September 2011

#12: Rays 9, Rangers 0

Everything that is both frustrating and wonderful about the game of baseball was on display in Game 1 of the ALDS. Wonderful because you never know who’s going to come out and be a star in the playoffs, frustrating because for this Rangers fan, every single one of them were Rays in Game 1.

.176 hitting Kelly Shoppach? Two HR’s and 5 RBI’s. Of course.

Matt Joyce, .151 hitter vs. left-handed starters? A seeing eye RBI single off CJ Wilson in the 2nd. Natch.

And of course, there was Matt Moore.

A rookie making only his second start. It was stated in my last post that I was afraid this might be a stroke of genius by Rays manager Joe Maddon, and I really hate being so right. I didn’t have the stats in front of me, but that post mentioned the Rangers lack of success against unknown pitchers. It was even worse than I thought.

In 2011, the Rangers lost 11 times in the regular season to a rookie pitcher. That’s a whopping 16% of all their losses this year. Moore became #12, tossing 7 innings of two-hit ball against one of the best offenses in baseball.

The only two hits? Josh Hamilton, a .300 hitter who only hit .220 with one home run in day games this season. Figures.

CJ Wilson, who had never lost to the Rays had nothing, giving up eight runs in only five innings of work. What an unsurprising surprise.

So the offensively challenged team scored nine times. The slugging run machine got zip. Hey, more power to the Rays. They deserved it today and the Rangers deserved nothing. Tomorrow’s another day and Derek Holland gets the call to best James Shields, who has given the Rangers fits in 2011 (2-0, 17 innings, 1 run, 3 walks, 13 K’s).

Please, baseball gods. Let it still be Opposites Weekend at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Getting Ready For Game 1

Most mornings, my drive into work is spent listening to Jim Memelo and Rob Dibble on MLB Radio on XM. I enjoy their banter, how Memelo often backs down from a position as soon as Dibs makes a point and how Dibble himself really doesn’t remember things he said in previous shows when listeners call him out on it (and I do believe he doesn’t remember. The guy’s just trying to make good radio.)

Today was a good morning to listen to them. Memelo made a point I totally forgot about and it’s too late to take back now when he said Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays should be the AL Manager of the Year (and thank you, Rob, for putting in a plug for Ron Washington for the award). As soon as he said it, I realized how true it is that Maddon should be at least in the conversation, but I’ve already cast my BBA ballot for the Connie Mack Award and I can’t take it back. So, my apologies to Joe Maddon. I’ll make it up to you by saying nice things about you today.

Maddon announced yesterday he will start rookie Matt Moore in this afternoon’s opening ALDS game against the Rangers. Dibs and Memelo rightly pointed out it’s a bit of a travesty when MLB has rules concerning playoff rosters that can easily be broken. In this case, it’s the rule that players must be on the major league roster by August 31st to be eligible for post-season play. Under that rule, Moore doesn’t qualify. But he’s on the roster because an exception can be made due to an injury. The exception is in there with the thought of a key player going down at the last minute and how that would impact the team. Of course, clubs like the Rays have decided to take advantage of this by instead putting a non-key player on the DL to make it happen for Moore.

Guess what? I don’t blame them one bit for doing it. Unless the exception rule is spelled out differently, take advantage of it. That’s what the Rays have done.

This could blow up on the Rays. After all, it isn’t every day a rookie making only his second big league start finds said start to be Game 1 of the ALDS. That’s a lot of pressure. Maddon, though, has a reputation for thinking outside the box. Memelo and Dibble think it’s a horrible idea for Moore to be starting. Rangers fan that I am, I have to say I’m worried Maddon will come out of this looking like a genius. I pray he doesn’t, but I think I see his line of reasoning.

Just a couple days ago, I read an article in which a former pitcher, I think it might have been Curt Schilling, say one of the reasons the Braves didn’t have the post-season success everyone thought they would with that great pitching staff in the 90′s, was because power pitchers have better success in the post-season. Needless to say, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux weren’t classic power pitchers.

Moore is a power pitcher. At every step in the minors, he’s struck out more than a batter per inning. Even with just 9.1 innings of work in the big leagues, Moore already has 15 K’s working for him. Combine that with the Rangers having a reputation for not doing well the first time they’ve seen a pitcher in his career and you have a recipe for an upset to start the playoffs. By the way, I don’t have the hard and cold facts to be able to say definitively the Rangers struggle against such pitchers, but anecdotally, I do know I’ve seen several games in which unknown pitchers have given the Rangers fits.

If Joe pulls off the upset today, he then sends out James Shields in Game 2 and Shields has definitely done well against Texas this year, beating them twice in a one week span in August/September.

