April 2013

Late.

Sorry this is late today.  The day job being what it is, today I was going to have to write over lunch, or not at all.

If I’d stayed up last night for the end of the Angels-A’s series opener, I’d probably just be waking up.  Early on in that game, I tweeted: “I suppose I should be happy LAA is up on OAK early.  Difficult for me.”

The thing about a skirmish between those two clubs is, on a day when the Rangers are idle, one of them is going to gain ground.

Might as well put ’em both through 19 innings in the process.  Oakland 10, Los Angeles 8 ended, after about 300 pitches each side, at 1:41 a.m.

1:41 a.m. Pacific.

On what was Josh Hamilton Appreciation Night in Oakland, an apparently unofficial but widely recognized exercise in super-gauche as A’s fans loudly thanked the Angels’ new right fielder all night for booting that fly ball in Oakland last October 3, he went 0 for 8.

Not only that, but he struck out three times, a bit more frequently than his nearly-every-third-at-bat rate for the season.

Not only that, but in the five at-bats that didn’t require at least three pitches to end, three of them lasted one pitch, and another lasted two pitches.

It had been going so well for Los Angeles, too.  Albert Pujols had busted out of a deep slump with two home runs.  The club was up, 7-2, needing to record only six outs with that five-run cushion to close the thing down.

The Angels lost.

Not just the game, but Peter Bourjos, who lands today on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring suffered in an inning (the 11th) that should have never been played.  Third baseman Luis Jimenez left the game with a bruised shin and could miss at least a game.  Same holds true for relievers Jerome Williams (73 pitches last night) and possibly Michael Kohn (31), Barry Enright (28), Ernesto Frieri (27), and Michael Roth (“only” 23 but brutalized therein).

As Orange County Register writer Jeff Fletcher noted, not even midway into the extra frames: “This may be the Angels’ toughest loss of the year . . . even if they win.”

They didn’t.

We talked yesterday about how Texas has just lost consecutive games for the first time this year.

The Angels have managed to stop the loss-bleeding after one defeat just one time all season (when they beat Texas in 11 innings a week ago today).  They have losing streaks of three games, and five, and two, and two, and now three, going into tonight’s Game Two in Oakland.

After Los Angeles finishes with the A’s, they head home for four with Baltimore, while Oakland has a day off before traveling to New York for three with the Yankees to kick off a 10-game road trip.

Once the Angels are done with the Orioles, they have a day off of their own before jumping to Houston for three.

Is it gauche to wonder, if the A’s and O’s series don’t go well, whether there might be a high-level meeting at 2000 E. Gene Autry Way in Anaheim on that Monday before the team leaves town?

Or to tweet, as Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Shaikin did today: “Hamilton can’t hit, Pujols can’t run, [Jered] Weaver can’t pitch – and [Vernon] Wells is batting third for [the] Yankees.  Today ends [the] cruelest month for [the] Angels”?

Or to write a whole report, abbreviated as it might be, that’s about the fourth-place team in the division rather than the team sitting at the top?

Probably is, so let me leave you with this:

Yu Darvish, as a big leaguer, has made 17 starts immediately following a Rangers loss.

He’s 11-3, 3.01 in those games.

Including 4-0, 1.01 this season.

Not that you can find a whole lot of troublesome splits for that guy.

I’m still keeping an eye on tonight’s game in Oakland, and on every A’s game and Angels game all season long.  They all matter.

The A’s are two games out, the Angels seven back.

On this date a year ago, the A’s were 6.5 games behind Texas, the Angels nine games back.  And we know how that ended up.

They all matter.

Stop the bleeding tonight, Yu.

Even if, for Texas, relatively speaking, it’s basically a paper cut.

A day off.

It’s an off-day for the Rangers – the first one in Texas since the day before the home opener against the Angels – and the record stands at 16-9, which is the second-best mark in baseball, while the division lead is 2.5 games, equaling the biggest edge of any team.

It feels like it comes at a very good time, as the Rangers have their first losing streak of the year, a two-game skid marked by lethargic offense and lousy baserunning.  Yesterday’s loss resulted in a split in Minnesota – the culmination of 14 games on the road out of 17 – giving Texas five series wins on the season, zero series losses, and three series splits.

Compare those Angels, who had their own two-game losing streak in their season-opening set in Cincinnati, extended to three games once they fell to Texas when the home schedule kicked off in Arlington.  Los Angeles already has losing streaks this year of five, three, and two, two, and two, the last one of which it takes into Oakland tonight while the Rangers hang out with family and recharge.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, whose loyalties lie with the Mariners, refused to make too much of Seattle taking three of four from the Angels this weekend but did offer this comment: “If there is one takeaway from this Angels series, it’s that the Mariners are extremely lucky they got outbid for Josh Hamilton.”

Setting aside the implications of the 4.8 years and $110 million remaining on the contract the Angels gave Hamilton, whose body carries more mileage on it than its mathematical 31 years, or the 8.8 years and $225 million (not counting incentives) left on the deal they made with Albert Pujols, whose age is almost certainly greater than its listed 33, just look at the present.

Pujols is on a 3-for-33 skid (all singles) that has his season slash line at .244/.343/.367.

Hamilton’s season-long skid: .219/.267/.323, and a strikeout nearly every third time up.

It was a year ago yesterday that Los Angeles released Bobby Abreu and recalled Mike Trout, a move that should have been made earlier.

At this point on the schedule last year, the Angels were 9-15.

This year, with Trout from the start and with the Hamilton coup and with all those bullpen additions?

The Angels are 9-15.

Three teams have worse records, and two of them are Houston and Miami.

It was 61 years ago today that Ron Washington was born.

