1. OK, let’s get this out of the way.
It’s been a brutally bad week for Josh Hamilton, starting with “Guys, it’s me, it’s Josh – it’s going to be something weird” and then “I still had a pretty good year – just think if I hadn’t taken off June and July . . . we’ll work on that next year” on Tuesday night, followed by a hideous performance on Wednesday afternoon and a conversation in the dugout with the manager that was recorded on TV without sound, the gist of which we could all figure out.
All that took place over a nine-game span, nine games in which Hamilton struck out at least once every time out, 17 times in all over 39 plate appearances, 39 plate appearances that amounted to 39 at-bats as he failed to draw any walks even though a free pass was put on a tee for him almost every time up, and Texas went 2-7 and finds itself in today’s play-in game against the Orioles.
In those nine games we learned what ocular keratitis means, and we saw him overrun ground balls and pop-ups and say things he shouldn’t have, and we didn’t see him homer, and we let ourselves get immersed in a narrative about how obscene the money will be for Josh Hamilton this winter and how many years it will be spread over and how likely (or wise) it will be for Texas to be the one to make that commitment, as some in the media push the question of how strong Hamilton’s commitment is to the business of winning baseball games.
And I care about none of that last part today.
It’s been a brutally bad week for Hamilton, and for his team, but both have a chance to clean the slate and, tonight, make the last week a footnote.
One thing that I fear about tonight is that someone’s going to ask Hamilton if he’s thought about the possibility that this could be the last game he ever plays for the Texas Rangers. If it’s looked lately like he’s gone up there with a plan to hit a six-run homer every trip to the plate, no matter the situation and how many feet off the plate the off-speed pitch is, I’m worried that tonight he might instead take a nine-run home run approach to the plate each time up.
2. Sports-pejorative verbs like “limp” and “wheeze” and “stumble” have crept into the more immediate narrative this past week. Adjectives like “lifeless” and “lost.” Nouns like “malaise.”
Ron Washington said on the Ben & Skin Show this week, when asked whether his players might be gassed, given the grind of two World Series seasons that most of them have played through and how hard Wash has pushed his starting position players this year: “It’s mind over matter at this point. Fatigue isn’t a factor. If you’re concerned about getting tired because of two years in the World Series, you don’t belong here.”
Washington played in 10 Major League seasons. He appeared in 100 games just once, in 1982. It was, by more than 125 plate appearances, his most active season in the big leagues. He turned 30 years old a few weeks after the season began.
In April that year, Washington hit .382.
In May, he hit .286.
In June, he hit .269.
In July, he hit .243.
In August, he hit .236.
In September and October, getting fewer plate appearances than he had in any month since April, he managed to hit .262 (but his .292 slug was the lowest of any month).
Seven Rangers players have appeared in at least 147 games in 2012, five of them at least 156. Ten teams since 1969 have featured that latter number.
That’s 10 teams out of 1,198, which is less than one percent.
One of those 10 teams – one of those 1,198 – had five players appear in 155 games following two World Series seasons. That was the 1975 A’s, who got swept by the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs.
But here’s one sort of uplifting note on this whole limp-to-the-post-season thing: In 2010, the Rangers went 8-9 to end the season, and the offense was anemic.
They won Game One of the ALDS against the Rays.
In 2011, the Rangers were white-hot to finish the season, going 14-2 and clicking in every phase.
They not only lost Game One of the ALDS to the Rays – they got smoked at home by rookie Matt Moore, 9-0.
So given that Game One this post-season amounts to a Best-of-One, maybe the stumble to the tape is a bit of a good omen.
3. The result of the awful finish is that Texas set a Major League record, spending more days in first place (every day between Game 4 and Game 161) without winning a division title than any team since the division era began in 1969.
It’s basically the equivalent of an NBA team taking a lead one minute and 11 seconds into a game, and then holding that lead until squandering it away with under 18 seconds left.
Doesn’t matter as long as Texas takes care of business tonight.
4. Which reminds me: Thank goodness for April.
Without the Rangers’ 17-6 start – if they’d only gone 16-7, which still would have been tied for baseball’s best record – tonight’s game would be in Baltimore.
And if Texas had managed to go just 13-10 in April, a 91-win pace that I think we’d all have been fine with at the time, the club’s next game would be in 2013.
April games count.
5. I’m going to guess Geovany Soto will catch tonight’s game, and not just because Mitch Moreland is scuffling right now and Texas is facing lefthander Joe Saunders.
For one, Yu Darvish has a 2.35 ERA (and a .176/.235/.266 opponents’ slash) in games caught by Soto, compared with a 5.68 ERA (.274/.391/.451 slash) when Mike Napoli is behind the plate.
For another: Soto has faced Saunders eight times. In that admittedly small sample, he has four hits (including a double and a home run) and two walks, good for a .667/.750/1.333 slash.
6. Darvish appeared in the playoffs in five of his six full seasons with Nippon Ham, making 11 starts. The record: 8-2, 1.38, with five complete games, 91 strikeouts and 22 walks in 85 innings, and one home run allowed.
