September 2012

Stepping Back From The Abyss

It sounded so easy entering the weekend. Win one game and the Angels are eliminated as an AL West title winner. Get a little help from the Mariners and two wins and the season-ending trip to Oakland is meaningless. Yet when 6 PM CDT came around, not only was the team with the AL’s best record not any closer to those goals, they were staring at the distinct possibility of having to win two of three at Oakland to win the West and possibly being in a position to not even make the playoffs at all.

When the weekend started, the magic number for the Rangers was 3 to win the West and only 1 to eliminate the Angels from title consideration. Friday night, the series against the Angels started out well enough, even with the Angels throwing their ace Jered Weaver at them. Ryan Dempster gave up a first inning run, and while the Rangers weren’t scoring right away, neither was Weaver putting them away. The Rangers had runners at first and second with one out in the second, but couldn’t plate a run. Dempster gave up a second run in the third, but was still showing glimpses of being able to go deep in the game. Another run in the 4th made it 3-0 Angels, but Texas responded in the bottom of the inning to make it 3-1. The game was still within reach.

A 4th run in the 6th chased Dempster, but it was still only 4-1. It was the 7th when things got out of hand. Robbie Ross surrendered a 3-spot, making it 6-1. Even though Texas got home runs late from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, the game was out of reach. LA took Game 1 7-4. Meanwhile, the A’s beat the Mariners, narrowing the Rangers lead in the West to 3 games. Magic number remains 3 and 1.

Saturday the rains came. Waiting as long as they could, the Rangers went four hours past the scheduled starting time before finally calling a rain-out and scheduling a day-night doubleheader for Sunday. It sure looked like the Mariners were going to hand the Rangers an assist, as they headed into the 9th with a 4-2 lead on the A’s. Oakland, though, tied the game on a home run in the 9th and a 3-run shot in the 10th ended it. Magic numbers remain at 3 and 1. Oakland now pulls within 2 1/2 games.

Game 1 of the twin bill featured a rematch from a week and a half before: Yu Darvish vs. Zack Greinke. The first time they met, a Beltre homer in the top of the 9th handed the Rangers a 2-1 win in Anaheim. This time, Texas reached Greinke early when a Nelson Cruz missile to left gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The Angels answered with a run in the 3rd, but RBI from Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre made it 4-1 after 3. After the 3rd, Greinke found out his name was misspelled on his game jersey. Once he got that fixed, he was lights out the rest of the way.

Darvish, meanwhile, wasn’t as sharp as he’d been his previous six outings, but was getting outs when he needed to. The Angels added single runs in the 6th and 7th to make it 4-3, leaving the win in the capable hands of the Rangers’ late-inning bullpen. Alexi Ogando got 4 outs to bring us to Joe Nathan time in the 9th. Nathan had blown only two saves all season. After a 1-out single-walk sequence, Nathan buckled Mike Trout with a strike 3 swinging. Two outs. Got it in the bag, right? Wrong. Torii Hunter hit a gap double to left, scoring two runs and making it 5-4 Angels. Three outs later, LA had their second straight win. A couple of hours later, Oakland swept the Mariners to pull within a game and a half. Magic numbers still 3 and 1.

Going into the nightcap, the simple truth was if Texas lost, Oakland would be just a game behind and Texas would have to win two of three on the road to win the West. A tall order. Lose two of three, lose the West. Lose three of three and possibly miss the playoffs. Game 2 was a must win.

Derek Holland got the start and promptly gave up four runs in the first to put Texas in a 4-0 hole. The abyss was visible and the Rangers were ready to fall into it. They got a run back in the first to make it 4-1, then added two more on back to back home runs from David Murphy and Mike Napoli to make it 4-3. Holland was gritty after the first, retiring seven straight at one point to keep it within reach. In the third, back to back singles put Rangers on first a second. After a force made it two away, Napoli unloaded his second bomb of the night, a 3-run shot to make it 6-4 Rangers. Holland gave up hits but no more runs. In the 6th, Napoli would add a 2-run double to make it 8-4, giving him 6 RBI on the night. Everything looked like it was in the bag and going back the Rangers way. Not so fast.

