THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 17, 2008

Vicente Padilla, Sidney Ponson, and Josh Rupe.

Those are the only three Rangers pitchers with multiple wins since April 10.

And yet, since Texas fell to 7-16 on April 24, the club has gone 15-6, with wins from 10 different pitchers: Padilla (four), Ponson (two), Rupe (two), Kevin Millwood, Scott Feldman, Jamey Wright, Joaquin Benoit, Franklyn German, Doug Mathis, and A.J. Murray.

Seven plus 15 equals 22, which is also what 16 plus six equals.  It’s crazy to think that, just over three weeks after that seven-game losing streak which dropped the Rangers to that 7-16 mark, and had any number of jobs reportedly in jeopardy, Texas has pulled back to .500 for the season, and now sits just 2.5 games out of first in the AL West and three games behind Boston in the Wild Card race.

Three weeks ago, news that John Mayberry Jr. has shown up at first base for the first time since Stanford would have led one of these reports.  While not insignificant, it’s a footnote given what else is going on right now.  The reason most of us care about what goes on in the minor leagues is because it impacts what could happen at the big league level.  For most of us, keeping tabs on who is progressing at Clinton and spotlighting who is switching positions at Oklahoma and monitoring next month’s draft are all functions of us wanting the Texas Rangers to win major league games, to reward our passion and our loyalty and our stamina, and our understanding that there’s a whole lot more that ultimately feeds that formula than whether Frankie Francisco comes in and strands a couple inherited runners.  Baseball offers us that in a way that no other sport does.

Unquestionably, what Max Ramirez and Chris Davis and Warner Madrigal and Julio Borbon are doing is absolutely important to any appreciation of where this thing could be headed, soon.  Presumably you read these reports because it’s more rewarding to understand why the arrival in Arlington of Mathis and German Duran and Brandon Boggs is so much different from welcoming Nick Bierbrodt or Desi Relaford or Adam Hyzdu.  

Most of us figured we wouldn’t have had this much to talk about in 2008 about Kennil Gomez or Renny Osuna or Ben Harrison or Ian Gac.  Recognizing what Jose Vallejo and Johnny Whittleman have done in extended spurts makes their overall numbers sing even more.  While I got the chance in March to sit in with Victor Rojas during a spring training broadcast and predicted that Mathis and Tommy Hunter were the two pitchers in the system I most expected to go from under the radar to squarely in the picture in 2008, it’s now looking like I undersold them.

All of those things are essential.  Not because we’re all keyed up to boast a Midwest League championship (though as we’ve said recently, winning helps create winners), but because the more big league prospects this franchise develops, the better this big league baseball team will be, one way or another.

Following the minor leagues is part of my core interest in baseball, and it would be even if I weren’t writing about the sport.  But anticipating Thomas Diamond’s return to action isn’t nearly as much about how it could strengthen the RoughRiders’ division lead as it is about what it could mean for the Texas Rangers if he comes back healthy and effective and dominant.

But thank goodness for a baseball season that, at this admittedly early stage, allows me write about players we can watch play every day, to write that Padilla is 4-0, 1.60 over his last five starts, that he has already exceeded 100 pitches more times in 2008 (six) than he did in all of 2007 (five), and that Josh Hamilton is 12 for 12 this year in driving in a runner from third with fewer than two outs.  That Hamilton hit .179/.226/.429 against the Astros last year, with six RBI in 28 at-bats, and is hitting ..875/.889/1.875 against them in 2008, with five RBI in eight at-bats.

And I can’t tell you how spectacular it will be to watch if this team, in July, finds itself healthier, still in the hunt, and in a position, perhaps the league’s best position given its depth in legitimate prospects, to be on the other side of one of those Mark Teixeira trades, pooling three or four prospects – without crippling the muscle of this dramatically improved farm system – to go get the best hitter on the trade market, or a number two starter.  

As I’ve said a couple times recently:  

It’s not about this year.  

But it is about tonight.

Drinking the Kool-Aid and riding the adrenaline of seven straight series wins, let me restate that:

It’s not about this year.  

But it is about tonight.

And it may be about this year.

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

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