September 2010

Rich, poor.

The Rich Harden era went out with a whimper today, as the righthander, pitching what amounted to a spot start as the club gets its playoff rotation lined up, went four-plus, throwing marginally more strikes than balls, and giving up four runs on six hits and three walks and one hit batsman (with two strikeouts) before giving the ball to Ron Washington one final time. 

The bullpen trio of Derek Holland, Mark Lowe (making his Rangers debut against his former club), and Neftali Feliz threw five innings of one-run ball (four hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) as the offense scored the game’s final five runs, the last one just about as improbable as you can imagine (aside from the truism that if Nelson Cruz is up with a chance to end the game, you might as well pack up your belongings), and taking Harden off the hook for the meaningless loss.

Harden’s record as a Ranger: 5-5, 5.58 in 18 starts and two relief appearances. 

But, hey, remember that note on the back of his 2010 Topps card?  “Rich has winning stuff; all he needs is a little help from his friends.  In the 51 career starts in which he’s gotten at least four runs of support while he was in the game, his record is 39-0.”

He’s now 41-0 in those games!

Hey, nobody was more excited about Harden when he signed here.  He seemed to be every bit as good a risk as Colby Lewis, and certainly brought more upside.  His contributions were few (maybe a saber-type can quantify whether his impact was in fact negative, as he averaged under five innings a start and thus burdened the bullpen beyond reason), and in spite of it Texas is headed for territory that it hasn’t seen in 11 years and that it figured Harden would lead them to, if the club was to get there at all.

I remember how pumped I was when I saw Harden and Mike Maddux walking together toward the  bullpen mounds behind the batting practice field in Surprise six and a half months ago, with thoughts of 15 or 17 contract-year wins once Harden inevitably got those low March gun readings out of his system and was ramped up for the games that counted.  Spring training will do that for you.

So will Fall Instructs, if you allow yourself to think in the long term.  I baked at Rangers Ballpark this afternoon (it was so hot that I thought the game ended on a run-scoring strikeout), only to realize as I looked at the temperature readings that I’m headed for an extra 25 degrees of heat tomorrow.  If I’m a little dizzied out there in Arizona, I might start to predict really big things for Hanser Alberto or Justin Grimm, though you know me well enough by now that I’d probably do that even in conditioned air.

Tampa lost today, and New York lost two minutes ago, so the Rays’ lead is still half a game, and for all relevant purposes 1.5 games.

Catch you next from Surprise, with lots of thoughts on a good number of the five dozen young players getting their final work in for the year, plus plenty of discussion about what lies ahead for the older guys, whose season has a far less predictable end date than the crew at Instructs, or than Rich Harden’s career in Texas.

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Yanks or Rays?

The Rangers would have to win their final five to hit that 92-victory mark that Nolan Ryan projected in March, but the more important wins and losses this week will be staged in Toronto and Boston, and Tampa and Kansas City.

The Yankees, trailing the Rays in the East by half a game, are in Toronto for one more tonight, will be off tomorrow, and finish with three in Fenway.  The Rays wrap up a home series against Baltimore tonight and visit the Royals for four to close the regular season out.

Whoever comes out on top in the East will host Texas in Round One of the playoffs, and the Yankees (94-64) have to win once more than the Rays (94-63), as Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker over New York should they finish with an equal number of wins – making this effectively a 1.5-game lead – by virtue of having won 10 of the two clubs’ 18 matchups this season.  The Yankees not only have one fewer game left to do it in, they have the tougher opposition as well.

But at least one national reporter doesn’t think the Yankees should sweat it the rest of this week, and in fact recommends that they fall short of the Rays.  

In a story published last night, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports suggests that Minnesota, and not Texas, should be viewed as the Yankees’ “optimal first-round opponent,” even though to draw the Twins would mean New York travels to open Round One rather than stays at home to host the Rangers.

Morosi talks about how New York has handled Minnesota’s top three starters (not just this season but over their careers), how the Twins have struggled since clinching six games ago, and how the Yankees fared well in their one trip to Target Field this season, all of which could mean that, though “Yankees players wouldn’t admit as much . . . , they have the psychological edge on Minnesota.”  

