June 2013

Heavy.

I walked out of the ballpark and toward the car.  The cooler was too heavy.

It was too heavy because there was still a bunch of bottles of water in it, and ice that hadn’t melted and food that was never eaten.  Baseball was supposed to last longer on Saturday, but it didn’t, and the cooler was too heavy.

You battle and get the game tied up, and then the other guys put up two runs and you have one last chance to extend the game, or win it walking off.  And it just doesn’t happen.

The walk to the car is long.  Everything’s heavy.  You wear it.

Ten minutes later you’re at a restaurant, and all the kids are laughing, not wearing Grapevine Stampede 13, Elite Baseball 11 at all.

A couple hours later, with the kids still hanging out, miles away emotionally from being bounced from their World Series, I see a tweet from Jim Sundberg, whose number I once wore growing up, just as the third basemen for Elite and the Stampede both had 29’s on the back of their jerseys.

Sundberg tweeted: “I actually became a better MLB player once I gave myself permission to fail.  Also had more fun.  Mistakes are ok.  Grow emotional intelligence.”

And then: “The biggest detriment to a young athlete is their parents need for them to win.”

So much truth.

Later in the day, we’ve changed locations but the kids are still hanging out, and here we go again:

You get the game tied up, and then the other guys put up two runs and you have one last chance to extend the game, or win it walking off.  And it just doesn’t happen.

Cincinnati 6, Texas 4.

The Rangers, at the halfway point, sit at 47-34.  It’s the second-best record in the American League, a 94-win pace that the club has exceeded just twice in 41 seasons.  There’s been a World Series season for Texas with fewer.

Elite finishes its 8U spring season at 36-14.  Best year yet.

Losing sight of the good old days while they’re happening seems like a bad choice.

Granted, walking away from losses and not letting them wear you down is pretty easy to write a sentence about.  Practicing the preach is another thing.

I’m the guy who, after a disappointing trial verdict about 15 years ago, had my client (one of you, in fact) trying to cheer me up.

But carrying a loss in a heavy bag — especially when you’re no more than a spectator — c’mon.  (Says the blogger to himself.)

No, Kyle McClellan pitching in a tie game is not ideal, and Kyle McClellan drilling the leadoff hitter on a 1-2 count is worse, and Kyle McClellan serving up a two-run bomb to the number eight hitter who was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on the night and had failed to get a bunt down a pitch earlier is brutal, but Joakim Soria is getting close to joining the bullpen, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando will make the whole staff deeper still, Wilmer Font just got promoted to AAA for a reason, it was just the Rangers’ second loss in 10 games, and no team has every won every single night.

Plus, you tend to have to throw your least dependable pitchers once you get to the 11th inning (but I recommend you ignore the fact that the Texas offense is 9 for 61 [.148] in extra innings this season — never mind that, please).

Even if you didn’t see Reds 6, Rangers 4, take a look at the whole box score, and you’ll agree that that wasn’t a ballgame the Rangers should have won.

Could have.

But didn’t, and probably shouldn’t have.

Elvis Andrus said on Friday, when asked by Richard Justice (MLB.com) whether the Rangers had gone into panic mode when losing 9 of 11 earlier this month: “Not really.  We’ve been playing together for a little while.  We understand it’s going to happen.  That’s the way baseball is.  You’ve got to keep battling, keep playing hard and stick together.”

Dovetails pretty well with what Sundberg had tweeted Saturday afternoon.

Dwell on one loss, or even a string of them, and you lose sight of what’s coming together for Leonys Martin, or Dominic Mele.  Or Nelson Cruz or Jake Storey, locked in.

Or Martin Perez.

Yu Darvish faces the Reds in a few minutes.  I was in Goodyear for an awesome confrontation between Darvish and Joey Votto on March 23 that included Votto looking silly on one of those loopy curves and then looking altogether different by driving the next one about 800 feet.  The two meet again in a bit — with Darvish and Mat Latos teeing it up, as they did that day in Goodyear three months ago — with the Rangers and Reds both aiming to win a series.

That March game in Arizona didn’t count.  I’m not suggesting yesterday’s Elite game or yesterday’s Rangers game or this afternoon’s don’t count, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to overreact if Darvish fails to record his first win since mid-May and Texas loses.  I’m going to follow the lead of my kid and his friends, and of one of my own childhood heroes, and take the next setback in stride.  I’m going to lighten my load, and keep my eye on the bigger picture.

But if the Rangers go ahead and win this damn series?

No promises.

My (other) favorite Martin.

 

MartinLeonys8482

  Yeah, I’m easily influenced.

Also, this:

 

 elvis flip 1

 Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals - Game 2

elvis flip 3

  elvis flip 4

I like 2-1 wins in Busch Stadium.

A lot.

 

My favorite Martin.

The last time the Rangers were in St. Louis, A.J. Pierzynski was at a table outside the stadium, wearing a tie and an overcoat and the boring kind of gloves, in one of which he held a microphone with a Fox Sports flag.

Nelson Cruz was doing damage in right field not anything like the kind he inflicted last night.

