May 2012

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

The perfect storm had finally arrived. There were no new shows on network TV to watch. The Spurs had played the night before. Nothing to keep me from watching my beloved Rangers. Just 45 minutes before game time, the phone rings. It’s the wife.

“Honey, I think I’m going to stay at the office for a little while and get a few things done.”

Jackpot.

“What’s on TV tonight?” She meant among the shows we watch together.

“Nothing,” I respond.

The voice on the other end of the phone brightened. “Then maybe you can bring me some dinner and keep me company while I get my work done!”

And just like that, a night of watching Texas Rangers baseball went down the tubes. Little did I know the misery that phone call saved me. It was bad enough to monitor my cell phone, listening to the audio feed, and hear the beat down the Mariners put on Derek Holland in the second inning. It was with beyond disgust that I finally disregarded said cell phone while the M’s were in the midst of their second consecutive 8-run inning. In the end, I couldn’t help but wonder what the outcome for me would have been had I stayed at home and watched the game on the TV.

My wife could have come home to find her husband dead on the sofa, two Boston Terriers licking his lifeless carcass, having suffered a heart attack over what he had just witnessed. Or even worse, a 50 inch TV with a broken screen.

So I thank you, my dear. You saved my life by getting some work done at the office.

There’s nothing one can take out of a beat down like that. The only thing I know for sure is there is an excellent likelihood Yoshinori Tateyama has thrown his last pitch in a Texas Rangers uniform. You can’t even qualify for the position of long relief when you only can last 2/3 of an inning in that role while giving up eight runs.

A game like last night puts the Roy Oswalt signing in a new perspective. Oswalt is slated to replace Neftali Feliz’ place in the rotation, currently being occupied by Scott Feldman, who I’m sure has now silidified his chance of returning to the long relief role when Oswalt arrives. But what do the Rangers do if Holland continues to regress from his breakout 2011? Dutch’s ERA went up a full run after last night’s 1.2 inning, 8-run performance. He’s gotten ripped in at least three of his starts thus far in 2012 and looked visibly shaken by the time he was removed from the game (or so it was described in the audio feed). In that context, the addition of Oswalt becomes more critical for this team.

I’m not here to make jokes about how this is what happens when Dutch shaves his infamous ‘stache, as he did yesterday morning. I’m not even going to compare the final score to a Cowboys-Seahawks game. I’m just going to move on, thank the Yankees for finally beating the Angels last night, enjoy the day off before Friday’s series opener in LA, and thank my wife again for saving my life last night. Or at least the TV’s life.

Oswalt Implications

It spread like a virus throughout the Twitterverse. Roy Oswalt signed today to pitch for the Texas Rangers.

As recently as the pre-season, I was firmly in the camp that was against signing Oswalt, feeling the Rangers had more than enough starting pitching to get them through the 2012 season. I still feel that way overall, but it sure is easy to see how one DL trip and a less than stellar start from his replacement can get the Oswalt fever going.

OK, the news Oswalt signed is indeed news. For a Rangers fan, it is news but it isn’t. Why? Because Oswalt says he’ll need about a month to be ready to go. So, on the one hand we have the “excitement” of signing this former All-Star pitcher, but on the other hand we won’t see him pitch until around the first of July. That’s like giving me a Christmas present and tell me I can’t play with it until Spring. Big whoop.

The real news of this signing is what the implications are with the signing. Does this mean Rangers brass is worried Neftali Feliz won’t be back until August or September at the earliest? Does it mean they’ve already decided to end the experiment of Feliz as a starter? Or could it mean Scott Feldman is going to be part of a trade package once Oswalt is ready to go? After all, if Feliz is ready to come back by the All-Star break, what roster move do the Rangers make when he’s ready to come back?

At the same time, how does signing Oswalt, for what is reported to be the $5 to $6 million range, affect the Rangers budget for acquiring players for the stretch run? The past two seasons have shown Texas isn’t afraid to make bold moves to get the pieces they need. They did so in 2010 with Cliff Lee, Jeff Francouer and Bengie Molina and they did it again last year with Mike Adams. Granted it’s hard to see the Rangers having any major needs come the trade deadline, but someone else could hit the DL at an inopportune time. With the front office already saying they were slightly over budget BEFORE signing Oswalt, this could be a serious consideration a couple of months from now.

