Results tagged ‘ Lance Berkman ’

The End Comes Too Soon

I had modest hopes. To me, a World Series appearance wasn’t in the cards for the Texas Rangers in 2013, but entering the extended regular season finale, I had hopes my boys would be able to extend their winning streak to nine to get a shot at the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. David Price put in a gutty performance and the Tampa Bay Rays ended the Rangers’ season at 163 games.

Still, it was a helluva year. Who would have thought the Rangers would be capable of winning 91 games in a season where:

1) Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli departed, replaced by Leonys Martin, AJ Pierzynski and Lance Berkman.

2) Berkman was a bust and the team’s best power hitter, Nelson Cruz, got suspended for the last 50 games of the year.

3) David Murphy and Mitch Moreland performed under expectations by a wide margin.

4) #2 starter Matt Harrison only managed two ineffective starts before going down to injury for the year.

5) The Rangers had a starting rotation at one point that consisted of Josh Lindblom, Ross Wolf, Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch and Derek Holland.

6) The big pitching acquisition, Matt Garza, had many more poor performances than good ones.

The Rangers handled all this adversity and still won 91 games. They did it with a new infusion of youth that will only get better in the next few years, particularly Leonys Martin, Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez, who all showed signs of being major contributors.

Meanwhile, there are some players who won’t return for another round in 2014. David Murphy will most certainly be allowed to leave via free agency. Adam Rosales will also go. The pitching staff may say goodbye to Jason Frasor and even Joe Nathan leaving is a possibility.

Nelson Cruz

Gone? Nelson Cruz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Others are iffy. Nelson Cruz will be a free agent. He has stated often over the years he wants to stay in Texas, yet management never saw fit to make him an offer these past three years. Still, they may relent and bring him back as the team’s designated hitter because this team desperately needs some power. I’d love to see utility man Jeff Baker return. AJ Pierzynski could be gone as the Rangers keep getting linked to a free agency pursuit of Brian McCann. After his year ended so poorly, I can’t see Mitch Moreland as part of the plan for 2014. Whether that means Texas will ask Ian Kinsler to move to first (which also opens up second base for Jurickson Profar) or they pursue a free agent like James Loney remains to be seen. And, of course, there could be trades in the future that could see others leave the organization. Maybe the aforementioned David Price could come Texas’ way via trade.

This off-season I expect the Rangers to address their offensive needs as there are only a couple of modifications needed for the pitching staff. Four starters and at least five bullpen pieces are already set. Then I expect Texas will be a better team than they were in 2013. The window isn’t closed yet. It still has a few good years of being open left.

Super Streak, Super Streak, They’re Super Streaky

It must be because the Texas Rangers front office is trying to appeal to the bi-polar community. How else to explain what goes on in the realm of Rangers baseball these days. There’s no telling what team will show up. First there’s the Rangers team that came out of the All-Star break and proceeded to get swept by the Orioles, split four with the Yankees, then got swept again by the Indians. Now you have a Rangers team who does the sweeping, taking three in a row from the Angels, each one in walk-off fashion. First there was Monday night, when Texas trailed 3-2 going into the 9th, promptly tied it on an A.J. Pierzynski home run and, two outs later, sealing the deal with this shot from Geovany Soto:

Tuesday night, it started with Adrian Beltre hitting a 2-out, 2-strike single to bring home the tying run in the 9th, sending it to extra innings when it was Leonys Martin‘s turn to set off the fireworks:

Finally, Texas celebrated my birthday by having Beltre lead off the 9th in a 1-1 game:

Three wins, all by walk-off home runs, the first time that feat has happened in MLB since 2004. Yes, it was a sweep over the Angels, who have now sunk into 4th place with the loss of Albert Pujols for the season, but consider this. With the exception of C.J. Wilson‘s pitiful performance on Tuesday, everything pointed to this being a good series for the Angels. 1) Jered Weaver and Jerome Williams provided two excellent starts- a combined 14.2 innings pitched with only 2 runs given up; 2) Mike Trout was even more Mike Trout than usual: 6 for 6 with 4 walks in the first 2 games alone; 3) Josh Hamilton actually resembled the Josh Hamilton the Angels thought they were getting when they signed him. Hamilton went a combined 5 for 11 with a double, a home run, 7 RBI and 3 walks; and 4) the dominant Rangers bullpen was extremely ordinary on Tuesday, getting torched for 5 runs. The Angels got all that and they were still swept.

