Results tagged ‘ Elvis Andrus ’

It’s Time

Star of the Week

Neftali Feliz After Striking Out A-Rod to end the 2010 ALCS, sending Texas to its first World Series

Neftali Feliz After Striking Out A-Rod to end the 2010 ALCS, sending Texas to its first World Series

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.

Erik, devoted son, Rangers fan and blog follower. Photo by "One Strike Away...Twice!"

Erik, devoted son, Rangers fan and blog follower. Photo by “One Strike Away…Twice!”

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!!!

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 5/5-5/11

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

In a forgettable week, a Ranger who had thus far been having a forgettable season started coming to life again. Elvis Andrus has been a mainstay in the #2 hole for the Rangers for several years now. This year, though, things had gotten so bad with Elvis he’d been moved down towards the bottom of the order. Ground ball out after ground ball out, Elvis slowly saw his average dip to a low of .229 when Ron Washington decided it was time to take some pressure off him. Elvis had a couple of games hitting seventh and a few hitting eighth. He started putting together a few good at bats but his return to #2 in the line-up was more because the players who replaced him didn’t do any better a job. Wash tried the now departed Josh Wilson there. Then Leonys Martin. Then came Michael Choice. Finally Elvis went back to #2 and he’s started hitting again, no more so than during Yu Darvish‘s 8-0 pasting of the Boston Red Sox. In that game Friday night, Elvis became the first Rangers player to get four hits in a game, going 4-5 with a double and three runs scored. Elvis undoubtedly stay back at the top of the order for the foreseeable future.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

The game against the Red Six was no fluke. Overall for the week, Andrus was on fire so he gets both Offensive awards this week. In seven games, Elvis went 11-26 at the plate, with four of those eleven hits going for doubles. The fact he only garnered one RBI and three runs (all in the Friday game) is indicative of how woeful the Texas offensive attack was in the past week.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

If anyone but Yu Darvish got this award for the past week, I’m sure you would have me referred for psychiatric testing. Over the course of seven days, the starting pitching has sucked. EXCEPT for Yu Darvish. The relief staff has had some major hiccups as well. But what Darvish did Friday night against the Red Sox was something to behold, even thoughy I was not able to behold it. Unfortunately, Friday night Rangers games are only available in the Dallas area, so poor little old me had to settle for listening to the game via the radio Play-by-play of this year’s Ford Frick Award winner Eric Nadel. Darvish was dominant early. The line on Darvish is you can beat him if he doesn’t have his fastball command. If he does have it, watch out. He had fastball command Friday night. At one point, Darvish struck out six consecutive Red Sox batters. When Yu has flirted with no-hitters or perfect games, it has mostly been against the Astros. Pitiful as Houston has been these past few years, one could understand an asterisk being placed next to Yu’s name for his performances against them. This, however, was not the Astros. This was Boston, with one of the most potent line-ups in the American League and Darvish carved them up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Through six innings, the Red Sox didn’t even sniff a hit. Even the seventh started out well with a soft fly to center and a groundout. Then David Ortiz hit the bloops to end all bloops. Alex Rios and Rougned Odor went out for the ball. Rios should have had the ball but didn’t call for it. At the last second Odor dove for it but the ball fell between them. The play was ruled an error, which set off a massive Twitter debate as to whether it was a hit or if it would be ruled a hit in any other case besides a no-hitter. Had Darvish finished off the no-no, I’m sure the debate would be continuing today. It was ruled an error, though and hasn’t been changed since. What it did accomplish was getting Darvish to lose some of his mental edge. A walk followed the error before Darvish got Grady Sizemore to fly out for the last out. Darvish gave up another walk to lead off the 8th but got out of the inning unscathed once again. With three outs to go and Darvish running out of gas, he got Dustin Pedroia to ground out to third, then got Shane Voctorino swinging for his 12th and final K of the night. Up strode Ortiz, who slapped a 2-1 fastball past Elvis Andrus, beating the shift and earning Boston’s lone hit of the night. Darvish’s Game Score of 92 is reported to be higher than any no-hitter in baseball history. Yu’s final line was 8.2-1-0-0-2-12. It was the second time Darvish lost a no-hitter with two outs in the 9th inning.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Last week, optimistic me said if the pitching staff settles down, a 4-3 week is realistic and 5-2 is even possible. So much for optimistic me. The Rangers got outscored by a collective 29-5 by the Rockies in the first three games of their 4-game home and home series before finally shutting down the Rockies 5-0 in the series finale. Following Darvish’s bid for baseball history Friday, Texas again stumbled through the rest of the weekend, losing by scores of 8-3 and 5-2. Texas ended the week with a 2-5 record and find themselves starting the week in 4th place in the AL West. Outside of Darvish, Rangers starting pitching was horrible. Martin Perez was hit hard twice, as was Robbie Ross. Colby Lewis got shelled once and Matt Harrison, while not allowing any runs, couldn’t make it through six innings. Adding insult another injury to injury, Perez is headed to the 15-day DL with what the Rangers consider minor elbow inflammation. The good news is that allows the Rangers to bring Nick Tepesch up from AAA, where he’s been dominating at Round Rock. The bad news is it’s to replace Perez instead of Robbie Ross who, despite recovering from a rocky 1st against Boston, hasn’t shown many signs of giving the Rangers more than six innings every start.

