In a season filled with bad, this was the baddest news of all. A mid-afternoon quick check of my Twitter feed turned a normal day into one filled with shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Most of all, concern.
The winningest manager in Texas Rangers history was gone. Resigned. Not even an on camera statement. Just a note saying goodbye. Granted, it was a longer resignation letter than Richard Nixon’s when Watergate forced him from office but still. Just a “I’m leaving for personal reasons. I’m sorry I let you down. Leave me alone.”
OK, that last part got written a little nicer. He asked that we respect his privacy. It still means the same thing.
Immediately, of course, baseball writers and Rangers fans parsed every word of the resignation letter and the ensuing news conference with Jon Daniels and Rangers ownership for clues about the REAL reason behind the sudden departure. Daniels immediately stated Wash would allow him to categorically state this has nothing to do with substance abuse. A few years earlier a dalliance with cocaine led to some embarrassing moments for the organization but Wash had come through the other side on top.
Later, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News said he had received several categorical denials this had anything to do with baseball, substance abuse or his contract. Many were going the route of health reasons when third base coach Gary Pettis said afterwards he hoped Wash had a speedy recovery. However, Grant said later that a text from the former manager himself quashed the notion the resignation had anything to do with his health or the health of his wife of 47 years.
All we know for certain is Wash said he was leaving to address a personal matter. From Daniels’ reaction in the subsequent news conference, there was a distinct impression that whatever the personal matter was, maybe the front office didn’t think it warranted going as far as resigning his position. It was also clear the Rangers didn’t want Wash to leave, yesterday or anytime in the near future.
Until Wash himself decides to address the topic we’ll never know, but I do know I’ve already read some things that are so totally off base they’re ridiculous. A so-called writer on one web site said it was the best thing to happen to the Rangers because Wash was now “out of touch” with his players. Yeah, that’s why players like Derek Holland say he was like a father to him.
What I DO know is Ron Washington is a baseball lifer. He’s been in the game for 50 some years. He loves the game. He’s fond of saying whoever the 25 guys are who’s playing on his team that day, that’s his favorite team. There is no way Wash would just walk away from the life he’s known for so long unless it was for something vitally important to him.
What made Wash unique was his ability to know what buttons to push for each player. Some, like Holland and Elvis Andrus, need a kick in the rear sometimes. Others, like Michael Young, only needed encouragement. With Josh Hamilton, it was long talks in his manager’s office when he played in Arlington. Who knows the method Wash used on Milton Bradley but he reached Bradley in a way no one had before and the result was the best year of his career.
Wash was not a strategist. There’s no doubt about that. Yet he still led his team as close to the edge of a championship as one can get without earning the honor. Even Rangers fans got frustrated to no end by the emphasis Wash placed on the bunt. Sabermetricians would constantly print their charts showing how sacrifice bunts lessened the chances of a big inning. Maybe they’re right but Wash didn’t care. Big innings are great but all Wash cared about was the next run. Singular. Get one run. Then get another. That’s the way he thought.
Ron Washington never got the credit he deserved. In 2010, the Texas Rangers went to the World Series for the first time. Ron Washington did NOT get honored as the AL Manager of the Year. Instead, the award went to Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins.You’ll never convince me he deserved it over Wash that year. I think they gave it to Gardy as more of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” like they did at the Oscars when they gave Paul Newman Best Actor for “The Color of Money.”
It galled me when I watched the Hall of Fame ceremony this year and heard the words written on Tony LaRussa’s plaque about how he “led” the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in 2011 when they were a strike away from losing it. Sorry, the Cardinals two comebacks in Game 6 had nothing to do with LaRussa. In fact, had the Cards lost in ’11, much would have been made of Tony’s bullpen gaffe earlier in the series. Instead he’s praised as the master tactician. If Texas had won the Series in ’11, I guarantee most writers would say they won in spite of Wash. But it isn’t true.
The fact is Wash was a much better manager than anyone wants to give him credit for. Getting 25 men to play as a team isn’t easy. A lot has to happen before you can even think about strategy and tactics and Wash probably got more out of his teams than any manager in the game. Folks who frequent sites like FanGraphs think Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay is the epitome of the modern baseball manager for the way he embraces new statistical trends. Wash is probably the direct opposite of Maddon. Do a Google search, though, and you’ll find Maddon is effusive in his praise for Wash and the job he does as a manager. Maddon knows it isn’t just strategy.
The ones who play the game and manage the game from the dugout and coach the game day in and day out know what type of manager Wash is and they respect it. Don’t suggest the Rangers are better off because another manager can take them to “the next level.” Wash already brought them to the next level. I can only hope his permanent replacement can get the Rangers back to the level Wash was able to bring them to.
I started this blog in 2010, the year the Rangers first went to the World Series. The original name of the blog was “The Futility Ends Here”. After about a week, I knew it wasn’t a very catchy title so I changed it to “World Series 40 Rangers Fan 0″. Much better. And it made it sweet when the season ended with the Rangers going to the World series for the first time in my then 40 years of Rangers fandom. For the Rangers, their marketing slogan for the 2010 season was, “It’s Time.” A more prophetic baseball slogan was never made.
Flash forward five years. Here at the All-Star break, the shell that remains of the Texas Rangers hobble into the break with baseball’s worst record. Where once I wrote of the exploits of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and even David Murphy, now all that remains is Beltre, Andrus, Rios, Choo and a bunch of young and/or underperforming offensive players. A pitching staff that once included Cliff Lee, CJ Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, a younger Colby Lewis and one of the top relief corps in baseball is now composed of Yu Darvish at the front end, Joakim Soria at the back-end and very little of consequence in between.
