June 2012

Life’s Been Good To Me So Far

Rangers 7, A’s 2.
Martin Perez’ first Major League win.
Blue Jays 11, Angels 2.
6 1/2 game lead.
7 consecutive series wins.
Day 1 of Hawaiian vacation.
Sometimes God brings you a perfect storm of beautiful.
Aloha.

Riding The Storm Out

The last two nights have not seen a lot of pretty baseball in Arlington, yet the Rangers won both games. On Wednesday, Texas thumped the Tigers 13-9 and Thursday, it was a nail-biting 7-6 win over the Oakland A’s.

These high-scoring affairs are, of course, more reminiscent of the Rangers teams of the first part of the millennium, except this team continues to win and maintain a 4 1/2 game lead over the Angels. And while these games aren’t what we’re used to seeing, I’m afraid it’s what Rangers fans will have to deal with, at least until the All-Star break.

With so many pitchers on the disabled list right now (Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Koji Uehara), the Rangers have been forced to put young pitchers into roles they’d prefer not to use them in. Rookie Robbie Ross is the example Ron Washington would like to follow all the time: start him out in low-pressure outings like blow-out wins or losses. When Ross showed he was capable there, Wash gave him a few face only one or two batters in a little bit higher leverage situation. Ross succeeded there as well. Now Ross is filling in as the 7th inning set-up man. He did the progression and it’s paid off.

Wash can’t afford to do that now. Three starters are on the shelf so Justin Grimm, who had never started above AA, has now been given two starts and could be the starter on Saturday as well. Michael Kirkman, who has some big-league experience but has been less than stellar the past two seasons, was forced into a long-relief role the other night. Rookie Tanner Scheppers has thrown some high-leverage innings his last two times out, despite having command problems, and rookie Martin Perez was called up just three days ago and found himself facing the Tigers Wednesday night.

Scheppers and Kirkman have performed a little better than expected in their increased pressure roles but still have average results at best. Perez had to be taken out after 2/3 of an inning as the Tigers shaved a five-run Rangers lead down to two runs. He also is being mentioned as the possible starter on Saturday against the A’s.

Most of the Rangers DL’d pitchers are expected back right after the All-Star break. Until then, some young unproven talent will be holding down the fort and the Rangers offense will be asked to score enough runs to make up for inevitable higher run totals being given up by the pitching staff.

When Putrid Play Is Acceptable

Editors Note: 19-Year-Ranger-Fan had the chance to attend last night’s game between the Rangers and the Tigers. He’s given me a day off to provide his first-eye view of the Rangers. 

The last game I went to was when Matt Harrison won a 1-0 game against the Diamondbacks in what was a great pitching matchup. At the time, the usual scribe of this blog said of the opposing pitcher sometimes you lose games you should have won.

 

Last night the Rangers had multiple defensive lapses (despite only 1 error showing up in the line) and Roy Oswalt gave up a career high number of hits…and still won.  The Rangers definitely owe a huge thanks to David Murphy who was 4-5 with 5 RBI’s off of 2 HR’s (if the Rangers face Fister in the playoffs Murphy, who has 4 HR’s against him, should bat cleanup).  They also owe a huge thanks to the Tigers’ defense, which was even more atrocious than the Rangers’.

 

There were a number of times in the game when it seemed that the Rangers were lollygagging around the infield (Dad’s note: Lollygagging? Now who’s dating himself?). A number of balls got out of the infield when players didn’t seem to make much of an effort to stop them.  Plus there was the botched run down of Prince Fielder resulting in a failure to turn a double play (Fielder was actually out, but the tag wasn’t in the umpire’s line of sight). 

 

The top of the 9th started off with an Ian Kinsler pop up NOT being caught for a double…despite 4 fielders being in the vicinity.  How it wasn’t ruled an error is beyond me, but he reached safely.  After that Andrus had an RBI bunt single.  But then to start the bottom of the 9th, Joe Nathan threw a rare wild pitch strike out that resulted in the baserunner being safe at first.  He shut it down the rest of the inning, but in a night of sloppy play that was the icing on the cake.

 

I will say I was happy to see a return to form of the offense scoring 13 runs on 16 hits, but I still want to seeHamilton, Young, andNapoli’s production come back (as well as Cruz). Even though it was an ugly win it was still a win.

My AL All-Star Game Selections

Here are my selections for this year’s American League All-Star Team:

Catcher: Mike Napoli is the leader here, but even though he’s one of “my” guys (a Ranger), the fact is there are other guys having a better year. My vote goes to Joe Mauer of the Twins in a close decision over AJ Pierzynski of the White Sox.