Morosi adds:

“By comparison, New York would have a much tougher time with the Rangers in a five-game series.  Cliff Lee will start Game 1 for Texas, and Yankees fans would prefer to avoid the guy who was responsible for their team’s only two losses in the World Series last year.  Lefthander C.J. Wilson, slated to start Game 2, possesses the power stuff to handcuff New York.”

It’s cool with me if that’s how this all shakes out.  I’ve gone back and forth the last few weeks – preferring Tampa Bay at first, figuring that the Rays would represent a smaller psychological hurdle to deal with out of the gate, then thinking maybe the Yankees would be the better draw since they’re probably more vulnerable to Texas in a best-of-five than in a best-of-seven – but on Sunday night I made up my mind.  

Watching the late innings of New York’s 10-inning, 4-3 win over Boston, I remembered how frustrating it can be watching Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano get what seems like an extra strike to play with, while Yankees pitchers tend to get a wider zone.  It’s all perception and probably has little to no basis in fact, but it seems like New York gets the benefit of the margins on balls and strikes, and even if it’s a mirage, it’s one I don’t feel like fighting through.

At least in the first round.   

Ivan Nova is supposed to start for New York on Friday, followed by a pair of TBA’s.  Doesn’t Sturdy Sergio Mitre deserve a fourth start this season?  What did Dustin Moseley ever do to hurt you?  Wouldn’t Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira benefit from an extra day or two off?  Give Kevin Russo and Juan Miranda that extra look they’ve clearly both earned.

There are a few Round One roster decisions left to be made for Texas, and a huge season-ending series with the Angels if for no other reason than Josh Hamilton should be back on the field to test his physical readiness for the playoffs, but we don’t yet know where the Rangers will be one week from today.  

Go Red Sox.

As for the Rangers’ playoff roster decisions, and a shoebox full of notes I’ve wanted to get to for about two weeks now, I’ve got to beg off for another day.  The next couple reports will come from sunny Surprise, where I’m headed for a quick visit to Fall Instructional League.  For the next few days, the focus will be on Jurickson Profar and Christian Villanueva, Jake Skole and Jorge Alfaro, Luke Jackson and David Perez, before we turn back next week to Cliff Lee and Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz.

And preferably David Price and Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford.

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Playoff-clinching thoughts.

We all have our histories with this team, some longer than others, with different levels of emotional investment and varying stations on the spectrum that ranges between belief and cynicism.  But we’re all together tonight, rewarded, and now we wait for what’s next, and it feels damned good.

Right now I think about Josh Hamilton, without whom we’re not here, and whose postgame experience and commitment happened to be somewhere else today, in some ways by choice, and I think about what all had to be going through his mind today, not that they were things that don’t go through his mind every day. 

I think about the manager, who last year made an unbelievable choice of his own, an awful mistake, the kind that even those who can forgive probably still can’t fathom, and I think about the job he’s done cultivating this team’s personality and resolve.

I think about the general manager, who if Dennis Gilbert had bought this team last December would probably be GM’ing right now at 401 E. Jefferson Street in Phoenix or 12301 Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing.  I think about what that must have felt like today, wearing the beer and champagne and looking on a frat-like celebration by a team that he was in charge of putting together, sometimes under extraordinary constraints.

I think about the team president, whose legendary career as a player included only one World Series appearance – when he was younger than Michael Kirkman – and just three other playoff appearances in 27 seasons, and whose excitement today would have been quite a bit different had the results been different in the courtroom, a place I bet he had as much interest hanging out in as on an operating table.  I think about what a bad result it would have been if he, and the general manager, were not around, or even if they were around but possibly not for long.

I think about the aging slugger whose last team thought he was closer to Cooperstown than to his prime, and who, rather than anything approaching done, was a huge part of what this team accomplished, as it plays on while his former club plays out the string.

I think about how I have absolutely no idea what goes through the head of someone like Alexi Ogando as he takes his rightful place spraying champagne and pulling on a cigar, months after a wondering if he’d ever get the chance to play baseball in Surprise or Frisco, let alone Arlington.

I think about us. 

I think about Eric Nadel and Chuck Morgan and Tom Grieve and John Blake and Jim Sundberg and Brad Newton, and how much they’ve given this organization for so many years, and deserve this.

I think about Josh Lewin, whose previous 13 seasons doing televised play-by-play (Cubs, Tigers, Rangers) never gave him the chance to call a game for his team like today’s.