In the 7th, Holland gave up back to back singles with one out. After getting the second out, Dutch served up a treat to Howie Kendrick, a 3-run shot to left that cut the lead to 8-7 and sent Holland to the showers. Here we go again. Robbie Ross got the last out of the inning.

The 8th belonged to Koji Uehara. It took 23 tense pitches, but Uehara struck out the side in the 8th. Koji has now pitched 9.1 innings of 1-hit ball with 16 strikeouts over his last 12 appearances. Top of the 9th, guess who’s back? Joe Nathan. Fresh off blowing the save in Game 1, he had a chance at redemption.

Nathan got Albert Pujols to pop out. Then he walked Torii Hunter. That’s how the blown save started in Game 1, with a 1-out walk. On an 0-2 pitch, Mark Trumbo sent a shot into right field, but right at Nelson Cruz. Two outs. With an 0-1 count, Nathan then got pinch hitter Kendrys Morales to foul out in a play in which Mike Napoli and Mike Olt nearly collided. The win was finally secured.

The Angels can no longer win the West mathematically (they couldn’t anyway because of the Rangersd and A’s playing each other in the final 3 games but that’s beside the point). The magic number is down to 2. Either Oakland or Texas will win the West. If Texas wins 1 game, it’s the Rangers. If Oakland sweeps, it’s the A’s. The only way the Angels can make the playoffs is for them to win their last three while the Rangers sweep Oakland. Not likely.

I truly lost some of the belief in my team after the 5-4 loss in Game 1 of the doubleheader today. The Rangers helped me get some of it back in Game 2 and clinched their third consecutive playoff berth in the process.

One more win, guys. You can do it.

The Running Game (Or Lack Thereof)

Texas Rangers fan that I am, I cheer my guys on through thick and thin. Many a time, I get my brains twisted all out of sorts when I read fellow Rangers fans who are overly critical of the moves Ron Washington makes, the failures at the plate of Michael Young and the like.

This does not make me immune from criticizing my favorite team. I’ve taken my own shots here in this corner of the Internet universe, including but not necessarily inclusive of: wanting less playing time for Michael Young; the two-month disappearance of Josh Hamilton‘s offense; Scott Feldman‘s pitching; and Ian Kinsler‘s defense.

After splitting the first two games of their four game set with the second-place Oakland A’s, I could easily choose to go after the moribund Rangers offense, which has managed all of two hits with runners in scoring position over the past five games. But I won’t. I will temporarily give credit to the pitching staffs of the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s here. Both teams have good pitching and even the best offenses will struggle against good pitching.

What is more unforgivable in my book is the nature of the Rangers’ running game throughout the 2012 season, both offensively and defensively. If Texas doesn’t make it back to the Fall Classic, I will put a lot of the blame on this category.

Defensively, Texas is ahead of only Minnesota in the percentage of runners caught stealing at a mere 20%. Rangers catchers have only nailed 17 runners attempting to steal all season, while allowing 103 to swipe a base successfully. A years ago, that figure was 35% caught stealing and only 85 successful steals. With eight games to go in the regular season, that means the Rangers have already given up 18 bases more in 2012 than a season ago.

As for the offense, the figures are even worse. A year ago, Texas swiped 143 bases on the year and were caught 45 times, a success rate of 76%.  This year? Only 90 steals while being caught 44 times, a 67% success rate. Rangers runners have been caught just one time less than a year ago, while stealing 53 less bases! A year ago, Rangers baserunners were picked off base 22 times. This year, 28 pick-offs,  including three times in the last two games against the A’s.

 

David Murphy becomes 1 of the 28 Rangers picked off in 2012.

Elvis Andrus: 5 picks and 37 steals in 2011, 8 pick-offs and only 20 steals in 2012. Ian Kinsler: 30 steals and 7 pick-offs in 2011, 21 and 8 in 2012. Craig Gentry was 18 for 18 in steal attempts and wasn’t picked off once in 2011. This year? Only 13 of 20 stealing while getting picked off three times.

