Results tagged ‘ Andres Blanco ’

Spare Parts

When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.

Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.

The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.

Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.

The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.

The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.

The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter  to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.

Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.

Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.

By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.

All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!

Countdown To Spring Training

The only recent news to report is the Rangers say they’ve reached their payroll budget limit and are “unlikely” to make any more changes headed into Spring Training a week hence.

If this is indeed the case, it means the Rangers will stay within the system to fill out the team. As constructed now, the only real issue is who will be the designated “Forgotten Man” of the offense, otherwise known as the Utility Infielder. For the last two seasons, Andres Blanco has been the Rangers’ Mr. Irrelevant and actually performed pretty well in the role, particularly in 2010 when he had to play on a regular basis towards the end of the season with Ian Kinsler on the DL. In 2010, though, Blanco’s role was a little more important.

In 2011, the role of the Utility Infielder was essentially one of filling in for Elvis Andrus on occasion, as Michael Young was expected to act as Kinsler’s back-up at 2nd, Adrian Beltre’s back-up at 3rd and Mitch Moreland’s back-up at first. This isn’t expected to change in 2012.

With no outside help on the immediate horizon, the odds right now are for Mr. Irrelevant to be Alberto Gonzalez (Career .242/.281/.317), signed to a minor league free agent contract in December. Gonzalez played all four infield positions for the Padres in 2011.

The only other offensive question is in center field, where Craig Gentry (.271/.347/.346 in 2011) apparently has been told he has a chance of getting the gig fulltime, instead of just as a platoon. I don’t see it. Gentry is a great defender and awesome base-stealer (a perfect 19 for 19 in 2011), but he doesn’t hit well against right-handers. If, however, the Rangers think Gentry can handle the load fulltime, it would allow minor league free agent signee Conor Jackson (career .271/.351/.407) to be the 5th outfielder, providing more potential power than someone like Julio Borbon could provide. I still think Borbon will stay as a platoon, unless he’s beaten out by Kyle Hudson, signed out of the Orioles system in January.

Either way, it’s only a temporary situation, for a year at best, until Leonys Martin is deemed ready for the majors. The Cuban defector signed a 5-year deal with Texas in 2011 and there’s no way the Rangers allow more than two years of that contract to be earned playing in the minors. Some folks in the know peg Martin as being with the Rangers no later than May or June of this season.

Those are the only two offensive openings on this entire team at this time. Next time, a look at the available openings on the pitching staff.

The Kids Are Alright

Five days later…

As a fan, the sting of losing Game 7 is gone. Sure, it’s disappointing. I told a Cardinals fan I know that Game 6 made me feel like Charlie Brown, with Lucy pulling the football back at the last second. Twice. I still can’t quite find the desire to turn on a lot of Sports Talk radio, for fear of hearing pundits lay into my Rangers for the way they let this one get away, but I still have a wife who loves me (most of the time), children and grandchildren who love me (most of the time) and two dogs that love me all of the time (as long as I walk them and feed them), so life is good.

The off-season has begun and with it, the makeover of the Texas Rangers to put them in the best position possible to make yet another assault on a World Series Championship. Honestly, this may be as boring an off-season for Rangers fans as there will be.

Here’s the big drama: Will CJ Wilson be back and will the Rangers succeed in signing Japanese phenom pitcher Yu Darvish? Other than that, anything else that would happen to this Rangers team will qualify as a surprise.

Wilson is the only free agent of note for Texas. According to an ESPN.com report, CJ says there’s a “great chance” he’ll return to the Texas fold in 2012. Other reports have said the Rangers plan to cut ties with the lefty and proceed heavily towards getting Darvish in the fold. In this case, I’ll trust CJ’s actual words for now. Who knows, maybe both Wilson and Darvish will be part of the 2012 rotation. The Rangers are also said to be one of the favorites to get Darvish, a 25-year-old who compiled a 1.44 ERA in the Orient this past season.