And Martin Perez was coming off a rude introduction to Class AAA, posting a 6.43 ERA in 10 late-season starts for Round Rock, the final one of which was a clunky five-inning, four-run effort that Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers relieved hitlessly, followed by a five-inning, three-run playoff start that Perez lost.

Frankly, I’m trying to get this report done as quickly as possible, because I need to get some things done before Texas and St. Louis get the third game of this series rolling, a series that the Rangers have already won, thanks last night to a brilliant effort from a 22-year-old a lot less heralded than the 22-year-old he was facing.  And because I needed an excuse to force the title of today’s report on you.

Yes, tactically speaking, Texas wanted Perez starting in this series because the Cardinals don’t hit lefties nearly as well as they hit righties.  But he earned this start based on what he’s being doing in Round Rock, and last night he showed why, in spring training, the final rotation spot belonged to him, not to Justin Grimm and not to Nick Tepesch – who would be the top two vote-getters for AL Rookie of the Month in April, until Perez took a ball off his wrist late in camp and couldn’t start the season.

Perez earned last night’s start, and he shoved.

Two runs on five hits (four singles) and one walk, an extremely efficient 82 pitches through seven frames, the look of a kid slowing things down and keeping the game in control.

That was awesome.

Pierzynski came up big, and Cruz did again, too.  And it was another in a lengthening line of solid games for Leonys Martin, but last night, as far as Martin’s go, it was the kid lefty who, if I were still seven years old and drawing a picture of my Player of the Game in my dog-earred scorebook, would have gotten the nod after Texas 4, St. Louis 2, and now it’s time to go try and sweep a series in Busch Stadium before taking things to the Bronx and then coming back home to face the Reds, the next very good club Martin Perez will get to go to battle against.

Madden ’13.

It was a maddening game.

You load the bases with nobody out in the sixth inning against the other team’s number nine starter and the last reliever in its bullpen and a veteran righthander whose last nine appearances had been in eight losses, and a fourth pitcher in the frame is summoned after the previous two walked the only batter each would face.

You come away with only one run.

The next inning, after allowing the other team to tie the game on a walk, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, and wild pitch, you load the bases yourself again, this time with one out, scoring on a throwing error but coming away with nothing more.

At that point, you’ve outhit the other guys, 10-3 (and among their three hits were an infield single and a .187/.287/.307-hitting backup catcher’s home run), but you have only a one-run lead.

You’re then gifted an out and a base when the other team decides to follow a leadoff double with a bunt attempt that’s botched by a journeyman who had executed exactly one sacrifice bunt since 2008 (and it came in AAA).

You still hang onto that one-run lead and would have maintained it had your pitcher not failed to beat the number nine hitter to the bag, which kept the inning alive and allowed the next hitter to shoot the sixth straight four-seamer he saw up the middle for a two-run single, bat-flipping and arm-gliding his way to first as the lead changed hands.

Maddening.

But hey, there’s still time.  Leadoff walk to start the eighth, and you’re in business.  Then, on the other team’s best reliever’s season-high 32nd pitch, you rocket a blast that has a shot to land in the bullpen, but the other team’s defensively beleaguered right fielder times things surprisingly right and leaves his feet and hauls it in and that’s not supposed to happen when it’s that right fielder.

Another chance in the ninth, with 4-5-6 due to hit.  Two strikeouts, but after that a single to left, and then, with the tying run on base, perhaps your hottest hitter battles their closer for seven pitches.

That battle sucked.

Because if Seth Smith hadn’t watched the sixth pitch go by for ball three, running the count full with two outs, Josh Donaldson wouldn’t have been running with the next pitch, and if Josh Donaldson hadn’t been running with the next pitch, a loopy curve over the plate, he might have taken third on Smith’s dumped single to center, but he certainly wouldn’t have tried to score.  And if defensive replacement Craig Gentry, basically playing on the warning track, hadn’t had the ball clank off his torso as he charged in to play the Smith single, Donaldson certainly doesn’t even think about what to do next as he approached third, and third base coach Mike Gallego probably doesn’t even need to tell Donaldson what to do, but the ball clanked off Craig Gentry’s torso and Josh Donaldson, running with the pitch since the count was 3-2 with two outs, decided what he was going to do, in spite of Mike Gallego giving him the stop sign to direct him to do the thing he didn’t do, and take a look at the replay and you’ll think to yourself that you’ve never seen a more despondent, detached-looking third base coach as the potential game-tying run or game-losing out raced by him heading toward the plate, and if you’ve ever read “Infinite Jest” you probably figured out by this point that I’m reading it right now and am inescapably in its clutches as I write maddening sentences like this one.

And Gentry makes a good throw and Elvis Andrus makes a brilliant throw and A.J. Pierzynski blocks the plate and swipes the tag across Josh Donaldson’s just-arriving, twisting front leg and if any of those things took a hundredth of a second longer or ended up an extra foot off target, then Oakland’s beloved former third base coach isn’t hollering and leaping out of the home team’s dugout like a school kid while his 36-year-old catcher who watched the game until the 7th and his 38-year-old closer who watched the game until the 9th holler and leap behind home plate as their teammates rush toward them and the rest of us holler and leap wherever we are when we see it all happen, perfectly.