There’s been a good amount of Twitter-angst about Wash’s in-game management this season, especially lately, and that’s probably part (1) expectations of a fan base whose team has been close to the mountaintop twice and is off to the kind of start that has lots of us thinking about missed opportunities, part (2) legitimate gripe, and part (3) that’s-how-being-a-baseball-fan-go.

The drama is part of the deal.  My Twitter timeline is full of Tim Tebow this morning, and you can give me the torment of bullpen management and over-bunting and leaving right-handed bats on the bench over that nonsense all day long.

Especially with the Rangers off, however, it’s a lock that the radio talk will be about 90 percent Cowboys’ draft today, with Tebow and changes in the Stars front office and the Rangers splitting the rest, to which I have two things to say:

1. I’m glad that Ben & Skin’s non-compete expires tonight.  We need them back.

2. If you need a fascinating distraction and have six minutes, I’d encourage you to watch this video.  It has nothing to do with baseball.  Whether you agree with the message or not, it ought to make you think.

I’m usually not a fan of the Ranger off-day, but maybe we could all use a little bit of a recharge, not the least of whom are the players and maybe even the manager and his coaching staff.  Nobody likes a losing streak, of any size, but today I’m okay with a Happy Birthday tip of the cap to Wash, an appreciation for 16-9 in spite of a bunch of key injuries and other frustrating talking points that the game always promises, and at least one eye tonight on the Angels and A’s entering the cage together while our team grabs a little rejuvenation on their own couches.

Outta sight.

A friend asked me a few years ago which baseball experience I’d prefer: sitting through an intense, dramatic, unforgettable game at the ballpark that ends up in a loss; watching an intense, dramatic, unforgettable game that ends up in a loss from my couch; or not seeing a second of a mundane Rangers win and finding out the final score afterwards.

Easiest question ever.

I saw none of Texas 4, Minnesota 3 last night, and I’m very happy.

It was the sixth Rangers victory in seven Justin Grimm (1.59 ERA) and Nick Tepesch (2.53) starts.  It was the first time in 23 Major League seasons (and only time in Rangers history) for a club to have rookie pitchers fire back-to-back starts of at least 6.2 innings, no more than one run, and zero walks.

I have no idea whether Grimm had the same command of his curve as he did Sunday against Seattle, and that’s OK with me.  I hear Texas was brutal on the basepaths, a rare occurrence that I’m not worried about going forward.  I didn’t see Mitch Moreland’s two doubles – both off a lefthander – but I’m encouraged.

I didn’t see Adrian Beltre go yard to straightaway center, but I’m sure it was awesome.  I don’t know whether Nelson Cruz’s double and single were well struck, but the way he’s been going lately, I have a pretty good idea.

I see that Tanner Scheppers threw a clean eighth, and my reaction was, “Of course he did.”  I notice that Joe Ortiz and Joe Nathan needed every bit of the four-run cushion they inherited, and that’s OK.  There will be nights when the relievers you entrust leads to aren’t at their best, and when those nights end up with a “W,” you happily move on.

Think back to early March.

Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli chose someone else.

Colby Lewis is hurt, but Martin Perez is having a standout camp.

Perez gets hurt, and Kyle McClellan is sidelined, too, but you can use get by using Tepesch or Randy Wells sparingly in the season’s first month with all the off-days.

Your Opening Day starter lands on the disabled list after two ugly starts, and is operated on.

After finishing spring training strong, Moreland and David Murphy get off to very slow starts.

Beltre and Elvis Andrus aren’t very productive over the first month, though lots of that involves squaring up into some bad luck.

You taking that?

The Rangers haven’t lost consecutive games.  No other team can say that.

They haven’t lost a series yet.  The series record is 5-0-2.

With a win either today or tomorrow in Minnesota, the first number trips to 6.  At worst, the final number becomes 3.  That zero in the middle is safe.

I’ll probably catch a good bit of this afternoon’s game, but if I don’t get the chance, just let me know how it goes.

The Hashtag Glossary.

I’ve finally finished putting together the hashtag glossary that I’d been promising for about eight months.  Thanks to reader Jeff Farr for combing through several years of Newberg Report tweets last summer to help me pull all this together.

I’ll try to update this as needed, and might even delete an entry or two down the road if they become irrelevant.  Example: “Glaus vs. Grilli” was a Newberg Report meme as far back as May 2001, before hashtags and before memes, but the way Jason Grilli has inexplicably redefined his career, it just doesn’t have a useful context any more.

If you think I’ve missed any key hashtags that need to be defined, let me know – but for now, here we go.

Newberg Report Hashtag Glossary

11things, 10things, etc.: The number of subjects covered in a Newberg Report playoff game recap equals the number of victories left to win a ring.  Here’s an example: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2451.  The day I send out a report that starts out “No things” might be my Sopranos fade-to-black.

108: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2607

162+: Means several things in a Newberg Report context, but the hashtag usage typically refers to playoff baseball.

4tools: I love Mike Trout, but memo to adoring national press: He can’t throw.

AliciaKeys: Yunel Escobar.

Batpath: The good kind of Ian Kinsler swing.  “Batpath” is the Jacob to “IKPU’s” Man in Black.  I want to add here, for the record, that I love Ian Kinsler’s game.

Behoove: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2105

Bigbag: Short for “great big bag of nothing.”  Hasn’t surfaced all that often since Rich Harden’s stint in Texas came to a merciful end.

Braveheart: http://tinyurl.com/BraveheartNR

Bringit: I think I started using it during the December 2011 Winter Meetings: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2487

Can: Of whoop-ass, opened. Big offense.

CastleDoctrine: Protect your home turf.  Deadly force permitted.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine

CatBurglar: After a highlight Craig Gentry catch.

Cerberus: Originated with the Feliz-Adams-Uehara end game.