When these two teams met in the ALDS a year ago, the visiting team won every game for the first time in MLB post-season history. I sure as heck hope that doesn’t come true again in 2011.

As of this writing, we’re eight hours away from the first pitch. PLAY BALL!

The Willie Mays Award Ballot

The Rookie. Most players with that designation never amount to much. Some will eventually become utility players or middle relievers, playing for as many as ten different MLB clubs before all is said and done. One or two look to have outstanding careers ahead of them, only to see physical ailments sideline them entirely too soon. For some, it’s a cup of coffee in the majors before returning to a long, unmemorable career in the minors. For a select few, however, it marks the launch of a path to stardom.

Like baseball itself, rookie years are unpredictable. Some of the best rookies never came close to duplicating their first year numbers again. Some superstars had unimpressive first-year campaigns. Where this year’s rookies will end up in the course of a career is anybody’s guess. But here are my votes for the BBA Willie Mays Award for top AL Rookie.

On offense, the main candidates are Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals, JP Arencibia of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mark Trumbo of the LA Angels and the Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. Pitching candidates include Jordan Walden of the Angels, the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton of the Orioles, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda of the Mariners.

By process of elimination, I’m taking out Walden because, even though his ERA was good and he amassed 32 saves, he also blew ten saves, which is far too many in my book. I like Arencibia, who was a pain to Texas pitching this season, but he didn’t bat well against anyone else, ending up at .219. Ackley looks like he’s going to be a star in the AL, but he’s one of those guys who came up a little too late and, with only 90 games, just didn’t play enough to get my consideration.

Michael Pineda had a hot start but cooled off after the All-Star break and then had his innings limited as a precaution. Britton did well to go 11-11 for a last place Orioles team, but the 4.61 ERA kind of dooms him.

That leaves four candidates. Eric Hosmer looks like a future star for the Royals. He wasn’t with the big club from the start of the season, but played regularly once he got the call, appearing in 128 games while compiling a .293 average with 19 HR’s and 78 RBI’s. He had the highest average among rookies with 100+ games.

Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays is the only one of the three still in the post-season. He led all rookies in innings pitched and had the lowest ERA of all rookie starters at 2.95. He amassed 13 wins for the Rays with two complete games and one shutout.

Nova led all rookie pitchers with 16 wins for the Yankees. After a very shaky start and a mid-season demotion to the minors, Nova came back and pitched strong down the stretch, maybe even earning the right to be New York’s #2 starter in the playoffs. He was 3rd among AL rookies in innings pitched.

Mark Trumbo came out of nowhere and was a big reason for the Angels contending in the AL West in 2011. The Halos had been counting on a successful return of Kendrys Morales at first base and were startled when it was determined Morales would miss the entirety of 2011 due to complications from last year’s broken leg injury. Trumbo came in and solidified first base for the Angels, playing in all but 13 games in 2011. Trumbo hit .254 with a rookie class leading 29 longballs and 87 RBI’s.

Since I’m only supposed to vote for 3, I have to take someone off the final list. I’m afraid the loser here is Nova. I take him off only because he was demoted in mid-season, which is not something you would expect to see from someone considered THE top rookie of the year.

That leaves me with three names. My picks are:

1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays

2. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

3. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels

A New Record

True in two ways: The Rangers set a new team record for most wins in a season with their 96th in the 2011 finale. Also true is effective today, that record is 0-0 and all that counts now is getting to 11 wins before anyone else.

I’ve been wrong this season. A lot. Early in the year, I thought Houston would surprise a lot of people this year. Well, they surprised me with how truly awful they were. Most recently, I told my son, 18-Year-Ranger-Fan, that it was doubtful the R’s would set a single season win record, as it would require winning out on the road against the Angels. Wrong again (happily). Lastly, for over a week, my mindset has been on a first round match-up with the Yankees and, if not the Yankees, then the Red Sox. Guess again, genius. Instead we get a rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays, with the only difference being this time, the Rangers have home field advantage. Of course, last year the road team won every game of the series so that might not be a good thing.

What the Rangers have done in September offensively has been nothing short of incredible. Get ready for this eye-popper: In the month of September, the Rangers AS A TEAM has hit .320, with 49 home runs in 25 games for an OPS of .916. I believe it was reported in the game telecast that it has been the single best offensive month by a major league team since 1946.

And it hasn’t been just power. Only the Orioles and the Rays had more stolen bases in September than Texas as well. On the other side of the coin, Texas also led the AL in pitching in September with a 3.22 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 219 strikeouts in 221 innings. Only the Tigers had a better September record than the Rangers and that was only because they played one more game (20-6 vs. 19-6 for Texas).