A perfectly maddening day, if you’re an A’s fan.

It was a loss that felt like so many of Texas’s this season.

It was a loss that allowed the struggling Rangers to pull back within a game of the division lead, as close as they’ve been in nine days.  A loss that permitted Texas to win consecutive games for the first time since June 9-10 and to win a series, after having dropped four series in a row.

The A’s hadn’t dropped consecutive series in more than a month.  They have now, losing two of three games at home to Seattle despite beating elite righthander Hisashi Iwakuma, which sounds bad enough until you realize that Oakland came into Texas and beat Yu Darvish – but lost the three games started by Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm and Josh Lindblom . . . Rangers starters number seven, eight, and nine.

Nothing about that game or that series is going to chip away at Oakland’s swagger, but it sure feels like Texas got some of its back.

And it feels very good to dish out a heavy dose of maddening, and not be on the wrong end of it for once.

Leonys Martin, Mike Olt, and a dried-up spitball.

As the winter stories about Miami’s brutal baseball situation and Giancarlo Stanton’s inevitable availability began gathering momentum, we all believed Texas would be in the mix for the slugging, for all kinds of reasons (need, age/control, capital, ammunition, match, aggressiveness).

It was fairly clear that the Marlins weren’t going to move Stanton then, and probably not this July, but in my mind I was convinced of two Rangers players who would be on the table, with the two clubs then negotiating on the remaining pieces.

On November 17, I included in a COFFEY report this throwaway thought: “For the heck of it and nothing more: Derek Holland, Mike Olt (whom the Marlins were apparently hot after in July), Cuban Leonys Martin, and Jordan Akins for Stanton and Justin Ruggiano.”

(The Holland part was with the thought that Texas was going to land a big rotation piece later in the off-season, perhaps Zack Greinke or James Shields.)

On December 25, I relayed Jayson Stark’s ESPN note that “a Texas offer for Stanton would probably require [Jurickson] Profar, Olt, Martin, ‘and more . . . [and] even then [I’m] not sure [the Marlins] do it.’”

On April 16, I dismissed a Los Angeles Times/Bleacher Report spitball from Jason Martinez suggesting that Texas move Profar, Olt, Lewis Brinson, and Ronald Guzman for Stanton, and wrote that “I keep coming back to a shortstop being involved, and Martin, and probably Luke Jackson.  And more.”

It’s getting a little more difficult for me to imagine Texas trading Leonys Martin and Mike Olt in a deal for Stanton.  Several reasons:

*          From Miami’s standpoint, that pair would never prevail on the front of a deal.  You’d think Profar would be too much for the Rangers to include with those two, and Luis Sardinas or Leury Garcia presumably wouldn’t be enough to put a Texas offer on top.

*          The Marlins’ long-term situations in center field and third base look better now than they did half a year ago, as 22-year-old rookie center fielder Marcell Ozuna (more than two years younger than both Martin and Olt) has played well, and the club’s top two prospects, Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, are healthy again and tearing it up in AA (both getting in work in center field), while the organization’s third base mess since trading Miguel Cabrera six years ago is poised to end with the drafting a couple weeks ago of Colin Moran (who hasn’t yet signed because his University of North Carolina club is still alive in Omaha) sixth overall.

*          The Rangers – at least during the season – can’t afford to move Martin unless they’re prepared to go with Craig Gentry close to every day in center field since Ron Washington would never entrust the heavy end of a platoon to Engel Beltre (I suppose Chris Coghlan could theoretically come back in the deal – but he’s sidelined with a back injury troublesome enough that the Marlins had him checked out by a specialist this weekend . . . Rangers consultant Dr. Drew Dossett, who operated on Matt Harrison’s back in April).

*          This last week of baseball.

Olt, whose brutal start (.139/.235/.236, 32 strikeouts in 81 AAA Round Rock plate appearances through the season’s first three weeks) led to vision tests and treatment, is a .323/.405/.806 hitter over his last eight games with the Express.  He has four home runs in that stretch – including two in one inning on Sunday – and five walks to go along with seven strikeouts in 37 trips to the plate.

Same stretch for Martin, who has started each of the Rangers’ eight games: .400/.464/.640 with just four strikeouts in 28 plate appearances, four stolen bases in four attempts (he’s now up to nine straight without getting caught), a handful of big plays in center field with his glove and arm, and that slide last night, accounting for one of the seven runs he’s scored from the bottom of the order in this mostly ugly eight-game stretch of offense and results.

It’s getting hard to imagine anyone roaming center field here other than Martin, whose five-year, $15.5 million deal runs through 2015, after which Texas will have three years of remaining control.

I’m not sure where Olt fits, less because he lacks versatility than because he’s been asked to play nothing but third base so far this season – probably more an effort to get him right again at the plate without the pressure of a relatively unfamiliar defensive assignment than anything else – but with the way this offense has been going, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him getting in some left field work in Round Rock before long, as Profar gets his own pregame crash course in Arlington.