If there’s any week in May for Texas to right the ship somewhat, this would be the week. The Rangers travel to Houston for three games with the Astros. After a day off Thursday, it’s back home for a 3-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Astros have played a little better lately and gotten some decent pitching, even though they’re coming off series losses to the Tigers and the Orioles. The Blue Jays are problematic. They have a history of hitting well against Texas pitching. The rotation is getting realigned thanks to the off day. Tepesch will be making the start originally scheduled for Perez while Ross will skip his next turn in the rotation to the off day. Thus the Astros get Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Darvish, while the Blue Jays will face Tepesch, Lewis and Harrison. After being so optimistic a week ago, I will be anything but this week. At this point, I think I’d be happy for a 3-3 record, which I find really sad.

The Friday/Saturday Sundry: 5/2/14

AL West Standings 5-2-14

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?

Elvis Andrus: $15 million manWhat’s Wrong With Elvis?

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!

Rotation Questions

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.

 

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/7-4/13

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

 Robinson Chirinos is making a claim to start most of the games as catcher while Geovany Soto is on the mend.While this award is for a single game, Chirinos actually had two outstanding games during the week. In Tuesday’s 10-7 win over the Boston Red Sox, Chirinos led off the third with a towering home run over the Green Monster to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead. It was the start of a 5-run uprising in the inning. Chirinos also added the last RBI of the inning when he walked with the bases loaded. In the fifth, with Texas up 8-1, Chirinos led off with a double and later scored the ninth run of the game. That’s the OFFICIAL game Chirinos gets Star of the Week for. As an honorable mention, Friday’s and Sunday’s twin 1-0 wins over the Astros both featured Chirinos prominently. In Friday’s 12-inning nail biter, Chirinos provided the 12th-inning single that plated the only run of the game in walk-off fashion. Sunday it was time for his defense to shine, as the Rangers catcher threw out two would-be Houston base stealers, helping Martin Perez earn his second win of the season. Below is Chirinos’ home run in the Boston game:

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

Kevin Kouzmanoff was the last man NOT to make the Texas Rangers 25-man squad out of Spring Training. The only reason he didn’t make the team was because he was strictly a corner infielder, while Texas needed someone like Josh Wilson, who could play three infield positions. When Adrian Beltre went down with a tight quadriceps muscle in Tuesday’s win over the Red Sox, Texas summoned Kouzmanoff from AAA Round Rock in a hurry. Despite not having played in the majors in almost three years, Kouzmanoff got off to a quick start for the Rangers, getting hits in each of his first four games with Texas. Kooz actually has a six game big-league hitting streak going now, with a 900+ day gap between games two and three of the streak! For the week, he hit .417 with a double and RBI. With Sunday’s announcement of Beltre going on the disabled list retroactive to Wednesday 4/9, Kouzmanoff will be the Rangers starting third baseman for the next week and a half minimum. If he continues to play the way he has the first four games, not only does it help the Rangers short-term, it will make it hard for Jon Daniels to send him back to Round Rock once Beltre is back.