So bad the Rangers situation has become, they limp into the All-Star break losers of 19 of their last 22 games. Texas (and the Washington Senators that preceded them) has had some pretty bad teams in their 53 years of existence but NONE of them have been as bad as losing 19 of 22 games. Honestly, if I didn’t know it from reading the box scores every day (it’s become too painful to even watch more than a handful of games on TV), I wouldn’t believe it possible. After all, even without all the injured players, the Rangers still have talent on this team: Beltre, Andrus, Alex Rios, Shin Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Darvish and Soria. There have been historically bad teams in baseball for whom you’d be hard-pressed to find even two names worthy of putting on the list of talented players. For example, can anyone name more than two Houston Astros from 2o12-2013 worth mentioning? Still, this is where the Rangers find themselves.
Having a bad team does not make it harder to write about a team. Sometimes it can lead to more story ideas than a winning team provides. Among the thoughts I’ve had in recent weeks: spinning an old Paul Simon tune into a treatise on 50 Ways To Lose A Ballgame (“Give up a slam, Sam, Walk in a run, Son…”), wonderful words about the defensive work of catcher Robinson Chirinos, asking if should Jon Daniels get the blame for 2014 or is this a fluke season, talking about the newest Ranger to make his big-league début, Jake Smolinski, riffing on how great the Rangers farm system has been record-wise in 2014, opining whether Ron Washington should pay the price for the poor season, talking up minor league prospect Joey Gallo (who made headlines at the All-Star Futures game), scattershooting trade possibilities at the July deadline, etc. See? No shortage of ideas here.
Instead, I’m going to borrow a phrase from that 2010 Rangers marketing campaign. It’s Time. Time to retire the blog that I’ve devoted so much time to for the past five seasons. It isn’t because the Rangers are losing now. It’s because coming up with 500+ words to say on a regular enough basis to keep readers coming back is getting more and more difficult to do. Life has a way of throwing things in the way of the things you like to do in your spare time and my spare time has had an “S” added to it: spare has become sparse. I’m in the process of relocating to a different part of the state (and job hunting is part of that process). The desire to write about the Rangers hasn’t abated. The time to do it has.
So, rather than put out a piece once every two or three weeks, I’m just going to shut it down for the rest of the season. Maybe I’ll have more time to devote to Rangers writing in 2015. My devotion to the team will not change, only the writing about it. You can still find me on Twitter (@Rangersblogger) where I’ll send out in-game comments when I can. This space, however, is going dark for the foreseeable future.
I thank everyone who has been a regular reader of this space, including The Angels Ace and This Is A Very Simple Game; The Wrigley Regular; all the Rangers fans who have followed me; and especially my son Erik, who has shared in my love for the Texas Rangers since childhood and it remains a constant source of conversation between us. To you and all the others I haven’t mentioned (and never got a chance to know), I’m grateful you took the time to read my sometimes meandering prose.
Post All-Star break will see the returns of Geovany Soto, Jim Adduci and Derek Holland. Hopefully that makes the season’s second half better than the first. Whether it does or not, I still say: GO RANGERS!!!
SO LONG AND WELCOME BACK
Another week, another Ranger lands on the disabled list. Alexi Ogando is the latest to join the walking wounded. Things have gotten so bad I’m fully expecting to hear that Luis Ortiz, the Rangers #1 pick in Thursday’s MLB
Draft, will need to undergo Tommy John surgery the day after he signs with the club.
Still, the overall news of the week for the Rangers health is positive. Tanner Scheppers returned from the disabled list Thursday and got thrown right in the fire during the 8th inning of Texas’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Scheppers didn’t look particularly good, giving up a home run to Adam Jones, but he induced a double play to end the 8th with only the solo home run as damage. What was heartening to see was the bullpen line-up after Colby Lewis got pulled following five meh innings: Robbie Ross Jr., Scheppers and Joakim Soria. It was the first time this season the pen had a familiar ring to it. Ross Jr. pitched his best outing in weeks, throwing two shutout innings with no hits and picked up the win when Texas broke a 5-5 tie in the 7th.
Another piece of good news on the health front. Fifth outfielder Jim Adduci is likely to return from his DL stint this weekend against the Cleveland Indians. Adduci was off to a great start in 2014, going six for his first 13 with two doubles and three RBI when he broke his finger on the bag while sliding (or diving). While only the “fifth” outfielder, Adduci is definitely a step up from Daniel Robertson, who failed to tag up at third on a fly to right in Thursday’s game and cost the Rangers a run.
Word has it Neftali Feliz is close to returning to the bullpen as well so, believe it or not, the Rangers are actually getting healthier for a change.
ANOTHER SERIES, ANOTHER FORMER RANGER RETURNS
Tuesday marked the return of Nelson Cruz to Arlington. Cruz hit a home run in Tuesday’s win over Texas but the Rangers held him in check the rest of the series. This weekend another favorite from the World Series teams returns. David Murphy was the fourth outfielder for most of his time in Texas but was the starter in left field in 2013. Now he’s back to being a 4th outfielder with the Indians and once again he’s thriving, hitting .280 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI. To put that in perspective, if Murph was still a Ranger, those numbers would lead the club in RBI and rank third in home runs.
CHOICE HEATING UP?