If you’d said after David Murphy’s impressive camp (.313/.348/.453) that he was poised, in his contract year, to give his club Josh Hamilton production in 2013, at a fraction of the cost, would you have taken it?

Murphy, even after last night’s three-hit effort out of the eight hole, is hitting .218/.275/.382.

Hamilton, who hit seventh for the Angels last night, sits at .210/.266/.384 after his two strikeouts and groundout to catcher.

They’ve been the same player at the plate, right down to the recent failed experiments at number two in the lineup.

Tack on the Biogenesis situation as it pertains to Nelson Cruz (even though it’s not likely to impact the 32-year-old anytime soon), and there’s obviously reason to think about what answers Texas visualizes if it needs to find other ways to get offense from the outfield corners.

Both now, and later on, with Murphy and Cruz hitting free agency this winter.

Maybe Stanton – who is a year younger than Olt – is part of that answer.  If so, his arrival is more likely to happen in the off-season than next month.

And maybe that makes sense for Texas, anyway, as overpaying with multiple pieces from the big league offense during the season for one player, even one as special as Stanton, probably doesn’t make this roster, as it projects even once healthy, a World Series contender.  In the winter, it’s easier to create holes with a concrete plan to address them.

(Then again, as one big league scout told Baseball Prospectus’s John Perrotto this week about Stanton: “There isn’t anyone who could command a bigger haul in a trade than this guy.  I’d give up my whole farm system for him because you’re talking about a guy who is heading to the Hall of Fame, and his career is just getting started.”)

(Maybe the scout works for Miami.)

(Or the Wasserman Media Group.)

And maybe the Marlins would still be interested in Martin and Olt after all.  Martin is from Cuba and lives 30 miles from Miami.  Ozuna and Yelich and Marisnick are capable of playing on corners – as is Martin himself.  Olt could hold things down at third base until Moran is ready, at which time the Marlins could flip Olt somewhere else.  For that matter, they could flip Olt right away, getting a third team involved in trade talks along with Texas.

Maybe Martin and Olt help Texas to a much better second half offensively than its first, and a debate like this refuels in the winter.  Maybe a December package that includes both is tough for another team to beat after all, especially if Sardinas and Jackson move from Myrtle Beach to Frisco this summer and manage to impress an added set of scouts.

Martin, Olt, Sardinas, and Jackson for Stanton and Coghlan?

At this point in time, it’s surely a deal that Miami declines.

Given the way things seem to be coming together for Martin and Olt, at this snapshot moment in time, I’d like to think that, five months from now, it’s one that the Rangers would lose sleep over, too.

Winds and losses.

I sat at the computer at 6:40 Monday morning.  The kids were getting ready for camp, and I checked in on Weather.com to see if they were going to be able to get anything in.

* 6 am: 0 percent chance of rain
* 7 am: 0 percent chance of rain
* 8 am: 0 percent chance of rain

At about 6:55 it started pouring.  Diagonally.  And didn’t let up for a couple hours.

A team with the best record in baseball can turn into the worst-playing team in baseball over a three-week stretch, fill-in thirty-something third base umpires from AAA are sometimes unable to see a glove with a ball inside of it make contact twice with the right arm of a player while his body is not in contact with a base, and weathermen are sometimes 100 percent wrong.

Winds change.  You never know.  The hard-to-believe realities of this set of numbers, on both sides of the page, could be replaced, three weeks from now, by something altogether different, and better.  As hard is that might be to imagine right now, it’s no more implausible than what’s been happening over this run of brutal-in-all-phases baseball.

I don’t know.  More than ever: I don’t know.  You reach the season’s one 20-games-in-20-days stretch with the silver lining of a season-long 11-game homestand in the middle of it.  And then you start that Arlington stretch by dropping the last two of three to Cleveland, which had lost eight games in a row, and then getting swept in four by a Toronto team that came into the series eight games under .500.

In those two home series your offense hits .232/.303/.329 collectively, inferior to the awful .217/.273/.395 production that Josh Hamilton has given the Angels over the first twelfth of his eighth-of-a-billion-dollar contract.

In the final six of those seven games, all losses, Texas failed to score more than two runs, matching the most futile such stretch in the franchise’s 42 seasons.  The offense managed to scratch out four hits with runners in scoring position over those six games – the same number they picked up last night alone.

Think about this: Texas has given 30 of its 70 starts to pitchers who weren’t supposed to get any starts this year unless something went wrong.  Things happen, and at least one or two of Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm and Josh Lindblom and Ross Wolf were going to have to take the ball a handful of times.

But nearly half of the club’s starts?

And in spite of that, it’s been the offense, so rarely a problem here, that’s made this team so tough to watch lately, staking out leads almost as rarely as victories.

Old players looking old, streaky players in ruts, Elvis Andrus basically lost, young players displaying the sort of inconsistency that, in most cases, is inevitable.

All at once.

There’s been a noticeable lack of energy offensively, which has made games tough to watch, and baseball tough to write about.

