September 2012

Rank (again).

Rangers prospects claimed two spots on Baseball America’s ranking of the top 20 prospects in the Short-Season A Northwest League.  Based not only on performance but also on the input of NWL managers and scouts, 20-year-old Spokane righthanders C.J. Edwards and Jose Valdespina were ranked number eight and number 13 in the league, respectively.

Edwards, who was also pegged as the Arizona League’s number eight prospect, signed for $50,000 as the Rangers’ 48th-round pick in 2011, while Valdespina signed for a modest $27,500 out of the Dominican Republic in February 2011.

They were the third- and fourth-highest-ranking pitchers in the BA survey.  The top-ranked hurler, Seattle righthander Victor Sanchez, was considered the best pitcher on the international market in 2011 and signed for $2.5 million.  Second was San Diego righthander Joe Ross, who signed for $2.75 million (nearly double his slot) as the Padres’ first-round pick last summer.

Edwards, promoted to Spokane after making his pro debut with 20 ridiculous innings (zero runs, six hits, six walks, 25 strikeouts) in the AZL, went 2-3, 2.11 in 10 Indians starts, scattering 26 hits (.160 opponents’ average) and 19 walks in 47 innings while fanning 60 batters.  One opposing manager, Pat Murphy of the Eugene Emeralds (for whom Ross pitched), said of the lanky Edwards: “He was the best pitcher we saw all year.  He’s got something to him.  The last five feet of his fastball, it’s going up like a rocket ship.  There’s a lot of hop on it.”

Murphy’s Emeralds squad faced Sanchez three times this season.

Valdespina, who went 3-6, 5.58 in 15 Spokane starts (.290 opponents’ average, 34 walks and 54 strikeouts in 59.2 innings) but finished the season strong (1.59 ERA in his final three starts, .194 opponents’ average, five walks and 17 strikeouts in 17 innings), profiles as a short reliever with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a wipeout slider.

Joey Gallo, who also split the summer between the Arizona League and Northwest League, fell nine plate appearances short of qualifying for the NWL rankings.  BA’s Conor Glassey said in a chat session on Friday that if Gallo had been eligible, “[h]e would have been an easy No. 2” in the league behind Seattle catcher Mike Zunino.

Here’s some awesome footage from Jason Cole of Lone Star Dugout of Gallo scoring on Ronald Guzman’s no-doubt blast in yesterday’s Instructional League game against the Dodgers FIL squad.  I’ll be out there myself for a few days, starting tomorrow.

As you’ll notice, the 17-year-old Guzman and 18-year-old Gallo each stand a legitimate 6’5”.  I’m not going to look up what the plural form of “specimen” is.

Be great today, Derek Holland.

Win the Damn Series.

Weaver-Dempster tonight, along with Beavan-Griffin.

Tomorrow: Santana-Holland, and Vargas-Straily.

Greinke-Darvish and Ramirez-Milone on Sunday afternoon.

Three of those games need to go the Rangers’ way.  And not only because going to Oakland for 160, 161, and 162 with the A’s a game or two out – with Martin Perez going on Monday (though I’d bet on Roy Oswalt if the lead really is down to one or two games) – would be a little unpleasant, especially considering that it would mean Texas played its way into a lost series at home after having dropped two of the last three to the A’s, or that Oakland was on a hot streak again, or both.

The Rangers also need to lock down the West this weekend because they don’t need Matt Harrison (whose velocity and sharpness was off some yesterday) throwing any more than two or three innings before the playoffs get underway.

And because if Mike Adams is going to be available for the ALDS, pending whatever this afternoon’s shoulder MRI reveals, a tune-up inning in Oakland would be great, but no high-leverage work for him, please.

Los Angeles comes in here with what amounts to three Game Sevens on the slate.  I don’t question whether Texas will play with the same sense of urgency it would have if the race were tighter, but I don’t want Perez (or Oswalt) needing to dial up a gem in Oakland on Monday, I don’t want Harrison needing to give this club 110 pitches on Tuesday, and I don’t want an Adams-less bullpen having to save the regular season next week with the playoffs days away – or Adams posting up in that series even if the best course would be rest and maybe a few batters just to get work so he’s fresh for the ALDS.