I think about Thad Levine, A.J. Preller, Scott Servais, and so many others whose fingerprints are all over this thing but who don’t get enough credit.  We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

I think about Carson Leslie.

I think about Nelson Cruz, whose past is nothing like Hamilton’s, but who had lots of failed chances of his own and kept battling, and now rewards a team that showed plenty of patience in him and stands as good a chance as anyone else to be the team’s key weapon in October.  And about David Murphy, a 2010 hero in his role.

I think about Chuck Greenberg, who unquestionably comes in at a great time (not by accident) but whose strengths and energy and passion for the game are going to help make this great time great for a longer period than it might have been had someone else bought the team.  He talked during the postgame celebration about how the game was sort of a microcosm of the season.  I’m not so sure the 2010 season won’t be a microcosm, at least on the field, of where the Greenberg-Ryan Group keeps this franchise for years.

Nonetheless, I think about Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz and Tommy Hunter and Julio Borbon, and hope they understand it doesn’t always come together like this.  Ask Nolan.

I think about Derek Holland, whose 2010 season will probably be highlighted by what he did today, as he may not travel east with the team a week from now.

I think about Darren Oliver and Colby Lewis coming back to where it all started, and contributing in such a big way.

I think about Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco, and who’s more fortunate – them or us.

I think about Jorge Cantu, who broke a historically ugly RBI drought with what appeared to be a historically decisive one, and then when that wasn’t enough, did it again two innings later.

I think about Cliff Lee, and what he’s thinking about.  And about how huge that trade was for this team, in so many ways.

I think about Tom Hicks.

I think about the career disappointment that the Mets couldn’t wait to get rid of three and a half weeks ago, and who seems like he’s been part of this thing for years.

I think about C.J. Wilson, and the extraordinary year he’s had.  I could make the argument that fewer pitchers should rank higher than Wilson in the AL MVP vote than in the AL Cy Young vote.

And, of course, I think about the veteran who bounced up and down like a kid as the ball began its downward arc toward his teammate in left field, the typically stoic ballplayer who leads because he’s supposed to, not because he insists on it, the untoolsy infielder whose steadiness has him all over the Ranger record books but who also sat far too high on a list that he’s a week away from coming off of forever, as his playoffless career will no longer be so.

I think the thing I’ll remember most about Texas 4, Oakland 3 on September 25, 2010, even more so than Cantu’s go-ahead single and stay-ahead homer or Andrus’s baserunning heroics, will be the way Michael Young reacted to the moment that went from game-on-the-line to ballgame, and the way his teammates reacted after the scrum was over, every one of them lining up to pay tribute to him on the field, a sign of the kind of respect most of us have for him but to a greater degree, as he’s set an example and set a tone for a group of players that have earned the right to play on.

michael_neftali_2.jpg

                                          Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News

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Presto.

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Pressure points.


Like Hamilton’s ribs,
Offense is fractured right now
Needs an injection

Read the next three quotes from after last night’s game, and then I have two points to make.

David Murphy: “You could draw conclusions that we’re pressing or we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves.  I think it’s just very bad timing.”

Nelson Cruz: “We’re trying too hard.  We have to let things happen.  We’re trying to make things happen.”

Elvis Andrus (who has just two hits in his last 28 at-bats – and they’re both infield singles): “For me, I think I’m too aggressive. . . . Sometimes you try to force things when you don’t need to.”

OK, a couple things.

Number one.

When the 2010 schedule came out last September, I was encouraged:

But the thing I always look for first is where the Rangers open, and where they close, and for the first time since 1996, Texas will be in Arlington in both cases.  The Blue Jays and Mariners visit for the first six games of the season (April 5-11), and the Mariners (three) and Angels (four) are here for the regular season’s final seven games (September 27-October 3).  I like that.

I didn’t think about it then, but another fortunate thing about this schedule is that Texas is done with Oakland a week and a half before the first game of the playoffs.  The same will be true in 2011, when the Rangers get Seattle home for three before finishing in Anaheim for three.

Now, there will be years when you want to tee it up with your primary competition to finish out 162, to make sure that you control your destiny (especially if you’re the hunter, not the hunted).  And that may work out perfectly next year, with those three against the Angels.

