Results tagged ‘ Koji Uehara ’

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.

What If Koji Uehara…?

In 2011 with the Baltimore Orioles, Koji Uehara threw 47 innings, allowing only 25 hits, walked a mere 8 batters and struck out 62. He allowed only 9 earned runs and had a 1.72 ERA.

In 2012 with the Texas Rangers, Uehara threw 36 innings, allowing only 20 hits, 3 walks, 43 strikeouts, only 7 earned runs and a 1.75 ERA.

In 2013 with the Boston Red Sox, Koji tossed 74.1 innings, allowing only 33 hits, 9 earned runs, 9 walks and 101 strikeouts with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves.

In two post-season series in 2013, the amazing Koji has pitched nine innings, allowing one run on only 5 hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts, compiling a win, a loss and 5 saves. He was the Most Valuable Player in the ALCS series against the Detroit Tigers and is now headed to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

By all accounts, Koji Uehara has had a pretty amazing last three years of baseball. And that really irritates me.

Why?

Koji Uehara with the Rangers

Koji Uehara with the Rangers

Because between his 2011 season with the Baltimore Orioles and his 2012 season with the Texas Rangers came the 2011 trade that brought him to the Texas Rangers in the first place. Orioles fans sure remember that trade. They got Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter out of it. Texas got what they were sure was going to be their 7th inning set-up guy to steamroll their way to the 2011 World Series Championship. They were willing to pay a steep price for it.

Nobody knows what happened. We do know Koji really loved being in Baltimore and was maybe a little stunned with the trade. If it was missing Baltimore or a physical issue, nobody knows for sure. What we do know is the Koji Uehara described above was not the Koji Uehara the 2011 Rangers got. His numbers for Texas in 2011? 18 innings pitched, 13 hits, 1 walk and 23 strikeouts. So far so good. Unfortunately, 5 of the 13 hits were home runs, accounting for most of the eight earned runs charged to him. Uehara compiled a 4.00 ERA with Texas. It got worse. He appeared in three post-season games in 2011, once against Tampa Bay and twice against Detroit. In the ALDS vs. the Rays, Uehara allowed 3 runs on a walk and two hits, one a home run. He failed to get an out. His two games against Detroit resulted in two runs allowed, both on home runs. Uehara did manage to retire four Detroit batters. Koji was so bad for the Rangers that when it came time to set the World Series roster to face the Cardinals, his name was not found, replaced by Mark Lowe.

The name of this blog is “One Strike Away…Twice!” It describes how close the Texas Rangers came to winning the 2011 World Series in Game 6 against St. Louis. After Neftali Feliz blew the save in the 9th inning (with the help of a horribly played fly ball to Nelson Cruz), the Rangers took the lead on a Josh Hamilton home run in the 10th. The Cards tied it back up in the bottom of the 10th and won it on a home run leading off the bottom of the 11th. The Rangers pitchers who faced the Cardinals in the 10th and 11th were Darren Oliver, Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe.

If the Koji Uehara at the end of 2011 was the same Koji Uehara that started 2011 in Baltimore and the same Koji Uehara that major league baseball has seen in 2012 and 2013 with the Rangers and the Red Sox, I can’t help but think the Texas Rangers would have been the World Series Champions.

If the Red Sox go on to beat the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, Koji Uehara may very well haunt the rest of my days as a Texas Rangers fan.

What If Hamilton, Napoli Et Al Were Still Rangers?

I’ll start this out by saying what I’ve said in these pages many a time before: I’m NOT a major proponent of WAR. I understand the concept of it, I just don’t totally agree with it because of the subjectivity of the defensive metrics. I don’t “speak” sabermetrics, but a great sabermetric argument for the way I feel was published today, as a free article, on Baseball Prospectus.

A way I can use WAR, though, would be as a comparison tool that doesn’t involve delving into a lot of different stats. I thought it would be interesting to see, at the 1/4 point of the season, how the Texas Rangers might look, record-wise, had they decided to keep everyone from last year’s Rangers team, instead of adding the pieces they added. To do that, I examined the respective WAR of the departed Rangers to their counterparts from this year’s team.