 

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

Originally, Yu Darvish was my winner for the second consecutive week for his dominant effort against the Astros, where he threw one-hit ball at the Astros over eight innings, striking out nine. Then along came Martin Perez on Sunday. To be sure, Darvish had a “better” game than Perez but the 23-year-old was just as spectacular against a woeful offensive attack from Houston. Plus, unlike Darvish, Perez got credited with the win. In his third start of the season, Perez went eight strong innings, giving up no runs on five hits and three walks with two strikeouts. The young lefty also started resembling southpaws who have come before him over the past few years in Texas, Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson. Both were among the league leaders in getting hitters to ground into double plays. Over his past two starts, Perez has induced nine double plays including four by the Astros in Sunday’s game. Add in the two caught stealing by Robinson Chirinos and Perez never allowed an Astros baserunner to get into scoring position. Click here to see highlights of the Perez win.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Texas went 3-3 the second week, treading water while dealing with their injury woes. Texas went 1-2 in Boston against the Red Sox, while winning two of three from the Astros at home. The offense has struggled mightily since Beltre went down as shown by the two 1-0 games against the lowly Astros. With no Beltre, Houston intentionally walked Prince Fielder three times over the weekend. Fielder has yet to hit a home run as a Rangers player, though he stung the ball hard both Saturday and Sunday. The once-feared Rangers power attack has only managed five home runs in the first 12 games. That HAS to improve or treading water will soon become an extended losing streak, no matter how great the pitching.

The Rangers are at home all week with four games against division-rival Seattle and three against the Chicago White Sox.  The biggest highlight of the week is Wednesday night’s game, when Yu Darvish squares off against Felix Hernandez. Darvish has thrown 15 scoreless innings thus far (15 innings in which the Rangers have not scored a run for him either), while Hernandez has struck out 30 batters in his first 21 1/3 innings. Also on tap: the return of Colby Lewis, who throws the opener against the Mariners tonight. Lewis hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 18th, 2012. He’s not only coming back from elbow surgery but also a hip resurfacing procedure. Nobody knows whether Lewis will have the stamina to go every fifth day for the rest of the season, let alone if he can still pitch effectively in the big leagues. Nobody has ever tried coming back from hip resurfacing in baseball before. What we do know is, based on how he performed in the World Series years for Texas, Globe Life Park will be rocking tonight and Lewis is sure to get an incredible reception from the fans when he strides to the mound in the top of the first.

Oddity of the Week

Elvis Andrus got ejected from Sunday’s game for arguing a called third strike at the end of the third inning. As a result, from the top of the fourth until the top of the ninth, when Alexi Ogando came in to record the save, Texas for the first time fielded a line-up containing NO players from the Rangers’ 2011 World Series team.

The Friday/Saturday Sundry: 4/11/14

BaseballMinor-League-BaseballDOWN ON THE FARM

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.

 BELTRE’S QUAD

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.

THIS WEEKEND

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)

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 3/31-4/6

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game): Elvis Andrus Texas had two walk-off wins in as many days against the Philadelphia Phillies. Adrian Beltre came through with the game-winning hit in the first walk-off win, while Shin-Soo Choo coaxed a bases-loaded walk to decide the following game. Still, nothing topped the dramatics of the 7th inning Sunday in Tampa Bay. Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb had matched seven innings of scoreless baseball. Texas hadn’t even seriously threatened to score the entire game. In the top of the 8th inning, with two outs, Shin-Soo Choo managed an infield single off the glove of pitcher Joel Peralta. Elvis Andrus then worked the count to 3-2 when Peralta threw him one more fastball:

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2014_04_06_texmlb_tbamlb_1&mode=video&content_id=31878961&tcid=vpp_copy_31878961