On the other side of the coin, Texas has just taken away a valuable piece from a few teams with the Oswalt move. Roy Halladay is expected to miss six to eight weeks for the Phillies. Jered Weaver was pulled in the first inning of his start last night and could be missing some time. The Rangers have just kept those two teams’ best alternative from helping them.

I still think Scott Feldman could do a more than adequate job being the fifth starter, but it’s apparent the Rangers don’t think so. In the near term, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rangers move Feliz over to the 60-day DL to ensure he gets all the time he needs to get over his elbow ailment. In the meantime, prepare your trade scenarios, because I don’t see any way Scott Feldman is a part of this team come the post-season.

Week 8 In Review

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 4-2

Overall:30-18 (1st Place AL West) (+6.5)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Adrian Beltre .385/.370/.654  2 HR, 7 RBI

                                             Mitch Moreland .421/.476/.842 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI

Raspa Cold (Offense): Elvis Andrus .167/.286/.333

                                                           Mike Napoli .182/.308/.455 7 Strikeouts in 11 AB

Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Mike Adams 3 IP, 0 Hits, 5 Strikeouts

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Yu Darvish 1-1 7.00 ERA .306 BAA 2.22 WHIP 9 Walks in 9 Innings

The Boys Are Back

You’d think this was more than just the third sweep of the season, but it was. In fact, Sunday’s 12-6 win over the Jays was the Rangers first sweep since taking both games of a two-game set at Boston all the way back on April 18th. And that followed the only other sweep of the season at Minnesota. So this was the first home sweep of the season and it comes at an apropos time, as the Angels are looking at this writing like they’re about to run their own winning streak to six games.

Much as the sweep was sweet, it was the slumpbreakers who made it particularly sweet. A couple of names that haven’t been heard of a lot lately made their presence felt on Sunday. Mike Napoli in particular had been in a horrible slump. He’s been in my “Raspa Cold” column the past two weeks and was well on his way to a third consecutive showing in the weekly Hall of Shame until he finally came through today. Naps had been oh for his last ten with seven strikeouts when he finagled a walk off of Kyle Drabek his first time up. In the third, he finally broke the hitless streak with a single off Drabek. And Naps’ homerless streak, over a month in length, ended in the 8th when he connected off Jesse Chavez.

Also making a power appearance after a long absence was Ian Kinsler. Kins had a longer homerless streak than Napoli, going back 28 games to April 24th. That ended with a third inning blast off Drabek that made it a 9-1 Rangers lead.

Michael Young and Elvis Andrus both appear to be coming out of slumps as well. Andrus had two hits and two RBI Sunday , while Young went three for four and made a nifty inning ending double play at second base, where he filled in today while Kinsler served as DH.

What started as a crappy week, going 1-2 against the Mariners in Seattle, has ended up a pretty decent week, with the R’s going 4-2 and gaining ground on everyone in the West except the Angels.

The result? The Rangers hammered the Jays on a day where Josh Hamilton went 0-4. As much as Hamilton is one of the main cogs that make this team run, when the other parts are doing what they’re capable of, Josh doesn’t have to feel he needs to win every game by himself.

Not that there aren’t concerns. Yu Darvish had his second consecutive mediocre outing. So far, watching Darvish is an exercise in wanting lofty expectations to be reality immediately. If you haven’t seen Darvish pitch yet, here’s what you’ll find: Pitches with so much movement, you wonder how anyone can hit him. You’ll also see command issues that seem to come and go from start to start. And you’ll see a pitcher who takes his time on the mound. Don’t expect a short game when Darvish is on the mound. He’s hitting a rough patch right now, but again, just watching him game to game, you can tell he has the potential to be scary good, but he’s not there yet, even though he now sports a 7-2 record.

The bullpen also has been less than stellar lately. Alexi Ogando in particular has hit a little bit of a rough patch and Yoshi Tateyama, called up to replace Neftali Feliz when Feliz went on the DL last week, has not given much reason to stay in the Rangers plans long-term.