By the way, I know Hamilton has been bad, but you can’t prove it by the Rangers. Against every other team in MLB, Hamilton is hitting .209. Against his old team, the Rangers? .389 with a .978 OPS.

Also of significance, Texas for the first time in a month gained ground on the front-running Oakland A’s, going from 6 games behind to 4, with a big weekend series coming up in Oakland. The August schedule favors the Rangers, so this race could be getting tighter again after what appeared to be a Rangers free-fall.

Oh, and the best part? Not only did I get to enjoy a Rangers sweep of LA this week, my beautiful wife surprised me at work with this piece of edible art for my birthday:

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Sure, there are storm clouds on the horizon. All indications are Nelson Cruz faces a suspension soon in the Biogenesis scandal, though some reports indicate he will appeal; Lance Berkman is contemplating retirement as his knees continue to be a problem; Manny Ramirez is not considered major-league ready and may find himself released in the next couple of weeks; and Texas found no willing partners at the July 31st trade deadline and can only hope they can grab some players through waiver wire transactions in August. For a team as offensively challenged as Texas has been for long stretches, this is not a good sign, especially if Cruz is lost for the season. Still, this is MY team and I’ll cheer them on regardless. I’m just glad they’re back on an upswing again.

The Unlikeliest Ranger

Imagine my surprise when I got home and found this e-mail from Texas Rangers MLB.com Beat Writer T.R. Sullivan:

 

“The Rangers have signed Manny Ramirez to a Minor League contract. The Texas Rangers announced today that the club has agreed to terms with designated hitter Manny Ramirez on a minor league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Round Rock.”

 

Really? Manny Ramirez? Of all the players in all the world, this was one I never even began to imagine wearing a Texas Rangers uniform. Back when he was with Boston, there were rumors the Rangers wanted to acquire Ramirez around the time he quit on the Boston Red Sox to force a trade. If there was ever a time of entertaining the notion of signing Ramirez it would have been then.

 

Manny Ramirez in the Dodger Dugout

Is Manny just going to be Manny in Texas?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We’re several years removed from that time. Ramirez has played with the Dodgers, gotten suspended for PED use, served his time, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, got suspended a second time for PED use, “retired” from the game, signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A’s, where he served out his second suspension, asked for and was given his release, signed with a team in Taiwan, played there until just a few weeks ago when he again asked for and was given his release, and finally signed a minor league contract with Texas at age 41.

 

This one is a major stretch for GM Jon Daniels. The message ownership intends to send to the club and the fans I couldn’t say, but there are three possibilities. MESSAGE 1: The Rangers don’t trust Lance Berkman‘s knees to hold up the entire season and Ramirez is strictly a back-up plan should Berkman have to go on the DL. MESSAGE 2: Uncertainty reigns whether Nelson Cruz will become a suspension victim himself due to the Biogenesis scandal. Should Cruz get suspended this season, Ramirez would be a low-price substitute for Cruz’ power, although seeing Ramirez in the field might be scarier than watching Cruz playing right field at times. MESSAGE 3: The Rangers do not want to pay the exorbitant price at the trade deadline to get a player along the lines of Giancarlo Stanton. Ramirez acts as a temporary power bridge and semi-proven commodity for a playoff drive in 2013 and Rangers fans should not expect a blockbuster deal this season.

 

When the Rangers went substantially over the International salary cap to sign four players from Latin America yesterday, Daniels stated the ownership has a long-term plan in place for the team. With the signing of Manny Ramirez, the long-term plan just might include being neither a buyer nor a seller at this year’s trade deadline, play as well as they can with the pieces they have, and only acquire low financial risk players like Ramirez. Any big deal will wait until the off-season.

 

I hate the idea of Manny Ramirez in a Rangers uniform. He doesn’t have a history of being a good teammate and, while he’s done his time for his crimes, I don’t like the message it sends to sign a proven 2-time cheat. At the very least, it likely will be as much as a month before he’s even considered in major league shape. I, for one, would not cheer his return to the bigs, even if he’s playing for my team.

 

 

Exorcising Demons

2011 World Series

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rangers-Cardinals 2013 was a media-driven event. A rematch of the 2011 World Series!

We fans eat that stuff up. We love rematches, chances for redemption or further proof of another team’s superiority. In the back of our minds, though, we know the truth. The only thing the same about these two teams is the cities in which they play their home games. For the Rangers, twelve players from that World Series squad are no longer with the team. Major contributors like Hamilton, Young, Napoli, Wilson. Others are still with the team but now on the disabled list: Lewis, Feliz. On the other side of the coin, the departed for the Cardinals includes Lance Berkman, now playing for the Rangers, along with Albert Pujols, Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson. Still around but injured are Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter. No, these two teams are not the same teams that met in October 2011.

