Results tagged ‘ Mark Lowe ’

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.

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.

Picking Back Up

What was strangest about this All-Star break was the extra day. Over 40 years of following baseball and if there’s one thing I’m used to, it’s a three-day All-Star break. Having the extra day was, well, disconcerting. There wasn’t much of anything to write about, although some ideas for the future popped into my head. In the end, this weekend has been my All-Star break, letting a few games digest in my mind before trying to come up with anything noteworthy to write about.

As has been increasingly frustrating, the Rangers didn’t score a lot of runs in their first three games back. In fact, the 4-spot they put up on Sunday was them highest output of runs they’ve had over the past ten games. Definitely not Rangers-worthy offense. On the other hand, the pitching staff is getting ready to return to a semblance of normalcy. Derek Holland came off the DL just prior to the break and started the first game on Friday, throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Colby Lewis returns on Wednesday against the A’s. In the relief corps, Alexi Ogando has been pronounced fit to go and will be in the bullpen come Tuesday. Koji Uehara could possibly join him there on the same day. That would leave just Mark Lowe and Neftali Feliz as hurlers on the DL and Feliz made his first rehab start on Sunday. Meanwhile, Matt Harrison keeps rolling along, tossing his second shutout of the season on Sunday in a 4-0 win to keep the AL lead in wins with 12.

Texas started the second half by taking two of three in Seattle and putting another game of space between themselves and the Angels, who lost two of three to the Yankees. The game they lost is the one that gets me weirded out. Texas lost the game, 7-0, as Felix Hernandez tossed a three-hit shutout. I can deal with the loss itself, even the shutout since it was King Felix on the mound. What has me weirded out is what the deal is with Yu Darvish and the Seattle Mariners.

For the season, Darvish is a fine 10-6 with 3.96 ERA. Yeah the ERA could be better, but all in all, Darvish has performed at expectations or maybe even a little better for a pitcher in his first year in the American bigs. Here’s the thing, though. Take away his three starts against the Seattle Mariners and Darvish is a pretty impressive 9-4 with a 3.09 ERA. The league as a whole is only hitting .231 against Darvish. Take away the Mariners offense and it’s a miserly .218.

Yes, inexplicably, one of the worst offenses in the American League is hitting Darvish at a .294 clip. In three games against Seattle, Darvish is 1-2 with an ERA of 9.00. Ichiro alone is hitting .600 against his fellow countryman. Just about 25% of Darvish’s 57 walks on the season have been to Mariners batters. On balls in play (BABIP), the league is at .300, which is considered average. The Mariners BABIP against Darvish is .352.

Who knows what it is. Does facing another Japanese legend like Ichiro affect his concentration or is all this just a fluke? I remember years ago, someone asked Hall of Famer Tom Seaver about the toughest hitters for him to face and he surprisingly answered Tommy Hutton, who had a .248 career average and only 22 home runs in 12 seasons. Seaver said it didn’t matter what he threw, Hutton would hit it. Maybe the Mariners are Yu Darvish’s Tommy Hutton. The way it’s going, I’m just glad the odds are pretty good he won’t have to face Seattle in a playoff game.

The Curious Case of Neftali Feliz

As the second half of the season gears up, the Rangers pitching staff is starting to get back to normal. Derek Holland has already returned from the disabled list. Colby Lewis will return for the Oakland series. In the relief corps, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe are all beginning rehab assignments with Round Rock this weekend. Also on the mend and preparing for a return is Neftali Feliz.

Neftali Feliz

Feliz was the first of the Rangers pitchers to go on the DL, when he was shut down with shoulder soreness in May. With the signing of Roy Oswalt, it was assumed and accepted that the Feliz as a starter experiment was over, with Nefti returning to the pen once he was healthy again. Curious thing, though. When Rangers’ beat writer TR Sullivan reported Feliz was getting ready to begin his rehab stint, he mentioned the Rangers plan was to build him back up as a starter.