As potent as the Rangers offense has been the past few years, it flat-out hasn’t been as good as it was the past two seasons. Batting average, On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage are all down from a year ago, but no category is as extreme as the base running statistics.

Is this just a case of a team playing just a little more tired because of playing 33 extra games over the past two seasons? Maybe. I’m more inclined to say it’s more mental fatigue than physical. Texas is making more mental errors than I’ve seen them make in years. As much as I want them to go all the way and claim their first World Championship, my fear is these mental errors are going to catch up with them in the post-season this year.

I sure hope I’m wrong.

Week 24 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: 3-3

Overall: 90-62 (1st Place AL West) (+4)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Mike Napoli .417/.500/1.000  1 2b  2 HR  3 RBI

Raspa Cold (Offense): Elvis Andrus .167/.167/.250

Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Scott Feldman  0.00 ERA  5 K in 3 IP

Joe Nathan   0.00 ERA,  2 Saves 3K in 3 IP

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Ryan Dempster   1-1,  6.30 ERA, 7 ER in 10 IP

In what could have been a better week, the Rangers were 3-3, taking two of three on the road at Los Angeles, but then losing two of three to Seattle, including a 1-0 heartbreaker on Saturday. The Rangers did put another game of space between themselves and the second place A’s, who were 2-4 for the week, but a 5 game lead was definitely attainable if not for the moribund offense. The Angels gained a game in the standings, thanks to their weekend sweep of the White Sox, but it would take a miracle for the Angels to win the West at this point. A Wild Card bid is their best hope and they have a bit of ground to make up in their last nine games to get there.

Tonight the Rangers can start putting the West away. Seven games await at home this week: three this weekend with the Angels and a 4-game set starting tonight with Oakland. Normally, I would lay out the games behind scenario from worst to best and say after Thursday night’s game, the Rangers lead will be 0, 2, 4, 6 or 8. Now there are magic numbers involved, so I’ll do the reverse. After the series conclusion on Tuesday, the Rangers magic number will be 7, 5, 3, 1 or 0. Win three of four of the set and they’ve clinched at least a tie with 6 games to go. Get a 4-game sweep and it’s all over.

Josh Hamilton returns to the line-up tonight, after missing the last four games due to vision problems. Hamilton originally thought it was due to sinus issues. Turns out he’s been hitting the sodas and energy drinks too hard. The caffeine OD has caused his blurred vision due to causing his corneas to dry up. Yet another thing for Hamilton to have to give up.

10 games remain. The first goal is in sight. I think it will be attained by week’s end.

 

Getting The Best Vs. The Best

Starting the final 16 game stretch of the season, the Texas Rangers could be forgiven for starting out 1-2 and maybe even 0-3. After all, they began the stretch on the road in Los Angeles with less than perfect timing. In other words, the Angels rotation was set up perfectly. Texas would have to face the Angels top three starters: Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson and Zach Greinke.

If the post-season were to start today, the Rangers were countering with their Numbers 3, 4 and 1. In other words, starting pitching matchups favored the Angels in their home ballpark.

The Rangers got to Weaver early in Game 1, taking a 3-1 lead into the 4th, but Ryan Dempster had command problems all night. They finally caught up with him in the 4th when the Angels exploded for 8 runs en route to an 11-3 pasting.

Game 2 wasn’t shaping up any better, with the Rangers two best power hitters, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, both held out of the game. Hamilton remains out, as sinus problems are contributing to depth perception problems. Beltre has intestinal issues that haven’t been going away. Even without Beltre, Texas took a quick 3-0 lead on CJ Wilson, then tacked on a 3-spot late in the game to take home a 6-2 win.

The Angels precarious position was evident with the quick hook given to Wilson in the game. LA can’t afford to lose any games, so they’re in full-blown panic mode. Pull the pitcher if he doesn’t start well, can’t get too far behind. Albert Pujols made two huge mental errors in the same game, which could be attributed to that same panic mode.