Still, a sweep is a sweep and all is happy in this little corner of Rangers World. For now. But I reserve the right to get irritated with my boys at a moment’s notice.

Two In A Row

Following the 13-inning thriller that was Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays, the Rangers did something they haven’t done in 15 days- won two games in a row. If they win tomorrow, it will be their first winning streak since April 21st, over a month ago.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, here come the Angels.

The Los Angelenos who no longer wish to be associated with the city of Anaheim in name have now won five in a row, Albert Pujols is hitting again, and they’ve now leaped into second place in the West. Yes, they’re still a sub-.500 team. Yes, the gap is still 6 1/2 games. But the Angels hot streak puts into perspective the chance the Rangers squandered over the past couple of weeks playing, in essence, treading water baseball. Just two more wins over the past two weeks and we’d be talking about an 8 1/2 game lead.

What it boils down to is, these last two wins have been nice, but my boys still have to keep their feet on the gas and take no prisoners else they find themselves in more of a dogfight a month from now.

That being said, today’s win was sweet, if only because it had the makings of a heartbreaking loss for the longest time. After getting out to a 2-0 lead, the Blue Jays scored four times in the top of the 6th to take the lead. Uh oh, I said. Here we go again. I’ve seen too much of this over the past few weeks.

Then the Rangers came back in the bottom of the 6th. Big time. Back to back to back home runs with two outs from the bottom third of the batting order: Nelson Cruz, Yorvit Torrealba and Mitch Moreland. All of a sudden it was 5-4 Rangers.

The Jays would tie it in the 7th and there it remained stuck until the 13th. In that time, the Rangers twice had the bases loaded and could not score. For five consecutive innings, they got the lead-off batter on and could not score. It was disheartening. When the Jays finally broke through with two runs in the top of the 13th, I was resigned to another loss. And angry too. Here Texas was playing a team who already had a tired bullpen, having sent Brandon Morrow to the showers in the first inning Friday night, and they couldn’t take advantage in an extra inning game. It was not quite as disgusting as Wednesday’s pitiful performance against Kevin Millwood on Wednesday, but it was close.

Then a miracle. Bottom of the 13th, trailing 7-5, Ian Kinsler led off with a walk. Elvis Andrus, who had three sacrifice bunts on the day, this time was allowed to swing away and he did to the tune of a double that plated Kinsler and brought Josh Hamilton to the plate. Hambone ended the game with his third career walk-off homer and Texas had an 8-7 win.

After the game, Hamilton would be given oxygen and an IV to treat dehydration, making him iffy for the afternoon game on Sunday.

Friday night’s game was a laugher all the way. Kinsler started the game off right by working a 13-pitch walk out of Brandon Morrow. Kinsler was also the last batter Morrow faced. Unfortunately for him, it was the second time he’d faced him in the first. After 40+ pitches, Morrow was pulled and there was still an out to go in the first, with the Rangers up 6-0. By the time it was all over, Nelson Cruz became the second Ranger with 8 RBI’s in a game this season and Texas had a 14-3 win.

For the first time in over a month, the Rangers have a chance at a sweep this weekend with Yu Darvish getting the ball for the finale. Thanks to today, I’m starting to believe in the magic again.

Making A Deal With The Devil

Kevin Millwood? Are you freaking kidding me?

OK, 3 years ago I’d understand it. Millwood was in his last year with the Rangers and managed to come back after two consecutive years with a 5+ ERA to earn a 13-10 record with a 3.67. THAT Kevin Millwood I can understand.

The Kevin Millwood of the following year, the one the Rangers sent packing to the Baltimore Orioles, blew up to a 4-16 mark with a 5.10 ERA, more in line with what he had done in 2007 and 2008. That Kevin Millwood led the American League in losses. He became the Kevin Millwood of 2011, the one who signed with the Yankees in March, never pitched above AAA and was released in May. That Kevin Millwood then signed with the Red Sox two weeks later, only to be released again in August without appearing for one game in a Red Sox major league uniform. Then that Kevin Millwood became the one who signed two days later with the Rockies, who actually saw fit to put him in a major league uniform, where he managed to go 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA the rest of the way.