In the second inning of Thursday’s game against the Orioles, I tweeted that a Michael Choice hot streak would help the Rangers immensely. With Prince Fielder out for the season and Mitch Moreland stuck at two home runs, the Rangers have very little power outside of Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Choice is that potential power bat but he’s been hitting right around the Mendoza line all season long. As if he’d read my time line, Choice went deep for his fourth home run within minutes of that tweet and he added a double for good measure late in the game. Choice is not a great defensive player in the outfield so if he isn’t hitting he really isn’t doing much to help the club win. If Thursday’s game is any indication, Choice just might be getting the hang of this major league hitting thing. If so, the Rangers offense might start scoring runs more consistently.
This should probably wait a few days because there is likely a lot of movement in the Rangers minor league system coming over the next week or two. Still, I feel the need to point out the incredible season being put up by a couple of Rangers’ prospects. Joey Gallo is tearing up the High-A ranks with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Gallo is currently hitting .330 with 21 home runs and 50 RBI. Myrtle Beach is not a hitter’s park. In fact, the entire Myrtle beach roster hit only 64 home runs in the course of the entire season. Gallo is on a pace that would net him 2/3 of the entire 2013 team if he stayed with the Pelicans the whole season. That isn’t going to happen. Gallo may not even play in the Carolina League All-Star game. In just a matter of weeks if not days, expect Gallo at the AA level with the Frisco RoughRiders. The same could be said of Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Last year’s top draft pick is 5-2 with a 2.62 ERA in helping lead the Pelicans to a league best 40-18 record.
On the AA level, looking to get promoted soon is Luke Jackson. The righthander checks in at 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA and could find himself in AAA Round Rock soon. On the hitting side, if Gallo gets promoted as expected to play third base in Frisco, the current third baseman, Ryan Rua, already has a case for promotion to Round Rock as well. Rua is hitting a robust .313 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. Round Rock would certainly welcome Rua and Jackson. The Express are easily the worst team in the Rangers minor league system record-wise, posting a 26-34 mark despite having a roster full of talent with major league experience. Maybe they’re mostly utility player/back of the rotation major league experienced but still, they’ve been to the Show and fans expected more from them.
Of all the players mentioned here, I think Jackson has a shot at being in Arlington before the end of the season. He may just be a September call-up, but he should get a shot before season’s end. Don’t look for Gallo in a major league uniform until the end of next season at the earliest.
If you believe in forever
Then life is but a simple dream
If there’s a Rangers DL list
You know you’ve got a hell of a team
Martin gave us shutouts
Derek won Game 4 ‘gainst St. Loo
And Matty won 18 in two thousand 12
He was gonna mash 50 home runs
Remember Prince that way
They’ve all found a spot we rue
And that is on the shelf
If you believe in forever
Then life is but a simple dream
If there’s a Rangers DL list
You know you’ve got a hell of a team
(Sung to the tune “Rock and Roll Heaven” by The Righteous Brothers)
Just a few short days ago, my wish for the week was to get through the next seven days without another injury. No such luck. In one fell swoop Thursday, Rangers fans found themselves greeted with the news that 1) Prince Fielder is gone for the year because of a herniated disc that requires surgery; 2) Jurickson Profar is probably out for the year after re-aggravating his shoulder injury; and 3) 5th outfielder Daniel Robertson could be headed to the DL. And oh yeah, if Robertson DOES go to the DL it’s partly Ian Kinsler‘s fault! It was the ex-Ranger’s pop fly which resulted in the collision between Robertson and Alex Rios that took Robertson out of the game.
Nobody in baseball has used the disabled list more in 2014 than the Texas Rangers. In fact, one could make the case for the players on the DL being a better team than the one the Rangers now have on the field. Let’s do a side by side comparison:
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
RF Alex Rios
SP Yu Darvish
SP Colby Lewis
SP Nick Tepesch
RP Alexi Ogando
RP Robbie Ross
RP Neal Cotts
Texas Rangers DL
CF Engel Beltre
RF Jim Adduci
SP Martin Perez
SP Joe Saunders
RP Joseph Ortiz
We’d have to fill in the DL team with an outfielder and DH from AAA Round Rock, which could be Brad Snyder and Bryan Peterson. If Robertson hits the DL, he’d likely replace Snyder, since Snyder then would probably fill his roster spot on the Rangers. Still, while the healthy Texas Rangers offense, even without Prince Fielder, is the superior team to the Rangers DL offense, a case could be made for the Rangers DL pitching staff being stronger than the Rangers Healthy pitching staff. At the very least, three of the four member starting rotation would more than hold their own against the current healthy Rangers rotation.
What has happened to this team in 2014 is beyond comprehension. If there’s any silver lining in the dark cloud, it is this: the Rangers, like every team, has insurance policies on all their players to cover such things. Thus, even though Matt Harrison and Prince Fielder by themselves command hefty salaries, the Rangers will recoup part of their salaries to the tune of over $10 million. Thus, it is not beyond reason the Rangers could make a play for one significant free agent still out there, Kendrys Morales. The former Angel and Mariner mashed 23 home runs and knocked in 80 runs for Seattle a year ago and has 10 homers in 32 games at Globe Life Park, the most home runs he has in any visitors park. Picking up Morales, a switch hitter, would allow him to DH when a right-hander is on the mound while playing first base against a southpaw so Mitch Moreland, a career .231 hitter against lefties, isn’t exposed.