I read something interesting today concerning Darvish and Japanese pitchers in general. Over in Japan, apparently, they still stick with a 4-man rotation instead of the stateside five. Darvish is said to have as many as ten different pitches at his disposal. The interesting point made was comparing Darvish to Daisuke Matsusaka. The article (in Baseball Prospectus) said when the Red Sox got Daisuke, they made him whittle his repertoire down to five pitches. It went on to speculate the combination of this and giving him four days rest between starts instead of the three he was used to could help explain Matsusaka’s underwhelming Red Sox career. If so, it will be interesting to see if the Rangers treat Darvish differently than the Red Sox did Daisuke (assuming the Rangers get Darvish, of course).

Texas exercised the option in Colby Lewis’ contract, as well as reliever Yoshi Tateyama. The latter signing could mean the end of the road in Texas for Darren O’Day, who is a sidearming righty like Tateyama (albeit with much more zip on the ball).

There will be some arbitration battles coming up. Obviously, Mike Napoli is going to garner a huge payday whether it goes to an arbitrator or not. There could be speculation the Rangers will cut ties with Yorvit Torrealba thanks to Napoli’s strong season. Torrealba is only going to be making a little over $3 million in 2012, so I have a feeling they’ll keep him.

Other than that, this team is pretty set. Most players are under contract already. There could be some second tier players released, like Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco, but those won’t change the makeup of this team very much.

Speculation has been raised about the rangers going after Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols to fill the one weak spot on the field, first base. I just don’t think Texas is going to get involved in those high dollars, preferring to use them on pitchers like Wilson and Darvish.

There are other items I could throw out there, but all in all, this shouldn’t be as dramatic an off-season as last year was.

 

Thank You Seattle Mariners: Rays 4, Rangers 1

With a mere 27 games remaining on the 2011 schedule, anything that gets the Texas Rangers one step closer to clinching a playoff berth is welcome. Certainly, fans would prefer the Rangers take the drama out of it and just clinch a return trip to the playoffs by winning, winning again and winning some more.

Nice as it would be, it is not realistic. So on those days when the Rangers don’t win, a well-placed assist is always welcome. Such was what occurred Wednesday night, when the Mariners helped the Rangers out with a 2-1 come from behind victory over the Angels. It helped take the sting out of the Rangers 4-1 defeat by Tampa Bay and maintained the Rangers’ 3 1/2 game lead in the AL West.

Outside of the first inning, when they loaded the bases with one out, Texas never had much of a chance against James Shields. Some games you just lose because an outstanding pitcher throws an outstanding game and this was one of them. Shields was magnificent, throwing eight shutout innings and getting out of the aforementioned first inning by inducing an inning ending double play grounder from Mike Napoli.

Of more concern was the horrific performance of Alexi Ogando and the continued struggles of newly acquired Koji Uehara. Ogando lasted less than three innings, giving up only three runs but looking just awful out on the mound. Last night only confirmed my suspicion that Scott Feldman will replace Ogando in his next scheduled start Monday at the Trop. Uehara, meanwhile, came on to pitch the 8th and again gave up a home run, his 4th since joining the Rangers and in only 10 2/3 innings.

On the positive side of the ledger, rookie Mark Hamburger came on in the 9th, making his major league debut and tossing a scoreless inning. By the way, I will not make any Hamburger puns, as I’ve seen enough of them over the past two days to realize it’s already become trite. Matt Harrison, who took a rotation turn off, tossed two hitless innings and appears ready for his next start Sunday against the Red Sox.

 Series finale tonight with Adrian Beltre back in the Rangers line-up. Also activated is utility infielder Andres Blanco. The Rangers have also called up two players, now that rosters have expanded: infielder Esteban German and pitcher Merkin Valdez.  Mike Gonzalez and Matt Treanor also join the team tonight, while the Rangers have sent AAA reliever Pedro Strop to the Orioles to complete the trade for Gonzalez. More players will join the Rangers later, but will wait until Round Rock and Frisco complete their respective playoff series.

 

Ownership Has Its Priviliges: Rangers 3-3, Blue Jays 6-10

It’s a good thing the Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs last year. If they had, the Rangers probably wouldn’t have even sniffed the World Series.

