Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

This One’s For Yu

It took four starts, but Rangers fans have finally seen the future, and the future is Yu.

Yu Darvish pitched his first gem as a pitcher in the United States, dominating the Yankees in a 2-0 win. Darvish got stronger as he went, getting all three outs in the seventh via strikeout. For the night, he gave up seven hits in 8.1 innings with two walks and ten strikeouts. Darvish’s fastball, in the lower 90′s most of the night, was hitting 95 in the 8th inning.

This was the pitcher the Rangers paid over $100 million for in the off-season and tonight he showed why Texas was willing to shell out that kind of money when they could have gotten CJ Wilson to come back for less.

The key to the game came early, in the third inning. Nursing a 1-0 lead, Eric Chavez got the Yankees first hit of the night with a clean single to right. Russell Martin followed with a walk. Derek Jeter proceeded to lay down a bunt down the first base side. Darvish started signalling for first baseman Mitch Moreland to field it, but by the time he realized the play was his alone, it was too late. Jeter was on first with a bunt single and the bases were loaded with nobody out. With a 2-2 count, Darvish threw a 78 mile per hour slider that froze Curtis Granderson in his tracks for strike three. One out. Two pitches later, Darvish got A-Rod to ground to third for a 5-3 double play. End of inning, end of threat.

The Yankees would get a runner to second in the 4th and the 5th, but the threat ended almost as soon as it began. One sequence to Nick Swisher in the 4th stood out. Darvish got a called first strike on a curve Swisher thought was out of the zone. The umpire disagreed and it set Swisher up for the rest of the at bat. Another curve had Swisher feeling he had to swing. He missed. Strike two. An almost identical pitch came next. Swisher swung and missed again for strike three.

When Darvish gave up a one out single to Swisher in the 9th, he left to thunderous applause from 47,000 plus fans. Joe Nathan came in, threw one pitch and got a game-ending double play for his fifth save and Darvish’s third win.

To be sure, the Yankees Hiroki Kuroda pitched a good game too. Only problem was, Kuroda gave up two runs, the first on an Ian Kinsler lead-off home run in the 1st.

In another highlight, Elvis Andrus’ behind the bag snare of a Russell Martin grounder followed by a full turnaround and strike to first was his 212th consecutive chance without an error, a new Rangers record for a shortstop. Elvis has been known to make mental errors leading to bad throws on easy plays, but he’s been mentally sharp all season long so far and has played flawlessly in the field.

Monday’s loss to the Yankees was tolerable because of the ceremonies honoring Ivan Rodriguez’ retirement. One night later, a rookie had his official coming out party. Life is good in Arlington, Texas.

 

 

The Stan Musial Award

Last but not least in the BBA Post-Season Awards is the Stan Musial Award for Player of the Year.

Last month, while returning to the Rio Grande Valley from Arlington, where I saw my beloved Rangers top the Mariners in the next to last home game of the season, I tuned as usual into MLB Radio on XM. At the time, they were having a grand debate: Did Justin Verlander deserve to be in the discussion for AL MVP? I don’t remember who the two hosts of the program were, but one was adamant that Verlander, as a pitcher, should not be considered. He was a pitcher, he only starts every fifth game and there’s no way someone who starts every fifth day should be considered right alongside everyday players.

Here’s the kicker, though. This same co-host was asked several questions concerning the upcoming playoffs. Every time he was asked a question about the Tigers chances in the playoffs, he would answer by talking about the Tigers advantage because of Justin Verlander and, conversely, how the Tigers wouldn’t have a chance without Verlander. So apparently, he was saying if he starts every fifth game, he should not be considered for MVP, but it all changes when he’s in a situation to pitch every fourth game. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Seriously, what is the big deal about this? As far as I’m concerned, if a pitcher has a season in which he has so outperformed every other pitcher in the league, why shouldn’t he be considered for an MVP Award? It only happens once every decade or so, maybe even less than that. In all my time of following major league baseball, the only AL pitchers I can think of that would have to be part of the discussion for any one year would have included Denny McLain for his 30 win season of 1968, maybe Ron Guidry for the year he went 25-3 for the Yankees and Verlander this year. That’s three pitchers in 43 years. You’re going to get bent out of shape over something that happens so seldom? In the National League, I would probably have considered Bob Gibson the year he had a 1.12 ERA. Despite being on a last place team, Steve Carlton’s 27 win season for the Phillies has to be one of the singularly best accomplishments of all time. He literally won almost half of his team’s games. But he shouldn’t be considered because he wasn’t an everyday player? Hogwash!