Of course, knowing the Rangers luck this year, Morales would come in and suffer a season-ending injury within a week, much like Kevin Kouzmanoff when he filled in during Adrian Beltre‘s early season DL stint. Speaking of which, I have a message for Adrian: DON’T DO ANYTHING THAT WILL AGGRAVATE YOUR HAMSTRING!!! I know you’re going to want to play like Superman with Prince gone but you’re 35 years old now. You can only do what you can do and if you try to do more, you just might join the Rangers DL team yourself.
On the good news side, the Rangers have won consecutive games for the first time since May 8th and 9th. They haven’t had a three game winning streak since April 21st through the 23rd when they swept the first place Oakland A’s, of all teams, in Oakland. The giddiness of that sweep seems so long ago now. To make it three in a row, Scott Baker has to better Anibal Sanchez tonight in his first start of the season. After that Nick Martinez, slated to start the season at AA Frisco, squares up against 7-1 Rick Porcello, while Colby Lewis draws Justin Verlander on Sunday. Let’s just say the Rangers have their work cut out for them this weekend.
And as for the injuries, I repeat the headline today. Please. Make. It. Stop.
In 2010, I had hopes the Texas Rangers would finally make a name for themselves in the American League. They exceeded my expectations and went to the World Series.
In 2011, I KNEW the Rangers had a championship caliber club and hoped they’d prove it. They came tantalizingly close to sealing the deal.
In 2012, Yu Darvish came along and I thought the Rangers could make another run for the elusive title, but a massive Josh Hamilton slump and the loss of Colby Lewis midway through the season translated into a late-season meltdown and a one game and done Wild Card appearance.
In 2013, Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young all departed, Lewis missed the entire season and Matt Harrison went down for the year after only two starts. Then Nelson Cruz got suspended for 50 games and Adrian Beltre‘s hamstrings sapped him of his power in the stretch run when needed most. Despite that, Texas managed to get all the way to the end and forced a one game “regular season” playoff against the Rays to earn a spot in the Wild Card round. The Rays won.
In 2014, the writing was on the wall early. Derek Holland tore his meniscus when he fell over his dog and down the stairs. Joseph Ortiz had his foot run over by a motorcycle. That was just the beginning. Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto had injuries that have kept them out of the line-up and they’re still not back. Yu Darvish missed the Opening Day start to neck stiffness. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers is now on the DL and #5 starter Joe Saunders followed him shortly afterwards. Now comes word the Rangers will likely be without #2 starter Martin Perez for the rest of this year and maybe next year as well, while Matt Harrison, who recently returned from the DL, now has back issues so severe he might never pitch again.
The Rangers now have a better rotation on paper residing on the DL (Harrison, Scheppers, Saunders, Holland) than they do on the active list (Darvish, Lewis, Robbie Ross Jr., Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez). Profar and Soto aren’t back for another month at least, nor will Holland. Prince Fielder, while hitting better in May, still isn’t hitting balls out of the park at the rate he’s expected to hit them and Texas no longer has an extra active starter on their 40-man roster.
Let’s face it: In 2014, I have NO expectations of a playoff appearance for the Texas Rangers.
I hate saying that. There’s still talent on this team. Shin-Soo Choo. Darvish. Beltre. Alex Rios. Fielder. Leonys Martin. Joakim Soria. Jason Frasor. There really is talent on this team. What one can’t escape is, outside of Darvish, this is not a strong starting rotation. Lewis will have some outstanding performances but he’ll also have a lot of clunkers on the way and one can’t expect more than six innings out of him in any start. Martinez and Tepesch are young and have good ceilings but because they’re young they’re going to take their lumps as they learn how to pitch in the big leagues. Ross has talent and started the season well but has failed to impress in his last three or four starts. Just one week ago, it looked like Tepesch was ready to take Ross’ rotation spot. Now Ross is still in the rotation by default, because there’s nobody else available.
Even when Derek Holland returns, there’s no guarantee he’ll pitch the way he did in 2013. Scott Feldman had microfracture knee surgery and it was over a year before he started pitching well again. By then, he was with the Chicago Cubs and not the Rangers.
Jon Daniels could go out and trade for a pitcher but there’s a good chance the other GM’s he deals with will try to fleece him. After all, the Rangers must look desperate to get starting pitching today. If I were an opposing GM, I’d want to take advantage of that and see how high JD’s willing to go with his prospects to make a deal happen. As a result, I don’t think Daniels is in a rush to get a deal made.
On the other hand, if he doesn’t make a deal, I think he’ll be admitting the Rangers aren’t a playoff team this year. There’s no harm in that because NOT making a deal also means he’s sticking with his long-term plans to keep the Rangers competitive for the foreseeable future. In basketball, the Spurs had a bad year once when Tim Duncan missed significant time due to injury. The Spurs didn’t over-react. They held steady, let the bad year go by and came back as good as ever the next season. If Daniels stays pat, it’ll be frustrating to the fan base but understandable. I’ll just grit my teeth, watch the Rangers win some, lose some and never seem to gain any traction while looking forward to next year.
Then again, Ron Washington strikes me as the type of guy who feels more comfortable in the underdog role. There’s always the possibility he’ll take this injury-laden Rangers teams to heights nobody thought they could reach. If he does, I hope it shuts up for good the contingent who think he’s too Old School to succeed.
Here we are, a week into the baseball season’s second month. Statistics start meaning a little bit more than the first three weeks where a hot or cold streak looks great or horrific on paper but signify nothing more than a hot or cold streak. So far, the Rangers have done about as well as could be expected considering all the injuries they’re up against. Now, however, we’re starting to get more of a feel for this year’s team and, quite frankly, it doesn’t look so good. The offense has been spotty, the pitching is growing more suspect by the day and defense seems a dirty word so the Rangers avoid playing it well at all costs.