Every good team has one- the opponent that overall is inferior to them but just seems to own your team anyway. For the Rangers, that team is the Toronto Blue Jays.

For the last two years, the Rangers have had one of the better pitching staffs in the American League. Except when they play the Blue Jays.

Offensively, many of the Rangers players are among the elite in all of baseball. Except against the Blue Jays.

The first two games of this week’s four game set is the perfect microcosm of the Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry.

Michael Young’s hitting streak? Ended. Matt Harrison’s string of excellent outings? Ended with a resounding thud (3 IP, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 K). Defensive whiz Elvis Andrus? E-6. Colby Lewis? Three HR’s given up in one inning. I’m actually glad Neftali Feliz is on the DL. In a close game, I’m pretty sure he’d blow the save against the Jays, who are now 9-3 against the Rangers since the start of the 2010 season.

Arguably, the best Texas performances the past two days have come from the castoffs and the players many Texas fans want to cast off. Last man on the bench Andres Blanco hit a home run Monday night. Chris Davis was 2-4 Tuesday night, both doubles. Even Julio Borbon, the scorn of most of the home fans, knocked in two of the three Rangers runs Tuesday AND made not only a great play in deep center field, he also managed an outfield assist throwing out a runner trying to go first to third on a single. Naturally, his throw was a three bouncer. But it still worked!!!

I have an idea. For Wednesday’s game, the Rangers should put all the back-ups in the line-up. Davis at 3rd base. Blanco at short. Taylor Teagarden can catch. Keep Borbon in. If need be, bring up some more scrubs from Round Rock to fill out the line-up. Derek Holland is the scheduled pitcher tonight. Maybe we should bring Michael Kirkman back. He’s sucked all year both in the bigs and at AAA. It just seems like only the opposite will work when it comes to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nah, that probably won’t work either. For whatever reasons, these guys seem to have our number.

Looking Up At First Place: Angels 2 Games, Rangers 1

I’ll say it. At this point of the season, the Angels deserve to be in first place. They’re hitting better, they’re pitching better, they’re playing better defense.

That being said, I still believe the 2011 Rangers are a better team than the Angels and that they’ll prevail once the season ends (barring more injuries). Even in dropping their first two home games of the year, Texas had some positives in the set.

What’s Working

CJ Wilson got some of his mojo back,
striking out nine and walking only one in giving up just a single run in the Rangers win in Game 1.
Michael Young is thriving in the 3 hole in place of the injured Josh Hamilton.
Matt Harrison, even in defeat in Game 3, pitched his 4th consecutive quality start. He just had the misfortune of facing the best pitcher in the American League right now in Jered Weaver.
Mitch Moreland continues his steady hitting and Elvis Andrus appears to be coming out of his slump.

What’s Not Working

Unfortunately, too much
and just about all of it was shown in the Game 2 15-4 beatdown the Angels inflicted on the Rangers.
On the pitching side, new father Colby Lewis hasn’t looked like the 2010 Colby Lewis all year, Michael Kirkman got shelled and earned a trip back to Round Rock, and Mason Tobin got hurt and may be gone for the season.
For a team that is supposed to play good defense, there’s been some shoddy play out there. Even defensive utility man Andres Blanco dropped an easy pop-up. Mental laziness.
Offensively, Texas is showing no consistency. Nelson Cruz’ boomstick has stopped booming, Ian Kinsler is still struggling, and, outside of Michael Young, nobody seems to be hitting the ball with much authority. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been abysmal lately. To top it off, when runners get on, they’ve been getting picked off. Putrid.

After an off day, the surprising Kansas City Royals come to Arlington. Hopefully the day off will bring some semblance of the defending AL champions back. As it stands right now, this is a team trying to find its identity again.

Hello, Goodbye, & Please Don’t Go

mike-napoli-_44 copy.jpgAnother unexpected move by the Rangers brass today, sending reliever Frank Francisco and some cash north of the border to the Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Napoli, making his stay with the Blue Jays all of four days after being dealt there by the Angels in the Vernon Wells deal. I wonder if Napoli even had a chance to talk to anyone in the Blue Jays front office before he was dealt again? Ah the life of a professional athlete.

