Second.

THE NEWBERG REPORT

Make no mistake.  The Angels have no interest in coasting.  Too many teams in too many sports (as we know all too well in the Metroplex in recent years) have peaked early, let up on the brakes going into the post-season, and never recovered.  

You think John Lackey, in his final tune-up before the playoffs (he’s a lifetime 3-6, 5.54 pitcher against Boston), feels OK about having the worst of his 206 career starts?  It’s a good night when a club scores 10 times on a dozen hits (half going for extra bases) and a couple walks, with every hitter in the lineup reaching base (eight on base hits) and six of them driving in runs.

It’s an extraordinary one when they do all that in before three innings are in the books, against one of the league’s best pitchers — one who, five days earlier, punched out a career-high 12 in a scoreless two-hit, six-inning effort in Arlington.

Hank Blalock homered for the fifth straight game, tying the longest such streak in baseball this season.  Josh Hamilton and Michael Young continued to finish strong.  

Chris Davis rapped out four base hits.  Nelson Cruz singled twice and doubled . . . and walked.  He would have reached in all five trips if center fielder Reggie Willits hadn’t robbed him of a possible home run in the sixth.

Vicente Padilla (14-8, 4.74) stepped up with another quality start, facing a club against which he’s had a checkered past.

Six doubles on the night gave Texas 373 for the season, tying the 1930 St. Louis Browns and 1997 and 2004 Green Monster-aided Boston Red Sox for the most ever.  The Rangers will claim the record for themselves this weekend (they’ve gone doubleless in two straight games only twice all year), though it looked like they were going to take sole possession of the mark when Davis battered the right field wall with a seventh-inning single.

Texas would have obliterated the doubles mark if Ian Kinsler hadn’t missed the final six weeks of the season.  

All told, Texas amassed 19 hits, spanking the Angels, 12-1.  The win clinches second place in the AL West, the Rangers’ best finish since their last playoff season of 1999.  It’s not enough, but it’s progress.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Angels are very, very good, and last night’s win doesn’t amount to much in the big picture, but it’s good to see Texas continue to fight rather than lay down, and hand it to a Los Angeles club that fielded its ace and its normal starting lineup, though — like Lackey — eight of the starting hitters exited the game before the fourth inning, with the score already 10-1.

That’s three straight wins for the Rangers, which is also what the instructional league squad has put together since my arrival in Surprise.  One more game to take in this morning before I head back.  

The more I watch Justin Smoak’s actions, the more I see Mark Teixeira, with two exceptions: Smoak is not as upright a baserunner as Teixeira, and from the right side of the plate Smoak looks more like Chipper Jones to me.  

Smoak is creating video game damage offensively and is agile at first base.  He hit two more doubles yesterday, one a blast that crashed 15 feet up the center field fence 400 feet away, the other an opposite field shot that he slapped down the left field line.  He added a screaming liner to straightaway center that the center fielder caught on the dead run toward the wall, and also walked and struck out.

I sort of wish he were going to the Arizona Fall League, just to see what he could do right now with a greater challenge.

Tae Ahn’s side was interesting.  Good stuff, but lots of command issues.  

As for Robbie Ross’s side and 20-ish-pitch sim game, he reminds me of someone — I just can’t put my finger on it yet.  It’s not Scott Kazmir or Mike Hampton and certainly not Billy Wagner.  It’ll come to me.  Maybe an inch taller than Kasey Kiker, with a build more like Michael Main, Ross will pitch in a game on Monday, and I’ll miss it.  Crud.  

In recent years there’s been a spectrum of outfield prospects along which Brandon Boggs sits at one end, Jeremy Cleveland occupies the other, and Steve Murphy finds himself somewhere in the middle.  Where does Joey Butler fit?  I’m not sure yet.

You can’t even take your eyes off of Engel Beltre when he’s shagging flies in batting practice.

This was interesting: Marcus Lemon led off in yesterday’s game, and Beltre hit second.

There are a whole lot of players with more tools than Lemon, but all he’s done every time I’ve seen him is get the job done.

Lemon is probably ready to play second base every day in AA.  Bet we see Jose Vallejo (who will be added to the 40-man roster in November) assigned to Oklahoma and asked to play more than just second, not unlike German Duran in 2008.  His path to breaking in as a big leaguer is likely as a utility infielder.

Two players with better tools than you’d ever guess by looking at them outside the lines: catcher Leonel “Macumba” De Los Santos and shortstop Leury Garcia.

The best three players in yesterday’s Rangers win might have all been Indians prospects: 20-year-old lefthander Kelvin De La Cruz, 22-year-old catcher Carlos Santana, and 21-year-old Taiwanese righthander Chen-Chang Lee (signed less than two weeks ago for more than $300,000) were very impressive.  Especially Santana.

Lefthander Geuris Grullon took a Santana liner off the abdomen.  He stayed in for another few pitches before coming out.  

If you were watching Fabio Castillo, Kiker, and Blake Beavan at the right time, you’d have been blown away, but they each had to fight through some adversity.  

Castillo breezed through his second inning after two first-inning errors seemed to rattle him a bit and forced him to face seven Indians in the opening frame.  

Kiker came in to get the final out of the seventh (a 6-4 fielder’s choice) and then struck out the side in the eighth, but had some control issues in that inning, walking two straight after there were two outs and then giving up a well-struck single to right.  

Beavan worked the ninth, striking out prospect Beau Mills (who was taken four slots before Beavan in the first round of the 2007 draft) before issuing two walks.  Beavan had only two games all year in which he walked more than two.  The big righthander then settled down to strike the next batter out on three pitches and seal the win by coaxing a routine 6-3 grounder.

Speaking of Kiker and the eighth inning, I do buy the idea that that might be his eventual home, but he seems to take longer than some others to get loose.  He did yesterday, at least.

I’m sold on Corey Young.  He’s going to come quickly as a left-handed specialist.

Seventeen-year-old lefthander Martin Perez touched 94 on Thursday.

Baseball America put no Oklahoma RedHawks on its Pacific Coast League top 20 prospects list.

Jon Daniels and Ron Washington reportedly met to discuss the 2009 coaching staff.  Only hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is under contract.  There have been multiple stories indicating that at least one position will be vacated, as bullpen coach Jim Colborn will return to his Pacific Rim scouting duties on a full-time basis.  Colborn and pitching coach Andy Hawkins had been elevated into those roles on August 1.  

Daniels and Washington both singled Hawkins out yesterday in praising the work he has done since arriving.  Hawkins, if retained, plans to incorporate more running, more live batting practice, more long toss, and more pitchers’ fielding practice for his pitching staff in spring training.

One report suggests that there’s a possi
bility that Texas could bring former Rangers coach Perry Hill back to the organization in some capacity.  He’s long been considered one of the finest infield instructors in the game.

Good grief.  We now get this gem from Randy Galloway:  “No one is re-inventing the game here.  Any good baseball man can attempt to build through a minor league system.”

I’ll resist issuing a comeback concerning general columnists.  

Former big league outfielder Chris Singleton may be the best studio analyst that ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” has ever had.

Off to the yard for one more game from Instructs, with Willie Eyre, Michael Main, and Johan Yan apparently among those slated to pitch.


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

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