For this study, I’m using essentially the Texas Rangers team that essentially comprised the Rangers following the July 31st trading deadline.

Here’s how the former Rangers are faring so far in 2013, based on bWAR (via Baseball Reference.com):

Rangers primary logo

Mike Adams (Philadelphia) 0.4

Ryan Dempster (Boston) 0.5

Scott Feldman (Chicago Cubs) 0.8

Josh Hamilton (Los Angeles Angels) -0.6

Mark Lowe (Los Angeles Angels) -0.3

Mike Napoli (Boston) 1.0

Koji Uehara (Boston) 0.5

Michael Young (Philadelphia) 0.3

Roy Oswalt, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar have not logged any major league time yet in 2013.

Total: 2.9

Now let’s look at this year’s Texas Rangers counterparts:

Texas Rangers logo

Jeff Baker 0.7

Lance Berkman 0.6

Jason Frasor 0.0

Leury Garcia 0.1

Derek Lowe 0.0

Leonys Martin 0.7

Joe Ortiz 0.0

A.J. Pierzynski 0.6

Nick Tepesch 0.0

Total: 2.7

The two biggest things that jump out at me: Leonys Martin‘s defense (the subjective part) has led to a much higher WAR figure than I thought, while, of the former Rangers, Ryan Dempster and Scott Feldman have both far exceeded what I most Rangers fans would have expected of them. Overall, the former Rangers out-WAR the current Rangers, but only by .2. If you’d like to extrapolate that to an actual record, WAR suggests the Rangers would be just where they are, at 24-14 or maybe one game better at 25-13, had they just stood pat with last year’s team. Of course, they’d have that record for a significantly higher payroll than they currently have, which would be a discussion for another day.

Texas Rangers Caliente y Frio: Week 4

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 4-3

Overall: 16-9  (1st Place AL West) (+2.5)

Jalapeno Caliente (Offense):

Mitch Moreland   .393/.393/.571   5 Doubles 3 RBI

Nelson Cruz   .360/.467/.640   2 HR   9 RBI   5 Walks

Raspa Frio (Offense):

David Murphy   .185/.241/.222

Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching):

Yu Darvish   1-0   0.00 ERA   11 Strikeouts in 6 IP

Justin Grimm   1-0   7 Shutout Innings

Raspa Frio (Pitching):

Derek Holland   0-1, 6.39 ERA in 12.2 IP

Joe Ortiz   0-1   27.00 ERA   5 ER in 1.2 IP

Considering all the games were on the road, 4-3 is an acceptable record but Rangers fans were hoping for more after starting the week 4-1 and having Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando on the bump for the last two games of the week. Sadly, the Rangers offense went south in those two games and the Twins broke close 1-0 games open in the later innings. Still, the Rangers were easily the best of the West for the week, picking up two games in the standings on the Oakland A’s and starting week 5 with a 2.5 game lead. This assures Texas of first place when April comes to a close.

This week it’s home cooking for the Rangers as they play six games against the American League’s pair of Sox: Chicago Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday followed by Boston Friday through Sunday. The highlight will be Tuesday night when Yu Darvish takes the hill for Texas. If Darvish wins the game, he will join Rick Helling, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Bibby, Aaron Sele and Bobby Witt as the only Rangers pitchers to earn five wins by April 30th. The way Darvish has been pitching, the odds are in his favor to join that elite company.

The weekend series will be interesting as well with the return of Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara to Arlington. As bad as the initial reaction to Josh Hamilton was in his first at bat in front of the DFW crowd, expect an equal but opposite reaction to Napoli’s return. He never said anything disparaging about Rangers fans and professed love for his time with the Rangers so he’ll get a warm reception his first time to the plate. As good as Uehara was in 2012 for Texas, he probably won’t elicit much of a reaction one way or another. That’s the life of a relief pitcher.

