Results tagged ‘ Ron Washington ’

Looking Ahead To 2015: Designated Hitter

There have been some great Designated Hitters in the history of baseball. David Ortiz is the first to come to mind in the here and now. Others have included Edgar Martinez, Don Baylor, Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. When the DH was first introduced, it appeared it would be the domain of aging sluggers whose best defensive years were behind them or young sluggers whose defense was shoddy at best.

As a fan, I used to want one of those sluggers in my team’s line-up, that team being the Texas Rangers. Even today, there’s a clamor among Rangers fans for Prince Fielder to transition to DH so we don’t have to put up with his lack of range as a first baseman. I no longer subscribe to that theory. The Rangers first foray into the World Series in 2010 put an end to my thinking that way.

Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero

In 2010, the Rangers had future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero as their Designated Hitter. It was a match made in heaven. Here was a quality power hitter whose knees could no longer take the regular pounding of playing in right field every day. Vlad’s one year with Texas was superb: a .300/.345/.496 slash line with 29 home runs and 115 RBI. Guerrero slumped in September but rebounded a little in the playoffs with a .267 average, 3 doubles and 4 RBI in 11 games. Then came the World Series.

The problem with having your everyday DH being one of your main RBI guys is something’s got to give in the World Series when you visit the National League park and can’t use a DH. Either you sit a major part of your offense on the bench or you put his less than stellar defense on the field. Ron Washington felt he had no choice. Guerrero got penciled in as the Rangers’ right fielder, where he’d played all of 16 games in the regular season.

The problems surfaced immediately. Vlad committed two errors in what turned into a 3-run 8th inning that helped propel the Giants to an 11-7 Game 1 victory. So poor was his performance, Washington decided it was better for his slugger to ride the pine in Game 2.

 

Michael Young

Michael Young

Lesson learned, right? To a certain extent. In 2011, Wash went with a carousel of Designated Hitters, led by Michael Young’s 69 games. Young also served as a sort of “Super Utility” infielder, getting starts at all four infield positions. He responded with a .338/.380/.474 year with 106 RBI despite just 11 homers. Again, Wash felt obligated to play Young in the field on the road in the 2011 World Series. Defensively, Young had a nickname among Rangers fans: PADMY, an acronym for “Past A Diving Michael Young”, heard often in the play-by-play. He wasn’t the butcher Guerrero was but there were better defensive options.

In the pivotal Game 6 in St. Louis (the One Strike Away Twice game that gave this blog its name), Young played first base and committed two errors, both eventually leading to runs. Without those errors, the Rangers may very well have been the World Series champs. We’ll never know.

That brings us to today and the Rangers are pretty certain Mitch Moreland is their primary DH. He will NOT, however, be the everyday DH for three reasons: 1) He’s a streaky hitter; 2) he doesn’t hit lefthanders well (a career .227/.289/.347) and 3) he is a walking injury case.

Fans have wanted to love Mitch Moreland for some time. He came along in 2010 when both Chris Davis and Justin Smoak bombed as the Rangers first baseman and contributed a decent 9 home runs and 25 RBI in 47 games. He further endeared himself with the fans by going 6 for 13 in the World Series, which included a Game 3 home run off  Jonathon Sanchez that led to the lone Texas win in the Series.

Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland

Since 2011, Moreland has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons. He missed half of June and most of July in 2012, half of June in 2013 and more than half the season a year ago, playing his last game June 7th.

This has to be considered Moreland’s last shot with the Rangers. He has power potential, which is why they keep him around, but at some point he has to deliver. either by hitting southpaws better or by staying healthy. I’m not convinced he’s able to do either.

The question is who will serve as the Rangers DH against lefthanders? Washington gave Moreland every chance against lefties. Jeff Bannister is under no obligation. That’s why DH will likely be another revolving door, which isn’t a bad thing. Odds are Mitch plays mostly against righthanders and maybe he’ll play first base on occasion so Prince Fielder can DH (Moreland is OK defensively at 1st). Against lefties, the Rangers are hopeful newly acquired Kyle Blanks will be able to overcome injuries and tape into the power potential he showed with San Diego.

The problem here is Blanks has been just as injury prone as Moreland, thus making DH as much of a battle for playing time as left field is for Texas.

Moreland will play the most games at DH if he stays healthy. Beyond that, the spot in the order for Designated Hitter is probably Bannister’s best way of rotating quality at bats for the other three bench players. Unless Moreland is productive, it might also be the weakest position in the Rangers line-up.

Looking Ahead To 2015: Catcher

Heading into 2010, the year the Texas Rangers first went to the World Series, if there was one position the front office wasn’t worried about for the present and the future, it was catcher. Texas enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in the catching department. At the major league level, Jarrod Saltalamacchia would be the every day catcher for the first time. Backing him up would be University of Texas phenom Taylor Teagarden, who would supply some needed power. Down on the farm, Max Ramirez was the emergency guy at AAA Round Rock and coming up in the system was well-regarded Jose Felix in AA Frisco.

Saltalamacchia lasted for all of two games and five at bats. He had the game winning hit in the season opener but suffered an injury and didn’t tell manager Ron Washington about it. When it came up after Game 2, Salty went on the DL, Wash publicly chastised him for not speaking up and added he had a lot of growing up to do. Saltalamacchia never returned to the Rangers. During rehab, he developed a case of the “yips”, causing his throws back to the pitcher to sail. He got sent off to the Red Sox in the trade that netted Texas Chris McGuiness and Roman Mendez.

 

Robinson Chirinos

Robinson Chirinos

Meanwhile, it didn’t take long before the Rangers determined Teagarden, for all his power potential, wasn’t able to hit consistently. His long swing led to 34 strikeouts in just 85 at bats. Five of his 11 hits went for extra bases but a .155 average was all he could muster. Before anyone knew what hit them, Teagarden got sent down, Ramirez came up and the Rangers’ starting catcher was someone they picked up at the end of training camp, Matt Treanor, who turned into a godsend. Treanor wasn’t any great shakes, but he gave Texas quality at bats and handled the pitching staff well for 82 games, until the Rangers picked up Bengie Molina from the San Francisco Giants to handle the heavy work down the stretch.

