcher until the acquisition of Bengie Molina. Treanor’s a grinder who gets the utmost from his talent, which is major league minimal, but he’s a great influence in the clubhouse, he’ll work a pitcher for long at-bats and is familiar with the pitching staff. Treanor probably will sniff a Rangers post-season roster only if Mike Napoli or Yorvit Torrealba suffer a late-season injury. Meanwhile, he’ll be able to provide them with the occasional rest day down the stretch.

Acquisition #2 is Orioles southpaw relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez. Again, this is just an insurance policy for the most part. Gonzalez will serve as a left-handed specialist for the next month. He will only make the post-season roster if A) Darren Oliver gets hurt; or B) if the team they’re facing in the playoffs is particularly vulnerable against lefthanders. Otherwise, maybe he’ll make Koji Uehara feel more comfortable being a Ranger, since they were teammates just a month ago. Gonzalez was acquired for the very popular Player To Be Named Later.

Two deals giving the Rangers for post-season options. Now all they have to do is make it to the post-season.

Riding The Scooter: Rangers 2, Rays 0

 

Scott Feldman

Two years ago, Scott Feldman had to be on top of the world. With a devastating cutter, Scooter was the Alexi Ogando of 2009, slated as a bullpen piece but pushed into the starting rotation due to injury. If I’m not mistaken, I believe he replaced Matt Harrison at the time. He never relinquished control of the rotation and ended up leading the Rangers with 17 wins, procuring for himself a hefty raise in the process.

To mark the achievement, Scooter was given the honor of being the Rangers’ Opening Day starter. He began the season much as 2009, with a number of workmanlike performances. Nothing outstanding, but nothing horrible. After just a few starts, however, horrible started rearing its ugly head. Feldman’s cutter stopped cutting. Instead of weak ground balls, he was giving up solid line drives. The ERA continued to balloon.

By the time the magical season of 2010 was over, Feldman (along with #2 starter Rich Harden) were but a memory for Rangers fans. Feldman ended up on the DL, never came close to sniffing a post-season roster position and underwent microfracture surgery on one of his knees in November.

Going into 2011, Feldman was being counted on for…nothing. At best he was a longshot to be the Rangers’ long man in the bullpen out of Spring Training. Even that was doubtful due to his recovery from the surgery. Scooter began 2011 on the DL. When he finally began rehab starts in AAA Round Rock, it was doubtful he would even see Rangers Ballpark in Arlington during the season, unless he decided to watch a game in the stands.

When his rehab time had run out and the Rangers had to make a decision, they asked Scooter to allow himself to be removed from the 40-man roster and remain in Round Rock. Having the right to refuse, Feldman exercised his right. As a result, Darren O’Day was sent to Round Rock and Feldman returned to the Rangers, strictly as the long man in the bullpen.

Feldman didn’t even appear in a game for the Rangers for almost two weeks after his return. What few appearances he did make, however, were fairly solid, certainly a lot better than most of the performances of his predecessor, Dave Bush.

When Matt Harrison began to falter his last couple times out and complained of tired legs, Feldman was awarded a one time only spot start (only the 3rd needed by the Rangers all season long), replacing Harrison last night to face the Tampa Bay Rays.

Feldman had arguably one of the best pitching performances of his career, going six shutout innings, allowing no runs on a measly two hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Rangers fans saw that devastating cutter cutting once again. Scooter’s groundout to fly out ratio was 13-0! Neftali Feliz had a rough 9th inning, loading the bases before getting the last out to preserve the shutout.

The first game featuring no Nelson Cruz or Adrian Beltre in the line-up was not good for the rangers offense, but a Josh Hamilton solo homer turned out to be all the offense that was needed for Texas to maintain their 3 1/2 game lead over the Angels.

Last night was supposed to be a one time only start for Scott Feldman. I predict six days from now, when the Rangers visit the Rays in Tampa, Feldman will again get a start, this time in place of Alexi Ogando.