I’m not voting Verlander as #1 on my BBA ballot, but he does have a place there. I don’t care if he only played in 20% of his team’s games. His production in those games and the final result are what earns him the right to be considered.

Herewith is my official ballot for the Stan Musial Award:

1) Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees: Yes, he only hit .262, but on a team of stars, it was his increased production in 2011 (41 HR, 119 RBI) that helped pace the Yankees to the best record in the American League.

2) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: If I based the award on post-season play in addition to the regular season, Cabrera would probably be #1. We’re just looking at regular season play, though, so despite another MVP-caliber campaign (.344 BA, 30 HR’s, 105 RBI), Cabrera finishes second once again.

3) Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox: It didn’t take long for Gonzalez to become one of the most feared hitters in the AL (.328 BA, 27 HR, 117 RBI). If not for the Bosox collapse at the end of the season, A-Gon might have rated a little higher as well.

4) Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: Bautista had another great year, leading the league in home runs and adding an over .300 batting average with a ton of walks thrown in for good measure. In my mind, what kept Bautista from finishing higher was his RBI total (103 RBI with 43 HR). They looked kind of low for someone with as many home runs as Bautista had.

5) Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: Yes, he deserves to be here. Easily the best pitcher in the AL in 2011, leading the league in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.

6) Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox: A perfect combination of power and speed, Ellsbury was an incredible threat in the Red Sox line-up, hitting .321 with 32 HR’s, 105 RBI and 39 steals.

7) Michael Young, Texas Rangers: Young had personal bests in batting average (.338) and RBI’s (106), while seeing time as DH and playing all four infield positions. Don’t scoff at his low power numbers. You won’t find very many players in either league over the last ten years to get over 100 RBI’s with less than 15 home runs. Young has now done it twice, this time with only 11 long balls. He also topped 200 hits for the sixth time.

8) Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: He could’ve been a Texas Ranger, but Texas took Alfonso Soriano instead in the A-Rod deal, only because they believed Ian Kinsler was going to be a pretty good player. They were right about Kinsler, but boy, can you imagine a Rangers line-up with Cano (.302 BA, 28 HR, 118 RBI)? Scary, right?

9) Asdrubel Cabrera, Cleveland Indians: .273 with 25 HR’s and 92 RBI. From a shortstop. Cabrera was a big reason the Indians stayed in the AL Central race up to mid-September. He played pretty good defense too.

10) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: After a monster September, Beltre ended 2011 at .296 with 32 HR’s and 105 RBI while playing stellar defense at third base. Beltre might have been given strong consideration for MVP had he not missed almost a month with a hamstring injury.

There’s the top ten. Interestingly enough, you’ll find no mention of Josh Hamilton, last year’s MVP. He still was right around .300, he still was right around 100 RBI. Yet even Rangers fans would probably list him no better than third for team MVP. Just goes to show how potent that Rangers line-up is.

The Walter Johnson Award

Every year, the Baseball Bloggers Association honors MLB’s best pitchers in the NL and AL with the Walter Johnson Award.

As an AL team blogger, it’s my privilege to place my votes for the AL version of the Johnson Award.

This year it’s not even close. In fact, with a required five pitchers on the ballot, it’s actually kind of tough to fill out the 4th and 5th this year. Quite frankly, they’d be so far below #1 you might scoff at some of them.