I know we all heaved a sigh of relief with yesterday’s win, but I’m in no mood to launch into cruise control.  I can live without home field over the Yankees, if it comes to that (New York has just busted out against Toronto starter Chad Jenkins, whose AA ERA was close to 5.00 this year, to start tonight’s game), but after Harrison’s work yesterday and the Adams news today, I’m all about playing the Angels with something just short of a Game Seven intensity.

While a playoff berth may not hang in the balance, there’s a real opportunity the next three days to get a couple extremely important pitchers right, or at least attempt to do that, before they’ll be asked to throw some of the biggest innings of the season.  The Angels are gonna bring it, without question, and the Rangers need to invoke some Castle Doctrine and slaughter their season, with the added benefit of improving the chances that their own will last very deep into October.

Yes they did.

The past and the present and the future.

*          *          *

No more, no less.

You don’t have to guess.

Ailing.

When you’re sick, food tastes worse, hair and clothes hurt, every room is too cold or too hot.  Irritating things are even more irritating, and non-irritating things are, too.

It all feels like 1 for 28 with runners in scoring position (0 for the last 20).

I’m a little better today than yesterday, and maybe Josh Hamilton and the Rangers offense will be, too, but I still don’t feel much like thinking, so I guess I’m just going to accept that the Angels are going to be Rangers fans the next four days, and as for the competing national stories that suggest, on one hand, that Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno “is expressing unhappiness behind the scenes about the job performance of both legendary manager Mike Scioscia and heralded general manager Jerry Dipoto” (Jon Heyman/CBS Sports), and, on the other, that Moreno is insistent that both Scioscia and Dipoto’s jobs are safe (Alden Gonzalez/MLB.com), well, schadenfreude is fun and I’ll happily take the angst over what’s surely just a temporary Rangers hitting rut over the mess in L.A.

The Angels story isn’t going to die this week, but the race in the West might, and it could turn out, after an exceptionally ugly weekend series in Seattle, that the next road game for Texas that matters will be on October 6th or 7th, site to be determined.

Texas, having already bagged 90 wins more quickly than ever before, hosts Oakland for four big ones starting tonight (8.0 [x], 6.0, 4.0, 2.0, or –/–) and then Los Angeles comes in for three.

Anything less than being 100 percent well by the time the Angels arrive will be unacceptable, and what I mean by that is my own health, but I guess I’m thinking that way about Hamilton’s vision and the Texas offense, too, and if I felt up to it today, I’d clean this report up or toss it in the trash altogether, but I suppose irritating goes both ways, and so with that I’m going to hit “send,” but not before taking a peek at the Liam Hendriks-Esmerling Vasquez-Samuel Deduno trio that the Twins are sending out the next three days against the Yankees and realizing that now my hair hurts even worse.

Chris Iannetta’s night.

Chris Iannetta leans left.

AP / Mark J. Terrill

Chris Iannetta leans right.

AP / Mark J. Terrill

Chris Iannetta leans way more to the right.

MLB.com screengrab / Hat tip Christopher Reeves

Dang it.  Someone cropped Chris Iannetta out of this one.

AP / Mark J. Terrill

Execution.

Of course it happened like that.  On Tuesday, the team without one of its two elite everyday players (Albert Pujols) won big.  On Wednesday, the team without two of its three elite everyday players (Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton) won handily.  You play the games.

And you can make a solid case that Pujols actually hurt Los Angeles more on Wednesday night, when he arguably ended up costing his team two runs (one on the bases and one on defense), than on Tuesday, when he was back home in Kansas City.

Oakland lost (again), Baltimore won (again), and with Texas taking care of business in Anaheim, that baseball day couldn’t have gone much better for the Rangers, at least on the field, or much worse for the Angels.

Two quotes:

Ron Washington: “We know C.J. knows that we are a very aggressive bunch of guys.  Tonight, we went there and made him throw the ball in the strike zone, and it worked for us.”

C.J. Wilson: “At times, I’m my own worst enemy.  At least, I have been the last couple months.”

And a third, tweeted by Bill Plunkett (Orange County Register), in response to Wilson’s comment: “Hits the mark far better than a lot of his pitches with that one.”

The subtext to both Washington’s and Wilson’s postgame remarks was that Jeff Nelson worked the plate on Wednesday, and as Eric Nadel prepared us to understand going into the game, Nelson calls one of the tightest zones in the game.

The Rangers took advantage of that with their game plan and their execution on offense.  And Derek Holland handled Nelson’s stingy zone far better than the lefthander he’d learned so much from over the years.