Since that 2010 season, the Rangers have gone through Yorvit Torrealba, Mike Napoli, Teagarden, Treanor, Geovany Soto, Luis Martinez, A.J. Pierzynski, J.P. Arencibia, Chris Giminez, Tomas Telis and Robinson Chirinos and there’s still no true starting catcher in sight for 2015.

Phenom Jorge Alfaro is still at least a year away. In the meantime, the Rangers enter 2015 with the aforementioned Telis and Giminez at AAA Round Rock, if something happens to Chirinos or new arrival Carlos Corporan.

Chirinos was as much a godsend for the Rangers in 2014 as Treanor was in 2010. With Rangers hitting the DL almost every other day, including Soto in pre-season and  Arencibia hitting a pitiful .133 on May 16th, Chirinos came up big time, posting a slash line of .239/.290/.415 with 13 HR and 40 RBI. Adding to his importance was his defense. Chirinos came out of nowhere to lead the American League in throwing out would-be base stealers at 40%. His 2.4 WAR ranked 5th among AL catchers. Chirinos’ performance earned Soto a trade to the A’s once he returned from the disabled list.

Carlos Corporan

Carlos Corporan

This year, Chirinos enters the season as the clear #1, although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to match any of his 2014 numbers. Last year was his first full season in the majors and his performance could go in either direction. The plan is for Chirinos to catch about 100 games, just a few more than he caught a year ago. Injuries aside, his expected back-up for the other 62 games will be Carlos Corporan, who comes over from the Houston Astros.

Jon Daniels told the crowd at FanFest that they did due diligence on Corporan, talking to a number of Astros pitchers about him. One of them, former Ranger Scott Feldman, praised Corporan and credited him for elevating his game in 2014.

The Rangers aren’t looking for great offense from the catcher position. The top priority is catchers who work well with the pitching staff. Still, Corporan has a little pop in his bat and if the Rangers get a combined 3.0 WAR out of the two of them, they’ll be happy.

Looking Ahead To 2015: Shortstop

Elvis Andrus: $15 million manYou’d think there’s not much to say about shortstop for the Texas Rangers and you’re not entirely wrong. Elvis Andrus is the Rangers shortstop, he has been since 2009 and, with his new contract officially kicked in, he’s making a lot of money to be the shortstop in Texas for a while.

Yet that didn’t stop the off-season conjecture that Andrus could find his way to another team via trade. Texas had a wealth of middle infield talent, even without considering Jurickson Profar, who missed all of 2014 with an issue with a shoulder muscle. While Profar was originally pegged as the Rangers second sacker entering 2014, he’s considered a better shortstop than second baseman.

The good news for Elvis is one of those middle infielders, Luis Sardinas, went to the Brewers in the Yovani Gallardo trade. Also, Profar hasn’t played in a year and will need some seasoning in the minors for at least a couple of months to get the cobwebs off his game. The bad news for Rangers fans is Elvis regressed in 2014, making that new contract of his an albatross when it comes to trade talks.

On the surface, Elvis didn’t have a horrible offensive year for Texas. In fact, in some ways it was an improvement. Never a power hitter, Andrus hit a career high 35 doubles last year and his .263 average wasn’t much under his career .272 mark. There were, however, plenty of black flags in his game. While Elvis stole a decent 27 bases, that was down 15 from his career high 42 in 2013, plus he got caught stealing a whopping 15 times, leading the American League in that category. His RBI dropped from 67 to 41, his OPS went down for the second consecutive year and he grounded into a career high 21 double plays. His overall WAR of 1.0 by Baseball-Reference, 1.3 by Fangraphs were both career lows.

Rangers fans have known Elvis for his defense and 2014 was not kind to those fans at all. Elvis committed 18 errors, his highest mark in three years. His .973 fielding percentage was the third lowest of his 6-year career. For only the second time, his defensive runs saved above average was a negative number and the worst of his career. Finally, his UZR rating was easily a career low.

Some of this could be attributed to the meager team Andrus had playing around him. He had a rookie second baseman playing next to him most of the season and at times it appeared Elvis made throws that had no chance of beating a runner to first. Maybe he was trying to hard to make things happen.

On the other hand, even with injuries to Derek Holland and Jurickson Profar making for a lot of talk in Spring Training, there was still room to talk in less than glowing terms about Elvis Andrus. For the first time in his career, he didn’t play winter ball. That isn’t a sin, but not only did he not play winter ball, he didn’t do ANYTHING in the off-season. No workout regimen, no batting practice. Elvis was an off-season couch potato. He showed up at camp heavy and he never seemed to get the speed back during the season. He could still make you marvel at his range deep in the hole to stop a ball, but the magical Elvis we’re used to was gone.

Now it’s a year later and we’re not hearing bad things about Elvis heading into training camp. In fact, the first thing heard at Fan Fest was Elvis has lost 15 pounds and is working hard to prepare for the 2015 season. He’s also quoted as saying he absolutely loves new manager Jeff Bannister. Rangers fans can only hope it’s true.

Elvis Andrus will never be an offensive power hitter. The Rangers don’t need him to. They do, however, need him as a better base stealer, a better gap hitter and back to where he once was defensively. We already know from Bannister that Elvis won’t bunt nearly as much as he used to, as Bannister doesn’t believe in bunting early in the game like Ron Washington did. If he can return to the offensive numbers he put up from 2011-2013 (.279/.341/.357) with the defense he was known for, he’ll either make Jurickson Profar a nice piece of trade bait for Jon Daniels and the Rangers or he’ll make himself a trade target again.