Speculation Running Rampant

Boy is the Twitterverse ever burning up this morning.

Not even lunchtime and already speculation that 1) Mark Hamburger is being called up from AAA Round Rock; 2) CF Leonys Martin is being recalled from AAA Round Rock; and 3) Lance Berkman might be traded to the Rangers, maybe in exchange for the aforementioned 1) Mark Hamburger.

Of course none of this is confirmed. Zip, zilch, nada. All of it could be true or none of it could be true.
Here’s what’s definitely true: There will be no Rangers game tonight.

Halo Goodbye: Rangers Take 2 of 3 From Angels

The most beautiful hit of the weekend to me wasn’t any of the hits that led to Nelson Cruz‘ 6 RBI night Friday. It wasn’t the David Murphy grand salami Friday. Or the home runs by Yorvit Torrealba or Josh Hamilton on Sunday. No, much like I’ve always loved the runt of the litter, the most beautiful hit of the weekend was a bad bunt.

In the 7th inning of a 5-5 game, Elvis Andrus decided to sacrifice Ian Kinsler to second to put the go-ahead run into scoring position. Andrus got underneath the ball, popping the bunt in the air. Miraculously, the bunt went just far enough to elude three Angels hoping to catch it for the first out, landed on the infield and, with a nice little piece of backspin, died hugging the first base line. Fair ball. Base hit. End of the night for Jered Weaver. Three more runs would come around to score before the 7th ended and the Rangers won the rubber game of the three game set 8-5, extending their AL West lead to three games with 37 to go.

It was a badly needed win and an improbable one, considering the Halos had staked their ace to a 4-1 lead with runs in each of the first three innings against Colby Lewis. A 3-run lead for Weaver usually means a W in the book for Anaheim. This time, pitching on only three days rest for the first time in his career, Weaver couldn’t hold it, giving up three runs in the 3rd to tie the game at four.

The Angels came back to make it 5-4 in their favor, where it remained until the fateful 7th inning. What was weird was how everything changed in the span of four pitches. The first pitch of the inning was a David Murphy double down the first base line. The second pitch a line single up the middle by Ian Kinsler. The inning’s third pitch was the aforementioned Andrus bunt single, ending Weaver’s night. And Scott Downs’ first pitch to Josh Hamilton made it to the outfield for a single, plating Kinsler with the go-ahead and, as it turned out, winning run.

The game was not without its setbacks. Nelson Cruz, Friday’s star, aggravated a hamstring in the 7th inning rally legging out a double and could be lost to the DL for awhile. Cruz had three DL trips in 2010 and one already in 2011 due to hamstring problems. Fortunately, Adrian Beltre starts a rehab assignment today and could return to the Texas line-up on Thursday.

The middle game of the set was easily CJ Wilson‘s worst pitching performance of the year and perhaps his career. Wilson gave up a career high five home runs as the Angels took the 8-4 decision. Only three days rest didn’t bother Angels starter Ervin Santana, four allowed just four hits, albeit in giving up four runs.

Game 1 was all Rangers, as Derek Holland pitched well and Dan Haren didn’t. Cruz, demoted to the 7 hole in the line-up, came through with 6 RBI and Murphy’s grand slam chased Haren as Texas bashed their way to an 11-1 lead before LA made it look more interesting with 6 runs in the last two innings.

Despite putting one more game of space between themselves and the 2nd place Angels, the next ten games are still a key to securing a playoff spot: three at home against the resurgent Rays, followed by three in Fenway Park against the Red Sox and another three at the Trop in Tampa. Off day today to get some much-needed rest before the Tampa series.

Still not optimistic about a return to the World Series, but feeling a little better about the chances of being in the playoffs again.

Time For Drastic Action: Red Sox 6, Rangers 0

For those expecting a diatribe of all the things the Rangers’ front office needs to do to right the ship before it sinks in the AL West, this is not the article.