When Texas took a look at Mark Teixeira in the outfield in 2003, it seemed like an experimental way to get the young phenom extra big league at-bats on a lousy Rangers club.  Adrian Gonzalez’s 2005 cameo in right field was shorter-lived than Mike Olt’s pair of games at the same position in 2012, or Mike Lamb’s 2002 escapades behind the plate.  Joaquin Arias wasn’t going to unseat Michael Young or Ian Kinsler up the middle in 2007, and so the long-rumored center field experiment got underway in camp that spring – until it wrecked his shoulder.

The idea of Jurickson Profar as an outfielder feels like none of those situations.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d be shocked if Profar were to put the infielder’s glove away the way Eric Davis and Adam Jones and B.J. Upton did.  But this also differs from Teixeira and Gonzalez and Olt and Lamb and Arias (and Dean Palmer), because it’s not just an effort to give a young player at-bats by hiding him somewhere defensively.  Texas plans to win something this year, needs energy on offense, and is getting very little production in left field.

Gary Pettis is going to spend about a week crash-coursing with Profar to try and get him ready to play a representative left.  It’s not where he’ll be long-term, but for now the club thinks he might be able to help the Rangers win games by playing more often than he doesn’t, and if he’s able to get a game or two in each week in the outfield, that’s an easier proposition.

It feels a little desperate – Profar admits he’s never played any outfield, even as a Little Leaguer – but the offense has been in fairly desperate straits.

Because of the way this latest stretch of baseball has gone, last night felt fluky at times, lucky at others, on the precipice of a further dose of doom still others, but if you stretch your memory enough you could see something vaguely familiar: a 12-hit, eight-run attack, with nine of the hits (including five for extra bases) coming from the 3-4-5-6 spots, a dominating bullpen effort with the club’s key relievers lined up just right, the type of energy you expect out of a contending team battling another contending team and out of a crowd smelling a shark-chum “W.”

It was only the second nine-inning game in June in which Texas was able to roll Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, and Joe Nathan out together, and that’s as much an indictment of the offense as anything, as Rangers starting pitchers have had so few leads to pitch with this month, and Ron Washington and Mike Maddux are by-the-book bullpen managers.

And Cotts, Ross, and Scheppers were brilliant, throwing 4.1 perfect innings until Nathan’s shaky ninth.

High-five for you, A.J. Pierzynski, and you, Nelson Cruz, and absolutely the Cotts-Ross-Scheppers incarnation of Cerberus, though on second thought I don’t want to jeffbaker any of you and so instead here’s a coffee nod in your general direction, from a healthy distance.

That, last night, was more like it.  A lot more like it.

Joakim Soria is eager to jump on board, too, and he made the manager smile yesterday with a live batting practice session during which the ball came out of his hand just fine.

He’s set to go out in a couple days on a rehab assignment with Frisco, where he’ll arrive just as Mitch Moreland is leaving, several days after Moreland’s own arrival coincided with the end of Ian Kinsler’s own short rehab stint.

All due respect to Leury Garcia and Chris McGuiness, and whoever Soria replaces, but this team is so much stronger with Kinsler and Moreland, two of this team’s three best everyday players in 2013, and with Profar as a 10th man that Washington will use, and with Soria joining a bullpen that really needs another power arm from the right side.

And the way Martin Perez is dealing at Round Rock (4-0, 1.13 in his four starts since returning from the big leagues, with an opponents’ slash of .216/.281/.307), he’s going to be back in this rotation very soon, perhaps the next time he takes the ball.  Whether that’s for Tepesch or Grimm or Lindblom, we’ll see Perez again soon enough.

The winds can change direction pretty quickly, as we’ve seen with the Rangers since late May.  And with Toronto and Houston and San Diego and Kansas City and Miami, bad teams a third of the way into the season who have been good to really good in June.

Maybe there’s a gale force of momentum that Texas can carry into tonight and tomorrow and Thursday afternoon before Oakland heads off to Seattle in advance of a return to the O.co waste management treatment plant for series against the Reds and Cardinals, the NL’s two best teams.

Can Texas win four more baseball games than Oakland over the next 15 weeks?

Of course.

At the moment, though, in spite of whatever has gone on the last three weeks, all that matters to me is whether the Rangers can win one more game than the A’s tonight.

It would be a pretty good time tonight for Yu Darvish to earn the first win by a Rangers starter in June.

Still, based on what we’ve learned in June, it’s certainly possible things bounce right back the other way tonight and Darvish and Texas and this offense give back the game they just gained.  Can’t always trust the forecast.  Winds change.

Not literally.

Though if the jet stream hadn’t taken the weekend off, and if there were a little more English on a couple Jays cannons toward the right field foul pole, who knows?

Foolishly, maybe, I went right back to Weather.com as I was getting ready to leave the office last night.  It told me there was a 0 percent chance I was going to be driving through rain on the way home.  From 6 pm until 10 pm: 0 percent.

It poured all the way home.

I’m going to try and shut down expectations, at least while this team is getting healthier and refinding its edge.

I’m gonna try.