JD Gets Outmanuevered

Mike Napoli? Signs with Red Sox.

Koji Uehara? Signs with Red Sox.

Zack Greinke? Signs with Dodgers.

Justin Upton? Stays with Arizona.

James Shields? Traded to Kansas City.

Josh Hamilton? Signs with the Angels.

Just a couple short weeks ago, the word from Nashville was that the Rangers were dominating the Winter Meetings. Two weeks later, virtually every player speculated about going to the Rangers has gone elsewhere.

And such is the cycle of baseball. Jon Daniels has been the Boy Wonder of General Managers for the past five years. Today he is an also-ran, victim of his own success.

English: Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels at a gat...

Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels at a gathering in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This isn’t to say that JD isn’t a good GM. He’s one of the best and has put together one of the best farm systems in the majors. Baseball, though, is a big poker game with the GM’s when it comes to trades and free agents and it’s quite likely his brethren have learned JD’s “tells”.

In the case of Hamilton, there was too much honesty for his own good. It was well-publicized that Hamilton was willing to let the Rangers top the best offer he got. The longer the process went, the more it became apparent how far the Rangers were willing to go and that was four years, so Jerry DiPoto offered Josh five.

Arizona used Daniels to get what they wanted, which was a lot. By dangling Justin Upton out there, they found so many offers involving the Rangers and other players that could help them that they cut side deals to get all those players and now have no need to trade Upton.

Greinke? Well, the Dodgers are spending like drunken sailors. That was a long-shot anyway.

As for Shields, he was Daniels’ back-up plan should Greinke not work out, but the Rays got tired of waiting so they worked out the deal with Kansas City and probably got a better return than they would have from Texas.

Now speculation is already rife that the Angels will turn  around and trade one of their now spare outfielders to the Mets in return for RA Dickey, another Rangers target.

At this point, there’s very little Texas can do to respond to these moves. There’s not much in the free agent market anymore that will strengthen the team. There’s a very good chance the 2013 Rangers will contain a lot of mentions of Profar, Olt, Martin and Perez, youngsters who will be given a good shot at playing time. This is also still a very good team. They may not win the West in 2013, but putting the youngsters in now could pay  huge dividends in 2014.

Still, Rangers fans have every right to think the front office should have been more aggressive than they were this off-season. Much as Jon Daniels deserves a lot of credit for building the Rangers into World Series contenders, he has been outmaneuvered at every turn this off-season.

Losing Hamilton doesn’t make me distrust the Rangers’ front office. It does make me think Jon Daniels needs to adapt his style of playing poker.

Reconstruction

The rebuilding of the Texas Rangers is about to begin. How much rebuilding will happen is anyone’s guess at this point.

The first salvo occurred Tuesday, when the Rangers decided not to pick up the options of Scott Feldman and Yoshinori Tateyama. Really no big surprises there. Tateyama, who pitched pretty effectively for Texas in 2011 (2-0, 4.50 ERA in 39 games) was a disaster in 2012 (1-0, 9.00 ERA in 14 games). Feldman, expected to fill the long relief/spot starter role, became a fulltime starting service after Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz were lost for the year with injuries and Roy Oswalt failed to do well as a starter. The biggest surprise of Feldman’s season is that his 6-11 record and 5.09 ERA was good enough to earn a 0.0 WAR. In other words, 6-11, 5.09 must be considered a replacement level starter. Wow.

The only potential minus here is if Feldman just needed longer to get over microfracture knee surgery in 2011 and posts a great 2013 for someone else. For all the good Jon Daniels has done as GM, this past season saw at least five Rangers cast-offs who performed credible jobs for their new teams: Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day for Baltimore, Cody Eppely and Clay Rapada for the Yankees. Constructing a pitching staff is so often a crap shoot, with many relievers having an awesome year, following up with two terrible seasons, then suddenly finding lightning again. Many teams’ fortunes rise and fall on these variables. If those castaways had been able to put together those seasons for the Rangers, it might have been a post-season difference maker.