Holland, as he did in 2011, is surging late in the season, while Wilson hasn’t erased questions about what happens to him when the glare gets the glariest.

Over the last two months, with the Angels fighting to salvage their season, Wilson has taxed his bullpen.  The last two times he lasted seven innings were on July 6 and July 13 (both losses).  In seven starts since August 18, he’s averaged 5.1 innings.

Last night, with his club fighting the centripetal forces of the toilet flush, Wilson couldn’t get out of the third inning (his shortest start this year next to the one-out, four-run, rain-shortened effort in Texas on May 11), prompting a smattering of boos from the smattering of actual people in the Anaheim crowd and this tweet from Mike DiGiovanna (Los Angeles Times), after Jerome Williams’s exceptional effort in long relief: “If Angels still in playoff race next time C.J. Wilson’s rotation spot comes up, I would start Williams.”

I’m not trashing Wilson.  He was a big reason that Texas won the last two American League pennants.  He worked his tail off after minor league Tommy John surgery here to become a big league middle reliever and then a big league closer and then a workhorse starter.  He earned an All-Star selection as a Ranger and starts on Opening Day and Game One of the ALDS and Game One of the ALCS and Game One of the World Series.

But his track record exposes a handful of flaws, two of which – command issues and his tendency to struggle in the bigger games – came to bear last night, against a team that understood a way to exploit them.

It wasn’t Wilson’s fault that the Angels spit the first month of the season up.  On April 30, he pitched into the eighth against the Twins and earned a 4-3 win, improving his record through five quality starts to 3-2, 2.70.

It improved Los Angeles’s record to 8-15.  On that date, Texas was 17-6.

Since then, the Angels have been 1.5 games better than the Rangers.  And Oakland is a game up on Los Angeles in that time, 2.5 up on Texas.

Toss April out, and the Angels and Rangers would be the two Wild Card teams at this point, with the Orioles a half-game behind Texas for that final Game 162 spot.

Some suggested scoreboard watching in April was gauche.

Nope.  April defined the 2012 race.

Not that it’s over.  I’ve refrained all summer from engaging in Magic Number talk, preferring instead to focus on winning the dang series and moving on to the next one.  But it’s been pointed out that the Rangers’ Magic Number in the division now sits at 11, and that’s pretty cool.

But I’m still in today mode, instead zeroed in on a different number 11, the one who starts tonight against Zack Greinke with another series on the line.

Like Wilson, Yu Darvish may not be a number one starter – yet – but he’s risen to the occasion in a big way lately, something that can’t be taken for granted.

We’ve learned the last couple nights that very good players aren’t always very good, teams can win baseball games without their best players, and if results were all formulaic and not dependent on game plans and the execution of them, the games wouldn’t be as intensely awesome to watch as they are in late September for a team lining things up for October.

…where Angels fear to tread.

So hey, that was a good-looking top of the third, welcome back Mike Napoli and Robbie Ross, and Wilmer Font, you’ve earned this pink backpack and another mop-up chance.

But let’s face it.

When you draw Jered Weaver in Anaheim, and your own starter isn’t throwing strikes, and you give up an eight-run inning that Albert Pujols watched on TV and that started with sinusitis and included a two-pitch sequence in which the other guys advanced eight bases without a swing and your pitcher was assisted off the field with a bruised knee, and the benches empty early (but not like that), there’s a chance things may not go your way that night.

On the other hand, when the season has about two weeks to go, and you lose no ground to the one club with a shot to chase you down – and the Angels gain no ground on the one that they’re chasing – you move on fairly effortlessly from that one in the name of #treading, hoping that whatever happened at the Kimmel studios to cause headaches and blurry vision was just a 24-hour bug, that Holland-Wilson makes us a little less insane, and that Justin Verlander extends Oakland’s loss streak tonight without needing seven innings from the pen like Max Scherzer, who didn’t make a Kimmel appearance the night before, did on Tuesday.

And, gauche as it may be, that Chris Davis (9th inning) and Darren O’Day (10th and 11th) and Pedro Strop (12th) and Tommy Hunter (16th and 17th) and Good Grief Taylor Teagarden (18th) can repeat their heroics from early this morning, and put it to King Felix, not because I have it in for Seattle but because anything that tosses a little more dirt onto the Angels’ season works for me.