I’m going to resist the urge today to envision tonight’s Yu Darvish-Josh Donaldson battles and to imagine that this is the night that Elvis Andrus hits like Elvis Andrus and to wonder whether Nelson Cruz can build not only off the two-missile effort but also the brilliant at-bat he had in the seventh (strike looking, strike looking, ball, ball, ball, double rocketed to left to push the lead to 8-6) and settle into one of his hop-aboard stretches of thunderstorm offense.  I’ve got 10 hours to be productive between now and then, and I’m not going to waste any of that time checking the weather.

Sinkhole.

I’m gonna take a little time off from writing.  Baseball’s just not a whole lot of fun right now.

Not like it’s supposed to be.

I’m not giving up on the team.  That would be crazy.  The only years since the inaugural playoff season when Texas had a better record through 66 games than this season’s 38-28 mark were 1996 (40 wins), 1998 (39), 1999 (39), and 2012 (39).

Those were all playoff seasons.

So were 2010 and 2011, of course, and the Rangers weren’t any better at this point on the schedule in those two World Series seasons (38-28 and 36-30) than they are now.

I would have looked further back than 1996, but I kinda didn’t feel like it.

The A’s just swept the Yankees, holding New York to eight runs in three games (that included enough innings for four games), and over those same three days Texas lost at home to Cleveland, lost at home to Cleveland again, and lost at home to Toronto, scoring a total of five runs (three on solo homers).

Losing to inferior teams, at home, is a bad plan.

Oakland is really damn good.

This is gonna be a helluva pennant race.

And I’m as locked in as ever.

But I need a little break from the keyboard.

I haven’t really taken time off from writing (other than being out of town or in trial) in 15 years.  And I don’t know how long this break will be.  Probably a few days.  Maybe less.  Maybe more.  I’ll know when it’s time to write again.

I’m busier at work than at any time in my nearly 20 years of practicing law.  My copy of “Infinite Jest” arrived in the mail yesterday.  I need to finish that Adrian Beltre painting I started for Max in the fall.  I’ll have plenty to do to keep me fully occupied.

Part of me wants to write about the Kinsler-Andrus-Profar decision (the imminent one more so than the long-term one), or the number of wins Rangers starting pitchers have in a dozen June games (rhymes with “hero”), or a story idea I have that’s centered on Detroit righthander Doug Fister, or this developing situation.

The other part of me, for now, prevails.

I’ll probably still be around on Twitter, but for now that’s it.  If Justin Grimm fires a gem tonight, I can’t promise I won’t be right back in this chair, but if Chi Chi Gonzalez deals in Spokane’s opener tonight, I promise to leave that one to Scott.  Same thing if Joey Gallo pushes his streak of seven home runs in six Hickory games further tonight against Delmarva, or if C.J. Edwards hogs the spotlight in that same game.

Some better baseball at the big league level, and a healthy run of it, will probably end this little hiatus.  A string of tough at-bats.  Some late-inning tenacity.  A little swagger.

It’s not really about the losses and wins.  It’s more about how they’re happening.

The longest homestand of the season.

Mm-hmm.

I hope you’ll choose to stick around, but whether you do or don’t, at least stick it out with this team.  They’ll be fine.

Appreciate your patience.

Let’s roll.

 

 

 

 

 

KinslerIan8609

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CliffLee  JoseBautista  CarlosRuiz

 

To answer your question:

I don’t know.

 

On edge.

DFW teams could all use more edge.  Kins has some of it.  I miss Tyson Chandler and Steve Ott.

It was a throwaway tweet, issued Sunday afternoon in a decidedly unedgy moment, as I vegetated in the pool thinking about what was missing from the Rangers, missing from a team decimated by injury and offensive malaise and uncharacteristic baserunning and fielding slack that, in spite of all of it, still found itself in first place.

Sure, it’s probably just nitpicking, but based on the emails and tweets, I think a good number of you knew what I meant.

It’s the guy you might not want to be around after a loss.

It’s Michael Irvin.  It’s Will Clark.

It’s absolutely not Dennis Rodman or Vicente Padilla or Sean Avery or Milton Bradley.

It’s Pedro Martinez.  Roger Clemens.  Paul O’Neill.

Jered Weaver.  Grant Balfour.

In his own way, Cliff Lee.

As we saw Sunday, Jose Bautista, and then last night, Zack Greinke.

There’s no questioning Adrian Beltre’s makeup or toughness, but he doesn’t appear to have that screw-loose edginess that I’m talking about.  Elvis Andrus, my favorite Rangers player ever next to Beltre, doesn’t.  Neither does Yu Darvish, though I can imagine him becoming a Lee-type assassin down the road.

A.J. Pierzynksi has some of it, obviously, but Pierzynski at age 36 on a new team isn’t the same as 36-year-old Torii Hunter was last year, his fifth with the Angels.

You don’t draft for need or for position, and you certainly don’t draft for edge, but you can bet that when an organization has a frontline talent in development, if he has that extra thing, too, it matters.

It might be part of Rougned Odor’s profile, or Lewis Brinson’s.  On the mound, Luke Jackson might have it, and it’s pretty clear Keone Kela does.

