THE NEWBERG REPORT — SEPTEMBER 13, 2007

It’s sorta funny. Although any hope of this club factoring in evaporated before spring turned to summer, I went into last night’s Edinson Volquez matchup against Justin Verlander as confident of a win as I was confident of an April loss to Tomo Ohka, or a May loss to Casey Fossum. There is less individual talent on the current, expanded roster than there was in the season’s ugly first two months, but the Rangers are playing solid, efficient baseball right now, and it’s energizing to see.

The low point of the season, in terms of wins and losses, came when a Robinson Tejeda loss in Pittsburgh dropped Texas to 23-42. Since then the Rangers have gone 46-34, the fourth-best record in baseball in that span. Over the last month only Cleveland has a better record than the Rangers’ 19-10 mark.

It’s fashionable to call teams playing out the string in September and pinning losses on contenders “spoilers.” Maybe it’s because this roster has been turned over so dramatically through the course of the season, but this doesn’t feel at all like a run motivated by spoilage. It feels more like a few things here and there falling into place as the makeup of the 2008 roster starts to come into better focus.

Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t trade David Murphy for Gary Matthews Jr. right now. It has nothing to do with Matthews’s ankle injury. It’s not so much the .410/.438/.705 small-sample line that Murphy has produced. It’s the quality of Murphy’s at-bats, his ability to do everything he needs to do defensively, the fact that he’s just 25. I’m not exactly sure yet what he’s going to be, but he can play on my team any day, and I think he’s the type of player that is worthy of some sort of role on any roster.

As for Matthews, consider this:

In 2006, he hit .313/.371/.495, landing a five-year, $50 million contract.

Prior to that breakout age 31 campaign, in his first seven big league seasons, Matthews hit a collective .249/.327/.397.

In 2007, he is hitting .257/.323/.428, a line frighteningly similar to those that earned him annual non-roster invites over those first seven years.

In the last two weeks, the Rangers have added Volquez, A.J. Murray, Bill White, Luis Mendoza, and Armando Galarraga to the active roster. No Tejeda, who will be out of options when the season ends. I do believe his July 22 loss to Cleveland may very well have been Tejeda’s last act as a Ranger.

Galarraga’s arrival before last night’s game came after the Texas bullpen had thrown at least seven innings in three of the club’s previous four games, the first time that had happened in franchise history. The 25-year-old, who came over in the December 2005 trade that sent Alfonso Soriano to Washington, went 11-8, 4.14 in 27 appearances for Frisco and Oklahoma this year, reviving his prospect status.

Mendoza was impressive again last night. Solid command, good life.

Brandon McCarthy felt fine after throwing 35 pitches on Tuesday, and he’s slated to come back on three days’ rest for Saturday’s start in Oakland.

My prediction for Jason Botts when he came up August 1: an OPS of .700 in August, and .900 in September.

Botts had an OPS of .592 in August, and .974 so far in September.

The MRI on Kameron Loe’s elbow was relatively clean, but the timetable on his return to the mound is uncertain.

Scott Feldman will have an MRI on his right knee.

Michael Young needs to go 21 for 70 (.300) the rest of the way to extend his streak of 200-hit seasons to five.

Frisco’s and Clinton’s playoff runs have ended and so therefore has the 2007 Ryan Braun-esque run of daily minor league reports from Scott Lucas. My thanks to Scott for all the time, effort, and talent he has put into the reports all year.

Bakersfield and Clinton third baseman Johnny Whittleman had the eight-highest walk total in minor league baseball this year, with 86 (six walks short of the second-highest total). Frisco and Bakersfield outfielder Brandon Boggs was 12th in the minors with 84.

Galarraga, Whittleman, and Boggs are three of about two dozen players who made huge leaps in 2007 on the Rangers farm. I’m at work on the top prospects lists for the next Bound Edition, and it’s never been more difficult to sort out.

Texas is sending outfielders Craig Gentry, K.C. Herren, and Chad Tracy, first baseman Ian Gac, and right-handed reliever Jose Marte to the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, and it’s unlikely any of them will show up on any list of the Rangers’ top 30 prospects. The system has gotten exponentially deeper this summer.

The Rangers are expected to announce their minor league player and pitcher of the year sometime today.

Cleveland slid lefthander John Koronka through waivers and outrighted him to AAA Buffalo. He’s been outrighted before, and so he has the right to decline the assignment and take free agency. But that’s sort of moot since he’ll be a free agent this winter anyway.

Trey Hillman is leaving Japan. He announced at the finish of his fifth season managing the Nippon Ham Fighters that he won’t exercise the mutual option he has for more than $1.2 million to manage the club in 2008. He said he wants to return to the United States, where he interviewed for the managerial jobs in Texas, San Diego, and Oakland last winter, and would be interested in a big league coaching job or a spot as a AAA manager or minor league defensive coordinator.

According to T.R. Sullivan, the University of Oregon approached Buck Showalter before hiring Cal-State Fullerton’s George Horton to be their head coach. I’ve said it for years: I think Showalter would make a spectacular college coach, for a number of reasons.

In the meantime, Showalter works as an advisor in Cleveland, where they would have been a bit happier if Texas had gone into Detroit and taken two of three.

Even though just a month ago we were all peeking at the standings to see how close Texas was to locking down one of the first three or four picks in next year’s draft, the way things are going right now, I’m actually surprised the Rangers didn’t help the Indians out with a series win in Detroit.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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