So how did the unloved, unwanted Kevin Millwood of 2010 and 2011 become the Kevin Millwood who now has two consecutive starts allowing no runs, the most recent to the Rangers on getaway day in Seattle?

Here’s my take. Sometime between August 6th, 2011, when the Red Sox released him, and August 8th, when the Rockies signed him, Millwood met the great Satan. Oh, he may not have known that’s who he was. He may have introduced himself to Millwood in a bar somewhere as Bill Zebub, a salesman of athletic products. Millwood asked him what he was selling and Zebub said “What do you want?” Kevin naturally said, “I want to be a major league pitcher again. No, scratch that. I want to be a SUCCESSFUL major league pitcher again.” Zebub listened like any good salesperson does and said, “I think I can help you.” Millwood said, “How much will it cost me?” Zebub replied, “Nothing. Yet.” An offer he couldn’t refuse.

How else to explain the Kevin Millwood of 2012? The man has a 0.41 ERA over his last three starts. He allowed my Rangers 3 hits over six innings. Three freaking hits. Off Kevin Millwood. You hear what I’m telling you, right?

Look, it’s been a long stretch for the Rangers. 20 games in 20 days, including one doubleheader due to a rainout. I get it. The Rangers are a little tired. But this is ridiculous. They had four hits last night and somehow managed to win. Then they follow it up with three hits off Kevin Millwood in six innings. Am I bitter? You bet. Right now, this team couldn’t beat the Padres’ or the Twins’ #5 starter and the three runs they scored in the 8th to make the game look closer than it actually was doesn’t change that.

Nelson Cruz looks pathetic at the plate. They’re taking less walks. They’re striking out more. And the walks the pitching staff is giving up? Every single one seems to come back and haunt them lately. I’m finding it hard to believe in the last eleven games there hasn’t been a losing streak of more than two games. Of course, there hasn’t even been more than one win in a row in that span either.

This team is riding on the laurels of their first three weeks of the season. I sure hope the day off tomorrow does them some good. Most of the losses lately I’ve been able to deal with. Every starting pitcher can have an off day. Every batter can have a slump. But come on. Kevin Freaking Millwood?

Yeah. I’m disgusted by this one. I hope the team is too.

What Just Happened?

Life has been tough for Matt Harrison since he started the season 3-0.

On April 21st, Harrison was 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and a .212 Batting Average Against.

In the five starts after that, the line was plenty ugly: a 1-3 record, 40 hits in 26 2/3 innings pitched, an 8.10 ERA, .348 Batting Average Against and a  1.84 WHIP.

In that time, it was reported pitching coach Mike Maddux had pointed out a flaw in his delivery. Harrison addressed it somewhat in the one win he had in that span, but the following start, he looked lost again and even appeared to be fiddling with his mechanics from one pitch to the next.

So it was that when Harry took the ball last night and proceeded to throw a 35-pitch first inning in which he was lucky to have only given up one run, I was ready for yet another in what was now becoming a long line of bad Matt Harrison starts. After 34 pitches, Maddux came out to have a talk with Harry, who had just issued his second walk of the inning to load the bases.

I don’t know what Maddux said to Harrison on that trip to the mound, but all of a sudden something snapped into place. Harry retired the next batter on one pitch to mercifully end the first inning. Then he followed with an 8-pitch second inning. A 9-pitch third inning. An 8-pitch fourth inning. 34 pitches to get through the first 2/3 of an inning, then 26 pitches to get through the next 3 1/3. By the time all was said and done, Harrison had managed to go 7+ innings and 114 pitches. Can’t say I saw that coming.

Meanwhile, the beloved offense continues to struggle. Thanks to two walks, a triple and a double in the third inning, Texas had its final margin of victory in its 3-1 lead. Outside of the 3rd, Texas only managed two hits in the other eight innings. As good as this offense can be when all cylinders are clicking, most of the cylinders appear to need new spark plugs lately. Over the last nine games, the Rangers have only hit .251 as a team while striking out over eight times per game. The only thing that hadn’t suffered lately, until last night, was the home run power. Last night’s homerless effort ended a Rangers record string of 15 consecutive games with at least one bomb.