 

 

Frankie Frank gave the Rangers some good years, but the fact Texas got to the World Series without their regular 8th inning set-up guy made him expendable. Many were surprised he accepted arbitration from the Rangers instead of testing the market, but I’m sure not in the mood to complain about that now.

When this deal was first announced, it both excited me and depressed me. Excited me to get another power bat in the line-up. Depressed me because, as primarily a catcher, that might mean the end of Matt Treanor’s days as a Ranger (I just sang his praises in my FanFest post a day ago).

 

matt-treanor-200aj121310 copy.jpgI perked up a little, though, when I realized Napoli also can play some first base. Then it all made sense to me. The Rangers don’t have to give up Treanor and there is now incredible flexibility in the line-up.

As a righty, Napoli can platoon with the left-handed Moreland at first base. That means Michael Young won’t have to worry about learning how to play first. MY will still back up the other three infield positions while primarily serving as the Rangers DH.

Meanwhile, Treanor and Yorvit Torrealba will be the two main catchers. If, however, one of them goes down with an injury, now you have Napoli as the back-up catcher and eliminate the need for the Rangers to call up Taylor Teagarden, who inspires the confidence of approximately 0 Rangers fans, give or take 2.

If Treanor stays, the man on the bubble now is Andres Blanco, who proved a capable defensive back-up in 2010 on the infield and even became a decent hitter when he got some regular playing time during Ian Kinsler’s second DL stint. Barring injury, the offensive line-up is completely set before spring training even begins, with the only decision left being do you keep Blanco and Treanor, or waive one of them to open a slot for a 5th outfielder. Since Moreland also played outfield in 2010, I think the 2011 Opening Day line-up has already arrived in Arlington.

Unless there’s another trade. As many off-season surprises Jon Daniels has pulled out of his hat so far this off-season (Adrian Beltre, Arthur Rhodes, Napoli and Torrealba), I wouldn’t put it past him to have another ace up his sleeve.

Defending Michael Young’s Defense

Adrian Beltre.jpg

Michael Young.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              

                Adrian Beltre                                        Michael Young

Everything I’ve read about the Rangers’ signing of Adrian Beltre indicates he will be an outstanding defensive upgrade at third base over Michael Young, who’s manned the hot corner for the past two seasons.

Young will be transitioning in 2011 to the DH/Super Utility role on the Rangers to make way for Beltre. He’ll see most of his play at DH and presumably will spell virtually every member of the infield when they need a rest. What this does for Andres Blanco’s role on the 2011 Rangers remains to be seen.

I read the main Rangers fan sites on an almost daily basis and, again, all point to the defensive improvement Beltre will bring to the Rangers.

Having watched almost all of the Rangers games in 2010 (mostly on TV), I understand what people feel about the subject. I, too, saw many times where Young didn’t reach a ball that it looked like he should have had. In addition, the number of errors Young had in his second year at third base was higher than his first year (19 vs. 9), so it was easy to see Young had “regressed”.

Still, it’s important to note how thin the line is between a “bad” fielder, as many view Young, and a “great” fielder, as many view Beltre. Beltre is not only considered the superior fielder to Young in a career sense, but if you ask who the better fielder was in 2010, I’d guess the percentage voting for Beltre would be in the 90%+ range.

After reading some breakdowns comparing the two (Beltre was ranked the 4th best 3rd baseman in the sabermetrics UZR ratings, Young the 5th worst), there were things that struck me.

Both played about an equal number of games at 3rd base. Young played 28 more innings there than Beltre, the equivalent of about three games more. Both Beltre and Young committed 19 errors in 2010. Beltre participated in 4 more double plays than Young. Beltre also had more put-outs and assists than Young (some of this I would attribute to Elvis Andrus’ superior range).