But as long as Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez aren’t past their arbitration years, and maybe Tyson Ross too, I’d just as well not see the A’s in the last week of the regular season, as we’re trying to secure a playoff spot – or trying to build a little offensive momentum going into the post-season.

Point number two.

With all that stuff about Rangers hitters trying too hard to make things happen, about putting too much pressure on themselves, which of course reflects about a week of offensive offense, not just one game against the A’s, how confident are we that this playoff-untested lineup will be able to heed their own self-help messages when everything’s on the line – and the pressure reaches new levels – against New York or Tampa Bay?

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Siege.

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Think back to the end
of October, when
we learned that the Rangers told C.J. Wilson
a few weeks earlier that they
might let him compete for a rotation spot in camp, but that in order to
convince the club to move him out of his key set-up role in the bullpen, he
needed not only to be one of the team’s five best starters in Surprise, but in
fact one of the two best.  It almost
seemed like an audition prescribed to fall short, a token opportunity extended
to Wilson as a tip of the cap and maybe not much more.

 

Turns out he was the
Rangers’ best starter in March (3.24 ERA, 14 hits and eight walks in 25
innings, .167/.242/.298, 22 strikeouts, 33 groundouts/13 flyouts, under 10
pitches per inning).  He not only won a
spot in the rotation; he made the decision easy.

 

One of the shocking
statistics of the 2010 season, one that’s going to extend beyond 162, is this:

 

Texas is 15 games
over .500 in Wilson’s starts (23-8).

 

In everyone else’s
starts, Texas is two games over .500 (61-59).

 

Think about that.

 

Whether the true
inspiration for the camp audition was Wilson’s, or Nolan Ryan’s, or Jon Daniels
and his crew’s, it was a tremendous decision and a huge challenge met, and while
we all ask where this team would be without Josh Hamilton’s performance or Neftali
Feliz’s emergence after Frankie Francisco coughed things up in the first week
or Big Bad’s first half or David Murphy’s second half or Nelson Cruz’s breakout
or Colby Lewis’s Comeback Player of the Decade bid or the steadiness of the Darren
O’s or the effectiveness of Tommy Hunter and Alexi Ogando or the staff-wide impact
of the addition of Cliff Lee, imagine what 84-57 and a Magic Number of 4 with
11 games to go would look like if C.J. Wilson weren’t in the starting rotation.

 

Fifteen games over
when he gets the ball.

 

Two games over when
he doesn’t.

 

I have a ton of other notes to get to, but no time to do it
today.  I filed my final weekly MLB.com column
of the season late last night and will blast the list when it’s on www.TexasRangers.com at some point
today.  It’s a ranking of the top 10
Rangers prospects of the last decade – without the benefit of hindsight.  Ton of fun to write.

 

If we were to make a list of the top 10 moves Texas has made
in 2010, the decision before spring training to give C.J. Wilson a chance to
prove he could start, just to see what might be there, has to rank very close
to the top.

 

 

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Success.

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I had a great time at
SMU last night, hanging with Tim Cowlishaw and Brad Sham and Steve Orsini at
the Dallas Morning News discussion and
getting the chance to hear those three hold forth.  Thanks to those of you who came out to the
event.

 

One of the subjects
that got Brad most fired up was the mindset of some fans that anything short of
a league championship is a failure.  The dialogue
was launched in a Cowboys context, but Brad got around to suggesting that, even
if the Rangers were to go three and out in the first round of the playoffs, if there’s
anyone who doesn’t look at the 2010 season as a success, then the problem is
not with the team but with that fan.

 

I came home and saw
much of Colby Lewis’s brilliant start in Anaheim, in a ballpark where his lifetime
ERA had been 6.43 and his opponents’ slash had been .393/.471/.679, and maybe
it was because of what we talked about hours earlier at Hughes Trigg Theater,
but my thoughts drifted to 1996, 1998, and 1999.  Lewis put up a borderline dominant 7-4-2-2-2-10
line, relieved by Darren Oliver, whose Game Three effort in 1996 – the first
home playoff game in Rangers history – was not all that different from what Lewis
did on Tuesday. 

 

Was the 1996 Texas season
a success, after the club won Game One in New York and then dropped the next
two, with a key defensive play in each game none of us will ever forget, before
taking and subsequently spitting up a 4-0 lead in Game Four to get
eliminated? 