Still we were all fascinated and, from a Rangers fan perspective, we were simply hoping to give the NL frontrunners a good series, maybe take a game and keep it close in the other two since it was a road series. What we got was so much more.

When people remember the 2011 World Series, Game 6 is the focal point. Not the Game 7 that clinched it. It was Game 6. The funny thing in discussing Game 6 is there is little made of Josh Hamilton’s two-run home run in the top of the 10th inning that put the Rangers back up by two. Nor is it Berkman’s game-tying single in the bottom of the 10th when the Rangers, for the second time, were one strike away from a World Championship. Curiously, David Freese’s game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the 11th is almost secondary in people’s minds (except maybe for Cardinals fans). The pivotal point of remembrance was the first time Texas was one strike away, when Freese lifted a deep fly to right that Nelson Cruz misjudged, resulting in a game-tying two-run triple. That’s what most folks remember, none more painfully than Texas Rangers fans and, perhaps, Nelson Cruz himself.

When Pete Kozma lined into a double play ending Sunday’s delayed by three hours game, handing the Rangers an unexpected sweep, there was plenty of credit to go around to players who weren’t around for the 2011 World Series. Leonys Martin had Sunday’s game-tying hit. Martin Perez and Nick Tepesch were minor league starters back then. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers were minor league bullpen pieces. Neal Cotts was trying to get back to the majors. Joe Nathan was closing games for the Minnesota Twins. A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto were catching for the two Chicago teams. All contributed to the sweep.

Nelson Cruz

Nelson Cruz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For one player, though, June 21-23 was a time for redemption. The chance to exorcise the demons of 2011. Nelson Cruz had 3 RBI Friday night, including the 2-run single in the top of the 9th that broke a 4-4 deadlock and decided the game. Saturday night, Cruz followed up with the 2-run home run in the top of the third that brought the final margin of victory in a 4-2 win. That might have been enough for Cruz to atone for his Game 6 miscue but he had one more inadvertent trick up his sleeve. With one out in the bottom of the 7th, Shane Robinson lofted a fly ball to right, Cruz came in for appeared to be an easy play and he slipped. Feet just went out from under him. Heading towards the turf, for that split second, every Rangers fan watching the game was reliving the bottom of the 9th in Game 6 of the World Series in excruciating detail. Then the ball hit Cruz’ mitt while he was falling on his backside and it stayed there.

http://wapc.mlb.com/play?content_id=28271069

Two years ago, Cruz looked awkward and the ball fell for a triple. Saturday night, Cruz looked awkward again but he caught the ball for the out. I don’t speak for all Rangers fans, but for this one, Nelly officially earned forgiveness on that play. Sunday’s win was just icing on the cake.

There’s always the possibility these two teams will meet again in October. The results could be completely different then. For now? It was a time of cleansing, washing a bad taste that had been in our mouths for a while. Was it post-season victory? Of course not. But it wasn’t nothing, either.

Righting The Ship

From gloom to doom is the space of 96 hours. It was but Monday the Rangers were coming of a disastrous start to their longest home stand of the year, going 1-6 against the Indians and the Blue Jays. The offense was going nowhere, trailing the entire major leagues in runs scored for the month of June, by a wide margin. Elvis and David Murphy weren’t hitting at all, Lance Berkman wasn’t much better, getting a hit with runners in scoring position was like trying to stop a zombie invasion: too much for one person to do alone, unless they’re Brad Pitt. Worse yet, Texas was now three games behind the Oakland A’s and guess who was on the schedule next for a big four game series? You guessed it.

Then a strange thing happened. The offense decided to return. The fact it returned within just a couple of days after the return of Ian Kinsler from the disabled list is probably not coincidental. Once the offense returned, Texas began resembling those Rangers we’ve come to know and love over the past few years. By the time the dust settled Thursday afternoon, the Rangers had taken three of four from the front-running A’s, cutting the deficit to one game. Surprisingly enough, the one game Texas lost was the one started by Yu Darvish. The wins came with starters Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm and Josh Lindblom. Lindblom’s gutsy effort Thursday, in which he averaged about two baserunners per inning while only giving up two runs in five innings of work, got rewarded with a post-game demotion back to Round Rock.