It was the first Rangers home run since Alex Rios cleared the fences on Opening Day. Elvis has never hit more than six home runs in a season, so to say this was unexpected would be an understatement. The man who now resembles an Amish farmer also supplied some nifty glove work on two line drives late in the game to keep Tampa Bay off the scoreboard and preserve a Texas win.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): Shin-Soo Choo One of the keys to the Rangers success this season is their new lead-off hitter. Choo has one of the highest On Base Percentages in baseball over the past few seasons, despite less than sterling numbers against left-handed pitchers. His ability to take pitches and get on base was the major reason Texas signed him to a big bucks multi-year deal. In the first week of the season, Choo did not disappoint. While a modest .273 batting average for the week with no extra base hits doesn’t sound like a lot, he’s started out strong against the southpaws: 3 for 9 plus two walks. In addition, Choo saved his best for the times it mattered most. In Tuesday’s win over the Phillies, he led off the 9th with a walk and scored the winning run on Adrian Beltre’s single. The next day, Choo battled back from a 1-2 count to get a bases-loaded walk, plating the winning run in another walk-off against the Phils. Finally on Sunday, in a scoreless tie with two outs in the top of the 8th inning, Choo worked Joel Peralta for seven pitches, finally earning yet another walk and setting the stage for the Elvis Andrus fireworks to come. Prince Fielder is off to a slow start, but Choo has already earned a lot of love from the Rangers fan base.

 

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: Yu Darvish Yu Darvish originally was to pitch the first game of the season. Instead, a stiff neck earned him a DL stint and Tanner Scheppers the Opening Day start. Nothing went right for Texas in Game 1 as they dropped a 14-10 decision to Philadelphia. In fact, the first four games of the season saw not one Rangers starter last six innings, the first time that’s happened since the Washington Senators moved to Arlington to become the Rangers. Rookie Nick Martinez managed to make it through six in his début Saturday, but it was important for Darvish to set a new tone following his activation Sunday. He didn’t disappoint, going seven strong innings and picking up the win in his season début. Darvish has been victim of high pitch counts his first two seasons but got through seven innings on just 89 pitches while throwing 65 of them for strikes. At one point early on, Darvish K’d three consecutive Rays batters on just nine pitches. In the first inning, Darvish got his 500th career MLB strikeout and set a record for reaching 500 K’s in the fewest innings pitched (just 401 IP). Darvish provided the shot in the arm the Rangers pitching staff needed. As a special treat to honor Darvish this week, check out this YouTube presentation of every one of Yu’s strikeouts in 2013, courtesy of the massively talented Drew Sheppard:

Texas went 3-3 the first week. The three wins had plenty of late-inning dramatics, while the three losses featured poor pitching, poor defense and, in two of the three losses, silent bats. This week in Rangers baseball finds Texas in Fenway Park for a 3-game series against the defending World Series Champions and former Rangers Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara. After an off-day Thursday, it’s back to Arlington to start a 10-day homestand with three against the Houston Astros.

Opening Day: Who Are These Guys?

BaseballEvan Grant of the Dallas Morning News passed along this interesting tidbit yesterday.

When the Texas Rangers take on the Philadelphia Phillies today in the season opener for both teams, the Rangers Opening Day 25-man roster includes 17 players who were NOT on the Rangers Opening Day roster just one year ago today. The only holdovers? Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.

Part of the turnover is due to the current length of the Rangers disabled list. Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto were all on the 2013 roster when the Rangers played the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball. Still, that’s a better than 50% turnover of the roster in just one year’s time.

Gone from last year’s squad are Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, AJ Pierczynski, Joe Nathan, Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm and Jeff Baker.

Of the Rangers 2010 squad that appeared in the World Series for the first time, only Andrus, Moreland and Ogando are on the Opening Day roster in 2014.

From the 2011 World Series team, you can add Adrian Beltre to the list.