So we know Feldman and Tateyama won’t return, unless they re-up with Texas at a major discount. The next step is the free agent process.

Josh Hamilton will get the league standard $13.3 million dollar offer to stay in Texas for another year. He will turn it down and if he signs elsewhere, Texas gets a supplemental draft pick. More unknown is whether the Rangers will make the same offer to catcher Mike Napoli. Because he had a down year, Naps could accept a $13.3 million offer for another year, hoping to turn it around in 2013 and get even bigger bucks and a multi-year deal a year from now. If no offer is received, then we’ll know Texas has committed to totally overhauling the catching.

The Blue Jays are stockpiling catchers, having picked up Yorvit Torrealba after Texas let him go and, just last week, inking Bobby Wilson after his release by the Angels. Since they already had two well-regarded home-grown catchers, it’s a good bet the Blue Jays will deal some of their catching in the off-season. The Rangers have expressed interest in both J.P. Arencibia and Travis D’Arnaud.

Other Rangers getting ready to test the free agent waters include Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Mark Lowe, Roy Oswalt and Ryan Dempster. Of that group, Oswalt is most certainly gone. Since Adams’ year ended prematurely to injury, the hope is he’ll be willing to sign again with Texas, as he might not now command the dollars he could have. I’d love to see them resign Uehara as well. Down the stretch, he was one of Texas’ most effective pitchers. Texas will allow Lowe to leave and I doubt there’s much interest in getting Dempster to come back, though that could depend on other factors.

If Texas lets both Hamilton and Napoli walk, we could be seeing a pretty big revamping of the offense. There’s a lot of power that would need replacing. That’s why, with Hamilton likely to go elsewhere, I think Texas will do what they can to at least keep Napoli.

I expect Texas to go hard after Zack Greinke in the free agent market, while the Angels will go all out to try to keep his services. If Greinke doesn’t materialize, Texas could pursue a trade with Tampa Bay for David Price.

Another reason to re-sign Napoli: to keep him for a first base platoon with Mitch Moreland. Moreland can hit the ball a long way and is an adequate defender, but at best is a streaky hitter with hot spells that don’t last long enough to off-set the cold snaps. And that’s just against right handed pitchers. Against lefties, Moreland is cold and colder.

There are several directions the Rangers could go this off-season. What’s definite is they’ll make more moves between now and Spring Training than they did the past two years combined. I can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

GOLD GLOVE AWARDS: For the second straight year, Adrian Beltre nabbed the AL Gold Glove Award for his defensive play at third base. The other two Rangers up for Gold Gloves, David Murphy and Elvis Andrus, didn’t receive the honor. Beltre was an easy choice. That’s easy to say, but judging by the actual award winners, it’s hard to back up. On the one hand, sometimes they give the award to people just because they committed so few errors, despite not having the range of other players at the position. Case in point: JJ Hardy of the Orioles. While I love Elvis, the winner probably should have been Brendan Ryan of the Mariners, who had range and only nine errors. On the other hand, some players win because of past reputation alone. Case in point: Adam Jones of the Orioles, who’s won the award before but had six errors in the field this year, a high number for an outfielder. In other words, there’s no set criteria for winning Gold Gloves. That’s why I’m happy Beltre won. With no set criteria, there was no guarantee he would.

The King Is Dead. Long Live The King!

A day later, that’s what it feels like. One reign is over, but now it’s time to pay honor to the new one that takes its place.

After a magnificent three-year run that no other stretch in over 40 years of fanhood even came close to, the end came as more of a thud than a gradual tapering off process. By failing to win more than four games of their last 14 or even one game of their last four, my Texas Rangers no longer have an ALDS playoff match-up to look forward to. No best of five showdown with the Yankees. No shot at finally achieving the ultimate prize that had eluded them in the previous two seasons.

An era has come to an end.

Make no mistake, this probably is the end of this cycle of Rangers vying for the ultimate prize. To be sure, they are far too talented to stumble to a losing record a year from now. There’s plenty of talent in place, more in the pipeline coming up and plenty of money to spend. But will the World Championship window be open a year from now? I tend to doubt it.