Whether the Rangers would win the series or get out of town with a split came down to the last out Thursday, with Joe Nathan on the mound and the tying run at second base:

http://wapc.mlb.com/play?content_id=28203877

Now there’s nothing but optimism surrounding the Rangers again. Kinsler is back. Mitch Moreland returns from his DL stint tonight. Even the bullpen appears to have quality help on the horizon. Joakim Soria began his rehab stint Thursday at AA Frisco, tossing a scoreless inning with good movement on his pitches. Add the former Royals closer to the late inning mix and Texas will have three quality arms to get the game to Nathan. Soria could even spell Nathan for a save opportunity or two to help keep the 38-year-old closer from wearing down at season’s end.

Even with the team back at close to full strength, it won’t be easy. Texas is on the road this weekend against the team with MLB’s best record, the St. Louis Cardinals. followed by three games at Yankee Stadium and three home dates against the Cincinnati Reds. It’s a killer June, but thanks to taking three of four from the A’s, it can now be approached with far less trepidation.

Scattershooting

Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve got a few little things floating around in my head, so I’ll get it all out at once.

Mitch Moreland

The Mitch-ster is going to miss a couple of weeks and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Texas visits the Blue Jays this weekend and it’s traditionally been a time for Ron Washington to rest some of his veterans so they don’t have to deal as much with the hard artificial turf of the Rogers Centre. Unfortunately, Moreland’s back-up is none other than weak-kneed Lance Berkman, who potentially was going to have the entire series off. Jeff Baker is a corner infield back-up, but Wash was hoping to plug Baker in at third and let Beltre be the DH. Shortly after this post went up, the Rangers made an official decision on Moreland, placing him on the 15-day DL. Meanwhile, Colby Lewis was moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL, which allowed the Rangers to add to the 40-man roster. Chris McGuiness, obtained from the Red Sox in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade in 2010, will make his big league debut sometime soon. McGuiness has been with AAA Round Rock this season, hitting .275 with 6 HR’s and 34 RBI.

The Draft

I don’t follow the MLB Draft that closely, since even the most gifted players are usually a minimum three years away from being major leaguers. Within those three years lies a good chance of being traded to another organization, so there’s no point in getting my hopes up about the draftees until they at least reach the AA level. Still, I pay attention enough to gather from the experts who would be the best of all the draftees to watch. For the Rangers, last year’s crop included Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson, both of whom are playing in Low-A Hickory this season. Going back to 2009, Tanner Scheppers has reached the majors with the Rangers, but only he and Robbie Erlin of the Padres have made the majors. The 2010 draft class of the Rangers has been outstanding overall. Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm are in this year’s rotation, Mike Olt got his first taste of the bigs last year and most of the Rangers picks through the 28th round are still in organized ball, many still with the Rangers. On the other hand, the #1 pick for the Rangers in 2010 was center fielder Jake Skole. After starting off in Spokane with some promise, Skole got a 50-game PED suspension a year ago and this year is batting under .200 with little power for High-A Myrtle Beach. If Skole is in the organization a year from now, I’ll be surprised. In fact, I may be a little surprised if he makes it through this season. Of the 2011 draft class, the biggest surprise is CJ Edwards. Now considered one of Texas’ better pitching prospects, Edwards was a mere 48th round pick in 2011. Not many 48th rounders ever come close to sniffing the big leagues. Edwards may prove an exception.

All this is to say I’ll make note of the names drafted over the next couple of days, but I won’t worry too much about ‘em or where they’re assigned. Whoever gets picked, I hope they end up helping the parent club, whether by becoming a member of the Rangers or going to another organization that provides the Rangers a decent player in return.

Draft Trivia

While perusing the Rangers web site and looking at their previous drafts, I discovered an oddity. In both 2001 and 2002, the Rangers drafted a Christopher J. Wilson and it wasn’t the same guy! In 2001, Texas took left-handed pitcher Christopher J. Wilson in the fifth round. That Christopher J. Wilson is better known today as Los Angeles Angels pitcher CJ Wilson. In 2002, Texas then selected a right-handed 17-year-old third baseman by the name of Christopher J. Wilson. The second Christopher J. Wilson never made it to the bigs.

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.

How Are The Rangers 15-7?

AL West Standings 4-26-13

AL West Standings 4-26-13

Let’s see. Let Josh Hamilton go. Reluctantly let Mike Napoli go. Gladly let Michael Young go. And while we’re at it, let your best bullpen set-up guys, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara go. Then, once the season starts, have your Opening Day starter go on the DL after three ineffective starts, make sure your previously platooned left-handed hitting left fielder and first baseman get off to miserable offensive starts, especially against southpaws, and have two rookies fill up 40% of your rotation. Mix it all together and VOILA! you have a team tied for the AL’s best record as we near the end of the season’s first month.