No, short and sweet, this is the drastic action that needs to occur. Your humble scribe is going to make no attempt to watch or listen to the first two games of the weekend series with the 2nd place Angels. No attempt whatsoever. No TV, no radio, no bringing up Gametracker on MLB.com or any other sports website while the game is being played.

There’s a method to this here madness. When the wife and I went on a week and a half vacation in early July, ignoring games on a daily basis, the Rangers went and ripped off a 13-game winning streak, most of it not even remotely witnessed by yours truly.

The last winning streak, a mere two weeks ago, largely occurred on a West Coast road trip, thus I could only watch part of the games before having to get my beauty rest.

In other words, Texas seems to do better without me watching every breath they take, every move they make, every vow they break and every step they take.

This new attitude o’ mine started last night, the second the Red Sox extended their lead to 6-0 in the third consecutive wretched pitching performance from a Rangers starter, in this case Alexi Ogando. Now, the Rangers didn’t come back to win the game after I turned off the TV in disgust. At the same time, the score never got worse after I had finally had enough punishment for three days. It remained 6-0 to the very end.

So I figure if I don’t pay them no never mind, maybe they’ll win the next two. At least one win is essential this weekend. Lose all three and the team will suddenly find themselves in second place with six games against Tampa Bay and three more with the Red Sox coming up next and six of those nine on the road. Not a good position to be in.

Please guys. Win without me. You’ve done it before. This weekend it’s time to do it again!

The Days The Music, The Oriole & The Rangers Died

What the hell is going on?

First I read that Jerry Leiber died- the writer behind such songs as “Hound Dog”, “Kansas City”, “Yakety Yak” and “Love Potion #9″, a veritable treasure trove of 50’s and 60’s hits.

The same day came word that Nick Ashford had passed away, one of the prolific songwriters from the mid-60’s to the 80’s, whose hits included “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, “I’m Every Woman” and “Solid”.

Two days later comes word of the apparently self-inflicted death of former Baltimore Orioles left-hander Mike Flanagan, a pitcher I saw many a time at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium during my college years. Flanagan was a worthy successor to the Orioles pitching-rich history of the late 60’s and 70’s, picking up the mantel from the likes of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar. Flanagan had one of the best breaking balls in baseball during his prime.

All of these bits of bad news sandwiched around the worst run the Texas Rangers have been on all season as they’ve now lost successive games to the Boston Red Sox by counts of 11-5 and 13-2. One week ago today, the Rangers were within three outs of a 4-game sweep and an 8 game lead on the Angels. A walk-off homer by LA made it a 6-game lead instead and now, a mere seven days later, Texas finds themselves only 2 1/2 games up on the Halos, who have won another five games in a row since their dramatic comeback in the series finale with the Rangers.

Tuesday’s loss hurt, as the Rangers were facing John Lackey, who has pitched worse against the Rangers than any team he’s faced in his career and even worse when it’s been in Arlington. I saw Lackey in person in the 2nd game of the season, one which saw Texas whack five home runs en route to a 12-5 win. This time, again Lackey wasn’t great, but Colby Lewis was terrible. Lewis is starting to resemble Derek Holland. They both have had great versions and horrible versions with very few average performances in between. The Bosox scored two runs in each of the first three innings and never looked back.

Wednesday was more of the same. This time Boston jumped on Matt Harrison for a 4 spot in the first and Josh Beckett was well on his way to his 11th win. Darren O’Day was called up from AAA Round Rock to help spell the bullpen and had a truly odd line score: 2 innings, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts and 2 home runs resulting in four runs.

Now it’s up to Alexi Ogando to stop the bleeding in the series finale. He won’t be opposed by Tim Wakefield looking for career win #200. Why? Because as bad as Lackey has performed in his career against the Rangers, Wakefield has been even worse. Nelson Cruz, in particular, has a great line against Wakefield: 6 for 6 with two doubles and two home runs.

The Angels have tonight off so the lead at the end of the night will be either two games or three with the Angels coming to town for a three-game set starting tomorrow.