COFFEY: Twitter bat signal that a TROT COFFEY rumor dump was just sent by email to the subscriber list.

Courtsense: Baseball IQ.

CrUZR: The sabermetric and scouting camps don’t exactly see Nelson Cruz’s defensive effectiveness the same way.  Well, maybe they do now.

DipotoSpeak: Angels GM Jerry Dipoto is the champion of publicly saying exactly what we shouldn’t believe.

F: Sometimes it’s short for “favorite.”  Usually it’s short for something else.

Favorite: Adrian (Perez) Beltre.

Flagsflyforever: No matter what Strop, Davis, Hunter, Smoak, Beavan, Erlin, Wieland, and others become, no regrets.

Flakjacket: Quickly put on after I’ve dared to say something critical of David Murphy.

Frosty: Juan Rivera (compare “defrosted”: The Yankees release Juan Rivera).

Gauche: Apparently you’re not supposed to care if your archrival loses games early in the season. http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2575

G/F: Groundball/flyball rate.

Gflex: Short-lived, stupid nickname for Adrian Beltre, who’s prone to take a knee on his swing follow-through from time to time; short for “genuflection.”

Gloops: Japanese social application provider; term used interchangeably with “whoops,” “crap,” or “Oh, F.”

GSDP:  Hasn’t been invoked since Jason Terry left the Mavericks.  Great shooter, dumb player.  Opposite of #courtsense, in a way.  Translates to other sports.

Hacktasticness: Restless bat syndrome; uncontrollable (and usually exploited) urge to swing at anything.  In marked decline since the emigration from Texas of the Angels’ new right fielder.

Hardcount: Reference to effort to hold one’s stance despite Twitter attempt to draw offsides.

HeCanDoThat: Tribute to Bob Ortegel’s catchphrase after a great player makes a great play.

HoldMe: Me, after a great player makes a great play.

HTRJ: Hit the Road, Jack – ode to a Jered Weaver exit from the game.

IKPU: Ian Kinsler pop-up.  Compare “batpath.”

Itisitis: Elvis Andrus’s interview crutch (also, “theyaretheyare,” “itdiditdid,” “wewillwewill,” etc.).  Heard less frequently these days.  Doesn’t stop me.

KnockKnock: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2689

LOL series: e.g., PorcelLOL, AngeLOLs buLOLpen, LOLiLOLOLibridge, Trout’s arLOLm.

Mancrush: Typically refers to Alberto Callaspo, though I’m not exactly sure why – my true baseball mancrush is on Joe Maddon.

MayaRudolph: Raul Ibanez.

Mayolate: O.J. Mayo’s routine late-in-the-game braincramps.  Usually good for a handful of unfollows.

MedianFace: Derek Lowe’s face is the prototype big league pitcher face.

Mess: Hitter completely out of rhythm; easy mark.

MihiCuraFuturi: “The care of the future is mine.”  http://www.newbergreport.com/estore/ebook.asp?id=1

NapoliEverAfter: I’m pretty sure you saw it here first, back in 2011.

OhShit: Parabolically captured in-game analysis provided by Adrian (Perez) Beltre.

OnTheList: Role players whom I’ve probably liked more than I should have over the years.  List has included, at one time or another, Ben Zobrist, Gerardo Parra, Gregor Blanco, Matt Joyce, Alberto Callaspo, Michael Wuertz, Mike Aviles, Marco Scutaro, Josh Willingham, Brennan Boesch, Sean Rodriguez, Danny Valencia, Jack Hannahan, Kelvin Herrera.

OpenACan: Request that the offense go ahead and blow up the opposing pitcher.

PerhapsTheDreamIsDreamingUs: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=1387

Pixillate: Callback to the scene in “No Way Out” where the key picture starts to come into view.

Pizza: Seven runs, and Papa John’s is half-price the next day.

PLUM: Play unmade (not an error in the books).

PriceCheck: Keeping tabs on the Rays’ season in anticipation that they might put David Price on the trade market.  Hashtag expected to have a shelf life of less than one year.

Pro: Jurickson Profar.

RallyMinka: If you were around in 2010, you know.  If you weren’t, never mind.

Schadenfreude: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/schadenfreude (generally reserved in this context for bad things that happen to the Los Angeles Angels).

SciosciaUnrest: One particular exercise in schadenfreude.  Compare SciosciaDarwinism, SciosciaMisfit, SciosciaDistortion.

Scwatching: Scoreboard watching (used almost exclusively when the Angels or A’s give up runs).

ScrewTheSaveRule (also ScrewTheWinRule): Get the right pitcher in the game, or out of it.

SDI: Shutdown inning; really should be limited to putting up a zero in the half-inning after the Rangers take a lead.

Secondfavorite: Elvis Augusto Andrus.

SlamDunkTwoPoints (also SD2P): A loss is just a loss, even if it’s a blowout.  They all count the same.

Sleeps: Days until.

SlowClap: A little more subtle than a standing ovation, but often with the same (quiet) intensity.

SorryAboutBaseball: Usually offered to a pitcher whose effort went to waste because of bad defense or a sputtering offense.

Special: Label that, when put on a player by Rangers scouting legend Don Welke, says all you need to hear (also: “not normal”).

Sports: Sometimes a tweet by itself, usually after a massive win (or maybe a crushing loss).  Your infield turns a ridiculous, mind-blowing double play to help your closer get out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the ninth against your archrival, sealing a one-run win and extending your division lead to a game and a half with a week to go:  “Sports.”  (Sometimes shows up as “Baseball.”)

Stwatching: Standings watching (shorthand for when the Angels or A’s lose).

SwingAwayElvis: Seriously, stop bunting.