The question is, how the heck are they doing it?

This year’s Texas Rangers are certainly not resembling what we’ve expected from Rangers teams in the past. No longer is the offense a home-run hitting machine. You would think the pitching staff is nothing to write home about. Not a lot of household names there. It certainly doesn’t get the press of the starting staffs of Oakland, Detroit or even Tampa Bay. Here the Rangers are, though, winners of five of their first seven series. The two series they didn’t win, they split. The longest losing streak Texas has had in the first 22 games? One. That’s right, they have yet to lose consecutive games in 2013.

The question gets asked again, how the heck are they doing it?

 

AL Team ERA Leaders 4-26-13

AL Team ERA Leaders 4-26-13

Pitching is certainly the biggest answer. Through 22 games, the Rangers are first in the American League in Earned Run Average and it isn’t even close. At 2.76, the Rangers’ ERA is almost a half run better than the 2nd place Chicago White Sox. Yu Darvish (as chronicled in yesterday’s post) is approaching Ace status as a starter, Derek Holland has been much more consistent in the early going and rookie Nick Tepesch, winner of last night’s 2-1 victory over the Twins, has been nothing short of phenomenal. Tepesch has walked three batters in four starts. All three walks came in ONE INNING of his first start. None in the 19+ innings since. The bullpen features a 5’7″ rookie in Joe Ortiz whose first year is resembling the successful debut a year earlier by his teammate Robbie Ross. Tanner Scheppers has gone through 10 games and 11.2 innings without giving up a run, earned or otherwise. Texas is the only bullpen in the AL not to have blown a save yet on the season.

The pitching is paving the way. The offense, despite some good pieces, hasn’t come close to gelling as yet. They spend the early part of games making the opposing starter look good. To date, Texas has only scored 5 runs in the first inning and have scored in the 1st in only 3 of their first 22 games. In the first three innings of games, essentially the first time through the line-up, Texas has scored only 18 of their 102 total runs scored. The second time through? A different story. 52 runs scored in innings 4, 5 and 6.

While the offense has been inconsistent, there are good signs of things to come. Texas is showing a more discerning eye so far in 2013. Last year, they struck out 17.7% of the time. So far in 2013, that’s down to 15%. Meanwhile the walk rate is up from a year ago, from 7.7% to 8.6%. Part of it is due to the arrival of Lance Berkman, but the approach preached by new hitting coach Dave Magadan plays a large part as well. Taking more pitches is one thing. It’s staying patient while still being able to swing with authority that will come in time.

Meanwhile, backing up the great pitching has been pretty stellar defense. Thus far, Texas has only 8 errors in the first 22 games. How much has the defense improved? Well, when your Gold Glove-winning third baseman is the player with the most errors on your team, that has to tell you something. Yep, Adrian Beltre has three E’s for the Rangers. Who doesn’t have errors? Shortstop Elvis Andrus, for one. Not a single E-6 on his ledger. On the entire 25-man roster, only four different Rangers have been charged with errors. Not one of them is a pitcher or a catcher. The catching tandem of newcomer A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto hasn’t allowed a passed ball as yet. Rangers pitchers have only 5 wild pitches.

In the most telling defensive statistic of all, Rangers opponents have only stolen four bases in the first 22 games and been caught three times. A year ago, 80% of the steals against Texas were successful and opponents stole 108 bases in all. At the current rate (which of course won’t remain this low), that figure will be more like 30 by season’s end. I’m not going to say this is all Pierzynski, as he’s not known as one of the greats in cutting down would be thieves. Part of it is due to Rangers pitchers not allowing as many runners to reach base in the first place. Currently, Rangers pitching is giving up fully one less hit per 9 innings than they did a year ago. Fewer base runners  fewer steal opportunities. Still, it is a dramatic improvement thus far over a year ago and one that bears remembering as the season progresses.

Pitching and defense winning games for the Texas Rangers. Whoever would’ve thought it possible?

The First 10%: So What Do We Know So Far?

15 games in. If it hadn’t been for Wednesday’s rain-out, we’d officially be at the 10% point of the season. We all know individual statistics are pretty meaningless this early in the season. But, if you look at the team as a whole, is there anything we can discern from the season’s first 15-16 games? I think it’s possible.