1st Base: Have you noticed there really hasn’t been that lights out first baseman in the AL this year? That makes it a close race. Prince Fielder of the Tigers may not be having the year we usually expect from Prince Fielder, but it’s enough for him to be my pick.

2nd Base: I love me some Ian Kinsler. Just not enough to give him my vote. It’s still Robinson Cano of the Yankees for me.

Shortstop: Here I will go with my guy. Elvis Andrus is having as good a season, offensively and defensively, as any shortstop in the league.

3rd Base: Josh Hamilton gets all the press for Texas, but Adrian Beltre is quietly having an MVP-caliber year. Beltre is my pick.

Left Field: He’s slumped horribly in June, but his April and May numbers can’t be denied. Josh Hamilton is the pick here.

Center Field: Yeah, he’s officially the enemy, but there’s no denying what this rookie has accomplished in a short time. The Angels’ Mike Trout deserves an All-Star nod.

Right Field: Jose Bautista has the homers and RBI’s, but I just can’t vote for someone hitting only .237. To me, the best right field combination of average and power is Josh Reddick of the Oakland A’s.

Designated Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion belongs on the All-Star team, but David Ortiz of the Red Sox is still having a better year.

Another One Bites The Dust

Last year, the Rangers made it through the entire season using only seven starting pitchers: CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and two starts each by Dave Bush and Scott Feldman.

This year looks like a Who’s Who. With today’s news that Colby Lewis is going on the 15-day DL with tendinitis, fully 60% of the starting five at season’s start are now on the shelf. Holland should be back right around the All-Star Break. No word on when Neftali Feliz is coming back yet. Feliz is on the 60-Day DL. His first replacement, Alexi Ogando, lasted three innings in his only start before going on the DL himself with a groin strain.

Texas lived the high life when it came to pitchers’ health last year. When you include the relief staff, the current Rangers pitching staff with Lewis gone is 42% comprised of players who weren’t with the Rangers at the start of the season: Roy Oswalt, Michael Kirkman, Tanner Scheppers, Justin Grimm and now rookie Martin Perez, one of the Rangers’ top prospects.

When you think about it, the Rangers’ 14-9 record in the month of June is pretty darn good, considering the state of flux in the pitching staff. Scott Feldman moves back in the starting rotation on Thursday in place of Lewis. After using Kirkman and Lowe for eight innings last night against the Tigers and Feldman no longer available for long relief, the pressure is on Yu Darvish tonight and Oswalt tomorrow to give Texas some quality innings.

Are The Rangers Really That Good?

Here’s a nasty little secret. The Rangers have the worst team in the history of teams with the best record in baseball.

At least you’d think so if you spent any regular time on Rangers message boards. Here’s another nasty little secret. As of today, I’m not totally convinced they’re wrong.

Here’s where looking at stats can sometimes get you in trouble. Those firmly in the “Nothing to worry about” camp will rightly point out the Rangers not only have the best record in baseball, they also have the biggest run differential in baseball as well. This would be true, but sometimes truth has a way of not looking so good if you look a little closer.

Currently Texas has a run differential of +95  and they stand a season high 17 games over .500. Look a little closer, though. In April, the Rangers outscored their opponents by 55 runs, or 2.39 runs per game. Certainly that was an aberration and could not be sustained throughout an entire season. Texas went 17-6 in that span. In May, the Rangers were 14-14. Despite the .500 record, they still outscored their opponents by 25 runs, or an average of .89 runs per game. That’s probably a little more in line, but still a little high considering the .500 record.

Now look at the month of June. The Rangers are doing fine at 14-8 for the month. Only now they’ve only outscored their opposition by 15 runs, or .68 runs per game. Conclusion? The Rangers offense has been sputtering and it’s been that way for awhile. It gets masked a bit by big offensive outbursts in one or two games here and there, but then they come back down to earth and are involved in a lot more low-scoring games than we’re used to seeing inArlington.

This weekend was a great example. The Rangers hosted the Colorado Rockies, whose pitching staff has the distinction of having the lowest ERA in all of baseball at 5.33. That’s not just because they pitch at Coors Field, either. On the road, the Rockies have a 4.69 ERA. They’re just not very good. The Rangers took two of three from the Rockies, but their run totals were just 4, 7 and 4. The seven runs were scored in the loss. Overall,Texas outscored Colorado by one run in the series. Prior to the Rockies series,Texas swept the lowly San Diego Padres. They scored seven runs in the second game, but only two and four runs in the first and third games.