TheLineout: Reference to the August 20, 2012 Adrian Beltre lineout to shortstop that I thought signaled an imminent hot streak; Beltre hit .380/.419/.813 over his remaining 160 plate appearances of the season.

TheMattHarrisonTrade: Somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to the trade that sent Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to Atlanta in July 2007 for Elvis Andrus, Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Beau Jones.  Offered during or after a great Harrison effort.

TMGP: https://twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/184417941381582849

Treading: When Texas sits in first place and loses, but the Angels or A’s lose as well, so be it.  It hurts the hunter more than the hunted.

TROT COFFEY: Acronym for “Trade Rumor Offerings To Chew On For Fun, Even Yuks.”  Mailing list-only update on various trade and free agent rumblings unearthed, if not hatched, by the media or player agents.  These tend to dominate the Newberg Report  output in November, December, and July, but they show up at some level all 12 months.

Umpshow: A Keith Law creation, I believe; refers to an umpire making himself the center of the game, in a Joey Crawford sorta way.

WTDG: Win the damn game.

WTDS: Win the damn series.

YCPB: You can’t predict ball.

YuYorke: http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2898

$51,703,411: Yu.

One hero.

There was the 13-batter, five-hit, five-walk, nine-run top of the fourth, which featured three Angels pitchers who were in the minor leagues 12 days ago (two in AA) throwing 51 pitches, only 25 of which were strikes, one of which was a broken-bat home run, a glorious 28 minutes of baseball that turned 0-0 into 9-0 and a rubber match into SchadenfreudeFest.

But for me, the poster from Texas 11, Los Angeles 3 is what happened a very long second after this:

darvish_trout

The tagline to the movie “61” was: “Why did America have room in its heart for only one hero?”

It could have been the caption as Darvish dropped 61 on a befuddled Mike Trout in the bottom of the sixth.

(Hat tip to Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley for the awesome .gif.)

Or maybe the movie poster for last night’s 61 could have been:

Yu.

Yu.

Gotta be kidding me.

Gotta be kidding me.

[AP/Jae C. Hong]

If you like stories written by good writers that are about Yu Darvish and invoke the name of Pedro Martinez, read this.

In Darvish’s 19 starts since July 1, he’s punched out 164 in 128.1 innings (11.5 per nine innings), scattering 90 hits and 48 unintentional walks (.196/.281/.301) while coaxing 1.4 as many groundouts as flyouts, and morphing from an awesome investment into an undeniable ace.

The offensive outburst headlined the outcome for the national highlight shows, allowed Darvish to take a third of the night off, and gave me time to nearly finish the hashtag glossary (which I should have done by tonight).

But it was only a subplot for me, as last night was really about a number one starter, a 26-year-old under contract for this year of can’t-miss-baseball and four more, but possibly only three more, but it better be more like eight more, and about what he and his teammates did last night to another very good baseball team.

Mostly him.

Win the damn series.

It was a riveting baseball game between archrivals, marked by a play that a Little Leaguer has to make, one that played a much bigger role in the ultimate outcome than an uncharacteristically questionable decision by Adrian Beltre or another one that maybe only Omar Vizquel would have pulled off (though Jurickson, we have high expectations for you).

There was great outfield defense factoring in more than once, and a beleaguered, overworked bullpen beating a better bullpen that had bullets left in the chamber.

There was one offense that went 3 for 6 with runners in scoring position, another that went 1 for 13, with the one hit a missile from Nelson Cruz, whose early-season focus I’m happy to have apparently been very wrong about.

Another quality start in Tampa Bay for its ace, who nonetheless fell to 0-2, 5.52 and whose team is now 0-5 the five times he’s gotten the ball (after going 21-10 in his starts last year), and three games and four teams out of a Wild Card spot, and the #pricecheck gains a little added momentum.

The Rays’ 9-11 record, however, is still half a game better than the Angels’ 8-11 mark, as is Cleveland’s.  None of that really matters with a week to go in April, but whatever happens tonight does.

There’s a series to be won in Anaheim, with the Rangers sending their best starter out against a pitcher who, at this time last year, was pitching for the University of South Carolina, a month and a half before going to the Angels in the 9th round and putting together an eight-week run in the short-season Pioneer League that landed him the number 30 off-season ranking in the league’s number 30 farm system, according to Baseball America.

Texas isn’t going to have Jeff Baker available to rest David Murphy or Mitch Moreland against the left-handed Michael Roth tonight, and the Rangers tend to look confused against command lefties they’ve never seen, but it’s Yu Darvish night, and if the need arises, you’d have to assume the manager is willing to use Tanner Scheppers in this one, even if he wasn’t last night.

Would he give Leury Garcia, better against lefties than righties over the last year, the left field nod tonight?  Doubtful.  You can’t predict ball, but you can usually predict Wash’s lineups.

Today, Vizquel celebrates his first birthday as anything other than a professional baseball player in 30 years.  Maybe he’s in Salt Lake with the Bees.  Maybe he’s in Burlington with the other Bees.  I had no idea until just now that the Angels have two minor league teams called the Bees.

Or maybe the Angels’ new roving minor league infield instructor will be in Anaheim tonight, watching an Angels pitcher he’s never seen pitch tee it up with Darvish, against whom he went 0 for 5 in his final big league season and Darvish’s first, culminating with a game that Vizquel might remember since it was his uncharacteristic error in the seventh inning that resulted in the decisive run in a 3-2 Texas win over Toronto, minutes after which the 45-year-old struck out swinging in an eight-pitch battle with the 26-year-old righthander, whose own birthday was the day before.

Sometimes Adrian Beltre makes mental mistakes that don’t end up hurting, and Omar Vizquel makes physical errors that do.  Sometimes a strikeout puts a man on first base when a big league first baseman can’t handle a big league catcher’s imperfect throw, and that man ends up scoring after two outs, along with another teammate, and two hours later those two runs help push a game between enemies to extra innings.