I have to repeat this to myself because it still makes almost no sense:

Texas lost no ground, Los Angeles gained none.

Giggle.

Take off.

The Rangers haven’t lost consecutive games in more than a month.

They’ve won 11 of 13 series, and eight of nine, which is what good teams do.

Yet, shockingly, they haven’t swept a series in nearly three months.

The only lefthander in franchise history to win more than the 17 games Matt Harrison has won this year was Kenny Rogers, who bagged 18 wins in 2004.

Harrison, who earned number 17 yesterday on birthday number 27 and trails only David Price (18) in American League wins, could make three more starts.

Koji Uehara earned his first save as a Ranger, obscuring the bigger deal, which is that since returning from his strained lat muscle in late August, he’s been scored on just one time in 10 appearances, holding opponents to a .214/.241/.357 slash with death-on-lefties stuff at a time when lefthanders Robbie Ross (injury) and Michael Kirkman (command) have become potential question marks for October and the three key relievers in the pen are in need of a bit of a lightened workload.

As for how long Uehara will be unavailable as a big three-game series in Anaheim gets rolling tomorrow, he’s pitched five times in six games, but he wasn’t used Saturday and is off today, and it’s also significant to note how efficient the righthander was in the Cleveland and Seattle series.

Facing 11 hitters and getting 10 outs, Uehara needed only 41 pitches in those five appearances.

A big reason why he needed only 41 pitches was that 34 went for strikes – a silly 83 percent (and to view it another way, only seven balls taken by 11 hitters) – and a Koji Uehara strike isn’t just any strike when he’s got his sink going.

I bet he’ll be available at least twice against the Angels.

Since The Lineout, Adrian Beltre leads the big leagues in batting average (.390 in 100 at-bats), hits (39), extra-base hits (23), home runs (14), and RBI (25).

And one final numbers note.

The next series features Dempster-Weaver, Holland-Wilson, and Darvish-Greinke, each late at night.

But before that, today, is the Rangers’ final day off until the two and possibly three that precede Game One, which lays out right now to be Yu Darvish’s to pitch, and the start of another year of #11things.

The Rangers don’t need to go 14-2 over the final 16 games like they did last year – though that would be one means of ensuring Oakland doesn’t get real annoying the rest of the way – but staying on the methodical (if not dominant) roll that they’ve been on for over a month might allow the club to get some key players some useful rest.

In the meantime, the whole team gets some of that today, for the final time over the scheduled 162, as do we, which at least in my case is probably a good thing as I get set for an otherwise full week of late starts to late-season baseball games that I won’t miss one pitch of, kicking off a stretch of 16 games against nothing but division opponents in preparation for 162+ against the best teams in baseball.

Chill.

It was cool but not really cold, spitting without really raining, the time of year when that’s what we tend to get, and a song came on in the car that I hadn’t heard in probably 10 years, maybe 20.

It reminded me of all those years when mid-September meant the start of school and a new TV season and a new year of Topps football.  Of making plans on Tuesday or Wednesday for where we’d watch Sunday’s Cowboy game.  Homemade chili, and a reintroduction to the concept of layers.

I grew up with baseball Septembers setting the stage for the annual force-thrill of roster expansion while other teams played for playoff spots.  Would Kevin Reimer actually get to 20 homers?  Surely Glen Cook will figure it out next year.  Watch out for Dan Peltier.

Edwin Correa, man.

I can’t even get my head wrapped around how fired up I’d have been in the ’80s or ’90s if Martin Perez had thrown 4.1 hitless innings in long relief one mid-September night, or if Wilmer Font had gotten the call to the big leagues after what he’d done over six weeks of AA relief (18.2 innings, 12 hits, eight walks, 36 strikeouts).

I will have one eye on the Cowboy game today.  I will.  I’ll probably watch “60 Minutes” tonight, too.

But I won’t give a minute’s thought to either one until start time.

That’s different.

For decades, mid-September baseball fit that category for me and for lots of you, while for most others it meant far less than that, prompting the editors to stick the game story wherever there was space for it on page 14, buried behind the season’s first Heisman Watch, a rundown of Friday night’s Class 3A high school football scores, and the weekly Outdoors column, a page before the agate dump.

Sunday was football, from the Countdown shows while it drizzled outside until the wrap-ups and Sports Special.

Not now.  Not for all of us.

This is baseball season.  These are the games that the first 145 have set the stage for.