But here’s the thing that stood out for me. According to stats reported on Bill James online, Beltre was 16 plays better than Young on balls hit to his left, one play better on balls hit straight on and six plays better on balls hit to the right in 2010. I’ll let this sink in. We’re talking a total of 23 plays over the course of an entire season. Divide that up over a 162 game season and this “huge” difference is the result of Beltre converting one more play every 7 games. That’s roughly one play a week.

One play a week is the defensive difference between bad and great. One play a week is the difference between thinking our guy is the greatest defensive player on the face of the earth or the biggest bum around!

It’s the same with hitting. Based on 600 at bats in a season, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is a grand total of 30 hits. Over a 162 game season, that means a .300 hitter gets one more hit roughly every 5 1/2 games. The difference between .283 and .300 is a mere 10 hits- one more hit every 16 games. One more hit about every 2 1/2 weeks.

We notice the difference with batters more easily because a batting average is just that- an average. Hitting is more an exercise in hot and cold streaks. Better hitters have longer hot streaks an shorter cold snaps, so it’s easier to pick up on good hitters than good fielders. 

The point? Maybe we should cut Michael Young a little bit of slack. Beltre’s been playing third base in the majors for 13 years to Young’s two and Beltre was only one play a week better than Young.

Oh, yeah, and the Rangers still made it to the World Series despite that “bum” at 3rd base. 

New Year, New Rangers

My, what a Christmas break I took. Working in a business where the holidays are the busiest time of the year, it’s a good thing baseball season isn’t in full swing. I don’t think I could survive Christmas and baseball at the same time!

Much has passed since my last missive. The Rangers lost out on Cliff Lee in a surprising last minute move that proves one thing- when you’re talking about the dollars a Cliff Lee is going to earn over the next five years, the deciding factor is obviously going to be- the city where Lee’s wife finds it easiest to get around in. In essence, that’s why Lee was willing to take less money and less years in the contract. For those of us who are married, can you honestly say how your spouse would feel wouldn’t enter into your decision? No matter how you slice it, Lee was going to be richer than Croesus, so why not make sure the wife is happy too? Win-win.

Meanwhile the Rangers moved on in ways I wasn’t even fathoming at the start of the off-season. After missing out on not only Lee but Zack Greinke as well, all Texas did in the pitching department is sign reliever Arthur Rhodes to a two-year deal (at age 41!) and inked Brandon Webb to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

Rhodes surprised me. He had an awesome year for the Reds in 2010, but I don’t see him in anything but the same role that Darren Oliver currently has with the Rangers- a 7th/8th inning lefthanded set-up guy. I guess if they split the duty, the thought is neither will wear down in the second half as much as they both did in 2010.

Webb is a less expensive gamble than Rich Harden was a year ago (though one at the time I probably wouldn’t have labelled Harden as much of a gamble as he turned out to be). I won’t bore you with the consesnsus- huge upside if he’s healthy. Only time will tell.

The aforementioned Harden has signed on with the A’s, a team he has had success with in the past. Now he will try to succeed as a bullpen pitcher for Oakland. The A’s also signed Brandon McCarthy who never realized his potential with the Rangers due to injury. With the A’s starting staff, I don’t see much of a role for McCarthy in Oakland either.

Max Ramirez, a catcher who saw part-time play with the Rangers over parts of the past three seasons, was dropped from the 40-man roster and has been claimed by the Red Sox, who almost got him a year ago except Mike Lowell couldn’t pass a physical in Texas. Pitcher Clay Rapada was also dropped from the 40-man and may or may not clear waivers.

Which leads us to the most immediate moves- the signing of Adrian Beltre and the agreement of Michael Young to move to DH/Utility Guy, thus also meaning the end of Vlad Guerrero’s one-year career with Texas. Popular opinion is- defensive upgrade, good move short-term, but a worry about the length of the contract (6 years).

Defensively, this appears to be a HUGE upgrade. Offensively, I would call it a slight downgrade. You’re basically swapping out Beltre for Guerrero, plus Young’s a year older. Odds are that part of the order will regress. HOWEVER, if Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz can stay healthy and Mitch Moreland continues to improve, the overall offensive attack should be fine, even when figuring Josh Hamilton can’t possibly improve on his 2010.