There are still a number of Rangers who will be arriving in the coming months to help: Derek Holland, Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto. That’s fine for June and July. The problem is, Texas still has a slew of games to play in May and June before the first reinforcement arrives and this team needs help NOW.
Case in point: When Profar went down with an injury in his throwing arm, the Rangers went with a second base platoon of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy. This looked like another one of Jon Daniels’ genius moves, getting two utility guys on the cheap and having them perform way above expectations. On April 17, the Wilson-Murphy combo was hitting .267 with 4 doubles, 7 RBI, 6 walks, a sacrifice and two sac flies. Since that time, they’ve hit a combined .197 and, while they have one more RBI at 8, they also have 23 strikeouts and just three walks in 71 at bats. In other words, they’re showing us who they’ve always been- spare pieces expected to shoulder more of a load than usual. The Rangers have at least a month left before Profar returns and I’m not even convinced it won’t be even longer period. Wilson and Murphy displaced Adam Rosales and Brent Lillibridge from the roster. Rosales in particular is doing a decent job at AAA Round Rock. He’s now up to .283 on the season with 7 doubles and 5 homers. Rosales has some pop in his bat and can play second, third and first. At this point, he might offer more to the Rangers than they’re getting from Murphy so why not give him a shot?
There aren’t any real solutions in the catching department. Soto is out for at least another month, the catchers at Round Rock aren’t anything to write home about and Jorge Alfaro is probably two years away from the big club. Texas is just going to have to lump it with Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia, unless JD decides to trade for a proven catcher.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff still needs sorting out. While the starting staff is starting to settle down, at least until Holland returns in June or July, it will probably remain inconsistent for a while. Matt Harrison came back from the DL and had one good and one bad start. That will likely continue for the next 4-6 starts as he works his way back. Same thing applies with Colby Lewis. Despite almost two years between big league appearances, he’s performed well overall, but not well enough to guarantee any more than six innings in any start. After an incredibly hot start, Martin Perez has looked awful his last two starts. Robbie Ross has had three consecutive bad outings as well. Veteran Joe Saunders is now on a rehab assignment but you won’t find many Rangers fans waiting for him to return.
One solution is Nick Tepesch. The righthander had a terrible spring and got sent back to the minors midway through Spring Training despite contributing four wins in 17 starts for Texas in 2013. At Round Rock, Tepesch has pitched like the ace of a AAA staff, going 6-1 with a 1.58 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only 9 walks in 38 innings of work. Tepesch has nothing left to prove at AAA and, if anything, is more likely to give the Rangers 7 innings every time out than Robbie Ross will. Ross earned his rotation spot with a strong spring but, like any walk of life, hasn’t proved it lately. Ross has been a valuable bullpen commodity. It’s time he returned there.
Speaking of the bullpen, it has quickly turned from one of the Rangers strong suits to a mess of stinking you know what. Alexi Ogando has gotten overworked and gave up six hits and a walk in just a third of an inning of work in Colorado last night. Ogando has done nothing to sway me from my earlier stated opinion that by seasons end, he will be a non-factor on the Rangers. Also worrisome is Neal Cotts, who thus far (1-2, 5.68 ERA, 3 Blown Saves) has not come close to being the pitcher he was in 2013 (8-3, 1.11 ERA). Because Perez, Lewis, Harrison and Ross haven’t been able to go deep into games, the bullpen is pitching too many innings. If Texas were to bring up Tepesch and send Ross back to relief, it will help settle down a combustible situation. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers will return soon as well and should go back to being the 8th inning guy.
It’s only two players, but adding Rosales for Murphy, then adding Tepesch while moving Ross to relief and placing Ogando on the DL for whatever reason they can come up with, could help this team navigate through a tough month of May in better shape than they’re in now.
WTF (Why The Face?)?
It’s amazing how, in the span of four days, an entire month of pretty good feeling is eviscerated. Such is the case of the 2014 Texas Rangers. After taking the last two games of a three game set with the Chicago White Sox, the Rangers went to Oakland and promptly swept a three game road series with the 2-time defending AL West champions. A 5-game winning streak with a line-up occupied heavily by names such as Wilson, Murphy, Kouzmanoff, Choice and Chirinos and a pitching staff held together with rubber bands and Elmer’s Glue was accomplishing the impossible. Then Kyle Seager followed by a home rematch with the A’s happened. Now the Rangers are reeling, losers of four in a row for the first time this season. Adding insult to injury, not only did Oakland return the favor of a road sweep, they did it in such convincing fashion to make even the hardiest of Rangers fans openly weep in the streets. The A’s played another game of “Who’s Your Daddy?” with Yu Darvish, they not only ended Martin Perez‘ streak of scoreless innings at 26 2/3, they demolished the young southpaw. Then they closed out the old-fashioned butt-whipping with a 12-1 pasting of Robbie Ross with a relatively no-name journeyman pitcher by the name of Jesse Chavez, who was originally drafted by the Rangers.
Now it’s on to Anaheim and the first meeting of the season with the suddenly resurgent Angels. LA is pounding the ball. Albert Pujols is looking like the Albert Pujols of old, Mike Trout is looking like the Mike Trout of always and Howie Kendrick is also hitting a ton. Adopting Murphy’s Law, this of course means the Angels will probably get production this weekend from the likes of David Freese and JB Shuck. The Rangers are “lucky” they don’t have to face CJ Wilson or Jered Weaver this weekend: lucky being in quotes because Texas actually has fared pretty well against them. On the other hand, the Angels are lucky they don’t have to face Martin Perez. They’re further lucky because the first two pitchers they do face, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis, are both coming off injuries that kept them off a mound for a year (Harrison) and a year and a half (Lewis). Texas has the talent to win this series. After the meltdown they had against the A’s, though, have they sufficiently recovered mentally to do the job?