At best this was a two pitcher race. In the #1 slot is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Verlander was head and shoulders above the pack in the AL, achieving the pitching Triple Crown: leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Verlander won six more games than CC Sabathia, the AL pitcher who finished second in wins. His 250 strikeouts was 20 better than #2 James Shields and his 2.40 ERA just nosed out Jered Weaver’s 2.41. Add in an opponents batting average of just .192 against a pitcher who threw 251 innings and a WHIP of 0.92 and you’ve got the makings of an award winner, probably by unanimous consent. Verlander is the easy choice for #1.

The closest to achieving what Verlander did, in my mind, was my #2 pick Jered Weaver. He barely lost out to Verlander for the ERA crown, compiled an 18-8 record and a 1.01 WHIP. Had Mike Scioscia not deemed it necessary to pitch Weaver on three days rest on a couple of occasions down the stretch in an attempt to catch the Rangers in the AL West, Weaver may have won the ERA title in 2011. The three days rest thing didn’t work for him too well.

The third through fifth positions could easily be restacked and reconfigured, because I think they’re all just about equal.

Number 3 on the list is the Comeback Pitcher of the Year: James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields had a miserable 2010. Even though he had a respectable 13 wins, his ERA was a sky-high 5.18, leading the AL in the negative categories of hits allowed and Earned Runs allowed. To say he turned it around in 2011 hardly does Shields justice. He had three more wins and three fewer losses, finishing at 16-12. He threw 46 more innings than he did in 2010 while giving up 51 LESS hits and a whopping 39 LESS earned runs. He struck out 225 batters, threw 4 shutouts and led the AL with 11 complete games.

In the 4 spot, I put a pitcher that had a much better year in the end than I expected him to have: CC Sabathia of the Yankees. While Sabathia is a workhorse year in and year out, I’ve never really thought of him as a low-ERA kind of guy. And yet, there he was at the end of 2011, with an ERA right at an even 3.00, second in the league in wins with 19 and second in strikeouts with 230. A pretty good year. It will be very interesting to see if Sabathia decides to opt out of the last year of his Yankees contract in the off-season.

Rounding out the list, I’m going to mention a Texas Ranger: CJ Wilson. There are all kinds of other players I could mention at this point: Jose Valverde, Ricky Romero, Dan Haren, etc. As mentioned earlier, though, does it really matter? Nobody I put here would have any chance of finishing first in the voting. I don’t think anyone that ANYBODY puts in this position has a chance of finishing first. Or second. Or probably even third. So I’ll go with my team and name CJ. His post-season hasn’t been very memorable, but he put together a fine campaign with 16 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. So there, I said it and I’m not taking it back!

So there you go, my official ballot. To recap:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

5. CJ Wilson, Texas Rangers

ALCS: Rangers-Tigers

The road to the World Series is officially different in 2011.

With the ouster of the Yankees Thursday night, the Rangers will not be facing their second rematch in as many post-season series. Instead, they draw the dangerous Tigers for the ALCS.

On the good news side, the Tigers offense, while good, is not as formidable as the Yankees, giving Rangers pitching a better shot at excellence. On the other side of the ledger, the Tigers starting pitching is a step above the Yankees, so the offense will be a little more handcuffed.

In other words, scores should be lower and closer with Rangers-Tigers, where as Rangers-Yankees may have had a better shot at having one team or the other hitting double digits in scoring in a game.

The Tigers are a worrisome team. While they don’t have the starting staff 1-4 that the Giants had, they remind me a little bit of last year’s World Champions: strong starting pitching (if not a little inconsistent outside of Justin Verlander). Not the strongest of offenses (no disrespect intended), a great back end of the bullpen.

Detroit’s offense, while not as strong as the Rangers, isn’t as weak as the Giants attack of a year ago. Miguel Cabrera is a beast, Alex Avila had a great year and Magglio Ordonez showed in the LDS he still has something left in the tank.