Plain and simple, this team is on a roll. The Rangers ended the regular season with three players hitting 30 HR’s or more: Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and, with 4 HR’s in the last two games, Mike Napoli, who had a career year in 2011. Nelson Cruz came within two feet last night of being the 4th 30-HR batter in the Rangers line-up. Beltre and Michael Young both eclipsed the century mark in RBI’s, with Josh Hamilton in the 90′s and Cruz at 89. In the pitching department, all 5 Rangers starters ended the year with at least 13 wins. I haven’t checked, but I’d wager the Rangers had more starts from their starting five than any team in baseball. They were remarkably sturdy in 2011.

All that goes out the window starting tomorrow when the ALDS begins at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington at 4:07 PM CDT. Texas was 5-4 vs. the Rays in 2011, with three of the wins by shutout. CJ Wilson, who was 2-0 against Tampa this season, gets the ball in Game 1. The Rays haven’t determined who will face him, but it won’t be David Price, who pitched the finale last night against the Yankees. I’m willing to bet it’ll be James Shields, who has half of his team’s wins against the Rangers this year.

Ideally, the Rays and Red Sox would have had a one game playoff today, thus giving Texas an advantage with a better-rested bullpen. That was not to be. Still, I like the Rangers’ chances in this first round.

Day off today. Showtime tomorrow. Bring it on.

The Connie Mack Award Ballot

As we creep towards the Rangers’ first round match-up with either the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, it’s time to vote for post-season kudos. As a Baseball Bloggers Alliance member, I’m pleased to have a vote in such proceedings, even if they don’t carry the cache of the actual awards from the Baseball Writers Association. As I have an AL-centric blog, my voting only goes to the AL version of the awards. First up, the Connie Mack Award for the AL’s best manager.

Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for Ron Washington and I truly believe he deserved the award a year ago. But, like sometimes the Oscar goes to an actor who’s never won before as kind of a Lifetime Achievement Award (see Paul Newman for “The Color of Money”), so too did Washington lose out on the award a year ago to Ron Gardenhire, who should have been honored before he finally was.

A year later, Washington is again in the mix. Having followed this team from Spring Training on, I think Wash did a tremendous job being able to keep his stable of talent happy. Despite having too many starters for 9 positions, he used Michael Young as a super utility man and DH, which gave needed rest to Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland, helping the team get through the hot Texas summer and refreshed for the playoffs. Washington also had to cope with a bullpen that was expected to be a strong suit but faltered badly in the first half of the season. Yet through all that, Texas has been a first place team since mid-May and never relinquished the spot.

Still, even I can’t give Ron Washington the Connie Mack Award. There’s at least one manager ahead of him in 2011 performance.

Also in the mix are Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians. I suspect there were but a few, if any takers for the idea of the Indians contending for an AL Central crown, but the Tribe was the biggest surprise in the season’s first half before fading down the stretch. Acta deserves a lot of the credit for that. He’s brought along a young team and he’s teaching them how to win. Yes, they collapsed late in the season, but they’ve established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in 2012.

Then there’s Jim Leyland of the Tigers. Most expected the Tigers to be in the mix for the AL Central title, but the consensus was it would be the tightest race in the AL’s weakest division. Instead, the Tigers ran away with it with a late August/early September hot stretch that left everyone else in the dust. As of this writing, the Tigers and Rangers are in a battle for the #2 seed in the AL, when early season prognosticators would at best have given them the worst record of any playoff team, even worse than the Wild Card qualifier.

Last but not least, there’s Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees. It’s fashionable for fans of other teams to knock the Yankees as the Evil Empire and I certainly qualify as a Yankee hater. Let me qualify that: I hate the Yankees front office for winning through outspending everyone else (and yes, the Red Sox are coming close to equalling the Bronx Bombers in my eyes in that category). Results, though, are results. The fact is, what Joe Girardi has done in bringing the Yanks to the AL’s best record despite having one of the most threadbare of starting pitching staffs has been incredible. Yes, they have an ace in CC Sabathia, but AJ Burnett has been the same basket case he was a year ago, Phil Hughes has had a huge regression and the signings of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were originally meant to be insurance in case of other injuries. Turns out Colon and Garcia were insurance policies that paid off. Ivan Nova has made a late push to solidify the starting staff. In addition, Girardi has had to contend with A-Rod’s health, Steve Swisher’s first half slump and Jorge Posada’s weak hitting and hurt feelings when he was finally benched. All this in the glare of the NYC media spotlight.