Looking Ahead To 2015: Second Base

texas-rangers-logoWhen you think about it, the first car in the Texas Rangers’ train wreck of a 2014 season went off the tracks in Spring Training at the keystone position.

The off-season saw Ian Kinsler sent packing to the Detroit Tigers in a straight-up swap for Prince Fielder, a good old-fashioned blockbuster trade. Kinsler was expendable because it was time for his heir apparent to take over, #1 Rangers prospect (and one of  the top prospects in all of MLB) Jurickson Profar.

Profar joined the parent club on May 20, 2013 after Kinsler hit the disabled list and ended up sticking with the club for the rest of the season, serving in a “Super Utility” role for Ron Washington’s club and putting up a somewhat respectable .234/.308/.336 line with 6 home runs and 26 RBI in 85 games. While his defense wasn’t on par with Kinsler, the Rangers front office determined the 20-year-old was ready to take over in much the same way Elvis Andrus took over the shortstop role in 2009.

Early in Spring Training a small glitch popped up. Profar was having some throwing issues. The problem was a slight tear in a very small muscle in the shoulder. Rest was the prescription but, as the exhibition season was drawing to a close, it was clear Profar wasn’t able to begin the season in Arlington. As it turned out, Profar wouldn’t see a single inning of big league game action in 2014. He didn’t even see rehab time in the minors.

The Rangers started 2014 with a platoon at second base consisting of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy. The two utility players tried their best but, after a month, it was clear they weren’t the long-term solution for the season.

Which brings us to the real subject of today’s post.

Rougned Odor. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rougned Odor. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On May 8th, Texas jettisoned Wilson and opened up a 40-man roster position for Rougned Odor, who started the season at AA Frisco. Odor would stay with the Rangers for the rest of the year, playing in 114 games with a .259/.297/.402 line, contributing 9 home runs and 48 RBI to the last place Rangers. Odor had defensive issues and many a Rangers TV pre-game show featured footage of Wash working with the 19-year-old prodigy on the finer points of playing up the middle.

Odor earned a reputation for attitude in the minors and was a focal point of many bench-clearing brawls and the subject of at least one fight-related suspension. Still, that attitude helped keep his fellow teammates’ morale high during a trying  2014 campaign. It brought to mind the 2013 second baseman, Kinsler, who famously followed a big home win over the Angels in 2009 with an audible “Get the f*** off our field!” and followed up his trade to the Tigers by telling Sports Illustrated “I hope the Rangers go 0-162 this year” (he wasn’t that far off). Odor plays the game with passion 100% of the time.

He’s also improved at every level he’s played. With Short-A Spokane in 2011, he was .262/.323/.352. He followed up with a 2012 .259/.313/.400 for Low-A Hickory, improving his power numbers. Odor began 2013 with High-A Myrtle Beach, putting up an even better .305/.369/.454, earning a promotion to Frisco, where he actually did even better, putting up a slash line of  .306/.354/.530. At the time of his May call-up in 2014, Odor was at .279/.314/.450 for Frisco.

Jurickson Profar. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jurickson Profar. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Fast forward to today. Roogie, who just turned 20 February 3rd, is unquestionably the starting second baseman for the 2015 Texas Rangers, while Jurickson Profar, who himself turns just 21 in another week, finds his shoulder muscle healed but without a place on the major league roster. This is a good thing. After missing a full season to injury, getting his playing legs back at AAA Round Rock is both prudent and not harmful to the Rangers’ chances of winning at the big league level.

Putting up his 2014 numbers over a full 162 game season would put Odor in line for about 13 home runs and 68 RBI. Injuries aside, I’ll take the over. With his record of consistent improvement, let’s say 14 home runs and 75 RBI (more optimistic than the projections I’ve seen on Fangraphs). Last year, all Rangers second basemen combined hit 10 home runs (9 by Odor) and knocked in 55 runs (48 by Odor). Like first base with a healthy Prince Fielder, the Rangers should get a lot more pop in 2015 at second base. With the slow-footed Fielder at the corner, Roogie needs to increase his range defensively. Do that and Rangers fans are dancing in ecstasy.

And if, for some reason, Odor suffers a sophomore slump, Profar will be big league ready by the end of May. Sure beats Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy.

Texas Rangers Fan Fest 2015

I recently relocated from the Rio Grande Valley to the Austin area, so naturally when I had the chance, I somehow managed to bypass going to the Rangers’ Winter Caravan stop in Round Rock, just a 45 minute drive away. Instead, I chose to make the 3 hour plus drive to Arlington to attend the annual Rangers Fan Fest with my son, who lives in the area.

This was my second Fan Fest, having attended the 2011 gathering at the Arlington Convention Center just three months after the Rangers’ first ever World Series appearance. Fan Fest has gotten so big now that the Rangers have moved it to Globe Life Park, opening up the entire stadium to the fans.

Looking up to the top of Globe Life Park.

Looking up to the top of Globe Life Park.

Being among the first 5,000 in line (waiting over an hour in 36 degree “comfort”), we each received 5 scratch-off lottery tickets for the chance to get an autograph from the Big 5: Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Pudge Rodriguez. Unfortunately, only 750 of the 25,000 tickets distributed were winners. As you can see, I was not one of the lucky 750. My son, however, had a winner and got Prince Fielder’s autograph. His impression? “That guy has some GUNS!”

Autograph Lottery Tickets

There were plenty of other autograph opportunities but they weren’t announced until just a few minutes before the session. I was originally in a line to get autographs from Rangers prospects Chi Chi Gonzalez and Spencer Patton but then saw an announcement that propelled me to leave my current location and go halfway around the ballpark (sorry Chi Chi and Spencer!). Thus I was fortunate enough to get Nick Tepesch to sign my Rangers cap and Matt Harrison to ink my 2010 AL Champions T-shirt.