A day game today ends a string of 20 games in 20 days, so all hands will be on deck for the pitching staff as Scott Feldman gets his first official start as a regular starter in 2012. In his two previous starts as a spot starter, Scooter has gone three innings and 4 2/3 innings. Now that he’s a regular, he needs to do better than that. The interesting part of this one is Scooter will be squaring off against Kevin Millwood, who was the Rangers #1 pitcher in 2009, the year Feldman was a 17-game winner for the Rangers. Millwood has only given up one run in his last 16 innings pitched and threw a shutout against the Rockies his last time out.

It’s been 11 days since the Rangers last won consecutive games. No wonder I’ve been feeling bipolar lately.

 

 

No Feliz, No Happy

It took almost two months of the season, but the Rangers finally had to make a roster move yesterday, placing Neftali Feliz on the 15-day DL with elbow discomfort.

Neftali Feliz, 5th Starter

Although it’s just the 15-day DL, Feliz is expected to be out until the All-Star break in July. He won’t even be allowed to throw for about six weeks, followed by the usual rehab assignment, so we won’t be seeing the former Rangers closer for a while.

Funny how things change so quickly in two days time. Just a couple of days ago, Ranger fandom scoffed when it was learned the front office brass had observed a Roy Oswalt workout session. Now the possibility of an Oswalt signing becomes something much more in the forefront.

In the near term, Scott Feldman will take Feliz’ spot in the rotation. If Feldman has success, the odds go down of an Oswalt signing. Just three years ago, Feldman was a 17-game winner for Texas and was the Opening Day starter in Texas’ first World Series run in 2010. It isn’t a stretch to say Feldman could be a solid solution to the Rangers #5 starter situation. In the meantime, Robbie Ross and recently recalled Yoshinori Tateyama will probably fill the middle relief role vacated by Feldman.

Now the problem becomes what happens if another starting pitcher goes down. Alexi Ogando, who was used as a starter last season, would be an option, but I think Texas prefers him in his 7th inning role right now. As for the farm, there really aren’t any options there. The top prospects, Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez, have not pitched well. Michael Kirkman, who has seen action with the Rangers on and off the past two seasons, also has not pitched well and is being treated for skin cancer as well.

All of a sudden Roy Oswalt is looking more attractive as an option.

The Second Time Around

First Time Around: 6 Wins. 1 Loss. 2.60 ERA. 52 Innings Pitched. 58 Strikeouts. 1.134 WHIP.

Yu Darvish has done well his first eight starts in the league. In each of his last six starts, he has given up fewer hits than innings pitched and has walked three batters or less in four of his last five starts. He has struck out ten or more batters in two of his eight starts.

Still, the Daisake Matsuzaka comparisons continue. Now the question is, how will Darvish do once the league has seen him once? We begin to find out tonight.

For the next four starts, Darvish will be facing a team for the second time: the Mariners tonight, followed by starts against the Blue Jays, Angels and A’s.

The easiest prediction is tonight. I predict Yu Darvish will have a better start against the Mariners than he did the first time around. It’s an easy call because the Mariners were the first team to face Darvish this season and it was easily his worst start of the year: 5 runs, all earned in 5.2 innings of work, with eight hits and four walks. Darvish hasn’t given up more than four runs ever since.

Yu has had a game where he allowed only two hits to the Tigers, where he allowed no runs and struck out ten Yankees and allowed only four hits and a run to the Blue Jays.

But this is the second time around. And he draws Felix Hernandez as his opponent tonight. This is the first time the Rangers have seen King Felix in 2012. They were 4-0 against him in 2011.

I don’t know for certain how things will go for Yu now that he’ll be facing batters who will be making adjustments based on what they saw the first time. But I strongly suspect the league is going to find out that Darvish knows how to make adjustments too.

RIP Robin Gibb

Week 7 In Review

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 3-4

Overall: 26-16 (1st Place AL West)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Adrian Beltre .321/.333/.571 2 HR 5 RBI

                                             Craig Gentry .333/.412/.400

Raspa Cold (Offense): Mike Napoli .150/.227/.150 10 Strikeouts

Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Joe Nathan 4 IP, 6 K, 2 Saves 0.50 WHIP

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Derek Holland 0-1, 7.50 ERA, 3 HR

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