In April, Josh Hamilton had a month for the ages and helped set the pace for the season. His May wasn’t nearly as good, but it was still exceptional enough to earn a second consecutive AL Player of the Month nod. Outside of Hamilton, though, most of the regulars have struggled to sustain good numbers over a period of time. Ian Kinsler is hitting a paltry .237 in June, Mike Napoli is at .246 for the month, Nelson Cruz is also at .246, while Michael Young checks in at .244 for the month. Cruz and Napoli are both streaky hitters, but even their hot streaks this season haven’t lasted as long as they usually do.

Nobody, though, has gone off the cliff as much as the two-time AL Player of the Month Josh Hamilton. This month, Hamilton is at .194, with 27 strikeouts in 72 AB’s. Those of us who watch the games on a regular basis can tell you Josh looks even worse than those numbers. While his hot start dictates pitchers won’t throw him a lot of strikes, there are some at bats now where Hamilton is swinging at pitches so far out of the strike zone he looks foolish, clueless and just plain bad.

Adrian Beltre is one of the few Rangers regulars to be having a good month of June. When it comes down to it, though, Texas is scoring runs as much from the spare pieces like Craig Gentry, David Murphy and Leonys Martin right now than they are with the big boys expected to get them deep into October once again.

The Rangers are winning more for their pitching these days than their hitting. If the offense doesn’t start performing to their capabilities soon, this team could be seen as one of the weaker teams in the playoffs, no matter what their won-loss record says.

Week 12 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: 5-1

Overall: 45-28 (1st Place AL West) (+5)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Adrian Beltre .500/.560/.850 2 HR 5 RBI   4BB                                                 Nelson Cruz .333/.440/.714  2 HR   8 RBI

Raspa Cold (Offense): Josh Hamilton .190/.261/.333   11 K in 21 AB

                                                               Ian Kinsler .200/.286/.240                                                                                      Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Matt Harrison 2-0 0.82 ERA                                                                                         

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Colby Lewis 0-1 15.75 ERA 12 Hits in 4 IP       

Rangers added a game in the standings on the Angels. This week: Home all week vs. Tigers and A’s. Angels on the road at Baltimore and Toronto. Another game gained would be nice, but this week might be a wash for both teams.

The Return of Roy O

It was a typical Friday night around the house. No Rangers TV game in the Rio Grande Valley, as Rangers games on Fridays are only available on Dallas area TV. I kept the radio down too. The wife and I just caught up on some shows recorded on the DVR, while I referred to the Smartphone on a regular basis to keep track of the game.

I wasn’t expecting much from Roy Oswalt in his first game in a Rangers uniform. In his four minor league starts preceding this one, Oswalt hadn’t set the minor league world on fire, compiling an ERA closer to six than it was to five.

Yet here I was, fascinated by the narrative that was unfolding on my phone. Roy O was back in the majors and he was pitching well. Much better than I think even the most optimistic of fans was expecting. Maybe we deduct points because he was facing a Colorado Rockies offense that was not exactly a Murderer’s Row, especially with Troy Tulowitzki on the shelf. But Oswalt was throwing strikes all night long. Of the 29 batters Roy faced, 19 of them faced an 0-1 count. 17 of them were wither at 0-2 after two pitches or were out after two pitches. It wasn’t until the seventh inning that Oswalt would surrender a hit that resulted in a run scoring.

The Rangers struck early on a 2-run first inning home run off the bat of Adrian Beltre. Mike Napoli would add a solo shot later. despite the long balls, the Rangers offense continues to be stagnant. Texas only managed seven hits in the game and were, in fact, outhit by the Rockies. Still, Roy Oswalt was more than up to the task. Most of the hits he gave up weren’t solid and he managed to get out of the first six innings unscathed, even if he got himself in a jam. Most outstanding was giving up only one walk in his first game back.

I do think it was a good thing for Oswalt to have his first game against the Rockies. He’s been a National league pitcher his entire career, so he’s familiar with those hitters. Starting with the next start, Oswalt moves into more of the Great Unknown. Thanks to interleague play, he’s had plenty of chances to face American League batters over the years. Now, he’ll be facing them fulltime instead of just a couple times a year.

Still, with Derek Holland expected to be returning from the DL next week, the addition of Oswalt certainly looks like the Rangers starting five will be just as formidable as any team’s in the bigs. If the bats start coming around again, like most people think they should? This team will be scary good again.

 

Remembering The Washington Senators, Part 1

Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan since before they were the Texas Rangers. Fanhood for me started when the Rangers were the second incarnation of the Washington Senators (the original Senators became the Minnesota Twins).

This is the 40th Anniversary of the Rangers being in Texas. As much as this current run pleases me I fear, as Abraham Lincoln so famously put it, people will little note nor long remember the 11 years the team spent in our nation’s capitol before moving to Arlington. The Senators only had one winning record in their 11 seasons in Washington and never finished above 4th place in the American League.