Nick Tepesch Autograph

Nick Tepesch Autograph

Matt Harrison Autograph

Matt Harrison Autograph

Then it was on to a Q&A session with Rangers GM Jon Daniels. It was still early so I got a front row seat and even got to ask him a couple of questions. First one: How many calls and texts does it take to complete a trade such as the one that netted the Rangers Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers? Answer: Sometimes just a few, sometimes a lot. Gallardo was just a few… and Daniels says Brewers GM Doug Melvin doesn’t text much, he prefers talking directly to people. Second question: With hundreds of players in the minor league system, how do the Rangers communicate with them? Is there an employee newsletter or something? Answer: Not really. The managers, coaches and scouts grade every player in every game and share the info with each other but the players usually only know what’s really going on by following each other on social media to find out who’s moving up, getting traded, released, etc. Interesting tidbit: No matter how many people are in the room, Daniels looks the person who asked the question in the eye throughout his answer. Impressive!

Jon Daniels

Rangers GM Jon Daniels with Rangers announcer/former GM/former player Tom Grieve.

It was good to get to Fan Fest early because after a couple of hours, it became clear to us there would be no other autographs to get. At 11:30 more than 200 people were in line at one location for a 2 pm autograph session and the same held true at all the autograph locations. Thus we decided to walk around and see the other sites.

The home clubhouse was open but the line was too long. There was no waiting to get to the hitting cages, though. There we saw this “Hitter’s Prayer” on the wall and a couple of cracked batting practice bats, including this custom Adrian Beltre model.

The Boy With The Beltre Bat

The Boy With The Beltre Bat

The Hitter's Prayer

The Hitter’s Prayer

We also attended a Q&A with new Rangers skipper Jeff Bannister. He’s not the charismatic rah-rah type like Ron Washington, but he’s just as passionate about the game. He’s a little more sabermetric oriented than Wash and, unlike his predecessor, is unlikely to bunt a lot in the early innings. The cancer survivor Bannister’s mantra, which got a lot of crowd applause, was “Never Ever Quit!”

New skipper Jeff Bannister (with radio announcer Matt Hicks)

New skipper Jeff Bannister (with radio announcer Matt Hicks)

Other items of interest. As I was walking out of the Rangers Hall of Fame, I suddenly realized the newest member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel, was right behind me. Nadel stands 6-1 or 6-2 so I told him he was taller than I expected. His response: “I sound shorter on the radio.”

In the gift shop, we noticed then Rangers still have shirts for one of their minor league players who likely will never face major league pitching, or minor league pitching for that matter: current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Russell Wilson has a future with the Rangers if he ever decides to give up his day job.

Russell Wilson has a future with the Rangers if he ever decides to give up his day job.

Strangest sight of all: I’m used to seeing tarp over the infield grass and dirt during a rain delay but, due to the mid-30’s early morning weather, I don’t think I’d ever seen tarp over ALL of the grass on the field!

That's a lot of tarp!

That’s a lot of tarp!

Now the only bad thing is there’s still over two months to go before the Season Opener. Thanks to Fan Fest, I’m ready NOW!

Wash

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

Ron Washington

In a season filled with bad, this was the baddest news of all. A mid-afternoon quick check of my Twitter feed turned a normal day into one filled with shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Most of all, concern.

The winningest manager in Texas Rangers history was gone. Resigned. Not even an on camera statement. Just a note saying goodbye. Granted, it was a longer resignation letter than Richard Nixon’s when Watergate forced him from office but still. Just a “I’m leaving for personal reasons. I’m sorry I let you down. Leave me alone.”

OK, that last part got written a little nicer. He asked that we respect his privacy. It still means the same thing.

Immediately, of course, baseball writers and Rangers fans parsed every word of the resignation letter and the ensuing news conference with Jon Daniels and Rangers ownership for clues about the REAL reason behind the sudden departure. Daniels immediately stated Wash would allow him to categorically state this has nothing to do with substance abuse. A few years earlier a dalliance with cocaine led to some embarrassing moments for the organization but Wash had come through the other side on top.

Later, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News said he had received several categorical denials this had anything to do with baseball, substance abuse or his contract. Many were going the route of health reasons when third base coach Gary Pettis said afterwards he hoped Wash had a speedy recovery. However, Grant said later that a text from the former manager himself quashed the notion the resignation had anything to do with his health or the health of his wife of 47 years.

Ron Washington: All Time Winningest Manager in Texas Rangers History

Ron Washington: All Time Winningest Manager in Texas Rangers History

All we know for certain is Wash said he was leaving to address a personal matter. From Daniels’ reaction in the subsequent news conference, there was a distinct impression that whatever the personal matter was, maybe the front office didn’t think it warranted going as far as resigning his position. It was also clear the Rangers didn’t want Wash to leave, yesterday or anytime in the near future. 

Until Wash himself decides to address the topic we’ll never know, but I do know I’ve already read some things that are so totally off base they’re ridiculous. A so-called writer on one web site said it was the best thing to happen to the Rangers because Wash was now “out of touch” with his players. Yeah, that’s why players like Derek Holland say he was like a father to him.

What I DO know is Ron Washington is a baseball lifer. He’s been in the game for 50 some years. He loves the game. He’s fond of saying whoever the 25 guys are who’s playing on his team that day, that’s his favorite team. There is no way Wash would just walk away from the life he’s known for so long unless it was for something vitally important to him.

What made Wash unique was his ability to know what buttons to push for each player. Some, like Holland and Elvis Andrus, need a kick in the rear sometimes. Others, like Michael Young, only needed encouragement. With Josh Hamilton, it was long talks in his manager’s office when he played in Arlington. Who knows the method Wash used on Milton Bradley but he reached Bradley in a way no one had before and the result was the best year of his career.

Wash was not a strategist. There’s no doubt about that. Yet he still led his team as close to the edge of a championship as one can get without earning the honor. Even Rangers fans got frustrated to no end by the emphasis Wash placed on the bunt. Sabermetricians would constantly print their charts showing how sacrifice bunts lessened the chances of a big inning. Maybe they’re right but Wash didn’t care. Big innings are great but all Wash cared about was the next run. Singular. Get one run. Then get another. That’s the way he thought.