When Jason Parks saw Georgia high school infielder Travis Demeritte play back in October, he wrote some things that popped about the kid outside of the bat speed and plus arm.  Just as recognizable to Parks were the “very high baseball IQ” and “remarkable field awareness,” part of what made the teenager “a likely candidate to over-perform projection.”  Over several days, Demeritte, for Parks, was a “[w]ow player [who] plays the game with purpose and passion,” a “total gamer” with “well above-average feel for the game” who “will be around game forever.”

I read those things Thursday night after Texas used its second first-round pick, awarded for the loss of Josh Hamilton to the Angels, on the 18-year-old Demeritte.

Those things were never said about Joaquin Arias.

Now, those comments from Parks (who also tweeted on Draft Night that Demeritte was his favorite player at that October event, a “baseball rat” with “plus-plus makeup” who “knows his assignments and yours,” which paints another cool picture) don’t necessarily translate to edge – you’re not going to make that sort of impression on scouts in a five-day glimpse at a Perfect Game USA showcase tournament – but talk to some of the folks involved in deciding it would be worth investing nearly $2 million in that player rather than all the others the club could have singled out, and you hear some of it.

Don’t get me wrong: The most exciting part of the Demeritte picture that’s being painted right now, eight days before the Arizona League kicks its summer season off, is the electric bat speed (Rangers Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg: “one of the faster bats I’ve scouted in a while”) and raw power potential that the Rangers believe will play at third base if he doesn’t end up sticking at shortstop or sliding over to second.

But in every conversation you have about Demeritte you’re going to hear about his contagious energy and those things that, one way or another, fit under the hard-to-define category of edge.

As far as talent rankings go, Demeritte was considered by Baseball America to be the number 56 draft-eligible high school or college player going into last week.  MLB.com had him at 50.  Baseball Prospectus/Perfect Game had him at 52.  ESPN was the most bullish with its number 41 ranking.

But they all projected him to go ahead of his talent projection in the draft: MLB.com and ESPN projected him to go 23rd overall, while Baseball America had him going 30th.

Of course, those were educated guesses, as 23 and 30 were the Rangers’ two slots Thursday night.  It was no secret that Texas was heavily in on the kid.

Then again, ESPN’s Keith Law heard Philadelphia was considering Demeritte at number 16.

And Baseball America noted, in reviewing Round One last week, that “[w]hile [Demeritte] ranked No. 56 on the BA 500, this isn’t an overdraft.”

It’s the intangibles that led analysts to uniformly suggest in advance that the player’s draft projection was higher than his talent rank.

All of which may have you wondering why Texas didn’t pop Demeritte at 23 instead of taking the chance he wouldn’t be there at 30.  Club officials will tell you a big reason is that they didn’t expect Oral Roberts righthander Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez (rumored by some to be on the board for some teams drafting late in the top 10 or 12) to fall to 23, and they believed things could shake out after that to allow them to take both Gonzalez and Demeritte.

They did shake out that way, and the Rangers couldn’t be more fired up.

Gonzalez, like Demeritte, was slotted higher in every one of those publications’ mock drafts than he was in their talent rankings, and you can draw your own conclusions there.  Gonzalez was one of those helium guys in the weeks leading up to the draft, maybe because his stuff played up more and more as the college season wore on.  Maybe because he’s thought to be a potential fast-tracker.  Maybe it’s that he’s relatively polished (a “high floor,” Parks suggests) or maybe it’s the unique cutting action he gets on his fastball or his swing-and-miss slider.

All four publications had Gonzalez going between 15 and 20.  The Rangers weren’t going to let him get past 23, and were cautiously optimistic Demeritte would be there at 30.

Peter Gammons said on MLB Network that if the Rangers didn’t take Gonzalez, Oakland would have popped him with the very next pick.  (Not that I’m sitting here thrilled that the A’s won Game 162 to set things up that way.)

And Jim Bowden said on XM Radio that if Texas didn’t call Demeritte’s name at 30, Atlanta was set to do it at 31.

At one point yesterday, the Rangers had signed 18 of their 41 draft picks – while the other 29 teams had signed 15 picks combined.  Among those were Gonzalez, whose $2.215 million bonus is 15 percent above slot, and Demeritte, whose $1.9 million bonus exceeds his slot by almost 10 percent.

Second-rounder Akeem Bostick, a raw, projectable South Carolina high school righthander whose cousin Brandon is a Green Bay Packers tight end, signed for $520,600 in an $899,400 slot.  Essentially, Texas gave Bostick, projected in publications to be perhaps a fifth- or sixth-round talent, the equivalent of third-round money in a second-round slot (helping the club to go over slot elsewhere, and not only for the two first-rounders – keep an eye on a couple high school arms that the Rangers took late on Day Three).

Bostick will join Demeritte on the AZL squad, whose season opens on June 20.  Gonzalez heads to Spokane, whose Northwest League schedule kicks off this Friday.  Whether the 21-year-old gets the ball Opening Night or not, expect the Rangers to manage his innings this summer before cutting him loose in April.