Much as we’d love to, we can’t bring back Jerry Leiber, Nick Ashford or Mike Flanagan. It would be nice, though, to see the Rangers pitching come back to life. Preferably tonight against the Red Sox.

4-0 vs. Bosox after 4-0 Win

Immediate reactions following Monday’s 4-0 Texas Rangers win over the Red Sox:

1) Look for Ian Kinsler‘s game-ending play to throw out speedy Carl Crawford at first. One of the best plays of the season. Gold.

2) When he was first acquired, I thought of Mike Napoli as strictly a platoon player. Boy, am I happy to admit I was wrong.

3) The Uehara-Adams combo worked like it was supposed to for one of the first times since their acquisition.

4) Koji Uehara could throw two pitches in the time it takes Eric Bedard to throw one.

5) CJ Wilson is going to become a very rich man this off-season and I sure hope it’s the Rangers that make him so.

The lead is up to 4 1/2.

Wasted Days & Wasted Nights: Rangers Drop 2 of 3 To Chisox

You can understand the reasons something is done, you can even agree with the reasons something is done and yet, at the same time, you can be incredibly disappointed by the results stemming from those reasons.

Such was the weekend of the Texas Rangers, finishing up their 10-game road trip with three in Chicago against the White Sox. After overcoming an early deficit to take Game 1 on Friday, the team looked listless on Saturday in dropping a 3-2 decision and downright comatose in getting blown out in the finale by a 10-0 count.

It was understandable what Ron Washington was doing with his line-up on Saturday and Sunday. I even agree this was the time to do it. Yet when combined with the Angels sweep of the Orioles, the results of the decision were downright disheartening and threatening to once again make the AL West a real race to the finish.

The line-up decision? With an upcoming home stand against the Red Sox, Angels and Rays, Wash decided the weekend series in Chicago would be an excellent time to give some of his regulars a day off. Thus, Elvis Andrus, Endy Chavez and Yorvit Torrealba were given Saturday’s game off, while Josh Hamilton was given the Sunday day game off.

It makes sense. This is a big home stand coming up, every game against a potential playoff team. It was a perfect time to rest a few regulars. In fact, it might not have been a bad idea to give Ian Kinsler, Michael Young or Nelson Cruz a day off as well.

The losses Saturday and Sunday were understandable in that context. You’ve got a combination of a not optimal line-up with the possible mental letdown following the big four-game set earlier in the week against the Angels. Knowing that still doesn’t negate the uneasiness that comes from seeing your closest rival sweep their opposition at the same time, trimming a comfortable six-game lead to a mere four.

Here’s how the next week and a half shakes out. While the Rangers play the Red Sox in a four game set, the Angels get the White Sox at home. Advantage Angels. The two top teams in the West will then square off against each other for a three game set in Arlington. Slight advantage Rangers. Texas closes out the home stand with three against the Rays while the Angels travel to Seattle. Advantage Angels.

This is a crucial 10-game home stand, if only because the Angels schedule over the same period is against easier competition. Going 5-5 on this home stand might normally be acceptable considering the opposition, but the Angels could easily go 6-2 over the same span and find themselves only two games behind. Go under 5-5, and the Rangers could conceivably find themselves in second place the next time they hit the road.

Let’s just say I sure hope that rest Wash gave some of his players this weekend pays off big starting tonight.

Myth Busting: The 100 RBI Guy

Michael Young, MVP Candidate?

Every so often, I hear, see or read discussions that prompt me to do just a little research. Recently, that discussion has centered around the idea that Michael Young could be an American League MVP candidate in 2011. To date, Young is second in the league in batting and is among the league leaders in hits, doubles and RBI’s.

Rangers fan that I am, I don’t see any chance of Young being the league MVP, although I would not discount a good showing in the vote, as Young is a very popular player. Still, with the likes of Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista having the types of years they’re having, as well as their importance to their respective team’s fortunes, I just don’t see it happening. I’d even be hard-pressed to automatically make Young my choice as MVP of his own team. Good as he’s been, I think my vote there might go to Mike Napoli, not only for what he’s done with his bat, but how he’s handled the pitching staff as a catcher.