 

Of course.

 

How about 1998 and
1999, when Texas managed to score a total of one run in each three-game sweep?

 

Sure.  Disappointing, but it’s not easy to play on
after 162 in baseball, and the Rangers did so for the second and third times in
four years.  (Is a similar run of success
on the horizon?  Baseball Prospectus’s Chase
Gharrity thinks
it just might be
.)

 

Has this road trip been a success?  No.  The
staff has a 2.85 ERA on this swing through Seattle and Anaheim, but the offense
has averaged just 2.4 runs a game, and the record on the trip is 1-4.  It looks disturbingly like those three
playoff runs, when Texas posted an acceptable 3.48 ERA but scored only 1.8 runs
per game, winning one of 10.

 

But this season has been a success, and will stay that way,
as long as something impossible doesn’t happen over these final 12.

 

Like we learned in 1996, 1998, and 1999, Texas is vulnerable
to great pitching. 

 

Know who else is?  

 

Everyone.

 

It’s not an excuse.  But
it’s a September reminder of what baseball often looks like in October. 

 

The Rangers have also had run-scoring stretches this year when
it almost didn’t matter who took the mound against them, but you certainly can’t
count on that in the playoffs, and if last night’s game took place a couple weeks
from now, we’d probably be talking for years about Nelson Cruz’s decision to
bunt in the seventh, much in the same way Dean Palmer’s throw on that 12th-inning
Game Two bunt and Kevin Elster’s non-existent range in Game Three are as
lasting 1996 memories, sadly, as Juan Gonzalez’s epic symphony of destruction
in that series.  

 

Close, low-scoring baseball is typical in the
post-season.  From that standpoint the
way this latest run of games has been playing out might be useful, an
opportunity to get used to games in which a seventh-inning at-bat or
second-inning play in center field could be as pivotal as a ninth-inning
matchup against the other guys’ closer with the game on the line.

 

You want to be healthy going into October, you want to have
your rotation clicking and your bullpen steadied and your lineup riding a
little momentum, but you also want to be playing smart baseball, not pressing, and
not making terrible decisions or fundamental mistakes that could live forever
if they were to happen in a best-of-five or best-of-seven.

 

It’s been a remarkable month, as Texas, after winning on
September 1, lost five in a row, then won seven straight, and since then has
lost four of five.  These wild swings are
a little nerve-racking, especially with what’s on the horizon.

 

As a result of this latest slide, the Rangers will head to
Oakland after tonight’s game with a magic number somewhere between four to six,
with four to play against the A’s. 

 

It’s going to be a big weekend.

 

Without Josh Hamilton, who is shooting to return to action sometime
during next week’s homestand that will close out the regular season.  Or Frankie Francisco, who threw pain-free yesterday
and might be on a similar timetable.

 

And without a blackout, it appears.  No official announcement yet, but local
reports indicated that the Rangers were nearing a resolution with MLB and Fox
to get Saturday afternoon’s game televised locally (possibly on KDFW/Channel 4).  Today’s the day by which the club has been hoping
to get something done.  I’ll hit you up
with any announcement when word gets out.

 

As for last night’s event, I’m told that the SMU A/V folks
will have it up on the Web sometime in the next few days.  I’ll send a link out when I get one.

 

The magic number better not still be six at that point.

 

 

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Stuff.

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magic-wand-and-hat.jpg

 

 

Last night doesn’t mean a whole lot, especially when you separate
the pitching lines of the guys who won’t make the playoff staff from those who
will, but there’s still something about September games in Anaheim that irritate
me.

 

Josh Hamilton spent more than five hours with Los
Angeles-area back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins yesterday, undergoing a bone
scan and other diagnostic tests, and is expected to return to Dr. Watkins today
to discuss the results – and possibly get some sort of nerve-deadening shot, as
last week’s cortisone injection hasn’t helped his ribcage soreness.  The timing of his return is still unknown.

 

Frankie Francisco’s Monday throwing session was delayed
another day.  He’s expected to throw today.

 

Houston has affiliated with the Oklahoma City RedHawks.