And what more can be said about the series finale, an incredible pitchers’ duel between Yu Darvish and Zach Greinke. The Rangers got a 1-0 lead early. The Angels tied it up in the middle innings. Then the intestinally bothered Beltre, back in the line-up, showed intestinal fortitude by muscling an Ernesto Frieri pitch over the fence in the 9th to give Texas a 3-1 win in the finale.

Yu Darvish continues a masterful September. Darvish has pitched four games and 30 innings this month and given up all of 11 hits while striking out 32. The most amazing thing about this run is despite the astounding WHIP of 0.56 in that span, Darvish has actually given up at least one run in each of the four starts. Hardly anyone is reaching on him, yet someone still manages to cross the plate.

Darvish didn’t have his best stuff last night, but he still allowed only four hits and a walk in eight innings. He’s also assaulting the record books, something he’s said doesn’t concern him in the least. Darvish now holds the rookie record for most wins by a Japanese pitcher with his 16th. He now ranks second for most strikeouts by a rookie in the AL with 205.

The Rangers were outscored in the series 14-12, but they won the series 2 games to 1, adding a game to their AL West lead over Oakland in the process.

A good start to the home stretch, especially with key pieces missing games. The finish line is in sight.

16 Games In 16 Days

It comes down to this. 16 games in 16 days. What transpires over the next two and a half weeks determines if A) The Texas Rangers win their 3rd consecutive AL West Crown; B) They face a one-game Wild Card crapshoot; or C) They miss the playoffs entirely.

Three teams in the AL West can decide their own fate over the next 16 games.

For the Rangers, it’s six games with the Los Angeles Angels (3 at home, 3 on the road), three games on the road in Seattle and seven of the last ten games against the second place Oakland A’s (4 at home, 3 on the road).

The Angels have it a little easier. In addition to the six with Texas, they have three at home against the White Sox and six with the Mariners  (3 and 3). But, at 7 1/2 games out, Los Angeles needs to finish strong for even a chance at a Wild Card berth.

The A’s are in a relatively comfortable place. They control their own fate, being firmly entrenched with the best record of the Wild Card contenders and within striking distance of Texas, just three games behind. But they have the toughest road over the last 16 games: 7 with Texas, 3 at Detroit, 3 at New York and three at home against Seattle.

16 games in 16 days for the Rangers and A’s. 15 games in 16 days for the Angels.

At this time the past two seasons, it’s been all over except the shouting for Texas. This year there’s real competition from the unlikeliest of sources. And the two teams square off in seven of the teams’ final ten games.

Scary thought: If things stay as they are, with Texas controlling the top seed and Oakland controlling the best record of the Wild Cards, these two teams could meet each other as many as 12 times in a 16-game span: 7 of 10 games in the regular season and, after a 1-game Wild Card playoff, as many as five times in the ALDS.

But let’s not too far ahead of ourselves. It starts tonight in Anaheim. Dempster-Weaver in Game 1. Holland-Wilson in Game 2. Darvish-Greinke in Game 3.

This is where it REALLY gets fun.

Week 23 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: 87-59 (1st Place AL West) (+3)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Adrian Beltre .368/.478/.842  3 HR,  4 RBI,  4 Walks,  8 Runs Scored

Michael Young (Believe It Or Not!) .500/.583/.600  2 Doubles,  3 RBI,  4 Walks

Raspa Cold (Offense): Geovany Soto  .077/.188/.154 (But Walked Twice and had 3 RBI!)

Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Yu Darvish 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 9 K’s in 7 IP, 0.57 WHIP

Matt Harrison  2-0, 1.88 ERA,  1.05 WHIP,  11 K’s in 14.1 IP

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Scott Feldman  20.25 ERA, 3.38 WHIP,  6 ER in 2.2 IP

Coming home for a week against the Indiands and Mariners, the Rangers went a respectable 4-2, although Joe Nathan‘s first blown save since April kept them from being 5-1. That allowed the still hot A’s to pick up half a game on the week when they went 5-2 against the Angels and Orioles. Los Angeles is still officially in the race, but if Texas were to go .500 the rest of the way, the Angels would have to finish 15-0 just to tie for the Division title. The best the Angels can hope for now would be a Wild Card spot. There’s no doubt if the Rangers are to win the West a third straight time, they will have earned it. Only 16 games remain on the schedule: 3 against the Mariners, 6 against the Angels and 7 against the A’s. This week it’s Los Angeles and Seattle on the road for three games each. After the Rangers series, the Angels host the White Sox for 3 games. Meanwhile the A’s hit the road all week, facing the Tigers and the Yankees. The schedule this week favors the Rangers.