Justin Verlander is quite simply the American League’s best pitcher and CJ Wilson is going to have to match him pitch for pitch to give the Rangers a shot. Doug Fister was always a hard luck pitcher when he was with Seattle. Now that he has a better offense to work with, he’s taken off (8-1 with Detroit). Thanks to his pitching Game 5 of the ALDS last night, Texas won’t face him until Game 3. It’s doubtful Max Scherzer will start Game 2, as he was also pressed into service in the deciding game against the Yankees. It’ll probably by Rick Porcello in Game 2.

The Rangers have their best chances against Porcello and Scherzer, both of whom are capable of great games but both have been more inconsistent throughout the year.

For Texas, the biggest decision might be whether or not to put Alexi Ogando back in the starting rotation for the ALCS. Texas was only 3-6 against Detroit in the regular season, but all three wins were by Ogando. Despite the sterling record, I think Texas will keep Ogando in the pen, if only because he has experience there and Colby Lewis doesn’t. The ALCS is no place to gamble on an unknown quantity.

In a nutshell: If the Rangers offense performs at about the same level they performed in the Tampa Bay series, they have a good shot at repeating as AL Champions. If not, then the Texas starters are going to have to improve on their ALDS performance.

Texas has their hands full for this one. One thing I know for sure, though: Detroit has their hands full too.

The Willie Mays Award Ballot

The Rookie. Most players with that designation never amount to much. Some will eventually become utility players or middle relievers, playing for as many as ten different MLB clubs before all is said and done. One or two look to have outstanding careers ahead of them, only to see physical ailments sideline them entirely too soon. For some, it’s a cup of coffee in the majors before returning to a long, unmemorable career in the minors. For a select few, however, it marks the launch of a path to stardom.

Like baseball itself, rookie years are unpredictable. Some of the best rookies never came close to duplicating their first year numbers again. Some superstars had unimpressive first-year campaigns. Where this year’s rookies will end up in the course of a career is anybody’s guess. But here are my votes for the BBA Willie Mays Award for top AL Rookie.

On offense, the main candidates are Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals, JP Arencibia of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mark Trumbo of the LA Angels and the Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. Pitching candidates include Jordan Walden of the Angels, the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton of the Orioles, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda of the Mariners.

By process of elimination, I’m taking out Walden because, even though his ERA was good and he amassed 32 saves, he also blew ten saves, which is far too many in my book. I like Arencibia, who was a pain to Texas pitching this season, but he didn’t bat well against anyone else, ending up at .219. Ackley looks like he’s going to be a star in the AL, but he’s one of those guys who came up a little too late and, with only 90 games, just didn’t play enough to get my consideration.

Michael Pineda had a hot start but cooled off after the All-Star break and then had his innings limited as a precaution. Britton did well to go 11-11 for a last place Orioles team, but the 4.61 ERA kind of dooms him.

That leaves four candidates. Eric Hosmer looks like a future star for the Royals. He wasn’t with the big club from the start of the season, but played regularly once he got the call, appearing in 128 games while compiling a .293 average with 19 HR’s and 78 RBI’s. He had the highest average among rookies with 100+ games.

Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays is the only one of the three still in the post-season. He led all rookies in innings pitched and had the lowest ERA of all rookie starters at 2.95. He amassed 13 wins for the Rays with two complete games and one shutout.

Nova led all rookie pitchers with 16 wins for the Yankees. After a very shaky start and a mid-season demotion to the minors, Nova came back and pitched strong down the stretch, maybe even earning the right to be New York’s #2 starter in the playoffs. He was 3rd among AL rookies in innings pitched.

Mark Trumbo came out of nowhere and was a big reason for the Angels contending in the AL West in 2011. The Halos had been counting on a successful return of Kendrys Morales at first base and were startled when it was determined Morales would miss the entirety of 2011 due to complications from last year’s broken leg injury. Trumbo came in and solidified first base for the Angels, playing in all but 13 games in 2011. Trumbo hit .254 with a rookie class leading 29 longballs and 87 RBI’s.

Since I’m only supposed to vote for 3, I have to take someone off the final list. I’m afraid the loser here is Nova. I take him off only because he was demoted in mid-season, which is not something you would expect to see from someone considered THE top rookie of the year.