 

Oakland refuses to move Saturday afternoon’s start time, and
as a result, due to Fox’s national exclusivity and the network’s decision not
to make that day’s game against the A’s a national broadcast, the game is, for
the moment, is the only one all season not scheduled to be televised.  If the magic number is 1 or 2 going into that
game . . . ho boy. 

 

The Rangers have been working all angles with MLB, Fox, and
Fox Sports Southwest for about a month to find a solution that would permit the
game to be televised locally.  Texas is
hoping for a resolution by tomorrow.

 

Thanks for all your ideas last night for my final MLB.com Top
10 column of the season.  I’m happy with the
winning suggestion, but could have gone in a dozen different directions.  Appreciate the feedback.  The column will run on Thursday morning.

 

Reminder about tonight’s “Dallas Sports: Where we’ve been,
where we’re headed” discussion, hosted by Tim Cowlishaw of the
Dallas Morning
News
, at SMU Hughes Trigg Theater from 7:00-9:00 p.m.  Seating is free but limited.  Reserve your space by going to www.dallasnews.com/125th/ and
clicking the “RSVP” link.  More details here.

 

 

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This post is not about football.

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1024×768

 

The Cowboys are such
a polarizing, hot-button topic that any time I mention them, I get buried in
email responses.  That’s never my intent,
any more than writing about my kids or my much-maligned taste in music is, but
it is what it is, and I’m sure this post won’t be very well received, even
though it’s really about the Texas Rangers. 

 

I’m a diehard
Cowboys fan.  My first love was baseball,
at least as a participant, but my interest in sports as a fan was born with the
Cowboys on TV (which in the mid-’70s was probably a more frequent occurrence
than getting a televised Rangers game, as hard as that might be to comprehend
today) and any number of family friends to spend an entire Sunday with.  The game as the centerpiece.  Too much food before, during, and after.  Street football at halftime.  Culture shock as I saw emotional boundaries crossed
by adults who normally didn’t behave that way. 
All of it was super-cool.

 

Football isn’t as
near to my core as baseball is, as you might have gathered, but it’s a pretty
big deal to me.

 

And what the Cowboys
gave me yesterday – and I’ve gotten this far with the football talk because I figure,
since the Cowboys are who they are, that most of you probably either revel in
this or commiserate – was one extra realization why I love my baseball
team. 

 

Among the things I tweeted during yesterday’s football game
was: “What’s worse as diehard fan than knowing at fundamental level that your
team chronically underachieves (whether on field or off)?”  Seriously. 
We all know exactly why Dallas isn’t as good as all the blathering
pre-season build-up, and we know with just as much conviction that it won’t be
fixed. 

 

It’s demoralizing.

 

And yet another reason that to see what this baseball team
has done over the last four seasons, choosing growing pains and building the
right way as the only truly correct big-picture marketing plan, playing with a
chip on its shoulder rather than a bar and grill talk show for every player,
proving the naysayers wrong instead of right, is so rewarding. 

 

It’s September 20, and the Rangers’ magic number is
six.  The Cowboys’ is 14, on the wrong
end.  Some call it the tragic number.

 

This sort of reminds me, in a way, of how the Rangers’ brief
run of franchise relevance coincided with one of the darkest periods in Cowboys
history.  Dallas, coming off its three Lombardi
trophies in four years when the Rangers kicked off their run of three division
titles in four years, was not only bad but painful to watch over that 1996-99 span,
averaging 8.5 wins and 7.5 losses under Barry Switzer and Chan Gailey with a
roster that should have been better. 

 

Texas had a real chance to put a bigger dent in the market
share over the three years after that. 
While Dave Campo led Dallas to three straight five-win seasons, the
Rangers finished in last place in the West those same years, despite having the
best player in the world the final two of those. 

 

If only the Rangers had built around Alex Rodriguez the way
they should have.

 

Texas signed Rodriguez in December 2000, five months after
the club had traded for Michael Young and six months before Mark Teixeira fell
to the Rangers with the fifth pick in the 2001 draft.  But the farm system was middle of the pack, a
tremendous swarm of journeymen and once-were’s were signed to play regular
roles, Travis Hafner and Ryan Ludwick got no real chance here, and you don’t
want to peek at the 2000, 2001, or 2002 Baseball
Reference pages to see what the pitching staffs looked like those years.