A comment was made about Young, however, that got me thinking about what a good player Young is offensively. The comment was how Young doesn’t stand a chance to win the MVP because he doesn’t have the power numbers. It’s true, he doesn’t. At his current rate, Young projects to finish the regular season with just 13 home runs.

That got me to thinking: Why does that have to count against Young? I would put forth this proposition. A non-power hitter like Young should get extra credit for accomplishing what he does in terms of run production.

Young projects to finish the year with 108 RBI. Most people would agree that the 100 RBI mark is kind of a magic plateau and it’s one that’s usually reserved for power hitters. Going back over the past six years, we see this:

Year                Players w/100+RBI (AL)       Avg. # HR’s           Least # HR’s

2010                            12                                            32.2                 21

2009                            14                                            30.7                 15

2008                            12                                            28.5                 20

2007                            15                                            28.3                 16

2006                            20                                            34.3                 14

2005                            13                                            36.5                 23

The average AL player with over 100 RBI hits somewhere in the neighborhood of 30+ home runs. Yet Young could eclipse triple digits this year with only 13 long balls. It would also mark the second time he’s topped the century mark with less than 15 homers (Young was the player with only 14 in 2006).

Looking at it this way, doesn’t it make sense that it would be a lot harder for a hitter like Young to get to the 100 RBI mark? If so, why should lack of power numbers be a reason for him NOT to be an MVP candidate? Shouldn’t it actually be more of a reason to vote FOR him?

Again, I don’t think Young has a chance of winning. Defensively he’s weak and he’s mostly served as the Rangers’ DH, not a position MVP’s usually come from. Just don’t tell me he won’t win because of weak power numbers. It just doesn’t wash.

The Best Laid Plans: Angels 2, Rangers 1

One year ago, Colby Lewis was the Texas Rangers hard-luck starter. It seemed whenever Lewis was involved in a pitchers duel, he would be the first one to crack in the latter innings and take home a loss in a low-scoring game. A year later, Lewis has found himself involved in two classic pitchers duels in his past two starts. Both times the other guy cracked first.

Last night it was Jered Weaver who gave up the first run, a monster center field shot to his former catcher, Mike Napoli. Lewis followed with a shutdown inning. Mark Lowe looked as filthy as he had all year, mowing down the Angels with two K’s in the 8th. Texas was three outs away from their first EVER  4-game road sweep of the Angels.

Ron Washington was pushing all the right buttons. With closer Neftali Feliz showing a bad propensity for pitching poorly when asked to close three nights in a row, Wash made the logical decision: let newly acquired Mike Adams assume the closers role in the 9th. The man with the lowest ERA and WHIP of all relievers in baseball was the perfect choice to close the game.

Except it didn’t work. Torii Hunter led off with a clean single. Then, on a full count pitch, an Adams cutter went up in the zone instead of the intended down. Rookie Mark Trumbo swung and the ball screamed down the left field line, hugging the inside of the foul pole for a two-run walkoff homer. Goodbye 4-game sweep. Goodbye 8-game lead.

The Angels declared themselves still alive in the AL West pennant chase. Still, despite the dramatic fashion of the win, it rings as a somewhat hollow declaration, seeing as how Texas still has a six-game lead in the division.

As quickly as the lead ballooned to seven, though, it can reverse just as quickly. The next two weeks of baseball give the Halos a prime chance to make up ground again. While the Rangers face the White Sox on the road, the Angels get the lowly Orioles at home. The White Sox face the Angels while Texas hosts the Red Sox. Then, after facing each other for three games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas draws Tampa Bay’s Rays at home while the Angels draw the Mariners. The schedule the next two weeks definitely favors the Angels.

There’s only one way for the Rangers to keep that from happening. Just keep winning.

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