Take my Texas Rangers for example. A year ago, the Rangers had scored 91 runs over the first 15 games. In 2013, 15 games have netted Texas a mere 55 runs. On the other side of the coin, the Rangers have given up 47 runs so far, compared to only 40 runs allowed over the first 15 games a year ago.

Taking it a step further, Texas scored their 91 runs last year while facing Detroit, Boston, Minnesota, Seattle and the Chicago White Sox. This year, 55 runs have been scored against Houston, the LA Angels, Seattle, Tampa Bay and the Chicago Cubs. This is why the early season returns concern me. The Rangers scored more runs and gave up less runs in the first 15 games a year ago while facing overall superior competition than they have faced thus far in 2013.

We knew the Texas Rangers were going to have a harder time scoring runs in 2013 than they did a year ago. You don’t lose the likes of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and, to a lesser extent, Michael Young, without that having some effect on your offensive line-up. Making matters worse is, with the exception of Ian Kinsler, just about every regular from last year’s line-up is off to a slow start this year. Elvis Andrus is at .224, Adrian Beltre .232, David Murphy is hitting .151, Mitch Moreland .163 and Craig Gentry is at .227. Nelson Cruz is at .298 but hasn’t been hitting for a lot of power so far. Outside of Kinsler, the best hitters in the Rangers’ line-up has actually been their two newcomers, Lance Berkman (.389) and A.J. Pierzynski (.289).

Keeping an optimistic tone, I haven’t seen any discernible differences in the way people are pitching to Beltre and Cruz now that pitchers don’t have to worry about Hamilton too. So there is hope the offense will be better than what they’ve shown so far. Overall, though, this is not a team that will be bashing a lot of teams this year. In the past three years, Rangers fans have come to expect their team to knock out a lot of starting pitchers before the sixth inning. Over the first 15 games this season, at best the Rangers have only “knocked out” two starting pitchers with their offense. Opposition starters have given up more than 3 runs to the Rangers only three times in the year’s first 15 games.

Texas pitching has thus far come close to matching the hot start of 2012, but storm clouds are already on the horizon. Matt Harrison is on the disabled list and his back has not been responding to treatment. No team can do without their #2 pitcher for any great length of time, especially when combined with a sputtering offense. Alexi Ogando has had problem with his command in each of his first three starts, Yu Darvish has been bothered by a blister in his last two starts and 40% of the starting rotation are rookies in Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm.

The restructured relief corps has performed overall better than expected. Rookie Joe Ortiz has been tough as nails and picked up two wins along the way. Tanner Scheppers looks ready to make the next step. Derek Lowe and Michael Kirkman don’t exactly fill Rangers fans with confidence but they’ve mostly gotten the job done as we wait for the return of Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz from injuries.

At 9-6, I’m not unhappy with the overall record so far, but I do have concerns. If the offense doesn’t pick it up and if Matt Harrison is out for a significant period of time, this is going to be a challenging season in Texas.

Texas Rangers Caliente y Frio: Week 2

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: 8-5 (2nd Place AL West) (-1)

Jalapeno Caliente (Offense): Lance Berkman   .313/.450/.438   3 RBI   4 Walks

Raspa Frio (Offense): David Murphy .143/.143/.179

Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching): Joe Ortiz 2-0   0.00 ERA   5.2 IP   1 H   .056 BAA

Raspa Frio (Pitching): Michael Kirkman  5.40 ERA in 3.1 IP

Texas ended their homestand by taking two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays, then travelled to Seattle where they split a 4-game set with the Mariners. Ask most Rangers fans and they’ll probably say they were a little disappointed the Rangers didn’t go 5-2 or even 6-1, as all four games with the Mariners were winnable. Instead, the offense has gone decidedly cold. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz really haven’t provided the power punch in the early going, which in turn magnifies David Murphy’s typical slow start even more, not to mention the overall low results of Mitch Moreland and the center field combo of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry. The offense is scraping, which is too bad, considering the pitching has been excellent overall. Only Michael Kirkman had an ERA above 4.50 for the week. Yu Darvish gave up 3 first inning runs then nothing else the rest of the way, but Texas could only manage one run of their own in the game.

Upcoming: Another week of both road and home games- Monday off, followed by three games in Chicago against the Cubs and three at home against the Mariners. Don’t expect to see much of Lance Berkman in Chicago. Texas will have to go by NL rules, which means no DH. Berkman could start one game at first base. Otherwise, he’ll be strictly a pinch hitter, especially with cold conditions expected in the Windy City.

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