Sometimes a DH who signed for $240 million and a right fielder who signed for $125 million fail to come through with the bases loaded against a 5’7” reliever who signed for $3,000, making a 10-inning game an 11-inning contest.

The result notwithstanding, Los Angeles 5, Texas 4 was good stuff.  And there’s only 12 hours until the next chapter in this head-to-head, the sixth of 19 matchups between the teams but the last one until three games that end the month of July, when the Rangers and Angels will both be in competition for playoff life, with both teams’ General Managers working 20-hour days looking for that cookie, who for one might be named Price, but that’s getting way too far ahead of things.

It’s Darvish-Roth tonight.

Win the damn series.

A long week.

A week ago this time, we were coming off a late night in which Justin Grimm had been summoned from the farm to tee it up against Felix Hernandez, and the result was a Rangers win.  The weekend was approaching, starting with Yu Darvish getting the Game Two assignment in Seattle.  All good.

A week ago, to most of us, the Boston Marathon was, as connotations go, an iconic national tradition, and West, Texas was kolaches and Scott Podsednik.

That was a very long week ago.

Right now, it doesn’t feel like sports has the power to heal, at least not yet (the awesome Bruins-Sabres National Anthem moment excepted), and I’m not even sure its distraction function is really working, either.

Normally, I’d be all worked up about stories that would even raise the notion of an Albert Pujols-Tony LaRussa reunion, or Torii Hunter’s Thursday tweet (“Just landed in my old stumping [sic] grounds of Anaheim.  Had a great five years here but I’m a Tiger now and we are here to eat”).  I’d want to talk about Oakland’s 6-4 record against teams that aren’t the Astros, or today’s closing of the Julio Borbon waiver claim window, or the latest development in the #pricecheck, as Tampa Bay lost its ace’s start in extra innings last night, dropping the club further into last place in the East.

But five Rangers games since this time last Friday haven’t done much to hold my attention.  Texas lost the Darvish start, split the series in Seattle, and then split a truncated set in Chicago against the Cubs.  Both series were played in football weather, sometimes too late at night or too early in the day for most of us to watch, and our minds were elsewhere anyway.

Splitting road series isn’t the worst thing.  To simplify, if you take care of business at home and average two wins out of three (54-27), and go .500 on the road (40 or 41 wins), you’re going to win 94 or 95 games, which will work.  The last three seasons, Texas has averaged a 51-30 home record and a 42-39 mark on the road.

Dropping two of four in Seattle could be worse, even if it was reasonable to expect better after beating King Felix.  A Cubs series that lots of people had been looking forward to faded at the end, though only partly because of baseball.

Today is looking like it’s going to be another of those days we and our kids may never forget, and I’m ready for a long stretch of the other kind of days.

In the meantime, if you’re planning to make it out to Rangers Ballpark tonight, or tomorrow, or Sunday, read this.  Our help is needed.

As far as tonight’s game is concerned, here’s something of note: It’s Darvish’s turn again, and this time it’s against Seattle lefthander Joe Saunders.

Not that that’s going to bring back good feelings, if you remember what happened the last time Darvish and Saunders faced off.

I still harbor bad feelings about that ballgame, and probably always will.

And I’m OK with that.  It’s just sports.

I don’t know.  Maybe what I’m saying is I sorta miss the grip of sports tension, even when things go wrong.  The opportunity for the bounceback, for a little showing of character and resilience, is always right around the corner, and at the moment that’s something I’m drawn to, in this awful week, as my mind is on much more important things.

April fuel.

[I had this report kicking around in my head yesterday, but after the awful news out of Boston, I decided it wasn’t time to write about baseball.  A few friends suggested otherwise, and I polled you guys on Twitter last night to see what you thought.  The response was overwhelming in favor of wanting a distraction.  A trace of normalcy.  Part of me (most of me) didn’t want to write, but I did.  And it actually helped me a little bit.

There’s no mention in what follows about Boston.  In fact, I took out a paragraph near the top and another near the end that included the word “marathon,” which I’d used in a totally innocuous, sportsy way before realizing that it’s not a very innocuous, sportsy word any more, at least for now.

Hug the kids, do it again tonight, and help someone today. 

If you’d rather not read about baseball this morning, stop here.]

 

It’s a fairly easily defined time of the year on the basketball and hockey and golf and even football schedules, but as far as baseball is concerned, a little over two weeks in, the season has moved itself out to about the eight-yard line, and yet we can’t help but grasp for conclusions.

At this point in the schedule in 2011, only three of the eight eventual playoff teams were in line to earn post-season spots.  In 2012, five of the 10 clubs who would have played past 162 had the season ended at this point actually made it that far.

That’s not to say that win-loss records are meaningless at this point, of course.  Had Texas managed to win one more of those 69 regular-season games it lost in 2012 and Oakland lost one more, there is no one-and-done game for the Rangers against Baltimore on October 5th, and maybe everything’s different.

The Angels went 4-9 through their first 13 last year.  From that point forward, they were one of baseball’s best teams at 85-64, but still fell four games short of extra baseball.

They all count.

The Angels are 4-9 now (same as last year, when Mike Trout was still in AAA), and not only is that the worst mark in the American League but it’s also a reflection of the league’s worst run differential (-25) – with the loss of Jered Weaver costing only one start so far – and if you choose to spend more energy right now on whether the A’s win or lose their games, be my guest, but while I don’t blame you for focusing on the division champs and their hot start, it’s still Los Angeles whose losses and whose mess feed my schadenfreude (at a time when one of the club’s two mid-April victories over Houston out of four was being characterized as a potentially galvanizing moment), and it’s not even close.