This raises all kinds of speculation. Once Lewis returns, the Rangers will have a starting staff of Lewis, Holland, Oswalt, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish. To what end is this plan to stretch Feliz as a starter? Insurance in case a starter goes down? If so, then Texas has either been singularly unimpressed with Oswalt so far or have a real fear he is not healthy. Either way, that would put a big $5 million investment in jeopardy. Harrison and Darvish have shown no signs of injury and have easily been the Rangers best starters in 2012. Holland just returned from the DL and signed a contract extension in the off-season. Lewis has a degenerative hip condition, but if his health was such an issue, he wouldn’t be activated on Tuesday.

So why stretch Feliz out as a starter when he could easily be put back in the bullpen? My only conclusion is he’s being prepared for a possible trade deadline deal. Not necessarily a deal that would involve Feliz leaving Texas, although that is a possibility. No, it could be a current Rangers starter is being considered as a trade chip. Get rid of one of the current starters in exchange for needed offense, then bring Feliz up to replace him in the rotation. Or stretch Feliz as a starter, then deal spot starter/long reliever Scott Feldman for offense and plug Feliz into Feldman’s role.

If it’s strictly as insurance in case another starter goes down, that would mean Feliz is going to stay down at AAA Round Rock for the foreseeable future. I can’t see the Rangers keeping a proven talent like Feliz down on the farm strictly as an insurance policy. Had it been the start of the season when Feliz was just making the transition to starter, I could have seen that, but not when the pennant race is now heating up.

Feliz rehabbing as a starter? This has to be a sign of something to come.

Another One Bites The Dust

Last year, the Rangers made it through the entire season using only seven starting pitchers: CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and two starts each by Dave Bush and Scott Feldman.

This year looks like a Who’s Who. With today’s news that Colby Lewis is going on the 15-day DL with tendinitis, fully 60% of the starting five at season’s start are now on the shelf. Holland should be back right around the All-Star Break. No word on when Neftali Feliz is coming back yet. Feliz is on the 60-Day DL. His first replacement, Alexi Ogando, lasted three innings in his only start before going on the DL himself with a groin strain.

Texas lived the high life when it came to pitchers’ health last year. When you include the relief staff, the current Rangers pitching staff with Lewis gone is 42% comprised of players who weren’t with the Rangers at the start of the season: Roy Oswalt, Michael Kirkman, Tanner Scheppers, Justin Grimm and now rookie Martin Perez, one of the Rangers’ top prospects.

When you think about it, the Rangers’ 14-9 record in the month of June is pretty darn good, considering the state of flux in the pitching staff. Scott Feldman moves back in the starting rotation on Thursday in place of Lewis. After using Kirkman and Lowe for eight innings last night against the Tigers and Feldman no longer available for long relief, the pressure is on Yu Darvish tonight and Oswalt tomorrow to give Texas some quality innings.

Sliding Back

What was once nine is now 6 1/2. And the A’s are only 3 1/2 back.

Anyone who thought the AL West would be a laugher after the first three weeks of the season, this is the wake-up call. As good as the Rangers played in the first six series of 2012 is how mediocre they’ve played in the three series since.

After dropping Sunday’s 4-2 decision to the Indians, Texas is now 3-6 in their last nine games and losers of three consecutive series. Now, a mere five days away from the first meeting with the Angels, the Rangers have to accept the AL West could be much tighter one week from today than it is right now.

It was once a given that both the Angels and Rangers would have easy ramp-ups to their first series. Not so now. The Angels look like they have an easy one, with an off day followed by three games in Minneapolis against the lowly Twins. The Rangers are on the road as well, with no off-day, facing the Orioles at Camden Yards in a 4-game set. The Orioles were picked by most to be the AL East cellar-dwellers, but instead are tied with Tampa Bay for the top spot in the East as of this writing (their game with the Red Sox is in the 16th inning as I write this).

TRUE CONFESSION TIME: I watched losing Texas Rangers baseball for a lot of my 40+ years as a Rangers/Senators fan. When the first Rangers teams went to the playoffs in ’96, ’98 and ’99, I was ecstatic. When the Rangers sunk back into mediocrity, I continued to watch through thick and thin. Today, I feel differently. After watching this team lose six of nine and often in ways they never should be allowing themselves to use, I’m inclined to think that once this magnificent run is over, it is going to be very hard to allow myself to watch a mediocre team on a regular basis again. Now I understand why Yankees fans feel as they do. You get used to winning very easily and the idea of losing again quickly becomes a foreign concept. The Rangers of 2012 are infinitely better than any of the three teams that won AL West crowns in the late 1990′s. When this run ends, as all runs must, it will be very difficult to accept.