 

A Tale Of Two Pitchers

One is one of the AL’s best pitchers in 2012 and will barely get a whisper of consideration for the Cy Young Award. The other was a trade that didn’t go well for the Rangers a year ago. Both pitchers were nails in Sunday, allowing the Texas Rangers to get a little more breathing room against the hard-charging Oakland A’s.

PITCHER #1

 

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matt Harrison was magnificent Sunday, picking up his 17th win and almost getting a complete game in beating the Seattle Mariners on his 27th birthday, 2-1. The only blemish for Harrison was a lead-off 8th inning home run by former Ranger Justin Smoak. Harrison’s only walk came in the 9th inning.

Harrison was the second big piece acquired on that fateful trade deadline day years ago, when young GM Jon Daniels acquired Harry along with Elvis Andrus from the Braves system for Mark Teixeira. He’s been a part of the Rangers every year, but it wasn’t until 2011 that Harrison turned a corner and became an effective starter. Harry said he read a book in the off-season that year that helped him change his mental approach on the mound. True or not, something worked. He won 14 games for the Rangers last year and has added 17 this year, with an outside shot at being a 20-game winner on the season.

This year, Harrison has arguably been the Rangers’ most consistent starter from beginning of the season to today. He’s not a strikeout pitcher at a little over 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings. He gives up about a hit per inning. He also gets ground-outs. Lots of ground-outs. That leads to lots of double plays. With three more today, his total is now at 23 double plays induced in 2012.

All Matt Harrison does is give you innings and win. You’ll see his name near the top of the charts in all sorts of categories: Wins, WAR for pitchers, ERA, WL%, Innings Pitched, Complete Games, Shutouts, Home Runs Per 9 Innings (among the lowest rates), Adjusted ERA, Adjusted Pitching Runs, you get the idea.

Yet when the votes for the Cy Young Award get tabulated, Matt Harrison is almost guaranteed to finish no better than fifth to a group that includes the names Hernandez, Verlander, Weaver, Price and Sale. There’s an outside chance fellow Ranger Yu Darvish will get more votes than Harrison. It’s all a shame. One could make the case it’s harder for a pitcher like Harrison to reach the heights he has since he doesn’t have the raw stuff of those other pitchers mentioned, so he should be entitled to more votes. But it won’t happen.

In fact, here’s a new twist. It is also conceivable that Matt Harrison, the Rangers most consistent pitcher of 2012, will be no more than the #4 starter in post-season play. Yu Darvish has been pitching more and more like an ace his last five starts, so he could get the #1 nod. If the Rangers rotate between righthanders and lefthanders, Harrison would be either #2 or #4, and Derek Holland has started to look a little more like a solid #2 lately as well. The Rangers top winner a #4 playoff starter? It could happen.

PITCHER #2

The day before the July trade deadline a year ago, the Rangers were rumored to be hot and heavy in on Heath Bell, then of the Padres. A deal hadn’t been made yet, with speculation a trade could fall through. Just in case, Jon Daniels swung another deal, sending Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for righthander Koji Uehara.

The Japanese import had been nails in the Birds bullpen all year, compiling a 1-1 record with 13 holds and a 1.72 ERA in 43 appearances. Opponents were hitting just .152 off Uehara and his strikeout to walk ratio was an astounding 62-8. When the Rangers added the Padres’ Mike Adams a day later, Rangers fans were salivating over a 7th, 8th and 9th inning featuring Uehara, Adams and Neftali Feliz.