So my votes for the AL Connie Mack Award go as follows:

1. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees

2. Ron Washington, Texas Rangers

3. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

Opinions On Every Subject

Since the Rangers have clinched the West and the last 3 games are on the left coast and past my bedtime, I’ll take the last few days before the playoffs to spout off, make awards picks and other miscellaneous stuff I’ve been meaning to get to but never did.

SUBJECT #1: MIKE SCIOSCIA’S RANT

Well, maybe not a rant, but I was amused with his remarks the other day concerning the end of the season. The Angels’ skipper was quoted as saying it was unfair, while his team was in a pennant race, to send his team on an East Coast road trip to face the Orioles and Blue Jays with just two weeks left in the season. Now, had he stopped there, I would have had no problem with it. The AL West has four teams and that makes sense. And even if they were to be sent on a road trip out of the division, at least make it against an AL Central team, so they don’t have as much jet lag to contend with.

But no, Mr. Mike didn’t let it end there. He then stated it was high time for the AL West to have 5 teams, just like the other two divisions in the American League. Um, Mike, do you mind if I call you Mike? Have you ever though about what would happen if the AL West had 5 teams? Seems to me that would mean at least one team in the division would always have to play a game outside their division every day in the last weeks of the season. In a pennant race. Which you stated just a minute before that you were against. And you’re considered a genius manager?

SUBJECT #2: EXPANDED PLAYOFFS

The talk is the next collective bargaining agreement will expand by one Wild Card team in each league, withe the two wild cards squaring off against each other in a one game playoff, winner goes to the LDS.

Look, I know it’s a money grab and part of me as a fan doesn’t like the idea. But I understand it and can even see some of the reasonings behind it. It’s a Win-Win for owners and players. First off, 50 more players will get extra coin in their pockets for making the playoffs. Then, think of the implications for the division winners. By having just a one game playoff, the winning Wild Card team moves on with a disadvantage because of the pitchers they had to use to get there. The Wild Card team has made it to the World Series a number of times and some think it demeans the work that went into winning a division. So this gives the division winners a little more advantage. I mentioned this to Holden Kushner and Jim Duquette on MLB Radio over the weekend and they disagreed, saying a one game playoff often features your third or fourth best pitcher starting so the ace is ready for Game one of the LDS. I disagree. That may be the case when two teams tie for the division title. But what if a team like this year’s Yankees had been one of the two wild cards with a one game sudden death playoff to determine who goes to the LDS. Do you think a team like the Yankees will start AJ Burnett or Bartolo Colon in a game like that? Nope, they’ll go with one of their top 2, giving them the disadvantage of a Wild Card team if the win and move on. This way, the odds become better for the best match-up in the World Series to occur, which then hopefully translates into better ratings and more money all around.  A best of three Wild Card Series won’t do that, as a team’s pitching staff has more time to recover.

SUBJECT #3: COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY

If I were Commissioner of Baseball for a day, I wouldn’t pick on the DH Rule or Pete Rose’s ban from baseball. No, I’d go for something new and different. How about a slight revision to the Save Rule?

As it is, the only pitcher who can earn a Save is the last pitcher of the game for the winning team. And yet, if a relief pitcher enters a 1-run game in the 6th and gives up the tying run, he’s charged with a blown save. Most of the time, this is a pitcher who never would qualify for a save under any circumstances, as he’s only considered a 6th inning guy.

Here’s my proposal: A pitcher other than the last pitcher of a game can be credited with a save IF: 1) he appeared in what would be a 9th inning save situation; and 2) his team goes on and maintains the lead or extends the lead that is never relinquished. This allows a guy who already can get credited with a blown save to actually earn a real save. Also, if the reliever goes in and shuts the door when his team is up by maybe a single run and then his team adds two runs to the lead, he gets credit for the save instead of the guy who has a three run cushion to work with in the 9th. And he earns a save if his team subsequently goes up by 4 runs or more, because he shut the opposition down when the lead was in jeopardy. If the early reliever shuts the door with his team up by 2 or 3 and another reliever comes in and coughs up a run, the early save rule would not be in effect. Any takers?

That’s enough for now. Post-season awards voting coming in the days ahead.

The Day After: Rangers 7, Mariners 3

So my last live Rangers game of the year comes the day after the clincher. I already had the thought in my head as I went to the finish of the 8-hour overall drive from the Rio Grande Valley to Arlington: “There are going to be a lot of scrubs in the game for the Rangers today.”