That leaves me with three names. My picks are:

1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays

2. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

3. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels

A New Record

True in two ways: The Rangers set a new team record for most wins in a season with their 96th in the 2011 finale. Also true is effective today, that record is 0-0 and all that counts now is getting to 11 wins before anyone else.

I’ve been wrong this season. A lot. Early in the year, I thought Houston would surprise a lot of people this year. Well, they surprised me with how truly awful they were. Most recently, I told my son, 18-Year-Ranger-Fan, that it was doubtful the R’s would set a single season win record, as it would require winning out on the road against the Angels. Wrong again (happily). Lastly, for over a week, my mindset has been on a first round match-up with the Yankees and, if not the Yankees, then the Red Sox. Guess again, genius. Instead we get a rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays, with the only difference being this time, the Rangers have home field advantage. Of course, last year the road team won every game of the series so that might not be a good thing.

What the Rangers have done in September offensively has been nothing short of incredible. Get ready for this eye-popper: In the month of September, the Rangers AS A TEAM has hit .320, with 49 home runs in 25 games for an OPS of .916. I believe it was reported in the game telecast that it has been the single best offensive month by a major league team since 1946.

And it hasn’t been just power. Only the Orioles and the Rays had more stolen bases in September than Texas as well. On the other side of the coin, Texas also led the AL in pitching in September with a 3.22 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 219 strikeouts in 221 innings. Only the Tigers had a better September record than the Rangers and that was only because they played one more game (20-6 vs. 19-6 for Texas).

Plain and simple, this team is on a roll. The Rangers ended the regular season with three players hitting 30 HR’s or more: Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and, with 4 HR’s in the last two games, Mike Napoli, who had a career year in 2011. Nelson Cruz came within two feet last night of being the 4th 30-HR batter in the Rangers line-up. Beltre and Michael Young both eclipsed the century mark in RBI’s, with Josh Hamilton in the 90′s and Cruz at 89. In the pitching department, all 5 Rangers starters ended the year with at least 13 wins. I haven’t checked, but I’d wager the Rangers had more starts from their starting five than any team in baseball. They were remarkably sturdy in 2011.

All that goes out the window starting tomorrow when the ALDS begins at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington at 4:07 PM CDT. Texas was 5-4 vs. the Rays in 2011, with three of the wins by shutout. CJ Wilson, who was 2-0 against Tampa this season, gets the ball in Game 1. The Rays haven’t determined who will face him, but it won’t be David Price, who pitched the finale last night against the Yankees. I’m willing to bet it’ll be James Shields, who has half of his team’s wins against the Rangers this year.

Ideally, the Rays and Red Sox would have had a one game playoff today, thus giving Texas an advantage with a better-rested bullpen. That was not to be. Still, I like the Rangers’ chances in this first round.

Day off today. Showtime tomorrow. Bring it on.

Hello Mr. Wilson!

Who knew it would take over 40 years to make me want to act like Dennis The Menace and just drop by CJ Wilson‘s house to bug him. But I do. I want to march over to his house right now and repeat “Please re-sign with the Rangers” over and over and over and over and over and over until he has no recourse but to re-sign, if only to get me off his back and off of his property.

Mr. Wilson took the mound Sunday after the Rangers had seen their AL West lead shrink to a mere game and a half over the second place Angels and proceeded to pitch eight innings of shutout baseball in leading Texas to an 8-1 win and a 2-1 series win over the Oakland A’s. A money performance from a money pitcher, and one who is now working on a 17 inning scoreless streak. Meanwhile, the Angels blew a chance to sweep the Yankees, with a dropped fly ball leading to two Yankees runs which put the lead back to 2 1/2 games, now with only 15 games to go.