English: photo of Josh Hamilton playing.

Is the Josh Hamilton era over in Texas?. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of free agents to be from this year’s Rangers team: Ryan Dempster. Roy Oswalt. Mike Adams. Koji Uehara. Mark Lowe. Oh and two guys by the name of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton.

Some speculate there is a very real chance the longest-serving Ranger, Michael Young, could be traded or released in the off-season. It’s even more likely Scott Feldman suffers the same fate.

Because of the ignominious way the season ended, there could be turnover on the management side as well. While I think Ron Washington‘s job is safe, it wouldn’t surprise me to see hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh take the fall for the Rangers late-season offensive woes. Baserunning/first base coach Gary Pettis could become a casualty, as the Texas running game became a shell of what it had been the past two seasons. Maybe even bench coach Jackie Moore could be asked to think about retirement so the front office can give Wash a bench coach who more statistically inclined to convince the skipper he’s about to make a foolish move.

A month into the 2012 season, the narrative was “Pay Josh Hamilton whatever money he wants to keep him here”. On October 6th, the narrative has changed to “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Josh”. Hamilton received standing ovations in April. He and the nationwide TV audience heard audible boos following his last two meek at bats.

Something changed on this team in 2012. I don’t know whether there was clubhouse discord or whether the stomach virus that swept through the team in May had longer-lasting repercussions than anyone wants to admit. But something changed and by the time the season mercifully came to an end Friday night, it appeared the Rangers offense just flat-out didn’t have anything else to give.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll have plenty to say about what went wrong, the Hamilton situation and what changes I think are in store. For now, I’ll just let it hurt for a day or two, posting my picks for BBA post-season honors, and cheering the AL West champion Oakland A’s in their ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.

The Rangers are dead. Long live the Rangers.

Week 25 In Review

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 3-4

Overall: 93-66 (1st Place AL West) (+2)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Adrian Beltre  .444/.483/.741   2 HR    6 RBI

Nelson Cruz    .333/.357/.708   2 HR   5 RBI

Raspa Cold (Offense): Geovany Soto  0 for 11 for the week.

Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Koji Uehara  4.1 IP  0 Hits  0 Walks  10 Strikeouts

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Derek Holland 9.31 ERA in 9.1 IP 10 ER  2.07 WHIP

I thought everything would be attained by week’s end. Thanks to an underperforming offense, that did not prove to be true. Playing in front of the home crowd all week for the last time in the regular season, Texas struggled to a 3-4 mark on the week, splitting 4 games with the A’s while losing two of three to the Angels. The baseball gods conspired against the Rangers, who should have gone 5-2, but let two games get away from them.

Three games are all that remain on the schedule against the second place A’s. Those three will be played in Oakland, a park that hasn’t been kind to the Rangers over the years, even when the A’s had bad teams. The math is simple. Win one of three and clinch the AL West for the 3rd consecutive year while simultaneously knocking the Angels and Rays out of the playoffs. Win two of three and Texas likely has home field advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Sweep the A’s and home field is assured. Get swept by Oakland and the Rangers are one of the two Wild Card teams.

Making matters worse, third baseman Adrian Beltre aggravated a shoulder injury in the nightcap of Sunday’s doubleheader and is questionable for tonight’s opener. Michael Young is also questionable after feeling tightness in his Achilles during the nightcap twin bill. He was pulled after the 6th inning, shortly before Beltre.

My preference is for Texas to win tonight. Get it over with. If they can do that, they could scratch Matt Harrison from his start Tuesday night to give him extra rest before the post-season begins. Oakland swept the Mariners over the weekend, coming back from two down in the 9th to win in extra innings on Saturday. The A’s won’t roll over. Texas cannot be complacent.

One win. That’s all that’s needed.

 

Stepping Back From The Abyss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more win, guys. You can do it.

A Tale Of Two Pitchers

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

PITCHER #1

 

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

PITCHER #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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