I’d also like to reissue something I wrote after Darvish’s introductory Arlington press conference in January, if that’s OK:
Asked by Eric Nadel when he’s felt the most pressure as a ballplayer – perhaps the World Baseball Classic in 2009 or other international competition, or some other game – and whether he believes it prepared him for the pressure of joining a World Series rotation that’s expected to continue to contend, Darvish responded: “It’s baseball. I just pitch. . . . I really can’t recall any moments when I felt strong pressure.”
I like that.
I really like this, which the talented Drew Sheppard has put together, and you will, too – a video montage of every single one of Darvish’s 221 strike threes in 2012.
7. Baltimore went 69-93 in 2011.
Baltimore went 93-69 in 2012.
It’s the same record Texas has. Yet while the Rangers scored 101 more runs than their opponents this season, the Orioles outscored theirs by seven.
Must mean a bunch of narrow wins for Baltimore, right? The club’s 29-9 record in one-run games is baseball’s best since 1900.
And many of those one-run wins came in extra innings. The Orioles’ streak of 16 straight extra-inning victories is the longest since the Indians won 17 straight in 1949, three years before Ron Washington was born.
Lesson: Open a can on the Orioles early.
8. Former Rangers on the Orioles’ roster: pitchers Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Zach Phillips, and Pedro Strop; catcher Taylor Teagarden; corner slugger Chris Davis (whose six-game homer streak was snapped on the season’s final day); infielder Omar Quintanilla; and outfielder Endy Chavez.
And manager Buck Showalter, pitching coach Rick Adair, hitting coach Jim Presley (who finished his playing career with AAA Oklahoma City), bench coach John Russell, first base coach Wayne Kirby, and third base coach DeMarlo Hale.
(Speaking of Chavez, you’re not going to like this note published last night by Fox Sports columnist Jon Paul Morosi, so I’m going to attempt to minimize it by putting this paragraph in parentheses: “Most agonizing of all, Chavez revealed in a Wednesday interview with FOXSports.com that the Rangers’ coaching staff considered inserting him into right field for the fateful bottom of the ninth in Game 6 of last year’s World Series. Chavez flied out as a pinch-hitter for reliever Mike Adams in the top of the inning and was under the impression he would replace Nelson Cruz in right field.”)
9. Some once thought Saunders would have been an ex-Ranger by now. When Jon Daniels began shopping Mark Teixeira in the summer of 2007, the Angels reportedly offered the 26-year-old lefthander, along with first baseman Casey Kotchman, for the Rangers’ young star. There were stories that the Rangers insisted on another player from a group including Ervin Santana, Howie Kendrick, Nick Adenhart, and Brandon Wood, which Los Angeles refused, and ultimately the offer made by the Diamondbacks (apparently including Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and either Carlos Quentin or Conor Jackson) was thought to be the runner-up to the deal Texas made with the Braves.
Arizona ended up trading Gonzalez and Anderson in a multi-player deal with Oakland to get Dan Haren later that year.
Three years after that, the Angels traded Saunders to the Diamondbacks in package to get Haren.
But before that, in 2008, when the Braves were going nowhere a second straight season with Teixeira, they traded him to the Angels, where he’d be teammates with Saunders and Kotchman, and Santana and Kendrick and Adenhart and Wood, and when Teixeira left that winter for the Yankees, Los Angeles was compensated with New York’s first-round pick in 2009, 25th overall, which the Angels used on New Jersey high school outfielder Mike Trout, who was taken 11 slots after Texas drafted high school lefthander Matt Purke and 20 slots after Baltimore took high school righthander Matthew Hobgood.
10. Speaking of Trout, the team that bought Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson – expecting an increase at the gate to help justify the investment – did win three more games than in 2011, but finished one place lower in the division and actually saw its attendance drop by 100,000 in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are in the playoffs, while the team with “too many good players” makes tee times.
11. Saunders has a career 3-7, 6.48 record in 11 starts against Texas, including an 0-6, 9.38 mark (.318/.392/.682 slash) in Rangers Ballpark.
And the Rangers are the American League’s second most productive offense against left-handed pitchers.
I’m sort of surprised that Showalter, both tactically and as part of an unremitting effort to prove that he’s smarter about baseball than anyone else is about anything, isn’t starting wunderkind righthander Dylan Bundy (with Saunders ready to long-relieve), hoping for some Matt Moore magic against a team that tends to struggle against pitchers it hasn’t seen and avoiding feeding Texas a lefty by choice.
12. Which brings me to Ian Kinsler.
He’s a .417/.464/1.000 hitter in 28 plate appearances (including four home runs, two doubles, three walks, and one strikeout) against Saunders.
He loves facing pitchers in Orioles uniforms (.338/.410/.529 in 241 lifetime plate appearances).
He’s a career .303/.413/.479 hitter in the post-season.
He’s back home, where he’s a lot better than he is on the road.
And if I had to guess, I’d peg Kinsler as the Rangers player most likely to be motivated by the embarrassment of the way the regular season ended, for him and for the team.
They don’t hand out MVP awards for the Wild Card Game, but in this Best-of-One I’m betting on Kinsler to bust out and do something big, making us forget about what happened in the week leading up to it and sending Joe Saunders and his teammates packing while inviting Mark Teixeira and his teammates to come on down and take their place.