It’s easy to lay blame for the Rangers offensive misfortune at the feet of Prince Fielder. The big guy finished April right about .200 with less than 10 RBI and just two home runs, both solo shots. Still, the big question in Rangers land is what’s going on with Elvis? The Rangers shortstop has never been a power hitter so that isn’t an issue. What he always has been is a slick-fielding shortstop who makes contact at the plate and is especially dangerous with runners in scoring position. The Elvis we’re seeing now is in a 3-35 slump and has already committed seven errors in only 28 games after committing only 14 errors in all of 2013. Fourteen of his last 20 at bats have resulted in groundouts. Shin-Soo Choo is doing a great job at the top of the line-up getting on base. Elvis isn’t moving him along. Thus far, Elvis isn’t sacrifice bunting as much as he did with Ian Kinsler ahead of him in the batting order. Maybe not bunting is affecting his mentality at the plate a bit. Without Andrus moving Choo along, Fielder and Adrian Beltre have less chances to knock him in. And, with two journeymen occupying second base for another month and Fielder not a great defensive presence at first base, the pitching staff needs Elvis to at his best defensively. This is a situation that needs straightening out fast!
You would think the rotation is pretty well settled now. There’s no moving Yu Darvish and Martin Perez out of the mix, Matt Harrison’s first start off the DL showed signs of his being the Matt Harrison of old and Colby Lewis, while not pitching more than five innings in his first few starts, certainly has what it takes to be the Rangers’ #5. Up until Wednesday, Robbie Ross looked like he was a rotation lock as well. The A’s torched Ross for eight runs , six earned, on eleven hits in just 3 1/3 innings. In his last start against Seattle, he gave up just two runs in six innings but also hit three batters. Meanwhile, Nick Tepesch has performed brilliantly for AAA Round Rock. Tepesch is now 5-1 for the Express with a 1.59 ERA, a .207 Batting Average Against and a 13-inning scoreless streak. Derek Holland will be ready to go in about a month and the Rangers bullpen is short a lefthander. It would make some sense for Ross to return to the pen and the Rangers to bring Tepesch up from Round Rock to take Ross’ place in the rotation. When Holland returns, if Lewis is still only able to give Texas five innings every time out, Tepesch could replace Lewis, who would then become the Rangers long reliever. I don’t think this is going to happen before Ross’ next start, but I bet it’s something the front office is considering.
Down On The Farm
The Texas minor league guys are doing a pretty decent job thus far. AAA Round Rock sits at 15-12, tied for first in the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division. Despite an excellent 17-10 overall mark, the AA Frisco RoughRiders sit a half game behind the Midland Rockhounds in the South Division of the Texas League. In High A, Joey Gallo‘s ten home runs gives him a tie for the overall minor league lead and his Myrtle Beach Pelicans are a game up on Salem in the South Division of the Carolina League at 16-9. Finally, the Hickory Crawdads of the Class A South Atlantic League are the only Rangers affiliate sitting below .500. The Crawdads are 12-13 and in 4th place in the Sally League’s Northern Division, 7 games behind my original hometown team, the Hagerstown Suns.
The good news is Adrian Beltre returns to the Texas Rangers line-up tonight after a two-week stay on the DL. Matt Harrison will follow with his first start in over a year on Sunday. The bad news: the man who so ably filled in for Beltre, reigning AL Player of the Week Kevin Kouzmanoff, is himself disabled list-bound. Kouzmanoff, who sat out the last two games of the Oakland series, has a herniated disc in his back. If it doesn’t respond by the end of the weekend, Kouzmanoff will undergo surgery. A herniated disc is what put Matt Harrison on the shelf after just three starts last year.
When it comes to injuries, this team seems snake-bit in 2014. So much so I thought it would be appropriate, for those who missed it in the off-season, to run my tongue-in-cheek piece on the Rangers selling the naming rights to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to insurance corporation Globe Life. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if it wasn’t as tongue-in-cheek as originally thought. This was first written before anything had happened to Geovany Soto, Beltre, Pedro Figueroa, Tanner Scheppers, Jim Adduci, Joe Saunders, Engel Beltre and now Kouzmanoff. Anyway, here’s hoping the weekend in Seattle goes as well as the early week visit to Oakland. Go Rangers!
The Texas Rangers sold the naming rights to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington February 5th, inking a ten-year deal that turns RBiA into Globe Life Park for the next decade. The deal was surprising because, until the day before the announcement, the public wasn’t even aware the Rangers were pursuing any naming rights deals. I wonder if this is how it went down.
The Scene: Principal owner Bob Simpson’s office. Simpson is sitting at his desk, having a chat with General Manager Jon Daniels.
“Yes, Mr. Simpson?”
“JD, what’s going on around here? Every time I turn around, I hear about somebody else getting hurt and it isn’t even Spring Training yet!”
“Well, sir, I…”
(Phone rings. Simpson puts it on speaker)
“Ann I told you, no interruptions!!!”
“Yes, sir, but there’s a gentleman out here and he appears very insistent on seeing you.”
“Sir, I own the ballclub and you can’t just come barging in…”
“Tsk, tsk, Boobala. Is that any way to act towards someone who wants to do youse guys a favor?”