 

Rodriguez and Teixeira spent one season (2003) together
before Rodriguez asked what he was in this for, and what should have been the emergence
of a perennial contender was instead a failed bit. 

 

Then there’s Young, who was here before A-Rod arrived and who
the veteran took under his wing but who still was presumably one of the “24
kids” Rodriguez couldn’t bear to play alongside one more day. 

 

Young has now played 1,496 big league games without so much
as a playoff appearance, second in baseball only to Randy Winn’s
1,700-plus. 

 

The thing is, Winn has bounced around for five big league teams
and has rarely been much more than part of anyone’s supporting cast.  It’s different with Young.  When Texas clinches its first playoff berth in
11 years, probably sometime this week, I’m going to be happiest for me.  Next to that, I’ll be happiest for Young.

 

My wife the rehabilitation counseling psychologist took the
doctor’s side yesterday when Jason Witten was on the delivering end of a
one-sided, heated argument about his fitness to get back on the field, and while
I’m cool with that, I loved the fire he showed. 
There aren’t enough Witten’s on that football team.

 

It wasn’t until January 2010 that Jason Witten had a playoff
win in his career, which, regardless of whether the team deserved it over his
eight seasons, was far too long for that player.  Witten is the Cowboys’ Young, whose own place
on that bad list behind Randy Winn will be erased in a couple weeks.

 

The baseball team’s magic number didn’t move on Sunday, but
it’s just a matter of time before that hourglass is emptied, leaving the sole
focus on getting Josh Hamilton and Frankie Francisco back in action and in
rhythm, sorting out a small handful of unsettled spots on the playoff roster, and
generally finding a way to take some general sense of momentum onto the plane
that heads east for some of the baseball these guys all play for, and that we’ve
all been waiting for, for years.

 

It sure beats waiting, for years, for the one thing from my
football team that I’m reasonably sure I’m never going to see, and that would
be far more upsetting if it weren’t for the baseball team which, for plenty of
reasons, I feel so much better about investing in emotionally.

 

 

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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

Marching toward a clinch.

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A’s near-Royal flush

Was magically propitious

Crazy: Number’s eight.

 

Texas hits the road for the next 10 games, a stretch during
which the odds are that the playoff berth gets nailed down.  Even the folks in creative for TBS agree that
the Rangers are locks:

 

 

NY billboard #1.jpg

 

 

Thanks to Scott Gann and Katy Roffino for photographing
those New York City billboards this week and sharing them with us, and to TBS not
only for putting Cliff Lee front and center but also resisting what had to be
considerable pressure to go ahead and airbrush “Texas” out and put Lee in those
birthright pinstripes.  Impressive restraint.

 

When we recorded the latest edition of Rangers Podcast in
Arlington last night, we wrapped up by predicting when Texas would actually
clinch, and I went with a week from tomorrow, which I suppose is wishful
thinking since that’s a 3 p.m. game while the five games preceding it have 9
p.m. local starts. 

 

The soonest that the Rangers can wrap this up, by winning
out and Oakland continuing to lose, would be this Monday night, when Texas is
in Anaheim and Oakland hosts Chicago.  

 

Keep an eye on Wednesday, too.  If, over the 10 games that Texas and Oakland
play over the next five days, the Ranger wins plus A’s losses total seven, the
Rangers could actually clinch Wednesday afternoon, when the White Sox (Edwin
Jackson) face Oakland (Brett Anderson) at 2:35 CT in the finale of that series,
a game that should end well before C.J. Wilson faces the Angels’ Dan Haren at
9:35 CT that night. 

 

But if the division isn’t wrapped up by that date, at least
the Rangers and A’s face off for the following four, making it more likely that
Texas can clinch by squeezing the final out, rather than celebrating a
scoreboard message.  (That assumes that the
A’s can hold the Angels off from closing the 1.5-game gap between those teams
beforehand.)

 

I’m sticking with next Saturday.  If the Rangers and A’s stay in rotation,
Derek Holland will take the ball that day, facing off against Gio
Gonzalez.  Jeff Francoeur will have a key
hit, cementing his place in Rangers history despite what could be the briefest
of stints in the organization.

 

The 10-game lead that Texas has on Oakland at the moment matches
the biggest divisional lead the club has ever held.