I’ll worry about Oakland once school’s out.  Or maybe once school is back in.

Even as injuries to key players mount around the league (Weaver, Zack Greinke, Jose Reyes, Johnny Cueto, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harrison), and as team-only and players-only meetings make headlines, and as stories start to proliferate about managers and executives whose seat temperatures could be getting uncomfortably warm, it’s too early for teams to start making impact trades – particularly since nobody’s going to start chucking 2013 out the window yet.

Of course, I say that, and then remember that San Diego tossed Ernesto Frieri to the Angels last year on May 3 – which in 2012 was only four weeks into the season.

The point is that trade season is most likely a good ways down the road, but in spite of that Twitter never rests, and even during a month that you might rank along with September as the least likely to generate significant rumors with any amount of momentum, they are out there – with the usual caveats.

First, Andy Martino (New York Daily News) suggests the Mets don’t know if the Marlins would trade Giancarlo Stanton but “continue to monitor the situation,” and of course that’s a sentence that could easily be written about 28 other teams as well.  Martino adds that one Mets official would include catcher Travis d’Arnaud and righthander Zack Wheeler in a Stanton deal “in a heartbeat” but concedes that the official willing to share that opinion “is not in [Mets GM Sandy] Alderson’s inner circle of decision-makers,” at which point you ask yourself what we’ve learned today, even when Martino quotes another “Mets person” as hinting “[t]here is heat there” between New York and Miami before he writes that the “Mets aren’t getting Stanton anytime soon.”

Then comes a tweet of reason over the weekend from Peter Gammons, who shares that “[t]eam after team – from Boston to Mets to Rangers and on and on – have checked in with Miami on Stanton, with [a] ‘not interested’ response” from the Marlins.  And Buster Olney chimed in on the same day, noting that “[t]he Rangers are doing early reconnaissance and prep work on what it would take to land Giancarlo Stanton down the road.”

“Reconnaissance” is a ten-dollar word, but again, the real news would be if there were a Major League franchise not exploring the idea of Stanton internally.

It’s also not news that Stanton (shoulder) hadn’t played since April 10, and that Jurickson Profar (left side) hadn’t played since April 10, either, but it did generate plenty of tweets, most of which we can safely assume were typed with tongue in cheek.

But Jim Bowden means business when he tweets, and among his prolific contributions the last few days was that the Marlins “will listen to offers, but according to sources are not interested in a Profar-for-Stanton deal,” a note that will only embolden Bowden to continue to tweet and write and talk about his idea that Profar for St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras makes too much sense for both teams, considering their strengths and holes, not to think about and talk about in the Baseball Operations suite and lose sleep over, which I suppose qualifies as “reconnaisance.”

Make what you want of the fact that Profar (who did return to action on Sunday but sat out again on Monday) has played shortstop seven times and second base only once at Round Rock (last year at Frisco: 95 games at short, 25 at second), and what logic might lead you to conclude as a result.  Ask yourself whether Leonys Martin might be an important piece of any talks between the Rangers and Marlins, even though Miami’s top two position player prospects, Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, are both center fielders.  (And ignore it if Yelich plays some left field when he finally gets his 2013 season underway – he’s sidelined with plantar fasciitis.  Marisnick, incidentally, is shut down as well, rehabbing a hand fracture.)

Second baseman Rougned Odor’s eye-opening start to the Myrtle Beach season is huge, as far as any mid-season trade talks are concerned – whether it means he’s moving himself onto a second tier for the other club or is in the process of making Texas more open to including someone else (who may not hit as much) on such a list.  Frisco righthander Neil Ramirez continuing to reestablish himself would be a really good development.  Mike Olt will get right, soon enough.  (Right?)

But as far as any fit with the Marlins on Stanton is concerned, I keep coming back to a shortstop being involved, and Martin, and probably Luke Jackson.  And more.

Jason Martinez, in a Bleacher Report piece that ran yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, spitballs Stanton for Profar, Olt, center fielder Lewis Brinson (who would have to be a player to be named until June 12), and first baseman Ronald Guzman (who is sidelined after March knee surgery).

Too much.

When prospect-laden Hickory visits Greensboro next week, I’d like to think Marlins officials might charge some of their own folks with an added assignment for those few days.  There’s a lot more than Brinson on that club worth targeting.

They can look at catcher Jorge Alfaro but they can’t touch.  At least not if Profar is in the deal.

Then again, Ken Rosenthal, asked simply on Twitter what the chances are that Texas makes some sort of “blockbuster move” this season, responded: “Don’t see it.”

I do.

And I don’t even know if I’d consider a trade for Houston righthander Bud Norris in that category, at least at this point, though if this keeps up he’s going to command a haul, and may be one of the only impact commodities that wouldn’t include a demand for a top-tier middle infield prospect.

Though if the Phillies decided in July to trade Cliff Lee, that would qualify, and Bowden predicts it will make Lee an Angel – or a Ranger again.

Speaking of the Phillies and trades, Michael Young has a very good surface line (.356/.420/.511).  So do Josh Lindblom (one run on six hits and two walks in 12 Round Rock innings, 11 strikeouts), Lisalverto Bonilla (one run on three hits and one walk in 5.2 Round Rock innings, seven strikeouts), and Lance Berkman (.389/.500/.611).  Yes, it’s early.

And while Mike Adams and Koji Uehara have, not unexpectedly, been fantastic, the Texas bullpen has been just fine – so far – and that $9 million-plus that Adams and Uehara will earn this year, if paid by the Rangers rather than the Phillies and Red Sox, might have made it more difficult for Texas to budget its upcoming July business.