Even accounting for the players currently disabled and expected back this year (Harrison, Holland and Colby Lewis), the 2014 Rangers bear only the vaguest resemblance to the team that came within an eyelash of being the 2011 World Champions. Still, this is a team that has playoff aspirations. If the injury bug that him them in Spring Training gets fixed and remains fixed, maybe they can do it. We just don’t know. To borrow a cliché, that’s why they play the games.

#1 of 162 begins today. Time to find out what these 25 guys, including the 17 newcomers, have got.

RBiA Sunset

Who Are These Guys? -or- Can You Identify That Strange Odor?

Adam Rosales and Josh Wilson your Opening Day middle infield? Doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of the AL West, does it?

Jurickson

Jurickson Profar

That’s a possibility for the Rangers come Opening Day against the Phillies on March 31st. We know for a fact Jurickson Profar won’t man second base for the first game, or the second, probably not for the first 81 games. Profar got diagnosed with a torn muscle in his shoulder and will miss 10-12 weeks.

Meanwhile his middle infield partner, Elvis Andrus, is still experiencing soreness on  his throwing arm. He is currently DH-ing and isn’t supposed to throw until this weekend’s final exhibition games in San Antonio, cutting the margin extremely close for the opener.

The Opening Day starter, Yu Darvish, got scratched from his last start because of a sore neck. He insisted it wasn’t an issue but the word out of Rangers camp Sunday made it sound like it hasn’t cleared up as much as he’d like.

Who will start Opening Day? For sure not Profar. Maybe not Andrus. Maybe not Mitch Moreland, still getting over and oblique strain. Maybe not Darvish. Maybe not Shin-Soo Choo, who still has left elbow soreness. Maybe not Geovany Soto, who got pulled in the first inning of Sunday’s exhibition when his leg locked up.

Question-Mark-34Let’s make matters even worse, shall we? The Rangers announced Friday Tanner Scheppers had earned a spot in the rotation and Joakim Soria will be the closer, making it a four-way battle for the last two rotation spots between Tommy Hanson, Joe Saunders, Colby Lewis and Robbie Ross. So what happens? Hanson starts on Saturday and gives up 7 runs in 5.2 innings. Advantage Saunders, right? Wrong! Saunders started Sunday and couldn’t even make it through two innings, giving up 9 runs in an inning and a third. Ross has pitched well enough to earn a rotation slot. I’ve always loved Colby Lewis but this is a guy coming off a hip replacement whose last two starts have come in minor league games. That makes the starting rotation Proven Commodity with a sore neck (Darvish), Second Year Starter who may or may not have a sophomore slump (Martin Perez), Former Reliever (Scheppers), Former Reliever (Ross) and Hip Replacement Guy (Lewis). One of them will get replaced in a few weeks by Missed All But Two Starts Last Year Guy (Matt Harrison). So there’s no concern about the starting rotation, right?

You sense a trend here? Opening Day for the first time in five seasons is filling me with dread. The optimism just isn’t there now. The Rangers have a lot of depth in the minor league system but there’s not much there now at the big league level. That’s why we have a possible starting middle infield of Adam Rosales and Josh Wilson.

Rougned Odor

Rougned Odor

A national beat writer wrote last night the Rangers wouldn’t miss a beat at second base if they start rookie Rougned Odor while Profar is on the mend. Odor is one of the Rangers top prospects, a player Rangers minor league analyst Scott Lucas says just has “that look” about him. Maybe so but he also has only 134 at bats at the Double A level. Is he ready for that big a leap? And if he succeeds, what then? Now there’s another logjam in the middle infield with three quality players for two positions.

I’m not totally against the idea of Odor playing at the big league level. He may already offer more than Rosales or Brent Lillibridge over the next three months. Or he could flame out spectacularly, which is why someone like Rosales or Lillibridge could be the stopgap measure. We know they won’t add much, but as veterans, their output is more of a known commodity. Also to be considered is if Odor hits the big stage, that accelerates his free agency timetable by at least a year. Is the front office willing to risk that year right now?