To take a little bit of the luster off the Rangers win yesterday and the 11 strikeout performance, the A’s did rest a lot of their regulars in the game, so CJ wasn’t exactly facing an optimal line-up. On the other hand, how many times have you seen your own team rest certain regulars when facing another team’s bona fide ace? For much of the season, the Rangers have been known as having a good starting pitching staff but one without a true ace. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Wilson is turning into an ace right before our eyes, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Even more heartening than Wilson’s Sunday performance was the one turned in by Adrian Beltre. The third baseman has hit for average since returning from the disabled list, but the power hasn’t been there. Ron Washington has been batting Beltre 5th in the order, saying he’s looking for signs he’s ready to return to the clean-up spot.  One big humongous sign was shown yesterday. Beltre had a double with authority in his first at bat. His third at bat cleared the left field fence, but not by much, for his first post-DL home run. His 4th at bat was a no doubter, easily clearing the fence onto the green in center field for his second dinger of the day. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance Beltre is back in the 4-hole come Tuesday night.

Beltre’s bat is sorely needed because, quite frankly, Josh Hamilton has only been an average hitter over the past month plus. It certainly wasn’t expected for Hambone to match last year’s MVP performance numbers in 2011, but something just doesn’t look quite right with Josh. While much has been made about how poorly Hamilton has done in day games, overall he just hasn’t hit the ball with much authority. Since the beginning of August, he’s been respectable, with 7 doubles, a triple, 6 Homers and 24 RBI, but his batting average has been a pedestrian .274. To add a little perspective, in the same span, Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler all have more RBI’s than Hamilton, David Murphy has only one less. Napoli and Kinsler have both hit more home runs and Kinsler has more doubles as well. And all the aforementioned except for Kinsler have hit for a higher average as well.

Certainly it’s a good problem to have, as it shows what a consistent threat the Rangers offensive line-up is, even without Nelson Cruz. Still, a nice Hamilton hot streak would be more than welcome right around now. I’m beginning to wonder if the broken bone in his upper arm that he suffered in April has caused a slight adjustment to his swing that’s affected his average and power. Anything’s possible.

Hamilton’s problem isn’t nearly as worrisome as former high school teammates and now Rangers teammates Koji Uehara and Yoshinori Tateyama. Uehara hasn’t been very good since coming over from the Orioles and Tateyama has been even worse over the past two weeks.

When Uehara was traded to the Rangers, he sported a 1.72 ERA, a .152 opponents batting average and he had given up 4 home runs in 47 innings of work. Since arriving in the Lone Star State, Koji’s given up 5 home runs in just 13 innings of work, with a .226 opponents BA and a 5.27 ERA.

But that’s nothing compared to Tateyama. On August 23rd Yoshi’s ERA had reached its lowest point of the season at 2.37. Since that time, he’s pitched 4 innings, given up 11 hits and twelve runs, all earned, for a 27.00 ERA. Adding insult to injury, the last two batters he’s faced have both hit grand slams off him. Saturday’s grand slam broke open a 3-3 game and helped the A’s break a 10-game losing streak against Texas.

With only 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the regular season, Wash doesn’t have a lot of time left to figure out who will fill what bullpen roles come playoff time (assuming the Rangers get there). The recent performances of the two Japanese imports, as well as Mark Lowe and Mike Gonzalez, aren’t making the skipper’s decision any easier.

Off day today so the R’s can root for the A’s against the Angels tonight, then Cleveland comes to town Tuesday.

In closing, I’d just like Mr. Wilson to know this: Please resign with the Rangers, please re-sign with the Rangers, please re-sign with the Rangers, please re-sign with the Rangers…..

Remain Calm

I’m as reactionary a fan as there is. When my Texas Rangers lose a game, I can get downright surly along the lines of the famous George Carlin joke, “Behind every silver cloud, there’s a dark lining.”

It would be easy, therefore, to imagine my having bitten my fingernails all the way PAST the bone when, following the Rangers’ series-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, combined with the Angels come from behind 3-1 win over the Mariners, the Rangers’ AL West lead over the Angels had shrunk to a mere 2 1/2 games.

In this case, however, you would be wrong. Your less-than-humble scribe is surprisingly calm on this, the next to the last off day of the regular season for Texas. In fact, the current small gap in the standings was anticipated.