Sure enough, when I got to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington for the nationally televised game and stared up at the Jumbotron at the starting line-ups, there it was: No Josh Hamilton. No Adrian Beltre. Ian Kinsler? Day off. Elvis Andrus? The same. Also, no Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli or even Yorbit Torrealba. The only things that resembled the Rangers in the starting line-up were Michael Young, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. Every other position was filled with the likes of Andres Blanco, Esteban German and Leonys Martin. And this ragtag group of misfit Rangers were squaring off against defending Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Needless to say, a loss was fully expected.

Despite a 1-0 lead after two innings, the loss seemed even more inevitable when starting pitcher Alexi Ogando was pulled after two perfect innings of work. Time to put in the scrub pitchers too. Soon after, Scott Feldman gave up two runs in the top of the 4th, sending the Mariners to a 2-1 lead. I told my son, 18-Year-Ranger-Fan, sitting next to me, that a 2-1 lead could be enough for King Felix, considering the less than stellar line-up he was facing.

Except the ragamuffins tagged Hernandez. They had hardly any power, but they singled and errored the Seattle ace into submission. The aforementioned triumvirate of Blanco, German and Martin all had multiple hits and the Rangers scored 6 times in the bottom of the 4th and a line shot of Hernandez’ pitching arm ended his day after a mere 3 1/3 innings, with Texas tattooing him for 12 hits and all seven runs, five earned.

Feldman ended up getting the win for the Rangers, which was odd for this reason. Feldman pitched four innings, giving up 5 hits and all three Mariners runs. All the other Rangers pitchers: Ogando, Yoshinori Tateyama, Darren O’Day and Michael Kirkman not only didn’t allow any runs, they didn’t allow any hits. In fact, none of the four allowed any baserunners. The only “imperfect” Rangers pitcher was the one who got the win. Ain’t baseball a great game???

So my boys gave me a surprising win in my last visit to the ballpark in 2011. Better yet, they took a game lead over the Tigers for the #2 seed in the playoffs, which would mean a first round match-up with the Red Sox instead of the Yankees.

Only 4 games left in the regular season. If the Rangers win out (doubtful as that may be), they will set a franchise record for most wins in a regular season with 96. As it stands now, their 92 wins stands alone in 3rd place in the Rangers record books.

Last home game of the season tomorrow. Thanks, guys, for making sure I have a happy drive home tomorrow!

The Final Countdown: Rangers Win, Angels Lose

Driving up from the RGV, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. I had so wanted my Rangers game Saturday to be for all the marbles while I was in attendance. Sadly, the Angels couldn’t score more than a run for their ace, Jered Weaver, and the Rangers clinched two hours after their own game had already ended.

The countdown is over. The Rangers have won their second consecutive AL West crown! Sadly, I won’t see the clinching game in person, but the fact there will be post-season baseball again in Arlington in 2011 more than makes up for it!

The Final Countdown: Rangers, Angels Both Lose

The Rangers lost Thursday but so did the Angels, which brings your scribe to a mathematical dilemma. The Magic Number to clinch the West now stands at:

Two

Now, as a fan, naturally I would love to end the suspense Friday night. Let the Rangers win and the Angels lose and it’s all over. This, however, is something I cannot do for purely selfish reasons. For it turns out I have tickets to Saturday’s nationally televised game against the Mariners. In fact, I’ve had those tickets since the week before the 2011 season opened. And when one is making an eight hour trek to go to the game as I happen to be doing, it would sure be nice if the Magic Number stood at One going into play on Saturday.

 
So, if the Rangers are to win Friday night, I want the Angels to win as well. If the Rangers lose, I want the Angels to lose as well. Take just one off the Magic Number on Friday. For if the Rangers lose and the Angels win, keeping the Magic Number at 2, then Saturday’s game won’t decide the West, at least not until the Angels-A’s game later on that night. If the Rangers win and the Angels lose on Friday, it’s all over and I attend an anti-climactic game. But if, just if, the Rangers and Angels both win or both lose on Friday then the Magic Number is 1 going into Saturday and I could actually be in attendance for the clinching game.
 
Now that would be magic!
 

The Final Countdown (REM Edition): Rangers 3, A’s 2

On the day REM announced “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel  Fine” once again, becuase a number was shaved off the magic number with the Rangers’ come from behind 3-2 win over the A’s. Rangers fans are “Shiny Happy People” while in Anaheim, “Everybody Hurts”. Since the countdown began at ten, the Rangers have successfully gotten at least one step closer for seven consecutive days. No doubt about it, this diehard Texas Rangers fan is not “Losing My Religion”. In fact, I see the team as “Superman.” I will gladly “Stand” to cheer them on any day, since, as far as sports teams go they are “The One I Love.”

 

Three

 

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