“A favor? What kind of favor could you do for me?”
“I noticed youse guys have been getting a lot of players, how shall I put it delicately, incapacitated. I can guarantee I can make that go away. Mr. Daniels, I understand you gots a player in Venezuela. Let me check my notes here…a Joseph Ortiz, am I right?”
“Yeah, he pitched for us last year. He was up for a bullpen role this year too.”
“And he got his foot run over by a car. My my my. Ain’t dat a shame? The accidental things that can happen to a player. Unless it weren’t no accident, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know what you’re implying, but who are you anyway???”
“Just call me Vinny for now. Now, there’s also Mr. Chirinos. I believe he’s a catcher.”
“He has a chance at being our third string catcher out of spring training.”
“Got hit on the wrist by a pitch. Tragic, just tragic.”
“It wasn’t serious. He’ll be ready for Spring Training.”
“Unless something else happens to that fragile wrist of his. Not saying it’s going to, but hey, anything is possible in this big bad world of ours. Which brings me to Derek Holland. What a shame it was to have him (makes quotation marks with his fingers) trip over his dog. (Closes the quotes with his fingers) Microfracture surgery on his knee. Going to miss half a season. A dog gone shame it is. Hey, youse see what I just did there? Tripped over his dog? Dog-gone shame??? HAR HAR HAR!!!”
“Vinny. My name is Vinny.”
“All right, Vinny. Why don’t you tell me what you’re really here for?”
“It’s like dis, Bob. You don’t mind if I call you Bob, do you?”
“I mind very much!”
“Bob it is. You see, Bob…JD…I represent a growing concern we call the Globe Life Insurance Company. And I…WE…can guarantee the future safety of your players. In fact, I will personally see to it that some of these accidents stop happening. Just like that!”(Snaps his fingers)
“I don’t see how you can, considering they were accidents to begin with…”
“JD, JD, JD. I can’t believe your brilliant baseball mind doesn’t understand. Sure, Derek had an…accident, shall we say. Who’s to say that a week into spring training, Jurickson Profar just happens to slip on a bar of soap in the shower, throwing his whole shoulder out of whack. Or maybe your new guy….Choo is his name? Who’s to say this Choo fellow doesn’t take his girl to an amusement park and gets into an incident involving the little choo choo that goes around the park? Maybe dese tings happen, maybe dey don’t. Just saying…”
“I think I get where you’re coming from, Vinny. So how much?”
“Mr. Simpson, you’re not thinking about paying this guy off, are you?”
“Quiet JD. This is between Vinny and me. So what’s the bottom line Vinny?”
“Well, the people I represent at Globe Life think it would be really cool to have people partake of a game here in Arlington at Globe Life Park. Whatta youse guys feel about that?”
“I hate it.”
“Fortunately, it’s Bobby here who makes the decisions. So whatta ya say, Bobby? Have we got a deal?”
“And we have no more…accidents?”
“Scout’s honor. No more accidents for the next nine months.”
“Nine months isn’t good enough. I’m not going to do this and have you come back nine months again and do another shakedown!”
“Bobby, Bobby. This ain’t a shakedown. It’s a business arrangement! Tell you what, let’s shoot for da stars. We’ll make it a ten year arrangement. How does that sound?”
“And we won’t see you again for another ten years?”
“You gots my word on it.”
“And if we decide after this year we no longer want to be associated with you?”
“Oh you wouldn’t want to do that. Something bad could happen. I might could persuade A-Rod to return to Texas.”
“Ten years it is Vinny. Great doing business with you! Can’t wait to see the Globe Life Park signage for the next ten years. Hell, I’ll go 20 as long as you keep A-Rod away from here!”
“Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.”
(Takes out cell phone. Places a call.)
“Mr. Ryan? Nolan? Vinny here. We got a deal. Worked like a charm!”
It had to wait until 16 games into the season, but the Texas Rangers finally have a winning streak. Sure, it’s just three games. But when you consider the Rangers are putting out a daily starting line-up with no Adrian Beltre; guys at the bottom of the order like Donnie Murphy, Josh Wilson and J.P. Arencibia; a slow-starting Prince Fielder sitting at .164 with just one home run and 4 RBI; a pitching staff that started the season with ZERO pitchers who had started for the Rangers the year before; a catching tandem hitting a COMBINED .113 on the season; and a surprisingly porous defense sitting at the bottom of the league with more errors than anyone, then sitting at 2 games over .500 16 games in is really a miracle.
Yu Darvish is the ace of the staff. When he starts, the Rangers are 3-0. What’s unusual about that 3-0 is not that Darvish himself is only 1-0. What’s unusual is Darvish has thrown 22 innings and has yet to take the mound with a run on the Rangers ledger. The only game in which he got credited with the win, Texas scored in the bottom of the 7th and a new pitcher came on in the top of the 8th. A 1-0 record in three games with what is literally ZERO run support.
If you had told ANY Rangers fan that 16 games into the season the most valuable player on the team would be Kevin Kouzmanoff, you either would have gotten laughed out of the room or asked how much money you were willing to bet on it. Yet here’s Kouzmanoff, not even on the team for the first seven games, hitting .414 with five doubles, a home run and six RBI since replacing the injured Adrian Beltre in the line-up 9 games ago.
The Rangers are averaging less than four runs per game and have gotten outscored by five runs thus far, yet they have four walk-off wins and lead the league in shutouts with four. Prince Fielder is only hitting a buck-64, yet he leads the league with six intentional walks. According to Baseball Reference, Texas should have been 6-9 entering the finale of the Seattle series instead of 8-7.