It is true that, with a mere 18 games remaining on the schedule, I would have preferred a bit more than a 2 1/2 game lead over my closest rivals. For that, the Rangers have no one to blame but themselves. The talent is there to have put at least three more wins on the board by this time, but the fact is they didn’t, so 2 1/2 games is where they’re at.

The reason for my sedateness is this: The Rangers have just completed a 16-game stretch, 1/10th of the season, where they’ve played nobody but the 2nd place Angels, the AL East leading Red Sox and the best team not going to the playoffs this year, the Tampa Bay Rays. Texas got through this grueling stretch with a respectable 8-8 record. The Angels in this same time span, got to play the White Sox, Mariners and the Twins in addition to their 3-game set in Arlington. They went 9-6 in the same stretch against obviously lesser competition and they only managed to gain 1 1/2 games on the Rangers.

 Now the tide begins to turn. Of their remaining 18 games, the Rangers have 12 against the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners, with three more games at home against the fading Cleveland Indians and, of course, the season-ending series at Los Angeles against the Angels. The Halos, meanwhile, have 19 games remaining, and while it includes six games against the A’s and three against the Baltimore Orioles, they also have three games with the Yankees, four on the road in Toronto and the three-game set with Texas. Take out the commonalities and Texas has Seattle and Cleveland while Anaheim gets New York and Toronto.

That’s why the word “panic” is not in my vocabulary right now.

Mr. Wilson & Mr. September: Rangers 8, Rays 0

In September of 2010, AL MVP Josh Hamilton missed almost the entire last month of the season due to bruised ribs. In his stead, “4th outfielder” David Murphy played the majority of games in left field. Murphy’s line through those 21 September games: .341 BA, 7 Doubles, 3 Home Runs, 16 RBI, .934 OPS.

In 2011, Nelson Cruz went on the disabled list in late August, once again leading to significant playing time for Murphy, this time in right field. Here’s Murphy’s line in 8 games since Cruz went on the shelf: .500 BA, 3 Doubles, 1 Triple, 2 Home Runs, 10 RBI and a 1.359 OPS.

Murphy had another four hits Tuesday night in leading the Texas Rangers to an 8-0 trouncing of the Tampa Bay Rays. Reggie Jackson may have been Mr. October, but Murphy is quickly becoming the Rangers’ Mr. September, this time when the Rangers need a boost the most.

In 2010, the Rangers were already comfortably in the lead in the AL West, with everything over but the shouting. This season, the pennant race is tight. Every game has an importance it didn’t have at this time a year ago and Murphy has elevated his game to another level. Murph is a prime example of why every player on a team is important. He’ll never get the press of a Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz, but this team would suffer greatly without him ready on the bench.

Murphy’s four hits and 4 RBI helped pace the Rangers attack as CJ Wilson tossed his 15th win, third complete game and first career shutout at ANY professional level. Wilson is not only the undeniable ace of the Rangers staff, his salary for 2012 as a free agent keeps going up for every September win he earns. Wilson is now 5-1 over his last six starts with a 2.27 ERA,  a .210 opponents batting average and 33 K’s in 39 innings. Wilson has this fan’s total confidence that he could match or surpass anyone the Yankees or Red Sox could throw against him and would give Justin Verlander a good game as well. It is becoming more and more imperative that the Rangers need to make every effort to keep Wilson in the fold. It won’t be easy, because you can be sure the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels are all going to be wining and dining him the second he becomes a free agent.

Put it this way: Looking down the line towards when other Rangers could become free agents: Josh Hamilton following the 2012 season and Ian Kinsler following 2013, I’d rank Wilson above either one of them as the top priority.

In Memorium: The win by the Rangers Tuesday officially laid to rest any hopes for the Seattle Mariners to win the AL West. The Mariners still did the Rangers a big favor by beating the Angels 2-1 to put Texas’ lead back to 3 1/2 games. Thank you for that Seattle. I’m sorry you were the first to be officially eliminated, but look at the bright side: the man who’s put together your last place teams over the past two seasons, GM Jack Zduriencik, has been given a contract extension. That should count for something. Shouldn’t it?