Uehara, though, would be a bust for the Rangers. While some of his peripherals still were decent, he gave up 5 home runs in just 18 innings of work, helping explain his 4.00 ERA in a Texas uniform. The playoffs were even worse. In two appearances over the ALDS and ALCS, Uehara surrendered three home runs and five runs in just an inning and a third of work. The Rangers didn’t even use Uehara in the World Series.

His confidence shattered, Uehara spoke openly of preferring Baltimore to Texas and it appeared the Rangers’ front office tried hard to make a trade back to the Orioles a reality. It never came to fruition.

Instead, Uehara started 2012 in a Rangers uniform once again. The difference was, instead of being a trusted late-inning reliever, the man with the long sideburns was now brought into games for mop-up work: either big wins or big losses. That’s the way Ron Washington operates: Show me you can fill this role, then I’ll give you a better role to see if you can handle that.

Koji filled that role and was actually doing quite well in it. By June 2nd, his ERA was down to 1.33 over 19 appearances, but he was only credited with three holds over that time. Following a bad outing June 9th against the Giants, Uehara was placed on the DL, where he spent the next two and a half months with a strained rib cage.

When activated August 26th, Uehara was back in the mop-up role again. Now Wash started seeing something he hadn’t seen for awhile. Uehara, a righthander who had always handled lefthanded hitters well, started getting leftys out with regularity again. Last week, Koji was given another chance. With set-up man Mike Adams on the shelf with tightness in his back, Uehara was given the 8th inning again. Appearing in 4 consecutive games, Uehara allowed just one hit in 3 innings with 4 strikeouts, all with low pitch counts.

Sunday, with runners or the corners and two outs in the 9th inning of a 2-1 game, it was Uehara brought in to try to nail down the save, not overworked closer Joe Nathan or the usual second-best option Alexi Ogando. No, it was Koji Uehara, who proceeded to strike out the only batter he needed to face on four pitches to nail down his first save since 2010.

Koji Uehara gave up 11 home runs in the regular season a year ago and three in the playoffs. He’s only given up four in 2012. His strikeout to walk ratio is now 30-3, the Batting Average Against .184. Four weeks ago, the names being discussed for the post-season bullpen featured names like Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers. Today the name Koji Uehara is prominent, which is what the Rangers were expecting when they traded for him a year ago.

An Ace Is Born

When he first came to the United States for his introductory press conference, Yu Darvish tried to be both humble and confident at the same time. While acknowledging his need to acclimate to his new surroundings and his respect for the new players he would face, he also expressed his goal to become “the best pitcher in the world.”

 

As the season progressed, we saw the work in progress. Against the Yankees April 24th, Darvish tossed 8.1 innings of 10-strikeout, shutout ball. Too often, though, we saw games like Darvish’s first American start against the Seattle Mariners in the season’s third game of the year: four walks, five strikeouts, five earned runs in less than six innings of work. After each poor performance, Darvish would humbly address the media through his interpreter, talking about changing this approach or that. Then, we’d see him implement those changes, and he’d struggle again.

 

The perception of Darvish was the dreaded Daisuke Matsuzaka comparison: a lot of stuff, but constant nibbling and trying to get the perfect pitch to put a batter away. For awhile, that was good enough. Darvish entered the month of July with a sparkling 10-4 record and a modest but acceptable 3.57 ERA. That was enough for the Rangers to get another player added to the AL All-Star team in the fan vote.

 

The six weeks spanning July 1-August 12 were a disaster. The nibbling and constant mechanical adjustments caught up to Darvish. Over 7 starts, he compiled a 2-4 record with a monstrous 6.60 ERA. He struck out 56 in 45 innings, but he also walked 29 batters and hit three others. His strike percentage was down to 61%, his average Game Score a paltry 45. After another pedestrian start against Detroit, again Darvish spoke of making changes. This time, though, he said he wasn’t doing things the way he did them in Japan and he was going to try to get back to doing things the Japanese way.

 

Sure. We’d heard it all before. Rangers fans were becoming more convinced that, though this signing certainly wasn’t a bust, Darvish had as much a chance of becoming the latest Bobby Witt as the second coming of Ken Hill.