As for a story that’s not premature to focus on, Olney tweets that the Orioles “have interest in the Rangers’ Julio Borbon, but have found the asking price to be high,” the takeaway from which is (1) of course Baltimore is considering a Texas player, (2) thumbs-up to the Rangers for letting the defined window to trade Borbon play out, and (3) when Buster Olney tweets about a player who fits in a certain category in which Borbon fits, it’s different from Jon Heyman tweeting about a player in that particular category.

The Borbon note that interested me the most was T.R. Sullivan’s over the weekend that the Rangers “are growing confident they can find a trade partner” for Borbon.  The way the procedure works, we can probably expect that to happen today.  Sullivan does suggest that “the Rangers aren’t expecting a big return” for Borbon, possibly something along the lines of “a reliever who could be a Major League option at some point this season.”  You never have enough pitching depth, and so you don’t get comfortable just because you expect to add Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz to the bullpen picture, and perhaps Nick Tepesch or Justin Grimm once Colby Lewis is back.

(Notably, the Rangers have positioned themselves to take on a 40-man roster member in exchange for Borbon, as long as the player has options.  Reliever Justin Miller was transferred to the 60-day disabled list a few days ago, clearing a spot on the 40.)

There’s a suggestion from Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities (via Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors) that Minnesota, fighting through a tough acclimation for blue-chip center fielder Aaron Hicks, is “kicking the tires” on Borbon, but probably wouldn’t trade for him, instead hoping Texas would end up running him out on waivers and that he’d get by the Astros, Cubs, and Rockies and to the Twins.  But there are two extreme unlikelihoods in that sentence, both after the word “instead.”

I think back to Borbon’s electrifying big league debut (.312/.376/.414, 19 stolen bases in 46 games in 2009), less than two years after signing out of college, and I suppose it should temper my enthusiasm over the way Nick Tepesch and Leury Garcia and Fearless Joe Ortiz have contributed over their first few opportunities as big leaguers.

Still, I will never get tired of watching this.

Or of seeing schadenfreude-y things like Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura leading the National League in hitting, nine months after fronting the Angels’ trade to get Greinke, who left them with no draft pick compensation since he was with them for less than a season when he bolted to pitch somewhere else.

Though neither Greinke nor Segura will make the cut for Casey Affleck, who already has far more material than he’ll be able to cram into a two-hour movie, as the Angels’ new right fielder keeps on giving.

Maybe it’s a reality show instead.

(#Gauche.)

It’s just half a month, and we can’t bank on the arrow pointing even higher for Segura, or for Tepesch or Garcia or Fearless Joe, and if you need a reminder on how those things sometimes work out differently than we thought, the Borbon narrative is fairly useful.

If you’re ready to bury the Angels’ season, you’re probably also giving up on Olt and Cody Buckel in the middle of April, and I’d suggest you tap the brakes on all of that.

It’s the time of the baseball year to overreact, but just as you don’t grade an off-season in early December, you don’t draw conclusions on a baseball season in April.

Moves at the Winter Meetings do start to define the off-season, though, and along similar lines April wins and April losses count, just as much as the ones in September do, even if the standings themselves matter as much at this point as a December 10 column labeling that winter’s “Winners & Losers” among the 30 front offices.

I’m capitulating to cliché in suggesting that while you can’t win a pennant in April, you sure can lose it, and while my radar is up on whether the 4-8 Rays will be able to stay with the four teams ahead of them in the AL East long enough to put off the thought of trading David Price, and on when the 2-11 Marlins will look honestly in the mirror and the stadium and accept what they see, in this April moment I’m intensely interested in the day-to-day drama playing out in Anaheim, in whether Texas can turn Julio Borbon into a piece that might fit down the road, and in the next time the skipper hands Joe Ortiz the ball or the next time Leury Garcia kicks that 80 run into gear to cut off a baseball more than 100 feet away, to make a play, to help win a game, because they count just as much in the first month as they do in the sixth.

Development.

Grimm-Ortiz-Scheppers-Ross-Nathan.

Scouted, drafted, developed (pre-arbitration).

Scouted, signed, developed (pre-arbitration).

Scouted, drafted, developed (pre-arbitration).

Scouted, drafted, developed (pre-arbitration).

Step Five free agent.

Rangers 4, King & Company 3.

In other news, Athletics 8, #TMGP 1.

You can’t predict ball.

But scout and develop well and you sure can boost the odds.

Nick Tepesch arrives.

The offense produced three multi-run innings despite just one extra-base hit all night, a havoc-filled attack reminiscent of the October versions that ended Tampa Bay’s seasons in 2010 and 2011, the latter of which was what probably going to be Lance Berkman’s final productive season before the Rangers talked him out of retirement, and the former of which was the year that Texas, shackled in bankruptcy, asked Boston to throw $350,000 into Saltalamacchia-for-Mendez-McGuiness-and-Thomas on July 31 so they could pay 14th-round righthander Nick Tepesch third-round money at the mid-August deadline to keep him from returning to the University of Missouri for his senior year.

Because of the late signing, Tepesch spent the rest of the 2010 summer in Surprise, getting his pro career underway at Fall Instructs as the big club charged into its first post-season since 1999, which was the year Texas drafted Colby Lewis.  Tepesch was probably in the Rangers’ Arizona clubhouse watching on TV as Lewis shut the Rays down over five innings in the ALDS, beat the Yankees twice in the ALCS, and earned the Rangers’ lone World Series win against the Giants.

Lewis, the former first-rounder whose career was derailed by injuries and mediocrity and re-routed to Japan, before a return to the big leagues in that 2010 season, achieving what seemingly every other pitcher who had tried to revive his career in Japan before coming back to the States – including former Rangers righthander Brian Sikorski – had failed to achieve.