After the disastrous four pitches that ended the Angels-Royals game last night, Mike Scioscia mumbled to reporters that losing late like that just makes it a heavier page to turn.

Around here, it used to be that anything but the hardest-core baseball fans had put the book back on the shelf weeks ago.

Mid-September Rangers baseball is no longer about Scott Chiamparino or Donald Harris or Ben Kozlowski, or about a crazy-great group reporting to Fall Instructional League, which kicks off today in Surprise.

It’s about Blake Beavan, whom the Rangers drafted in June 2007, and Matt Harrison, whom they traded for a month later, and a huge baseball game pitting the two against each other in a little more than two hours.

It’s huge because the A’s no longer lose baseball games.  And if that makes you uncomfortable – which I’m not yet thought I’ll admit I might be getting there – embrace the uneasiness and think back to when the story line this time of year was whether Jonathan Johnson or Chris Magruder could play at this level.  (Page 22.)

Relax.  This is why we invest all this time.

Both the Rangers and Cowboys tee it up against Seattle this afternoon, and it’s the game that starts first that ranks that way, too.

Welcome to the jungle.

I’m all about the “slam dunk is still worth two points” mentality.  A win’s a win, and a loss is a loss, and all that.

But I’d like to see Texas hammer the Mariners this weekend.  To open up a huge can and punish that team three times.

This isn’t an emotional plea.  I’m not putting the face paint on, not gearing up for a Gatorade bath, not thinking about the fact that the second-best record in the American League belongs to the second-best team in the Rangers’ division, a club who hasn’t been closer in the standings since the season was one week old.

I want to see Texas pound Seattle because Joe Nathan needs to rest.  Because Mike Adams (shoulder) needs to rest.  Because Koji Uehara (three straight nights) needs to rest.  Because Robbie Ross (forearm) is almost ready to pitch but not quite yet.  Because Roy Oswalt (forearm) may not throw another meaningful pitch this year.

And because I’d rather not have to find out whether Alexi Ogando, who has now pitched twice in three nights after only one appearance in the previous nine days due to a sore biceps muscle, will be ready to go again tonight.

With all the gifts Cleveland gave Texas on Thursday, it’s irritating that Nathan was needed on a third straight night.  The Indians, winners of nine games in their last 44, started Zach McAllister, brutal in his last three starts (including one against the Rangers), and fielded a B game lineup.

Derek Holland did his job.  Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Ogando created a messy eighth but escaped unscathed.  This one was on the offense, which had opportunities to blow the game open, particularly in the eighth, when 2-2 became 4-2 but could have been a good bit more as Nathan got loose in the pen.

Nathan – whose velocity was down and whose fastball command was off and who said after the game that he feels fine but “may be going through one of those [dead-arm periods] now” – struggled, prompting a handful of fans at Rangers Ballpark to boo the elite closer.

Sad.

But no worries.  Any fan who booed Joe Nathan will be otherwise occupied for the Seattle series: high school football tonight, college tomorrow, Cowboys Sunday.  They won’t be around Rangers Ballpark this weekend.  (For the rest of you, Chuck Morgan sent this message.)

I’d be very happy if Texas didn’t need Nathan to step on the field himself.

It’s on Yu Darvish, Scott Feldman, and Matt Harrison to help see to it.  And on Scheppers, Michael Kirkman, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, and Perez to take advantage of a big opportunity to contribute, even if most of them won’t be pitching in October.

And on the offense to take care of business against a Mariners rotation that won’t come back around to Felix Hernandez until Seattle is back home to take on the Orioles.

The Mariners have the same record since the All-Star Break (33-24) as Texas, but that’s irrelevant.  Texas is the best team in the American League, and it’s time to exercise a little #CastleDoctrine and do bad things to a club that’s buried in the division and playing things out only to irritate the 18 opponents they have left on the schedule, every one of them a team gunning for 162+.

I usually don’t care a whole lot if a win comes in a pitchers’ duel or an Arena Baseball showcase, if it’s a nailbiter or a blowout.  Just pile up the W’s, however it needs to be done, win series, and I’m good.

But that’s not enough tonight and not tomorrow.  I have an appetite for some baseball destruction, and I’d like to be able to give the Rangers a standing ovation for saving Joe Nathan a bit, in a momentary reversal of roles in a very important stretch of a season in which he’s done his job as well as any Rangers closer ever has.

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