Ron Washington never got the credit he deserved. In 2010, the Texas Rangers went to the World Series for the first time. Ron Washington did NOT get honored as the AL Manager of the Year. Instead, the award went to Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins.You’ll never convince me he deserved it over Wash that year. I think they gave it to Gardy as more of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” like they did at the Oscars when they gave Paul Newman Best Actor for “The Color of Money.”

It galled me when I watched the Hall of Fame ceremony this year and heard the words written on Tony LaRussa’s plaque about how he “led” the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in 2011 when they were a strike away from losing it. Sorry, the Cardinals two comebacks in Game 6 had nothing to do with LaRussa. In fact, had the Cards lost in ’11, much would have been made of Tony’s bullpen gaffe earlier in the series. Instead he’s praised as the master tactician. If Texas had won the Series in ’11, I guarantee most writers would say they won in spite of Wash. But it isn’t true.

The fact is Wash was a much better manager than anyone wants to give him credit for. Getting 25 men to play as a team isn’t easy. A lot has to happen before you can even think about strategy and tactics and Wash probably got more out of his teams than any manager in the game. Folks who frequent sites like FanGraphs think Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay is the epitome of the modern baseball manager for the way he embraces new statistical trends. Wash is probably the direct opposite of Maddon. Do a Google search, though, and you’ll find Maddon is effusive in his praise for Wash and the job he does as a manager. Maddon knows it isn’t just strategy.

The ones who play the game and manage the game from the dugout and coach the game day in and day out know what type of manager Wash is and they respect it. Don’t suggest the Rangers are better off because another manager can take them to “the next level.” Wash already brought them to the next level. I can only hope his permanent replacement can get the Rangers back to the level Wash was able to bring them to.

 

With the AL Championship Trophy

With the AL Championship Trophy

It’s Time

Star of the Week

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

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

I started this blog in 2010, the year the Rangers first went to the World Series. The original name of the blog was “The Futility Ends Here”. After about a week, I knew it wasn’t a very catchy title so I changed it to “World Series 40 Rangers Fan 0″. Much better. And it made it sweet when the season ended with the Rangers going to the World series for the first time in my then 40 years of Rangers fandom. For the Rangers, their marketing slogan for the 2010 season was, “It’s Time.” A more prophetic baseball slogan was never made.

Flash forward five years. Here at the All-Star break, the shell that remains of the Texas Rangers hobble into the break with baseball’s worst record. Where once I wrote of the exploits of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and even David Murphy, now all that remains is Beltre, Andrus, Rios, Choo and a bunch of young and/or underperforming offensive players. A pitching staff that once included Cliff Lee, CJ Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, a younger Colby Lewis and one of the top relief corps in baseball is now composed of Yu Darvish at the front end, Joakim Soria at the back-end and very little of consequence in between.

So bad the Rangers situation has become, they limp into the All-Star break losers of 19 of their last 22 games. Texas (and the Washington Senators that preceded them) has had some pretty bad teams in their 53 years of existence but NONE of them have been as bad as losing 19 of 22 games. Honestly, if I didn’t know it from reading the box scores every day (it’s become too painful to even watch more than a handful of games on TV), I wouldn’t believe it possible. After all, even without all the injured players, the Rangers still have talent on this team: Beltre, Andrus, Alex Rios, Shin Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Darvish and Soria. There have been historically bad teams in baseball for whom you’d be hard-pressed to find even two names worthy of putting on the list of talented players. For example, can anyone name more than two Houston Astros from 2o12-2013 worth mentioning? Still, this is where the Rangers find themselves.

Having a bad team does not make it harder to write about a team. Sometimes it can lead to more story ideas than a winning team provides. Among the thoughts I’ve had in recent weeks: spinning an old Paul Simon tune into a treatise on 50 Ways To Lose A Ballgame (“Give up a slam, Sam, Walk in a run, Son…”), wonderful words about the defensive work of catcher Robinson Chirinos, asking if should Jon Daniels get the blame for 2014 or is this a fluke season, talking about the newest Ranger to make his big-league début, Jake Smolinski, riffing on how great the Rangers farm system has been record-wise in 2014, opining whether Ron Washington should pay the price for the poor season, talking up minor league prospect Joey Gallo (who made headlines at the All-Star Futures game), scattershooting trade possibilities at the July deadline, etc. See? No shortage of ideas here.

Instead, I’m going to borrow a phrase from that 2010 Rangers marketing campaign. It’s Time. Time to retire the blog that I’ve devoted so much time to for the past five seasons. It isn’t because the Rangers are losing now. It’s because coming up with 500+ words to say on a regular enough basis to keep readers coming back is getting more and more difficult to do. Life has a way of throwing things in the way of the things you like to do in your spare time and my spare time has had an “S” added to it: spare has become sparse. I’m in the process of relocating to a different part of the state (and job hunting is part of that process). The desire to write about the Rangers hasn’t abated. The time to do it has.

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

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

So, rather than put out a piece once every two or three weeks, I’m just going to shut it down for the rest of the season. Maybe I’ll have more time to devote to Rangers writing in 2015. My devotion to the team will not change, only the writing about it. You can still find me on Twitter (@Rangersblogger) where I’ll send out in-game comments when I can. This space, however, is going dark for the foreseeable future.

I thank everyone who has been a regular reader of this space, including The Angels Ace and This Is A Very Simple Game; The Wrigley Regular; all the Rangers fans who have followed me; and especially my son Erik, who has shared in my love for the Texas Rangers since childhood and it remains a constant source of conversation between us. To you and all the others I haven’t mentioned (and never got a chance to know), I’m grateful you took the time to read my sometimes meandering prose.