 

Ron Washington decided it was time to intervene. He had a sitdown with Darvish (and his interpreter) to get a feel for where his pitcher’s head was at. It was reported in the media they discussed the pressures of trying to please or impress so many people. Darvish was trying to impress his fans back home in Japan, Rangers fans, baseball fans in general. Wash told him to stop trying to impress everyone else and just try to impress Yu Darvish.

 

Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish: TORP in the making. (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Whether it was going back to his Japanese way of doing things, Wash talking to him or recently acquired Geovany Soto catching him every start, something sure clicked. In his last five starts, Darvish has been nothing short of phenomenal. A 3-1 record. An ERA of 2.00. 43 strikeouts in only 36 innings pitched and only 8 walks. A Batting Average Against of .132. Yes, .132. Only one home run given up. His strike percentage is up to 67%.

 

Friday night, Darvish made several Mariners look downright foolish in pitching seven innings of 2-hit, 9 strikeout baseball while picking up his 15th win of the season. His slow curve was working so well, he had one strikeout where strike two came on a 61 MPH curve, followed by strike three on a 94 MPH fastball. That’s almost unfair to a batter. And before you say, “Yeah, but that was against the Mariners”, Seattle was the team Darvish had done the worst against of any team entering the game, compiling a 9.00 ERA in 15 innings pitched over three starts (Personally, I think he was trying to impress Ichiro, who’s now torched him for a .545 BA in 11 AB’s).

 

The Yu Darvish we’ve seen over the past five starts is the one the Rangers’ front office thought they were signing when they put in their extraordinary $58 million plus bid just for the rights to negotiate with him ten months ago. Friday night, he became the 16th rookie pitcher since 1900 to record 200+ strikeouts in a season. He leads the league in 10+ strikeout games. His batting average against is one of the lowest in the AL. And now, he’s given up three hits or less in four of his last five starts, only four hits in his last two starts combined.

 

One of the big knocks against the Rangers, despite two World Series appearances in two years, was they had no true ace at the top of their pitching rotation. If Darvish’s last three starts of the season continue to be like the previous five have been, he’s more than capable of going head to head against CC, Jered, Justin, David or anyone else’s #1 in the post-season.

 

Thinking Ahead

Managers are the fans’ favorite punching bag. When the team’s going bad, they blame the manager. Even when the team’s going good, as the Texas Rangers have been for the past three years, the manager takes the brunt of the blame for any perceived shortcomings.

For Rangers manager Ron Washington, much of the fans’ ire has been directed at his stubborn refusal to bench Michael Young, even while he is in the midst of a career worst season.

So how about this? I want to give Wash a lot of credit this morning for the way he was thinking ahead during last night’s win over the Cleveland Indians.

Ron Washington and Art Howe in the dugout.

Ron Washington: Thinking ahead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Rangers fans, the win was nice but it came at a price. Adrian Beltre left the game early with a shoulder injury. He’s scheduled to get an MRI today. His replacement, rookie Mike Olt, hit a single in his second plate appearance, but hobbled so badly to first base because of the Plantar Fascitis he is suffering, he had to be pulled.

With expanded rosters in September, it would have been easy for Wash to either put Brandon Snyder in at third, since he was the utility corner man for the first half of the season, or put Michael Young there and do without the DH the rest of the game. Since it was already the 8th inning, that wouldn’t have posed any significant hardship on Texas.

Instead, Wash went a completely different route. He moved Ian Kinsler over to third base and inserted rookie Jurickson Profar in at second. Judging by the tweets I read, this move had fans collectively scratching their heads. Kinsler had never played any position other than second base in his entire major league career. After the game, Kins said he hadn’t played third since he was in the minors in 2005.

Many didn’t understand the move, but I don’t think a lot of Rangers fans think Ron Washington has the ability to think ahead.

Wash certainly wanted to win last night’s game, but that wasn’t what was most important to him. He has the post-season to think about. And if there’s any possibility he will have to do without Adrian Beltre in the post-season, he has to figure out how he will do that. He’d love to go with Olt, but his balky foot may not allow that. Brandon Snyder is strictly utility. He can’t replace Beltre for more than a couple of games. That leaves Young as the back-up, which is probably what will happen, but Young is also a defensive liability.