The Perfect Set-Up: Rangers Sweep A’s

If the last seven days of baseball had been scripted for Texas Rangers fans, it pretty much followed said script to the letter.

After nine, count ‘em, nine consecutive days of having the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim staying a mere game behind the Rangers in the AL West, the week of August 8-14 stood as the best chance for Texas to put some more space between them and their closest competitors. While the Rangers were set to close their home stand with three games against last place Seattle, followed by three on the road with third place Oakland, the Angels were facing a six game road swing through Yankee Stadium and the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Sure enough, the Rangers took two of three from the Mariners while the Yankees took two of three from LA, putting the Texas lead back up to 2. Then the Atleticos (they put the Spanish name for the team on their unis in Sunday’s game) cooperated fully, letting Texas sweep them for the second consecutive series. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays came from behind to win the rubber match with the Angels in extra innings Sunday to take their series 2-1. Thus the crucial week played just as it was hoped, with the Rangers gaining three games on the week to end the week 5-1 and with a 4-game margin over the Angels.

How important is this? It’s huge, considering the first and second place teams square off against each other for a four game set in LA beginning tomorrow night. Bottom line is, even if the Angels manage to sweep this upcoming series, Texas will still leave California Thursday night no worse than tied for first place. HUGE!

Game 1 of the Oakland series was a no doubter. New A’s Public Enemy #1, CJ Wilson, who made a few comments about Oakland that were a lot milder than the way they were taken, pitched six strong innings in pacing Texas to a 9-1 pasting of the A’s. The middle game of the set, a 7-1 final, was a lot closer than the final score indicates. Colby Lewis and Trevor Cahill matched 0′s for six innings, with Cahill tossing a no-hitter through 5. Texas finally broke through with two runs, followed by the A’s cutting the lead to 2-1. It wasn’t until after Cahill left the game that Texas teed off on the A’s relief corps, plating 5 insurance runs to run away with the decision.

Sunday’s finale should have been easy. Facing former Ranger Rich Harden, the Rangers struck for 3 in the first due to Harden pitching like, well, the Rich Harden who pitched for the Rangers in 2010. By the time Harden was gone (over 100 pitches in just 4 innings), the Rangers were comfortably ahead 6-0. Consistent Matt Harrison was on cruise control when, suddenly, the A’s decided to make a game of things. Taking advantage of well-timed hits sandwiched around a couple Rangers errors, Texas suddenly found the game tied at 6 heading into the 8th inning. A 1-out Mitch Moreland walk in the 9th, followed by a stolen base by pinch-runner Craig Gentry, set up David Murphy’s game winning 2-out single. Three Neftali Feliz-thrown outs later, the Rangers had their sweep and their four-game lead over the Angels. 

AMAZING STAT: Heading into Sunday’s finale, Texas stood at 68-52 on the season. One can easily say the Texas offense is nowhere as potent as it was in the World Series year of 2010. Josh Hamilton isn’t hitting for as high an average or with as much power as his MVP year. Ian Kinsler is having a down year with the bat. Elvis Andrus has regressed defensively. Yet Texas entered Sunday’s game with a better 120-game record than the 2010 team (they were 67-53 at this point). The reason? A better rotation in the #3-#5 slots than a year ago and a LOT more offense out of the catcher position with Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba compared to Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor.

Four games in LA coming up. Reasonable expectation? Missing Dan Haren’s spot in the rotation works in the R’s favor and gives Texas a good chance to go at least 2-2 and maintain the 4-game lead. Too bad I won’t see every inning of every game. Can’t stay up that late and function well at work the next day like I used to. Having a lead when it’s time to retire for the night would be nice, though…

By the way, thank you Robinson Cano, for beating the Angels Thursday and thank you, Edwin Encarnacion, for your game-winning hit for the Blue Jays today!

 

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