Post All-Star break will see the returns of Geovany Soto, Jim Adduci and Derek Holland. Hopefully that makes the season’s second half better than the first. Whether it does or not, I still say: GO RANGERS!!!

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 6/2-6/8

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 and Full Week):

Nobody in the Rangers line-up is more necessary offensively these days more than Adrian Beltre. The Rangers must rely on the unquestioned leader of the clubhouse and team now that most of the potential power in the line-up has been lost to injuries. Over the past week, Beltre has not disappointed. Adrian gets the Star of the Week for the full week on the basis of a 6-game split of .478/.458/.957. Beltre scored six of the Rangers 27 runs for the week and claimed responsibility for 8 of Texas’ RBI for the week. Adrian also gets the Star of the Week for a single game for his exploits during the Rangers 6-5 loss to the Orioles. Beltre accounted for all 5 Texas runs on two home runs, a 3-run shot off the Orioles’ Bud Norris in the first inning, followed by a 2-run poke in the 5th off Norris again. If anyone keeps the Rangers contending over the long hot summer to come, Beltre’s your guy. Here are Beltre’s two bombs from Wednesday’s game:

 

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

The week turned out miserably for the Rangers pitching staff. Joe Saunders led the starters in ERA at 3.18 but also gave up 17 hits in only 11 1/3 innings. Yu Darvish had a gritty performance on a night when his stuff wasn’t great but still allowed a 3-run home run for the first time in his MLB career. Even the bullpen had it rough. Tanner Scheppers returned from the DL and gave up home runs in each of his first two appearances. Robbie Ross Jr. had one great relief appearance against the Orioles but then had a rough outing against the Indians. Through all this, there was one picture of steadiness on the Texas pitching staff: the old veteran Jason Frasor. The former Blue Jay appeared in four games over the past week and the 38-year-old allowed only a single hit and no runs in four innings of work. For the year, Frasor has the lowest ERA on the pitching staff at 1.64 over 22 innings and 25 appearances. He hasn’t given up a run since May 17th and hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 14th.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Another week, another injury or two, another way to look at this team and say, “Is this REALLY the Texas Rangers? Come on, Donnie Murphy is your starting first baseman? And Joe Saunders is your #2 pitcher? This is a joke, right?”

Rangers fans wish it was a joke. But this is what the Rangers are going to look like pretty much the rest of the year, so we might as well get used to it. The players on the DL are better than the players actually participating in the games. Here’s your DL line-up now:

1B  Prince Fielder

2B  Jurickson Profar

3B  Kevin Kouzmanoff

C   Geovany Soto

DH  Mitch Moreland

OF  Jim Adduci

OF  Engel Beltre

SP  Derek Holland

SP Matt Harrison

SP  Martin Perez

OK, we’re missing a shortstop, an outfielder and an entire bullpen but you get the picture. The 2014 Texas Rangers are going nowhere fast and, seeing that the Houston Astros are starting to make a little noise, it’s now totally conceivable for the Rangers to finish in LAST place in the AL West. Let that sink in. LAST PLACE. The last time the Rangers were cellar dwellers was 2007, the first year of the Ron Washington era. I know, I know. The Rangers are a respectable 31-32, only a couple of games out of the Wild Card berth. True, but you can see the train wreck coming from a mile away. Wash is a great motivator of talent. He’ll get them to play at a very high level but eventually, the talent level shows. It happened a year ago when Nelson Cruz got suspended for the last 50 games. Texas came out like gangbusters at first but whimpered through September and were lucky to force a one game added regular season playoff with Tampa Bay for the right to play in the Wild Card game. This team is considerably worse than that team, talent-wise. The starting pitching is Yu Darvish and 4 guys who are, at best, #4 in the rotation pitchers. And that’s being kind. Derek Holland will return after the All-Star break but there’s no guarantee he’ll look like a #3 from the first start.

With the latest injury, Mitch Moreland’s ankle, Texas truly has no options at first base. There are a couple of guys at AAA being worked out at first base but none with regular experience there: Brad Snyder, Jim Adduci and J.P. Arencibia. Adduci just jammed the finger he broke and was rehabbing from so he’s not available right away. Arencibia had a very offensively unproductive month and a half with the Rangers and Snyder, while a power hitter, is also a strikeout machine. On the big league level, Murphy played the corner Sunday, while catchers Chris Giminez and Robinson Chirinos have both played first in the minors. None of these are very good options. I’m reasonably sure Jon Daniels is going to have to work out a trade with someone and he’s going to give up more than they should because the other GM’s know they’ve got him over a barrel. I suppose longtime fans could hold out hope for Michael Young to come out of retirement and man first base the rest of the year. Even if that were to occur, Young would need to ramp up and wouldn’t be available until the All-Star break at the earliest. Even then, as inconsistent as the offense has been, I honestly think Texas needs starting pitching help even more. You can’t have any hope of winning when four of your five starting pitchers are giving you only a hair more than 5 innings per start.

So, the Rangers got through the last week at 2-4, dropping two of three to the Orioles followed by winning only Yu Darvish’s start in three weekend games with the Indians, all at home. This week isn’t any better. After closing the 4-game set with Cleveland on Monday, Texas closes out the homestand with two against the surprising Miami Marlins. Then it’s on the road again for the West Coast swing that likely will seal the fate of the Rangers for 2014. It starts with three in Seattle against the third place Mariners, followed by three in Oakland against the first place A’s and ending with three in Anaheim with the second place Angels. Meanwhile, the resurgent Astros have their next two weeks filled with the Arizona Diamondbacks (last in the NL West), the Washington Nationals (3rd in the AL East) and 7 games with the Tampa Bay Rays (last in the AL East, worst record in the AL). It’s not a far out thought that the Rangers could be in the AL West cellar two weeks from today.

Scoreboard watching has definitely lost its flavor to me this season.