So Wash put Kinsler in at third. He didn’t have to field anything in his brief time there, but if he had, Wash would have gotten a good look at it. If he liked what he saw, then Kinsler could be the late inning defensive replacement for Young while Profar takes over at second. That’s a much stronger team than one which features Snyder.

We’ll find out more about Beltre today. Hopefully, he won’t be out for very long. But if he is, Wash already has a potential plan in mind.

Before They Were The Rangers: President Kennedy & Senator Kennedy

John F Kennedy, Leader of the Free World in 1962

Things were not going well in the Kennedy White House on September 5th, 1962. In another month, the Cuban Missile Crisis would hit. Here in September, things were already heating up over a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union. With a new Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, now firmly in control in Cuba, President Kennedy announced September 5th the United States would use any means necessary to prevent Cuban aggression anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Soviet Union was claiming a US U-2 spy plane had flown over Soviet airspace five days before, despite a US ban on such flights agreed to as a result of the downed U-2 plane during the latter days of the Eisenhower administration in 1960. The US government had to admit that yes, the plane may have “inadvertently” violated Soviet airspace, but it was an honest mistake and the reconnaissance ban was indeed still in effect. No, September 5th, 1962 wasn’t shaping up as a particularly good day for the Kennedy Administration. Why, it could be enough to forever tarnish the name of John Kennedy.

That night, the expansion Washington Senators were suiting up to play a doubleheader with the previous Washington Senators team, now playing as the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were on a 4-game winning streak and came to town sporting an 80-61 record. The Senators, now in their second season, checked in at a meager 54-88 under manager Mickey Vernon. The pitching match-up was Dave Stenhouse for the Senators against Dick Stigman for the Twins.

Minnesota struck early, plating two runs in the first on a 2-run Harmon Killebrew home run. The Senators first consisted of two groundouts and a fly to right. The Twins added another run in the second on a lead-off homer from catcher Earl Battey. The Senators went quietly on 2 strikeouts and a fly to center.

The Twins chased Stenhouse in the third. After a sacrifice fly plated the fourth run of the game, Stenhouse walked the next two batters and got an early trip to the showers. Another run would score to make it 5-0 after just 2 1/2 innings of play. The Nats went down in the third, again on two strikeouts and a fly to center.

By the time the bottom of the sixth inning came, the Twins were not only up 5-0, their pitcher Dick Stigman had faced 15 batters and recorded 15 outs. A walk was the only blemish on his record and a double play took care of that baserunner in a hurry.A fly ball and a groundout put Stigman in rarefied air: a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. With two outs and the pitcher’s spot in the line-up scheduled to bat, Vernon decided to send a pinch-hitter to the plate. It would be the batter’s major league debut, in front of maybe 7,000 fans.

John E Kennedy, Rookie with the Washington Senators in 1962

The batter stepping to the plate in DC Stadium in Washington, DC on September 5th, 1962? John Kennedy.

No, he wasn’t the President of the United States, but he shared the same first and last name of the President. Coincidentally, he also shared the same birthday as JFK, May 29th.

So here was John Kennedy, making his major league debut in Washington DC in the middle of the John Kennedy Administration. We already know JFK wasn’t enjoying a great day in office that day. How would his namesake do in the batters box facing a pitcher throwing a no-hitter?

The 21-year-old from Chicago did what every kid dreams of when he hits the big leagues: he homered in his first major league at-bat. Stigman lost his no-hitter and his shutout to DC’s own John Kennedy.

It would be perhaps the only day John Kennedy bested his better known namesake throughout the Kennedy administration. Although the baseball player John Kennedy enjoyed a 12-year major league career and even played in two World Series with the Dodgers, his overall career numbers in Washington in 1962 and ’63 consisted of a .212 batting average in 50 games with only 6 RBI in 104 AB’s with 8 walks and 29 strikeouts in that span, along with one home run, achieved in his first major league at bat.

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