Scott’s daily recaps are about to go from four a day to six, and I’m fired up to see what Gonzalez and Yohander Mendez and Kyle Castro do on the Spokane mound and how Demeritte and Isiah Kiner-Falefa and – as of July 1 – Jairo Beras jump out of the gate in Surprise.

Jurickson Profar was in the midst of putting up relatively ordinary numbers for Spokane in the summer of 2010 (weeks after Baltimore took but failed to sign Gonzalez in the 11th round, three rounds before Texas chose tonight’s starter, Nick Tepesch), but we soon began to understand how special a player he was on his way to becoming, and not just because he was holding his own against college-groomed competition at age 17.  He had that extra thing, too.

Read Jason Parks’s comments about Travis Demeritte above, and they’ll look familiar.

I’m not saying Texas has another Profar on its hands in Demeritte.  That would be silly.

But if he’s another Rangers prospect who not only has the objective pluses but also wields those added intangibles, the ones Arias didn’t have but Brinson and Jackson do, the ones that separate Felix and Clayton, Yoenis and Bryce, Yadier and Zack and Cliff, then I may go ahead and pre-order my Myrtle Beach Demeritte jersey, even if it’s a couple years before he’ll get to put one on himself.

Short-change.

When Jurickson Profar gathered in the one-hop David Murphy throw from left center, wheeled, and lunged to (theoretically) tag Stephen Drew out to erase a would-be double leading off the bottom of the third in what was then Boston 0, Texas 0, a thought I’d never considered skidded into my head.  I tweeted:

I wish @JURICKSONPROFAR wanted to be a catcher in 2009.  Or now.

I mean, how ridiculously great would that be?  The game IQ, the footwork and arm strength and athleticism and quickness, the setting up (and Jurick-baiting) of hitters, the perfectly timed trips to the mound, the leadership, the potential for Posey-like offense from the position.

The smile.  The confidence.

Man, the confidence.

Never mind the un-catcher-like build.  Had one of the dozen or more teams that wanted to sign Profar as a pitcher succeeded, you can bet he’d look different in the lower half after four years of strength and conditioning work.  He’d have gotten there as a catcher.  Ever seen what Christian Bethancourt looks like (or what Jorge Alfaro looked like when he signed)?

Just imagine how he’d fit right now.  The Rangers are super-fortified at shortstop, with Elvis Andrus locked up for years, Profar and Leury Garcia ready to contribute, and prospects like Luis Sardinas and Hanser Alberto and Luis Marte and Alberto Triunfel and Luis Terrero maturing on the farm while Rougned Odor and Odubel Herrera and Ryan Rua and Janluis Castro keep second base occupied.  How great would it be if Profar were ready to step in behind the plate and answer that roster question for the next decade?

It’s not going to happen, and I’m not suggesting it should.  This is not going to be like the times I used to wonder aloud what Chris Davis as catcher would have looked like in Texas.

But as long as Profar makes plays like he did to start the Boston third last night, blindly gathering and lunging and tagging and selling, and as long as the Rangers’ catching situation remains an annual action item, I’ll probably continue to wonder.

After Joe Nathan made an athletic play on the third of his six ninth-inning pitches to retire Jose Iglesias, I noted on Twitter that both he and the reliever he succeeded, Tanner Scheppers, were college shortstops.  Reader Jeramy Nowlin one-upped me, pointing out that all three outs in the quiet ninth were on plays made by onetime shortstops: Nathan, Andrus, and Profar.

The club could stand an upgrade, system-wide, at catcher.  And suddenly the organization’s lack of depth at the big league and upper minor league levels on the corners is being exposed a bit, as Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland are dealing with hamstring injuries, Murphy and Nelson Cruz will be free agents in their 30’s this winter (and at least one of them could force the team to confront a huge mid-season issue), Mike Olt is working to come back from an offensively debilitating vision issue, Engel Beltre and Joe Benson are interesting but on their final options and probably not ready to help a contender, and the organization’s real promise on the four corners lives for the moment in Class A and lower.

But when Texas makes its picks tonight in Rounds One (23rd and 30th overall) and Two (62nd) of the amateur draft, don’t assume that the club is going to try and find a college corner bat that it thinks can fit into the frame before players like Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara and Nick Williams and Jairo Beras are ready.  Don’t expect catcher to be the Rangers’ priority.  Don’t be surprised if they haul off and add another shortstop.  Or two.

The tired, annually recycled point is that you don’t draft for need in baseball.  And if you’re doing it the Rangers’ way, you focus on the middle of the field, adding as much pipeline talent as you can on the mound, and behind the plate, and at shortstop and center field.  Take the best player available, stay in the middle of the field when all else is equal, and let’s roll.

Worry about sorting out playing time in Myrtle Beach and Hickory and Spokane and Surprise later.

Your prize shortstop may just become a second baseman, when the time comes.  Or a third baseman.  Or a center fielder.  Or a pitcher.  Or a Marlin.

Just probably not a catcher.

Yeah, but—

No, not a catcher.

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