Final Reminder: A Father’s Day Gift Idea

Back in my college days as a Radio/TV major, I had the pleasure of knowing a classmate who went on to portray a character who, while only spending  a few short minutes on the screen at the end of the movie, left an indelible mark with many baseball fans. His name is Dwier Brown and he portrayed Kevin Costner’s father at the end of the classic “Field of Dreams.” I recently discovered Dwier has published a book called “If You Build It- A Book About Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams”. He is now on a Midwest book tour, appearing a minor league stadiums and the like. It’s both memoir and stories people have told him through the years about what the movie meant to them and their own relationships with their fathers. One of my fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance members, The Hall of Very Good, has done a 2-part interview with Dwier about the movie and the book. You can read both parts of the interview here:

http://hallofverygood.com/2014-articles/talkin-baseball-with-dwier-brown-part-one.html

http://hallofverygood.com/2014-articles/talkin-baseball-with-dwier-brown-part-two.html

The book sounds like a great Father’s Day gift as well. You can order it at his website, dwierbrown.com.

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 5/26-6/1

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):

These days, when Texas gets some offense it’s coming from all sources. Thus it’s hard to come up with a single game Star of the Week at times. The biggest RBI day came from Shin-Soo Choo, who knocked in the first three runs of one game against the Twins with a second inning bases loaded double. While impressive on the face, I’m giving this week’s award to a guy who knocked in only one run and qualifies as another of those unlikely stars we’ll see from the Rangers this year. Donnie Murphy started the season as part of the second base platoon with Josh Wilson. Then in one fell swoop, Murphy went on the DL, Wilson got demoted to Round Rock and they got replaced by Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas. Murphy got activated from the DL when Prince Fielder was lost for the season and Sunday, he had to do something he’s never done before: play first base on the major league level. Murphy not only played the position flawlessly, he had three hits batting behind Adrian Beltre at 5th in the order (!) and knocked in the key insurance run in the 8th that gave Yu Darvish a little more of a cushion to work with. The three hits brought his season average up to .238.

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

Overall, the Rangers bats have been a bit warmer of late, with the exception being the power numbers that remain better than the Kansas City Royals but hardly anyone else. Sunday’s Leonys Martin homer over the right field wall in Washington was the Rangers first in seven games. In other words, it was the only round tripper the Rangers hit ALL WEEK! Still, there were no fewer than six Texas players who batted .300 or better over the week. The overall Star of the Week goes to catcher Chris Giminez, a player who only joined the Rangers organization at the end of Spring Training, so close to the start of the regular season that Texas had to place him on the Opening Day roster without ever appearing in a Rangers uniform during the exhibition season. Giminez got sent to AAA Round Rock in short order and didn’t appear in a game for the Rangers until his recall two weeks ago to replace a completely ineffectual J.P. Arencibia. Over the past week, Giminez has garnered seven hits in four games, which is one less hit than Arencibia managed in 20 games with Texas. Overall, the stat line for Giminez was .438/.438/.625 with three doubles and 3 RBI. Giminez has also become the personal catcher when Yu Darvish is on the mound and it’s pretty clear Yu doesn’t have any problems with that arrangement. The proof is coming next.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

If there’s a Rangers fan who doesn’t love Yu Darvish, then they are a fan of the New York Rangers hockey team. Meanwhile, Texas Rangers fan love Yu just fine, thank you very much. Sure, there’s the occasional debate of whether he’s earned “Ace” status yet and we sure don’t like the number of times he has a stiff neck and gets scratched from a start. When he takes the mound, though, any start begins with the possibility of magic happening. He’s flirted with no-hitters on several occasions and he leads the majors in double-digit strikeout games over the past three seasons. Sunday, Yu’s assignment was to slow down a Nationals offense that had battered Rangers pitching for 19 runs in the first two games of the series. Darvish was more than up to the task, going eight strong innings on only 102 pitches, giving up only five hits and two walks while striking out a dozen Nationals. Had the game not been played in Washington, where the pitchers come to bat, Darvish likely would have gone out for the 9th and attempted to finish off his first complete game and first career shutout. But, since Texas only had two runs on the scoreboard in the top of the ninth, Ron Washington decided to send up a pinch hitter for Darvish to try to score an insurance run. Joakim Soria secured the save and Darvish had his fifth win of the season.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Until Darvish spun his gem on Sunday, the weekend got off to a miserable start when the Nationals won Friday’s game 9-2 and added a 10-2 thumping on Saturday. Still, there’s nothing for Rangers fans to complain about. They finished the week 4-3 and they finished their longest road trip of the season going a combined 7-4 against the Tigers, the Twins and the Nationals. Yeah they’re still only a game above .500 and as close to last place as they are to first in the AL West (5 1/2 games), but they’re only a game out of the Wild Card at this point so there’s plenty to hope for.

This is a team with a lot of deficiencies: outside of Darvish, the four other starters are as likely to give you less than 5 innings as they are to even get to 6, the defense is still not anything close to what Rangers fans are used to seeing and the always aggressive running game has resulted in way too many caught stealings. A great case in point is right fielder Alex Rios. By all accounts, Rios is having a good season, hitting .320 and leading the Rangers in RBI with 29. Still, while Rios has 11 steals to his credit, he’s been caught an ugly seven times already. He may own the Rangers RBI lead but he’s also MLB’s leader for grounding into double plays with 15 at just the 1/3 mark of the season. And though he’s a far better right fielder defensively than his predecessor Nelson Cruz, he has three errors on the season and should have had a fourth on the missed pop-up that got changed to a David Ortiz hit that broke up a Yu Darvish no-hitter.