Texas will head into 2011 as the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL West champs. The Angels weren’t able to upgrade, losing out on both Carl Crawford and Beltre, although they will still be a better offensive team if Kendry Morales returns strong. The A’s added a little offense to their already potent pitching staff, but not enough to scare anyone (although their starting pitching is scary). About all the Mariners added offensively was Jack Cust (although I think Justin Smoak is going to be a thorn in our side for the next few years).

Entering 2011, it appears the Rangers only have one or two open roster spots. Catchers will be newly acquired Yorvit Torrealba and returning Matt Treanor. Infield is Moreland, Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Beltre, with Young and Andres Blanco to back up. Outfield is Hamilton, Cruz, David Murphy and Julio Borbon. That’s twelve players already. While Young will work out some at first base, the only real need in the field appears to be a right-handed Moreland type who can back up at first and in the outfield.

The relief staff is pretty set as well, with Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Frank Francisco, Oliver, Rhodes, and Darren O’Day. Starters are a little more fluid. Definites are Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, with the remaining three coming from a group of Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Webb. That leaves the two odd men out of the rotation battling with Michael Kirkman, Mark Lowe and rookie Tanner Scheppers for the long relief slot.

The starting rotation is the scariest thought. Losing out on Lee leaves the Rangers with no clear ace, although Wilson and Lewis are no slouches. The Rangers could really use Webb to eat up a lot of innings and Derek Holland to finally start realizing his promise. Otherwise, GM Jon Daniels will be doing more mid-season shopping.

I can’t help but feel there could still be a trade happening for a starting pitcher before the Rangers head to Surprise, Arizona for spring training. While you never know what might happen on the injury front, I think the Rangers have too many proven commodities with not enough spaces for them. For example, notice how the name Chris Davis hasn’t even been mentioned for a slot? Or Taylor Teagarden? Both started 2010 with the Rangers and are on the 40-man roster, but aren’t even considered as possibilities to break camp with Texas in April.

Starting to gear up for another season of Rangers baseball. Already have four regular season games on my travel schedule (double last year’s regular season number), as well as a trip to the Rangers’ FanFest later this month (hope to have plenty of pictures and maybe an interview or two to share). I’m still mulling a new name for the blog. Be looking for it by the open of the regular season.

 

The Morning After

alcsnumber6204.jpgAll photos from The Associated Press.

After a celebratory night, I can now write a little bit about Friday night’s pennant clinching victory.

During the course of the day, I was astounded by how many people told me emphatically that the Rangers would win Game 6. People at my office, people at my wife’s office, my kids, everyone seemed more sure than I of a Rangers win.

Being so used to this team not performing to expectations, I was having visions of Phil Hughes pitching the way he has before against Texas instead of the way he pitched in Game 2. And, I had seen Colby Lewis so many times in July and August get little run support and end up giving up the first runs. Those runs often turned out to be the winning runs. All I could do was hope against hope for a similar result to Game 2.

It started right off the bat, with an Elvis Andrus double, a Josh Hamilton single and a Vlad Guerrero groundout, his first RBI of the ALCS, in the bottom of the 1st.

I started feeling better. Unfortunately, the Rangers stopped hitting after that. Hughes didn’t allow any hits in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Lewis was matching Hughes, actually having a no-no through 4. Still, the Yankees were hitting some incredible shots, just right at people. Andrus skyed like Kobe Bryant to snag one sure double to end an inning. Ian Kinsler scooped up a hot Robinson Cano shot to turn an inning-ending double play and there were a couple of warning track shots as well.

When it was still 1-0 going to the 5th, I was getting worried. It didn’t help my mood that Michael Young came up twice to that point with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs and not only couldn’t cash in the run, he couldn’t advance the runner, either. Then the Yankees started intentionally walking Hamilton, daring Guerrero to beat them instead. Vlad failed to deliver.