TRUE CONFESSION 2: The main reasons to go see a Rangers game over the past 40 years has been to see some of the best hitters the game has to offer. The Rangers have been blessed over the years with the offensive exploits of Jeff Burroughs, Frank Howard, Al Oliver, Julio Franco, Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra, Pudge Rodriguez, Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and now Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler. With the exception of the Nolan Ryan years, you wouldn’t find many people who said they went to see a Rangers game to see a certain pitcher, unless it was an opposing pitcher. In 2012, that has changed for me. I love this team as a whole, but the games I really want to see are the ones I know Yu Darvish or Derek Holland are pitching. When one of those two are starting, I know there’s a chance of seeing something special. Holland pitched superbly Saturday night and was unfortunate not to get the win because the Rangers, despite getting hits and walks all night long, weren’t getting them when it counted, only giving Holland a 2-0 lead to work with. The Tribe tied it late in the game and it took an 11th inning Adrian Beltre pinch-hit homer to win it. On Sunday, it was Darvish’s turn. He was saddled with the loss, but even in defeat struck out a career high 11 batters. It was the second time in six outings Darvish has struck out 10 or more. The Rangers offense has been stagnant the past two weeks. It will get better but honestly, I’m enjoying watching the pitching more this year. 

MOST THANKLESS JOB ON A TEAM: Back in the early 80′s, through work I met a former major league pitcher by the name of Gary Neibauer, who mostly pitched for the Braves in the late 60′s and early 70′s. Last year, I went to Baseball Reference online to look up his stats. One of the stats they show is the record of the team in the games a player pitched. I noticed in the games Neibauer pitched in 1969, the year the Braves lost to the Miracle Mets in the NLCS, the Braves lost most of the games Neibauer pitched in. This had nothing to do with his being a poor pitcher, but rather with the pecking order of a pitching staff.  I was reminded of that today when watching Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara pitch the 7th and 8th innings of Sunday’s loss. Both pitchers are proving themselves exceptional in what is so far an exceptional bullpen. Lowe has allowed only one run in 8 innings of work with two walks and eight strikeouts. Uehara has allowed two runs in 9 innings with ZERO walks and 11 K’s. What these two have in common is they are the pitchers the Rangers are calling on right now in losing efforts. Their job is to try not to make the deficit worse so hopefully the offense can bring them back. This is a luxury the Rangers have: quality relief pitchers they can throw in to losing ballgames. I’m sure neither Lowe nor Uehara is happy with their roles on this team. They’d both rather come into games with something more on the line. The problem is, unless the other bullpen pieces start failing, that isn’t going to happen. So here’s to you, Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara. I honor you with the Gary Neibauer Award for Best Performance by Relief Pitchers in a Losing Effort!

FINAL PEP TALK: Time for the mediocrity to end, fellas. You’ve got Baltimore and LA to play this week. Time to put on your best game faces and kick some butt!

Fire The Manager! Break Up The Team!

Ouch, the first back to back losses of the season. The second straight series loss. This is the end of the Texas Rangers as we know them.

Not really, but it does show how manic-depressive we fans can be. When the Rangers were winning, as they were the entire month of April, it’s as if the team of our affections was Superman, impervious to pain, able to steal bases at will, more powerful than the ’27 Yankees.

Now, after starting the month of May at 0-2, the fingers have started pointing, the mood has blackened and we’re sure Lex Luthor has found a big hunk of kryptonite and placed it smack dab under the Rangers bench in the dugout.

Truth be told, this team probably wasn’t as good as their April record indicated, nor are they as bad as they’ve looked in going 2-4 over the past six games. In the end they probably resemble the April team more than the May team thus far, but the season will show us where they stand. Right now, it’s still firmly in first place in the AL West with the team considered their most serious competitor still either seven or eight games out, depending on how tonight’s game turns out.

A lot of scribes are going to say this two-game skid is perfectly understandable. After all, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre haven’t been in the Rangers line-up the past two games, so losses can be expected.