There was usually very little to talk about with the Senators, although they did make waves in the last few years by 1) hiring Ted Williams to be their manager in 1969; 2) trading for former 30-game winner Denny McLain; and 3) signing Curt Flood, the man who famously sat out of baseball to challenge the reserve clause that kept players from becoming free agents.

On occasion, then, this space will cover some aspect of the Senators years and I find no better place to start than looking at one of the stranger years by any pitcher, that of Darold Knowles in 1970.

Darold Knowles

Coming off a year in which he was named to the All-Star team in 1969, Knowles truly had one of the best bad records of any relief pitcher in history in 1970. He tied for tenth in the American League with 14 losses, the only relief pitcher to be among the loss leaders. Ok, you say, but he was pitching for a bad team. Maybe so, but they weren’t that bad. The 1970 Senators finished at 70-92. In fact, they won enough games that Knowles was third in the American League in saves with 27 (career high). The pitching staff was right in the middle of the pack in ERA and defensively the Senators ended with the highest fielding percentage in the AL. Despite not being historically bad, when the 1970 season ended, Knowles stood at 2 wins, 14 losses, 27 saves, 10 blown saves and a 2.04 ERA. He was third in the AL in appearances with 71 (career high) and fourth in Games Finished with 49.

Knowles’ best stretch in the 1970 season cam from May 18th to June 19th, when he allowed only one earned run in 25 1/3 innings pitched, a 0.35 ERA. The one run he gave up in that 15-game span resulted in a blown save and a loss, so he was only 1-1 over that month with ten of his saves. The next run he gave up came in the second game of a doubleheader with the Orioles, when he was forced to go 5 2/3 innings in a 13-inning game after pitching an inning in the first game as well.

Through the first five innings, Knowles allowed two walks and no hits to the team that had gone to the World Series the previous year. Finally, in his sixth inning of work, Knowles gave up a lead-off double to Dave Johnson. An intentional walk to Mark Belanger followed. After getting pinch-hitter Curt Motton to pop out his sacrifice bunt attempt and getting Don Buford to pop out to short, Merv Rettenmund hit a walk-off single to center that plated Johnson. Naturally, the one run meant Knowles was tagged with the loss.

Overall, part of the problem for Knowles was Washington’s woeful offensive attack. The Senators finished last in the AL in batting in 1970 at .238, something that must have irritated their Hall of Fame manager Williams to no end. For his role as closer, Knowles really had no margin for error. If he gave up a run, the odds were pretty good the Senators wouldn’t be able to come back.

Everything about Darold Knowles’ 1970 season says it was among the best of his career and one many relief pitchers would envy: only 4 home runs given up in 119 innings pitched (career high), an ERA+ of 174, WAR of 3.3 (career best), a .231 Batting Average Against, a .644 OPS Against and only two baserunners stole a base while he was pitching. Knowles only allowed 27% of his inherited runners to score. He gave up more than two runs only once all season. He pitched in both games of a doubleheader four times. Yet all most people will remember about Darold Knowles in 1970, if they remember or do a quick glance at the record books at all, is that 2-14 record.

LeRoy Neiman

Near as I can tell, LeRoy Neiman didn’t do any work for the Texas Rangers or of any players when they were with the Rangers. The only thing I’ve been able to definitively tell in an online search is Neiman did paint two pictures of players who at one time were Rangers. There’s this one of Nolan Ryan, painted before he was a Ranger when he was with the Houston Astros:

And there’s this one of another Hall of Famer, Gaylord Perry:

Maybe Rangers players weren’t on Neiman’s radar in his prime. Why would they be, after all, since the Rangers were the epitome of mediocre at that time? However, between baseball, basketball, boxing and just about every other major televised sport during my formative years in the 1970′s, the artwork of Neiman was found everywhere: on televised sporting events, in magazines, even on billboards. In the late 70′s, Neiman was arguably the most well-known living artist in the United States, rivaled only by Peter Max and Andy Warhol. I even have a vague recollection of him doing a painting live, maybe as part of a pre-game show, although I could be wrong about that.

Many men might also remember Neiman for his illustrations for Playboy Magazine, but it was his work with sports that I remember most. His style was unique and colorful. Realistic? No, he was no Norman Rockwell. Yet you could tell Neiman paid close attention to a player’s motion and captured the essence of it. Like most “commercial” artists, Neiman’s work probably elicited more comments along the lines of “That’s pretty cool” than those who would argue the juxtaposition of this and that and how the work it “speaks” to them.

LeRoy Neiman passed away yesterday at the age of 91. I’d rather thank him today for the beauty he brought to the world than write just another recap of a Rangers game. RIP, LeRoy. Your work was pretty cool to me.

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