Finally, the Yankees got some hits and tied the game at 1 in the 5th. Texas had Derek Holland warming in the pen. It looked like Lewis might be done. That sinking feeling was hitting me big time. Cliff Lee or not, I really didn’t want there to be a Game 7, but it was looking like the defending champs were gaining momentum.

Lewis managed to work out of the jam with no further scoring when he struck out Marcus Thames with a runner on second. Tie game.

Now the question was, could Phil Hughes have a shutdown inning? He hadn’t given up a hit since the first. Mitch Moreland started it off with a grounder deep in the hole to Cano. Hughes didn’t get to the bag in time and Moreland was on. An Andrus groundout with Moreland going put a runner on second with one out. Again, Michael Young came up with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs. Again, Young didn’t get a hit. Again, an intentional pass to Hambone to bring up Vlad.

Different result.

Guerrero sent a deep shot to left center, scoring Moreland and Hamilton and the Rangers were back on top 3-1. Phil Hughes’ night was over. David Robertson came in and, after five straight curveballs, threw Nelson Cruz a fastball that was promptly deposited into the left center field seats. 5-1 Rangers.

That sinking feeling was gone. We were really going to win this thing! Lewis worked a 1-2-3 6th inning. Feeling better.

I knew for sure it was over in the top of the 7th. Robinson Cano, who had killed Rangers pitching the entire series, not only struck out, he did it badly on a curve in the dirt. The life was gone from the 2009 champs.

Lewis came back for the 8th and, with one walk included, struck out the side to end his night: 8 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks and 7 K’s.

Neftali Feliz came in to pitch the 9th and how fitting was it for Rangers fans for the game to end with Alex Rodriguez taking a called third strike?

alcsnumber6208.jpgA-Rod, whom the Rangers signed for that mammoth quarter billion dollar contract in 2003. The one who was supposed to take the Rangers to the Promised Land. To be fair, any player would have taken the contract. It was former owner Tom Hicks who overspent on A-Rod, thus handcuffing the team for years from making significant free agent investments. Still, Rodriguez’ comments when he left the Rangers about how it was him “and a bunch of kids” left a sour taste in Rangers fans’ mouths.

Well, guess what, folks? A-Rod really did lead the Rangers to the Promised Land. He just did it with a strikeout instead of a home run!

Hamilton was given the ALCS MVP award. He had a great ALCS and his 5 intentional walks in the series (3 in Game 6 alone) is certainly all the proof one needs for Josh to win the AL MVP Award this year. Still, I think I would have given the award to Andrus. Elvis was a key in every early offensive rally the Rangers had this series. He had a hit in every game, his baserunning disrupted the Yankees from the get go and he made some incredible plays defensively, including the force out at 3rd in Game 4 that kept the Yankees from having a big inning. I’m happy for Hamilton, though.

And how about the whole concept of “TEAM” shown in the post-game show. When they interviewed GM Jon Daniels about “HIS” success, Daniels immediately pointed to the scouts and advance men under his wing, singling them out for praise first. When Hamilton was awarded the MVP, you could see him mouth to someone (or to the entire team) “You deserve this.” He then thanked God and Jesus first, and made it all about the team second before even talking about himself. How refreshing in these days of spoiled athletes!

There’s only one thing I regret about the ALCS. It sure would have been nice to see Andres Blanco get into a game. Blanco has been with the team from the start of the season and really earned his spot on the post-season roster when he filled in for Ian Kinsler so ably on his second trip to the DL. I sure hope Blanco gets some AB’s in the Fall Classic.

All that’s left to decide now is who the Rangers will be playing. Both the Phillies and the Giants have great pitching staffs. The Phillies have the better offensive team. Despite the bats, though, I’d have to say my choice is Philly. The reason? Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Two possible Hall of Famers. Tough as they come. Still, the Rangers know both of those pitchers a lot better than they know the Giants Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and company. The Rangers have faced Halladay, Oswalt and Brad Lidge many a time over the years and will be able to game plan against them better.

In the end, though, it matters not who they face. What matters is THE TEXAS RANGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!!!

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