It’s still at least a week before Adrian Beltre is back on the field. Matt Harrison wants to return to Texas by April 24th but is likely out at least a week longer than that, despite the poor performance by Tanner Scheppers in Thursday’s outing. Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto are still at least six weeks away and Derek Holland maybe ten weeks. The spare parts currently outperforming their expectations have to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They may not sustain their current production.
For now, though, I plan on savoring what they’ve accomplished so far.
The Rangers’ minor league teams uniformly got off to slow starts but Thursday’s games saw all four full-season teams secure wins, the first time all four have won in the same day. Even then, there was good and bad news. On the good side, last year’s first-round pick, second baseman Travis Demeritte, cranked his second and third home runs of the season for the Hickory Crawdads. Hickory entered the game hitting in the .180’s as a team but managed to improve their BA to above the Mendoza line with nine hits overall, including Demeritte’s two dingers. Also on the good side was Myrtle Beach’s third baseman Joey Gallo. At 19, Gallo is among the top power hitters in all the minors. After a slow start at the plate, yesterday Gallo unleashed a 4 for 4 day for the Pelicans including a double and his first two High-A home runs. If Gallo can cut down on his strikeouts, he could be a major league presence for years to come.
The negative side of the ledger came from the pitching staffs. Luke Jackson, one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects, had a bad game, giving up seven runs in only 3 1/3 innings for the AA Frisco RoughRiders. Even more troublesome was the performance by Cody Buckel of Myrtle Beach. Just a year ago, Buckel was not only one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects, he also made his first appearance in the big-league camp in Spring Training. All of a sudden, Buckel picked up a case of what they call the “yips”. Suddenly, he lost all command on his pitches. In the minors, Buckel exhibited great control. Now he was walking batters, hitting batters and struggling to find the strike zone. He got shut down in AA after several ineffective starts. He popped up late in the season in the Arizona Summer League but got shut down again after things didn’t get any better.
This spring, Buckel was back and, while he was a bit on the wild side, he did seem to have improved his command. Buckel had worked with pitching coaches and sports psychologists and looked like he was on the road back. Texas started him at High-A Myrtle Beach this year. His first start showed the strides he had made when he allowed only one hit and no runs in four innings of work. Yes, he walk four in four innings but insiders said he had command of some of his pitches.
In his second start, though, it was like none of the improvements had ever happened. After getting the first two outs with relative ease, Buckel walked the next four batters to plate a run before getting a groundout to end the first. When he opened the second inning by walking the first two batters then hit the third to load the bases, Buckel’s night ended. One inning, one run, six walks, a hit batter and no strikeouts. I’ve rooted for Buckel to come back. They say his stuff is great. But something has happened to him and it’s iffy whether he’ll ever return to the prospect he once was.
The good news is Adrian Beltre has just a mild quad strain so he isn’t expected to miss substantial time. The bad news is we still don’t know if he’ll be placed on the 15-day DL anyway. The Rangers plan to give Beltre the weekend before deciding what to do. The only thing we know is he won’t play in the home series with the Astros this weekend. Expect Kevin Kouzmanoff as the Rangers’ starting third baseman this weekend. Not placing Beltre on the DL this weekend means the long-awaited return of Colby Lewis won’t happen for a few more days. Lewis was originally slated to start Saturday’s game. With Beltre NOT on the DL, Lewis graciously agreed to push back his return to the Rangers until Monday or Tuesday (he had an out in his contract that would have allowed him to declare free agency if he wasn’t on the Texas roster by Thursday 4/10). For a team already missing Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto, losing a third starter, especially the likes of Beltre, would be a crippling blow. Here’s hoping he’ll be back in the line-up Monday when the Mariners come to town.
BAD “D” IN BIG D
One of the biggest red flags after the first nine games is the Texas defense. It was expected there would be some weakening of the Rangers D in 2014. Prince Fielder isn’t as good a defender at first as Mitch Moreland and Ian Kinsler was a pretty good defender at second when he was a Rangers player. What wasn’t expected was Texas committing eleven errors in the first nine games, easily the worst mark in the major leagues. Even more shocking, six of those eleven errors have been by the most reliable defenders in a Rangers uniform, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. One of the three errors on each of them can partially be blamed on Fielder’s inability to pick up a short-hop throw. The other two are strictly on them. Andrus in particular got shut down for the last couple of weeks in Spring Training with a sore arm. I think we’re seeing the result of that layoff. As for Beltre, one of the best third basemen in the game, I hope this early showing isn’t a sign of his reflexes starting to slow down at age 35. Only time will tell.
The Rangers begin a 10-game homestand this weekend against the Houston Astros. Texas was 17-2 against Houston a year ago. The Astros are a little improved, ie they could win 70 games this year instead of 60, so 17-2 might give way to 14-5 this year. Still, if Beltre is going to miss a series, this is the one he can most afford to miss. Texas has two of their most trustworthy pitchers, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, going in the three game set, so winning at least two of the three is realistic.
MAJORS: Houston (4-6) at Texas (4-5)
AAA: Colorado Springs (Rockies 4-4) at Round Rock (RANGERS 5-3)
AA: Frisco (RANGERS 3-4) at NW Arkansas (Royals 2-5)
High-A: Myrtle Beach (RANGERS 3-4) at Wilmington (Royals 2-5)
Low-A: Asheville (Rockies 4-4) at Hickory (RANGERS 5-3)