Only a week to go before Opening Day and there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

The Walking Wounded

Spring Training records mean nothing. Spring Training statistics mean nothin. I get that.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little disconcerted by the walking wounded and reclamation projects floating around Texas Rangers camp in Surprise this spring. Today brought two more entries to the list: Elvis Andrus will be out for at least a couple of days due to right arm soreness which he’s had throughout camp. Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland could find himself on the disabled list to start the regular season after suffering an oblique injury and getting pulled from a game after just one inning yesterday.

image_20121221102423If these two were the only problems it would be OK with me, but this is the latest in a long line making its way through Rangers camp. Adrian Beltre is having problems with one of his quads and has been held out of the line-up for five days now. Jurickson Profar is just now starting in the field after having shoulder tendonitis at the start of camp. Geovany Soto is only three games into his spring after ankle surgery. Leonys Martin has had some nagging injuries that have him in and out of the line-up. Same with Alex Rios. And that’s just the offense.

Over in the pitching staff Matt Harrison had his injury comeback delayed by sleeping on a bad mattress and missing two and a half weeks with a bad back. It feels like half the pitching staff is trying to come back from injuries: Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria from Tommy John surgery, Colby Lewis from elbow problems and a hip replacement, Harrison from the back issues. At this point, there are only three starters established: Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. Only Darvish has had what would be considered a good spring. Perez has been inconsistent and Ogando more bad than good thus far (8.43 ERA). Battling for the final two spots, Lewis has yo-yo’d back and forth: one good outing, one putrid. Harrison won’t be ready for the start. Nick Tepesch (11.25 ERA) was so bad he’s been optioned already. Veterans Tommy Hanson (3.24 ERA) and Joe Saunders (6.43 ERA) haven’t outperformed anyone. The two best prospects for the back-end right now are Robbie Ross (2.08 ERA) and Tanner Scheppers (3.12 ERA), but if both earn rotation spots, that leaves two big holes in the bullpen, where Ross served in a set-up capacity and Scheppers was the 8th inning guy.

Back to the offense: the Rangers have hit 15 home runs this spring. Three have been hit by players who were playing Low-A ball in 2013 and have no hope of making the club this year. The power hitting part of the line-up: Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo have combined for only three of them. The biggest bright spot has been Michael Choice, obtained from the A’s in a trade for Craig Gentry. Choice is hitting .378 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. With Moreland a likely DL candidate, Choice will likely be the starting DH for this year’s Rangers.

J.P. Arencibia has been so bad at the plate (.156 BA, the Rangers have put him in several minor league games to face easier pitching. He, along with two starters and the projected utility infielder are all hitting under .200.

Yeah, it’s only Spring Training. The stats and the records don’t mean anything. It does breed concern for the regular season.

Nothing’s Happening While Everything’s Happening

We haven’t even played the first exhibition game of the season, yet there seems to be no shortage of news out of Texas Rangers camp. To wit:

 

Ron Washington, soon to become 5th winningest African-American Manager in MLB.

Ron Washington, soon to become 5th winningest African-American Manager in MLB.

RON WASHINGTON GETS AN EXTENSION

All through the off-season, Jon Daniels assured everyone that Wash would get a contract extension and Wash deserved a contract extension. Yet for four long months, said contract extension was nowhere to be found. Finally the new contract was announced, though many of us were surprised it was only a 1-year extension, through the 2015 season. Wash deserves a longer contract, but I’m thinking the one-year bit wasn’t necessarily JD’s idea. After all, the Rangers’ skipper enters the 2014 season in his 61st year on the planet. While that isn’t really ancient (only three years older than me), maybe Wash is the one who wants to keep it relatively open-ended. The desire is still there but maybe he’s keeping an eye on his health as well. Wash deserves at least three years on his contract and not two. On the other hand, I’m old enough to remember when Walter Alston managed the Dodgers and it was ALWAYS on a series of one-year contracts. Short contracts lead to lots of speculation, but I’m willing to take Daniels at his word when he says he wants Wash to continue managing the Rangers for a long time to come.