 

I got a couple dozen emails yesterday asking what happens to
the players and coaches who suited up for Oklahoma City and for Round Rock in
2010.  Easy: They follow their organizations.  RedHawks players and coaches will remain
Rangers assets, and will be in Surprise in February and March if not let go in the
off-season.  If reassigned to AAA, they
will suit up for Round Rock in April.

 

I repeat that here for those of you in Northern California,
South Carolina, or elsewhere who might wonder the same thing when the Rangers
announce this afternoon that they have agreed to a player development contract with
the High A Myrtle Beach Pelicans (a Chuck Greenberg franchise), ending a six-year
run in Bakersfield.

 

Myrtle Beach is a four-hour drive from the Rangers’ Low A affiliate
in Hickory, North Carolina, a distance of 234 miles.  I’m not sure how long the flight from Hickory
to Bakersfield is, but the towns are nearly 2,400 miles apart.  That’s not the only reason this transition
makes a lot of sense (the Carolina League also tends to be a better environment
for developing pitching), but it’s a much better situation logistically.

 

Incidentally, Milwaukee announced earlier this week that it’s
keeping its AAA club in Nashville, ending speculation that the Brewers would
move into Oklahoma City, leaving Nashville as the likely destination for the
Astros now that their affiliation with Round Rock has ended.  The Brewers’ stay makes an arrangement between
Houston and Oklahoma City a strong likelihood. 

 

The MRI on Frankie Francisco’s right side showed that his
rib cage is healing.  He should start
throwing Monday.

 

Darren Oliver’s $3.25 million option for 2011 vested when he
made his 59th appearance Wednesday night.  He’s had a tremendous season (2.50 ERA, 63 strikeouts
and 10 unintentional walks in 57.2 innings, .234/.286/.358 slash, 1.39 G/F),
and would surely have been brought back even if the option had not locked in -
though it should be pointed out that he was much sharper in the first half (1.36
ERA, .191 opponents’ average) than he has been in the second half (5.00 ERA,
.314 opponents’ average).  Don’t expect
as heavy a workload next spring.

 

By the way, on Sunday I wrote: “The last time Texas swept
the Yankees at home was in 1996, a season in which the Rangers would eventually
win Game One of the ALDS, in New York. 
The Rangers-Yankees karma since then has been lousy,
but
none
of the players or coaches or baseball operations folks here now were here then
,
and maybe this little three-game set did a little bit to minimize whatever
stigma might still be attached, if there’s actually any of that which exists
other than with the fan base and media.”

 

Oliver was here in 1996, of course. 

 

One scout offered the following assessment of Nelson Cruz to
Baseball Prospectus’s John Perrotto: “He kind of gets overlooked in that lineup
with Josh Hamilton and Michael Young and Vladdy Guerrero and Ian Kinsler, but
he’s a very dangerous hitter who has learned how to handle off-speed stuff.  He’s not a flashy guy but you can tell he
likes hitting in big situations.  That’s
why he’s my pick to the breakout star of the postseason.”

 

Young was elected to the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame,
along with St. Louis righthander Chris Carpenter.  Young played in the AFL in 2000, three months
after Texas acquired him from Toronto.  He
was assigned to the Grand Canyon Rafters that fall along with Joaquin Benoit,
Kevin Mench, Jason Romano, Spike Lundberg, and David Elder.

 

The Rangers’ minor league award winners for August:
Dominican Summer League righthander David Perez was Pitcher of the Month, Arizona
League first baseman Jhonny Gomez was Player of the Month, Spokane third
baseman Mike Olt was Defender of the Month, and Spokane righthander Ben Rowen
was Reliever of the Month.

 

Baseball
America
named Hickory lefthander Robbie Erlin a second-teamer on
its Minor League All-Star Team.  Erlin’s
2.12 ERA was third-lowest among all minor league starting pitchers in 2010.

 

Juan Gonzalez, age 40, will be teammates with Rangers
outfield prospect Miguel Velazquez, age 22, on Puerto Rico’s entry in the Pan
Am Qualifier tournament.

 

We’ll hit you up with an update once this afternoon’s announcement
out of Myrtle Beach has been made.

 

 

===========================================================

 

To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get
e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps,
and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to
www.newbergreport.com
and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

 

 

(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

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