After 11 games on the road, the Rangers get a day off Monday, then spend the week at home against the Baltimore orioles and the Cleveland Indians. That has more than passing interest to Rangers fans, since the Orioles boast ex-Rangers Cruz, Chris Davis, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter (not to mention ex-manager Buck Showalter), followed by an Indians team whose uniform is worn by ex-Ranger David Murphy. Cruz would have been more than happy to stay a Ranger but Jon Daniels wasn’t willing to pony up the money to make it happen. Too bad because Cruz is having a career season for the Birds so far this year. Even Murphy has more RBI than Rangers team leader Alex Rios. Record-wise, all three teams are bunched together. The Rangers are 29-28, the Orioles 28-27 and the Indians 27-30. The Orioles get the benefit of not having to face Darvish. With no help coming to the roster via trade in the foreseeable future, a 3-3 record on the week is about what we might expect from a team that has played at about a .500 level all season.

A Father’s Day Gift Idea

Back in my college days as a Radio/TV major, I had the pleasure of knowing a classmate who went on to portray a character who, while only spending  a few short minutes on the screen at the end of the movie, left an indelible mark with many baseball fans. His name is Dwier Brown and he portrayed Kevin Costner’s father at the end of the classic “Field of Dreams.” I recently discovered Dwier has published a book called “If You Build It- A Book About Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams”. He is now on a Midwest book tour, appearing a minor league stadiums and the like. It’s both memoir and stories people have told him through the years about what the movie meant to them and their own relationships with their fathers. One of my fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance members, The Hall of Very Good, has done a 2-part interview with Dwier about the movie and the book. You can read both parts of the interview here:

http://hallofverygood.com/2014-articles/talkin-baseball-with-dwier-brown-part-one.html

http://hallofverygood.com/2014-articles/talkin-baseball-with-dwier-brown-part-two.html

The book sounds like a great Father’s Day gift as well. You can order it at his website, dwierbrown.com.

Coming To Grips

In 2010, I had hopes the Texas Rangers would finally make a name for themselves in the American League. They exceeded my expectations and went to the World Series.

In 2011, I KNEW the Rangers had a championship caliber club and hoped they’d prove it. They came tantalizingly close to sealing the deal.

In 2012, Yu Darvish came along and I thought the Rangers could make another run for the elusive title, but a massive Josh Hamilton slump and the loss of Colby Lewis midway through the season translated into a late-season meltdown and a one game and done Wild Card appearance.

In 2013, Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young all departed, Lewis missed the entire season and Matt Harrison went down for the year after only two starts. Then Nelson Cruz got suspended for 50 games and Adrian Beltre‘s hamstrings sapped him of his power in the stretch run when needed most. Despite that, Texas managed to get all the way to the end and forced a one game “regular season” playoff against the Rays to earn a spot in the Wild Card round. The Rays won.

Martin Perez: Tommy John Surgery Bound Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Perez: Tommy John Surgery Bound Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, the writing was on the wall early. Derek Holland tore his meniscus when he fell over his dog and down the stairs. Joseph Ortiz had his foot run over by a motorcycle. That was just the beginning. Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto had injuries that have kept them out of the line-up and they’re still not back. Yu Darvish missed the Opening Day start to neck stiffness. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers is now on the DL and #5 starter Joe Saunders followed him shortly afterwards. Now comes word the Rangers will likely be without #2 starter Martin Perez for the rest of this year and maybe next year as well, while Matt Harrison, who recently returned from the DL, now has back issues so severe he might never pitch again.

The Rangers now have a better rotation on paper residing on the DL (Harrison, Scheppers, Saunders, Holland) than they do on the active list (Darvish, Lewis, Robbie Ross Jr., Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez). Profar and Soto aren’t back for another month at least, nor will Holland. Prince Fielder, while hitting better in May, still isn’t hitting balls out of the park at the rate he’s expected to hit them and Texas no longer has an extra active starter on their 40-man roster.

Let’s face it: In 2014, I have NO expectations of a playoff appearance for the Texas Rangers.

I hate saying that. There’s still talent on this team. Shin-Soo Choo. Darvish. Beltre. Alex Rios. Fielder. Leonys Martin. Joakim Soria. Jason Frasor. There really is talent on this team. What one can’t escape is, outside of Darvish, this is not a strong starting rotation. Lewis will have some outstanding performances but he’ll also have a lot of clunkers on the way and one can’t expect more than six innings out of him in any start. Martinez and Tepesch are young and have good ceilings but because they’re young they’re going to take their lumps as they learn how to pitch in the big leagues. Ross has talent and started the season well but has failed to impress in his last three or four starts. Just one week ago, it looked like Tepesch was ready to take Ross’ rotation spot. Now Ross is still in the rotation by default, because there’s nobody else available.

Matt Harrison: Career Over?

Matt Harrison: Career Over?

Even when Derek Holland returns, there’s no guarantee he’ll pitch the way he did in 2013. Scott Feldman had microfracture knee surgery and it was over a year before he started pitching well again. By then, he was with the Chicago Cubs and not the Rangers.

Jon Daniels could go out and trade for a pitcher but there’s a good chance the other GM’s he deals with will try to fleece him. After all, the Rangers must look desperate to get starting pitching today. If I were an opposing GM, I’d want to take advantage of that and see how high JD’s willing to go with his prospects to make a deal happen. As a result, I don’t think Daniels is in a rush to get a deal made.

On the other hand, if he doesn’t make a deal, I think he’ll be admitting the Rangers aren’t a playoff team this year. There’s no harm in that because NOT making a deal also means he’s sticking with his long-term plans to keep the Rangers competitive for the foreseeable future. In basketball, the Spurs had a bad year once when Tim Duncan missed significant time due to injury. The Spurs didn’t over-react. They held steady, let the bad year go by and came back as good as ever the next season. If Daniels stays pat, it’ll be frustrating to the fan base but understandable. I’ll just grit my teeth, watch the Rangers win some, lose some and never seem to gain any traction while looking forward to next year.

Then again, Ron Washington strikes me as the type of guy who feels more comfortable in the underdog role. There’s always the possibility he’ll take this injury-laden Rangers teams to heights nobody thought they could reach. If he does, I hope it shuts up for good the contingent who think he’s too Old School to succeed.

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