NELSON CRUZ IS NO LONGER A RANGER

It was always kind of doubtful Cruz would return to Texas, but the longer he went without signing anywhere, the more we got our hopes up he just might return. Heck, for the one year at $8 million that he signed with the Orioles, it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility it could’ve happened. Cruz (or his agent) badly miscalculated the market and he ended up losing over $6 million dollars because of it. On the other hand, had Cruz taken the Rangers up on the $14 million qualifying offer, it’s likely Shin-Soo Choo or Prince Fielder or both wouldn’t be wearing Rangers uniforms today. I’m going to miss Nelly and his “Boomstick”, but wish him well in Baltimore (except when they play Texas, of course).

ACHES AND PAINSMatt Harrison

Matt Harrison slept on a bad bed and thus will not be ready at season’s open. Geovany Soto had to have surgery on his left foot to shave a small bone that was pressing up against a tendon, Tanner Scheppers has a mild sore back, as does Elvis Andrus; and Jurickson Profar has mild shoulder tendonitis and isn’t allowed to throw in camp yet. It’s amazing how these little aches and pains before even a pitch has been thrown in exhibition play, can make us fans ready to call it quits on the season already. Folks, only Harrison is doubtful for Opening Day. Hard as it is, I’m trying hard to refrain from nail-biting so soon. I refuse to worry until I hear the walking wounded list only two weeks away from first pitch. For now, I’m just treating it as players just taking a little longer to get loosened up.

MEANWHILE IN OTHER CAMPS

While it’s easy for us to think the worst over every little muscle tweak for our own team, the converse is also true: We think every positive article about our rivals is absolute truth and we start worrying about them accordingly. Case in point: There have been a number of positive articles out of Angels camp about Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. If both players played at the level they were at just three years ago, the Angels line-up would be as scary as it gets in the AL West. The thought of it doesn’t please me one bit. I have to keep reminding myself, even if they manage the feat, the Angels still have a weak pitching staff and are going to need every bit of that offense to become a credible threat in the AL West. It must be the Rangers fan in me that makes it easier to imagine the 2014 Hamilton looking like 2010 Josh. For Pujols, he could still be potent, but maybe only to the point of being like he was his first year in an Angels uniform.

In Florida, the Houston Astros have a few new faces in camp. The ‘Stros were terrible in 2012 and, while they’re likely destined to finish last again in 2014, a 10-game improvement wouldn’t be out of the question. Considering the Mariners are likely a little better than a year ago and the A’s are still the A’s, whoever wins the AL West is going to face a lot more challenges than a year ago.

Oh, and one other thing about an AL East rival: The way fans view positive news out of rivals’ camps is the same way many in the media view the New York Yankees. It’s the mystique of the Bronx Bombers (or the Evil Empire, whichever you prefer) that must make them do it. Listening to MLB TV on my radio last night, I heard one of their analysts going all man-crush on the Yankees and how they’ll be so hard to beat in 2014. Five minutes earlier, he labelled the Rangers a non-factor in the AL West. In his “critique” of the Yankees, he talked about how great the pitching staff would be and anointed newcomer Masahiro Tanaka a #2 right off the bat. The Yanks may indeed be very good this year, but I just don’t see how they’re that much improved from 2013. They’ve lost Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Curtis Granderson and Andy Pettite (I won’t even talk about A-Rod). They’re assuming a big year from CC Sabathia on the basis of weight loss, without noting Sabathia is another year older and has a lot of innings on his arm already. There’s no guarantee Mark Teixeira will ever resemble the feared hitter he once was. They’re also assuming a big year from Michael Pineda, who hasn’t even pitched in two years. Sorry guys. I’m just not seeing it right now.

MLB At BatLAST BUT NOT LEAST

As I pulled into the office today, I noted my smartphone downloading the new MLB At Bat app! In a couple of days, I’ll be able to listen in to exhibition games again. Living in Texas, I can’t go for the MLB.TV component as I’ll never get the Rangers games, but I love getting the Gameday audio! The season draws closer. All is right with the world again.

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