The problem with this is the last two games haven’t been lost due to lack of offense. Texas has scored 11 runs the past two games and even had a 5-0 lead in Tuesday’s game. No, the losses have come because two of the Rangers’ strong suits both failed on Tuesday and Wednesday: the pitching and the defense.

Tuesday Neftali Feliz didn’t have a particularly strong outing Tuesday, giving up two home runs in a 4-run 3rd inning to turn a 5-0 Rangers lead into a 5-4 lead. In the 7th, it was Elvis Andrus’ first error in 54 games, on a routine play no less, that opened the gates for the Blue Jays 3-run inning to turn a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead. Elvis’ error opened the inning. With runners on first and second, a sacrifice bunt Mike Napoli couldn’t field cleanly resulted in another error and a bases loaded, no out situation. Alexi Ogando came on and got two groundouts right away, but both plated runs tying the game. A base hit later and the Jays had a 7-6 lead, with all runs charged to rookie Robbie Ross, who deserved so much better.

Michael Young tied the game in the 9th, but Mike Adams gave up a walk-off solo shot to open the bottom of the 9th. Bad defense, bad pitching, one loss.

Wednesday’s day game was even worse for the pitching staff. Matt Harrison had his second straight bad outing, giving up eight hits and eight runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Harry has now given up 14 earned runs and 22 hits in his last two starts combined, comprising just 8 1/3 innings. As good as Harry was in his first three starts and most of 2011, I hope this isn’t a sign of a physical ailment. Harry and Dutch (Derek Holland) have both had two consecutive poor outings. Long man/spot starter Scott Feldman gave up a three-run homer to close out the scoring.

On the good news side, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe continue to pitch well, even though they’ve mostly been used in non-pressure situations. Still, it’s good to know the bullpen seems to be pretty consistently good, at least more consistently good than the starters have been. Oh, and Josh Hamilton was named AL Player of the Month and Yu Darvish the AL Rookie of the Month.

As good as the Rangers have been the past few years, that success has not translated to Canada. Texas is a combined 5-11 at the Rogers Centre since 2009, including the 1-2 mark for this road trip. Thursday is a day off, then three games in Cleveland. Hamilton and Beltre should be back in the line-up. That would be good. What would be better is seeing Colby, Dutch and Yu dealing zero’s and the defense dealing DP’s. This team will play better. They already have and they will again.

The Annual Good News Story

In an era when the average pitcher stands 6’4″ to 6’7″ tall, he stands a rather pedestrian 5’11″.

On a team built for playoff success, full of veterans who know what it takes to win, he has never pitched an inning above the AA level. And only 10% of his 381 career innings have even come at that high level.

Yet on Friday, April 6th, this 22-year-old will join only 24 other players who can claim the distinction of being an active member of the Texas Rangers.

I have only managed to see one televised game this spring with the Rangers. In that game, every pitcher the Rangers used had trouble with their command, including Yu Darvish. Every pitcher except one. Robbie Ross.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Ross will be a Texas Rangers player on Friday because he did it the old-fashioned way. He earned his way onto the team.

Ross was an afterthought, a non-roster player destined for AA Frisco, in camp just to be among the contingent of pitchers used to finish off the exhibition games. While many of those pitchers were giving up runs and helping the Rangers drop as low as 6-16 at one point in Spring Training, Ross just threw strikes. In 12 innings, Ross allowed 10 hits and only two runs, walking two and striking out 11. Another 19 of the outs he recorded were groundouts. Only three of the 36 outs credited to Ross were fly balls.

Over the course of a month, Robbie Ross passed by proven major leaguers like Joe Beimel, favored candidates like Michael Kirkman and even outpitched probable teammates Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe. In his next to last outing, Ross’ only remaining competition, Neal Cotts, injured himself on his last pitch, making the 2008 2nd round draft pick the last man in the bullpen and a major leaguer at least one full year ahead of schedule.

It’s a great story, but anyone who has followed major league baseball for a while has seen this many times before. Almost every team has a great story like Ross coming out of camp, only to see them flop once the games actually count. More often than not, these phenoms are back in the minors by May 1st.

This could very well be the eventual fate for Robbie Ross in 2012. But for now, he’s a full-fledged member of the Texas Rangers, and as long as he keeps throwing strikes and getting groundouts, he’ll continue to be one. I hope that proves to be the case.

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