When I saw Tepesch interviewed a month ago during camp, his demeanor – a calm, sort of unimpressed thing he has going – reminded me of Lewis.

Last night, so did his composure on the mound, and the bag of tricks.

Except for that part about where he lives in the strike zone.

While Lewis tends to work up in the zone and gets his outfielders involved a bunch, Tepesch kept his outfielders so bored that they could have turned to the fans behind them and made football motions.

One lineout to second (his first out of the game).

One harmless flyout to right (his final out of the game).

Five strikeouts.

And 15 groundouts, four of which ended with Tepesch recording the out himself.

Not Lewis-like at all, at least that part.

Closer to Sikorski, whose big league debut on August 16, 2000 (10 years to the day before Tepesch signed with the Rangers) covered seven innings of shutout ball against the Yankees, in Arlington.

That was the last time a Rangers pitcher logged at least seven frames in his big league debut.

Only Sikorski was 26, in his sixth pro season and his second organization.  Tepesch, 24, is just getting season three underway.

Sikorski’s final year in the Rangers system was 2001, after which he headed to Japan to pitch.  That was also the first year on the Texas farm for catcher Dustin Smith, who transitioned a six-year run as a minor league player into a scouting job with the organization.  Smith is the area scout who monitored Tepesch in college, pounded his fist on the table until his bosses called Tepesch’s name in Round 14 in 2010, and sat in the crowd last night, flown in for the game as the Rangers do with all of their area scouts whenever one of the players they’re responsible for makes his big league debut.

What Smith and the rest of us saw tells a much more interesting story than the box score can.  Look at Tepesch’s line and you see a three in the walk column.  But all three free passes came in the second inning, as he threw only three strikes total to Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, and Jose Molina before squirming out of the bases-loaded situation with a three-pitch strikeout of Kelly Johnson to keep the game scoreless.

Not rattled.  Calm.  Sort of unimpressed.

When that inning ended, Tepesch had thrown 43 pitches, and only 21 for strikes.  That’s a discouraging two-inning total, and a worse ball/strike ratio.

The rest of the way: 5.1 innings, 61 pitches (cutting the per-inning rate in half), 41 for strikes (jumping from 49 percent to 67 percent).

The other thing you can’t get from the box is the comments from the two managers after the game had ended and Tepesch was still cleaning shaving cream off his face.

Ron Washington: “He showed his maturity.  He’s got poise.  He never got outside of himself.  He just trusted what A.J. [Pierzynski] put down and kept doing it.  He got the ball inside on righthanders.  It was just great composure.”

Rays skipper Joe Maddon: “He got sharper, command-wise.  He was more free with his off-speed stuff, and he was throwing it for strikes.  He’s got a nice delivery.  He’s got velocity.  He’s got other pitches that he commands.  That’s something they’ve got to be excited about.”

I can’t resist the thought that last night’s win, aside from the obvious positives, also brings Tampa Bay theoretically a microscopic tick closer to fielding trade offers three months from now, if the season goes in an unintended direction for that franchise.  Every loss counts.

And that Tepesch did everything possible to send the Rays away thinking about how he might fit their plans going forward, once it’s time to shop David Price around.  There would probably have to be a shortstop in any deal with the Rangers, too, and lots more.  Maybe Roman Mendez, a more conventional part of the 2010 Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade, fits in as well.  But you have to think Tepesch profiles his way into those talks.

It’s all about control.

That kind, and that other kind, too.

I got chills last night when Wash punched Tepesch in the chest before pointing to the bullpen, sending the rookie on a slow, measured, Colby-like walk toward the dugout, exiting his dominant debut to the roars of 31,000-plus.

During the commercial that followed, I flipped over to MLB Network, and saw a (less-than-capacity) Angels crowd booing in the first inning of the club’s home opener, as C.J. Wilson was surrendering three Oakland runs in a 44-pitch first.

I flipped back to see Robbie Ross, having entered with two men in scoring position, coax a foulout and a comebacker in five pitches to end the Tampa Bay threat and keep Tepesch’s ledger as clean as it was when he left the mound.

Checking back in on Angels-A’s, I saw the Anaheim crowd summon up an ovation as Josh Hamilton stepped up for his first home at-bat, with the bases loaded and nobody out.  A chance to turn the game around just as soon as it had appeared to get out of hand.

Strike looking.

Strike swinging.

Strike swinging.

And then Mark Trumbo grounded into a double play, preserving the 3-0 A’s lead.

Oakland would give the lead back to the Angels before opening a can on the Los Angeles bullpen, eventually winning the game and joining Texas with an AL-best 6-2 record.  The fact that the Angels are 3.5 games back in the West, with a 2-5 mark, is fairly meaningless this early, but they all count, and now the Angels have to win several more games than Texas and Oakland the rest of the way.

Tampa Bay’s 3-5 start doesn’t really matter either, but that’s a division in which all five clubs believe it’s theirs to win, and if the first half puts the Rays near the back of that pack, the second half is going to start with their front office thinking about a franchise-defining decision they might have to make.

But my thoughts, for now, return to the first week and a half of baseball, with Texas now 3-0 in series played, losing the first game in the first series, the middle game in the next one, and sitting here today in a position to avoid losing the final game in this series, as a stretch of 14 games out of 17 on the road awaits.

Colby Lewis is throwing now in Surprise, rehabbing on the same fields where Nick Tepesch got his pro career going as Lewis was starting playoff games for Texas.  Tepesch may be simply holding a place for Lewis at the moment, and it’s no lock that he’ll hold it all the way until Lewis’s return, but he sure got off to a great start, adding even more extrapolated life to the Mark Teixeira trade, and making me wonder whether there are some folks in baseball thinking about his potential place in a future trade that could be just as big.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers