August 2013

The remoteness of July 29.

It was July 29.  The Rangers had lost four straight, which would have been bad enough if not for the fact that they’d failed to score in three of those games, a depth of offensive ineptitude to which the franchise had managed to sink only two other times in its 42 years of existence.

Matt Garza was set to get the ball the next night, his second start as a Ranger, and there were already talk show segments wondering aloud whether Texas might consider trading the righthander, just a week after acquiring him for four or five prospects.  The Rangers were six games behind Oakland in the West, their greatest deficit in the division since the end of the 2009 season, and hadn’t gained any ground on the A’s in a staggering 31 days.

Garza took the hill opposite Jered Weaver, and the game was playing out seemingly the only way it could: Weaver, coming off two straight scoreless outings, was blanking the hapless Rangers offense on one hit through five innings.  Garza matched Weaver through four, before a J.B. Shuck home run (the first of his career), an Erick Aybar walk after an 0-2 count, a Mike Trout double, and a two-run Josh Hamilton single paced Los Angeles to what felt like a completely insurmountable 3-0 lead.

After responding with a three-up-three-down effort in the bottom of the fifth (including two strikeouts), Texas had gone 26 innings without scoring a run, the club’s second-longest drought ever, trailing only a July 1972 skid that lasted 28 frames.

If there was a lower regular season point for this franchise in its current era, I don’t remember it.

Texas scratched out a run in the sixth inning that night — Mitch Moreland popped out (after attempting to bunt on the first pitch of the inning), Leonys Martin bunt-singled, Elvis Andrus bunted Martin to second, and Ian Kinsler refused to be the fourth straight Ranger to square around, singling to center and driving Martin home — but stranded two runners to end the inning, and the Angels and Rangers exchanged zeroes in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Oakland had just put up four runs on Toronto starter Esmil Rogers in the first inning out West.

A friend of mine sent me a text that said: “Unreal the slump the entire team is in.  Need a comeback in this game right now.  I feel like tonight is the season.”

The invincible Neal Cotts relieved Garza to start the eighth, with Texas still down 3-1.  Trout singled.  Hamilton singled, sending Trout to third.  If you can stretch your brain to recall how anemic the Rangers offense was as of July 29, how snakebit the team seemed to be as a whole, how steady the plummet in the West was at the time, you know how ridiculous the idea was that Texas might claw back from a two-run deficit in the eighth, with opposing runners on the corners and nobody out.

It’s cool: Not every year is going to be your year.  I’m pretty sure I had sorted through that thought more than once that week, with increasing frequency.

Then Cotts struck Mark Trumbo out swinging, on eight pitches.

Then Cotts struck Howie Kendrick on three pitches, all swings-and-misses.

An Alberto Callaspo full-count walk followed, loading the bases.

And then Cotts got Hank Conger to ground out to second.

Texas halved the Los Angeles lead with a manufactured run in the bottom of the eighth — Martin grounded out to second, Andrus singled to right and stole second and took third on Conger’s errant throw, and Kinsler sac-flied a shot to right, scoring Andrus — but even the 3-2 deficit felt like a miracle short.

Then the ninth happened.

Jason Frasor was excellent, logging a pop to shortstop and two strikeouts looking, and in from the visitors’ bullpen trotted Ernesto Frieri to shut things down.

A.J. Pierzynski swung through two pitches and watched one miss the strike zone in between, after which he turned on a 94-mph fastball and blasted it over the right field fence, tying the game.  Nelson Cruz singled to center on his own 1-2 count, before David Murphy rolled over the first pitch he saw, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play.

And then Geovany Soto crushed a full-count fastball out to left, just inside the foul pole, sending the Angels walking off as he circled the bases with a couple dozen teammates huddled around the plate, waiting to pounce.  The outcome itself was as unlikely, given the state of the club at the time, as a team tying and winning a game with homers by two catchers in the same inning.

Texas would walk off the next night too, thanks to Martin.

And the night after that, courtesy of Adrian Beltre.

All told, the Rangers have gone 22-6 (including 20-0 when scoring at least four runs) since Neal Cotts got out of that volcanic jam on July 29.

And gained 9.0 games in the standings in that month and a day.

It’s the best 28-game stretch in club history, matching what Texas did from July 6 (or 7 or 8 or 9) through August 6 (or 7 or 8) in 1977.  In this run of 28, the Rangers have scored more than that previous record-setting club did, a fact that must be digested along with the reminder that this offense had just come off that four-game stretch in which it had failed to score three different times.  This 22-6 team has allowed fewer runs than that 1997 club did, too, and that’s with Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, and Nick Tepesch on the disabled list, and Alexi Ogando DL’d for half of it.

Through five innings on July 29, coming off of New York 2, Texas 0, and Cleveland 11, Texas 8, and Cleveland 1, Texas 0, and Cleveland 6, Texas 0, with the Rangers behind the Angels and Weaver, 3-0, the idea that the team was poised to fire off the best 28-game run in its history was no less preposterous than the fact that the streak would start with three straight walkoff home runs and would feature blowout wins over Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, and Felix Hernandez again.

Texas now has the best record in the American League.  Unimaginable on July 29.

The club has gone 26 straight games without allowing more than five runs, the longest such streak for an American League club since Oakland in 1972.  And the Rangers will get Feliz back on Sunday or Monday, with Ogando and Tepesch presumably not far behind.

Before that, Texas could add a player via trade, as the club did on August 31, 2010 (Joaquin Arias for Jeff Francoeur) and on August 31, 2011 (player to be named Pedro Strop for Mike Gonzalez, and cash for Matt Treanor).  It won’t be Josh Willingham or (thankfully) Mike Morse, who were claimed by Baltimore, or Kendrys Morales, who was claimed by some team but pulled back by Seattle.  But theoretically, it could be Dan Haren, or Adam Dunn, or Justin Morneau, or Matt Lindstrom, all of whom have reportedly cleared waivers.

As Assistant GM Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio last weekend, “We’ve talked about need and now we’re going to talk about names to go with that need.”

We know the roster will start to expand on Sunday.  We don’t know whether the roster will be upgraded beforehand.

But we do know the Rangers will be busy today and tomorrow turning over every rock.

It’s a lot more fun to be the team looking at every single roster spot and imagining how it can be maximized in September — and October — than to be the team trading Eddie Guardado back to Minnesota at the end of August, to boost the Twins’ pennant run.

It’s especially awesome to be in this position considering where this club was on July 29.

No comeback from a 3-1 score should be considered improbable for a contending team, but in the eighth inning of Rangers-Angels on July 29 it felt damn near impossible.  That was a very long month and a day ago.

And there’s still right at a month to go on the regular season schedule, with Oakland having the much easier lie than Texas — though the A’s were one pitch away from a four-game sweep in Detroit yesterday, and in the last two weeks have lost home series against Houston and Seattle.  You never know.

When Texas was shut out three times in four games just over a month ago, the odds that I’d be writing this article today rather than one comparing Chris Davis’s last 162 games (57 home runs, 44 doubles, 1.058 OPS) to Joey Gallo’s (56 home runs, 35 doubles, .959 OPS), or one featuring the Rangers’ 53-18 Dominican Summer League squad (which beat the Red Sox club, 14-2, to open the playoffs yesterday), or one focusing on the run that righthanders Luke Jackson and Alec Asher and Nick Martinez and Wilmer Font and Lisalverto Bonilla are on, or one about Jose Dariel Abreu or Masahiro Tanaka, or one noting that righthander Johnny Hellweg (part of what the Angels sent the Brewers, along with Jean Segura, for Zack Greinke) was just named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, were longer than Gallo’s swing.

How far ahead or back are the Rangers if Cotts and Pierzynski and Soto don’t come through on July 29?

Maybe Texas is 2.0 games up right now, rather than 3.0.

Maybe the disparity is less mathematical.

Whether you believe in momentum or mojo or Neal Cotts, right now you have to believe in the Texas Rangers.  You have to feel good about Darvish-Hendriks tonight and Garza-Pelfrey tomorrow and even Blackley-Correia on Sunday afternoon, as the Twins come to town, and at least reasonably optimistic about Price-Parker, Cobb-Gray, and whoever the Rays are throwing against A.J. Griffin on Sunday as Oakland hosts Tampa Bay.

Not every year is going to be your year, but a couple days before September it’s pretty cool when it still might be, even if a couple days before August things weren’t exactly looking so good, prompting a friend of yours to send a text wondering if an entire season was actually on the line.

Weirdnesses.

It’s strange to begin with, these West Coast games, especially when the first pitch is thrown just as the kids are resisting their back-to-school bedtimes. Texas 4, Seattle 3 stayed weird for 10 innings.

You had two of the American League’s best pitchers, Derek Holland and Hisashi Iwakuma, firing statistically certified Quality Starts (the 9th out of 10 for Holland, 7th out of 10 for Iwakuma) even though neither was sharp as we’re accustomed to seeing.

You had a second-inning moment, with Mitch Moreland on second and one out, when David Murphy shot a single to right and Gary Pettis ordered Moreland, as he approached third seeking guidance on whether to sprint another 90 feet, to go-no-stop-no-go, with a pleasant enough result as Moreland beat the throw to the plate and tied things at 2-2, after which another run-scoring single gave Texas a 3-2 lead before their half of the frame was over.

After getting behind in the count and ultimately walking the leadoff hitter in each of the first two innings, Holland issued ball one to Franklin Gutierrez to start the third, after which Gutierrez deposited the next pitch over the center field fence to re-tie the game. (I think it somewhere around that time that I tweeted “If Texas wins this game, it’s gonna be one helluva great win.” Holland was battling, but just wasn’t on his game.)

Pitch counts chased both starters after six.

Then there were the top of the eighth and top of the tenth.

Eighth, game tied, 3-3: Ian Kinsler singles. Adrian Beltre is hit by a pitch. Rather than having A.J. Pierzynski bunt, which if successful would have led Eric Wedge to put Alex Rios on and pitch to Moreland with one out and the bases loaded, needing a sac fly to grab a lead, Pierzynski was allowed to swing away, and on the first pitch he popped out to first. Rios then grounded into a double play.

(Bottom of ninth: Tanner Scheppers could have retired three Mariners on one pitch, had Moreland let Humberto Quintero’s popped-up bunt fall at his feet. Instead, Scheppers got the job done in 12 pitches, getting the pop-out and two strikeouts, each including three swing-and-miss strikes.)

Tenth, game still tied, 3-3: After Elvis Andrus was called out on a weird batter’s interference call (running centimeters inside the chalk as pitcher Danny Farquhar fielded his dribbler down the first base line and dodgeballed Andrus in the back), here we went again . . . Kinsler single, Beltre single, Pierzynski up.

There’s one out, so there’s no bunting Kinsler to third.

So Kinsler takes some initiative, reads Farquhar’s time to the plate on ball one to Pierzynski, and on the second pitch of the at-bat, which happened to be a breaking ball down, Kinsler took off for third and was comfortably safe.

With runners now on the corners and just one out, Pierzynski again popped out, this time to third, and the sac fly was no longer in order.

But the decisive-run-scoring balk was.

Technically, C.B. Bucknor’s call was probably correct, as was his interference call that nullified Andrus’s single minutes earlier, but in each case it seemed reasonable for one team to feel like it had gotten jobbed in a major display of game-deciding #umpshow.

After Rios struck out to end the inning, Joe Nathan came on to preserve the Rangers’ 4-3 lead. Gutierrez harmlessly grounded out to Andrus. Kyle Seager singled to left center, which, given that it was Kyle Seager, felt basically harmless in what was a one-run game (his 16 extra-base hits against Texas this year are more than Vladimir Guerrero ever had in one season). Kendrys Morales struck out swinging, and it was down to Justin Smoak.

Nathan fell behind, 2-0, but then evened the count. Smoak then foul-tipped a fastball that changed direction no more than Farquhar’s shoulder did on The Balk, and Pierzynski couldn’t hang onto what would have been a game-ending strikeout.

And then, in one of the season’s strangest games, Smoak went on to work an eight-pitch walk, pushing the tying run to second and giving way himself to pinch-runner Endy Chavez, who represented the potential walkoff run.

Michael Saunders, who is playing less than Michael Morse for some reason, was up, two innings after entering the game and singling sharply off Neal Cotts. As he swung through strike one and watched ball one sail by, and then ball two, I couldn’t stop thinking about strike three to Smoak barely eluding Pierzynski’s grip, and how in this really weird baseball game, which had moved well past midnight locally, that millimetered difference was probably going to end up being the final difference between a “W” and an “L.”

That’s what was still burning a hole in my brain when Saunders rocketed a grounder past the mound, seemingly headed for center field sod if not for the exquisite defensive positioning that had Andrus almost behind second base, and as Andrus scooped the ball up, I half-expected a shoelace to come loose and prevent him from beating Chavez to the bag while Seager did Seager things and tore past third, ignoring the subtlety of third base coach Jeff Datz’s go-no-stop-no-go directive, prompting Andrus to raise to a knee and fire a strike to the plate, appearing to beat Seager to end the game if not for the baseball barely eluding Pierzynski’s grip, resulting in a tie game, and that’s where my nightmare ended when I realized that Andrus’s trot to the bag with ball in hand was unimpeded and true, and there was nothing C.B. Bucknor could do to make it not so, and with the game no longer capable of further weirdness and firmly in the one-helluva-great-win column — that’s now 19 straight when Texas scores at least four times — I paused the TV so I could walk up to the screen and give Jackie a hug.

Murph.

The response to yesterday’s Yu Darvish post was interesting, in some instances making me consider whether I failed to state clearly enough my basic point, which was merely that I think Darvish — who is great and an ace and my second favorite pitcher in Rangers history — has room to be better (that would be good thing, right?).  Based on the responses, I know many of you understood the point I was trying to make, but some didn’t, and that’s my fault, but either way, the issue of whether there’s a potentially correctable piece in Darvish’s already extraordinary game is one on which there is some clear disagreement.

Anyway, I didn’t suit up in a flak jacket before sending Sunday morning’s report out, but I’ve got it on right now as I throw the following out there . . . .

David Murphy makes $5.775 million this year, a product of his third and final arbitration-eligible season.  He’ll be 32 in October, and is having his worst big league season, whether you measure it by OPS or OPS+ or WAR or none of those.

At this point, what is he this winter?  A two-year, $9 million player?  One year and 6 million?  Two years and $10.5 million, given how thin the free agent market is?

Hypothetically, what if Murphy cost only $500,000 or so in 2014?  Would you take him back in the fourth-outfielder role that he’s held for most of his career, with Leonys Martin in center, Alex Rios in right, a new left fielder, right-handed-hitting center fielder and runner Craig Gentry on the bench, and someone like Nelson Cruz at DH?

What if Murphy were a little better defensively than he is, and capable of playing a reasonable center field?  Would he fit for you, especially at a league-minimum salary?

What if he could play a little first base as well?

What if he were a baserunning threat?

What if he were 28 years old this off-season, rather than 32?

I don’t think Murphy will be back in Texas after this season.  He’s entering the first free agency of his career, and at age 32 it will be his one chance to shop the market for a contract that could set his family up for life, perhaps coming close to doubling the $13 million he’s made so far.

For various reasons, it would make sense that it would come from a club not loaded to contend right away, as 2013 has probably sent signals that he’s better off (especially in his declining years as far as age goes) as a fourth outfielder on a contender, though he might fit in an everyday role on a young team with a front office that values Murphy’s playoff experience and his intangibles, counting on a bounceback year statistically.  That’s probably where he stands the best chance at maximizing his next contract.

What I’m wondering is whether Jim Adduci, at age 28 the epitome of a 4-A baseball player, might not be able to step in next year, at the league minimum, with better defense, versatile enough to handle center field and first base in addition to the outfield corners, offering a left-handed bat that is hitting .296/.378/.465 against AAA pitching this year — including .395/.471/.547 this month — while torching right-handed pitching to the tune of .314/.402/.498, with the added ability to run a little bit (32 steals in 41 tries), and help the Texas bench.

Adduci’s not on the 40-man roster, but maybe in a week you get him up here for a handful of targeted opportunities down the stretch.  (The roster has one open spot, but even once Neftali Feliz comes off the 60-day disabled list to fill it you have other options, like putting Roman Mendez or perhaps Justin Miller on the 60.)  We will see Engel Beltre back in Arlington when rosters expand, and maybe Joey Butler (a right-handed bat) and even Joe Benson (also a right-handed bat), who is on his final option.  If Adduci came up his opportunities would probably be very limited, but he’d get around the team and the coaches for a month, and there’s some benefit to that.

Fortunately, Neal Cotts, whom the Rangers had on a minor league deal in 2012 but didn’t add to the roster last September, felt enough loyalty to Texas to sign a new non-roster contract in the winter rather than take advantage of one of what was probably a handful of other opportunities around the league.  Maybe Adduci, who spent three seasons in the Marlins system and then six seasons as a Cubs farmhand before signing in November with Texas — on the recommendation of pro scout Scot Engler, who is also responsible for Cotts and Ross Wolf and several other off-the-radar acquisitions — and who hit .388/.464/.612 in camp this spring for the Rangers while playing more games (31) than anyone besides Julio Borbon, is prepared to build off his breakout minor league season by returning to the organization he’s turned that season in for.

Adding Adduci to the 40-man roster in September would prevent other clubs from approaching him this winter and fighting Texas to bring him to camp in 2014.

It might also give the Rangers another look, in addition to the one he gave them in 55 plate appearances in Surprise and the 526 plate appearances he’s given them so far in Round Rock, that even in very small doses can help to start put a picture in the frame, as the organization decides what its reshaped outfield and bench might look like going into 2014.

Yu.

The Rangers are a .560 team (14-11) in 2013 when Yu Darvish starts.

They are a .587 team (61-43) when he doesn’t.

Beats me.

It’s just strange.  Darvish is an absolute beast.  I get emails from some of you every five days asking if I’d write an article on his Cy Young chances, which I suppose I’d consider if I cared at all about league awards.  I know people who aren’t really baseball fans (no, really, I do) who will stop down in the opponents’ half during Darvish starts just to watch his video game stuff dance and dart and explode.

On the one hand, the ultimate results when Darvish takes the ball seem like an exercise in You Can’t Predict Ball.

But on the other, there’s the shutdown inning opportunities that seem too frequently to start with a Darvish walk, the trouble he’s had all season with the bottom third of the order, the home run log that’s populated by Dewayne Wise, David Ross, Matt Dominguez, Matt Dominguez again, Don Kelly, Didi Gregorius, John Jaso, a flagging Travis Hafner, Brett Gardner, Jayson Nix, Brandon Barnes, Michael Bourn, Kole Calhoun, Carlos Corporan, and only six other hitters who you’d probably count as legitimate home run threats.

Do you ever wonder how good Matt Garza would be if he had Yu Darvish’s stuff?

Do you?

Garza’s mound temperament isn’t perfect, but I kinda like imagining Darvish if he had some of that.

Can he make that different?  Can he make that better?  Is that possible?

Isn’t it fair to say Garza’s stuff plays up at least a little bit because of it?

Is it fair to ask whether Darvish’s stuff actually plays down, at least from time to time?

What he did in the bottom of the seventh to Dayan Viciedo (strikeout swinging) and pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger (strikeout swinging) and Alejandro De Aza (pop to shortstop), with men on first and third and nobody out, was pure beast mode.

But he’s also the guy who walked rookie Avisail Garcia on five pitches to start that inning and then surrendered a line drive single to rookie Conor Gillaspie on an 0-2 pitch, sending Garcia to third to cook up the mess that he eventually got out of.

A .560 team when Yu Darvish starts.

A .587 team when (in order of frequency) Derek Holland, Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez, Matt Garza, Josh Lindblom, Ross Wolf, Matt Harrison, or Travis Blackley starts.

Pitcher wins are not direct functions of pitcher effectiveness.  Obviously, team wins when a pitcher starts aren’t either, as the bullpen factors into every no-decision, by definition.

But is it fair to expect an ace to reach for that next gear when given a lead, when facing the bottom third, when the instant situation calls for a beast to put everyone in the same uniform on his back?

He’s my second favorite Rangers pitcher ever.  I want him to be more.

Fair?

It’s August 24.

You wake up on August 24, and a 19-4 run has you 3.5 games up in the division, lagging the 8.5-game lead you had in 2010 and the 6.0-game lead in 2012, but matching 2011’s 3.5-game advantage in what was the Rangers’ last World Series season.

You wake up today, August 24, feeling much better with Yu Darvish slated to take that 3.5-game cushion to the hill than you did the last time Texas was leading the division by the same amount, following a deflating May 26 loss in which Texas took an 11th-inning lead in Seattle, only to see the club surrender it on Joe Nathan’s first pitch in the bottom of that frame (Raul Ibanez homer) and lose the game when Michael Kirkman and Ross Wolf couldn’t keep the Mariners from scoring in the 13th.

The next day, May 27, Martin Perez (making his 2013 big league debut) and Darvish got the starts in a doubleheader sweep in Arizona.  Perez gave up three runs in the first two innings and Texas didn’t score until the ninth, falling 5-3.  Darvish was sailing along in Game Two until Didi Gregorius homered with a man on in the eighth to tie the game, and Arizona went on to walk off against Jason Frasor and Robbie Ross in the ninth and sweep the twinbill.

May 27 was a long time ago.  Perez, not yet a trusted piece, was optioned back to Round Rock after the Diamondbacks doubleheader.  Ian Kinsler was in the early stages of a month-long disabled list stint that I barely remember.  A.J. Pierzynski had just returned from his own DL stint.  Derek Lowe’s Rangers career had just ended, a journeyman named Neal Cotts had just been purchased from AAA, and Wolf (who?), younger on the staff than only Nathan, Frasor, and Cotts, was purchased from AA.  Lance Berkman was an everyday player — with an OBP hovering around .400.

You wake up this morning, and your team is 9.5 games ahead of where it was just 25 days ago (6.0 games back to 3.5 games up), which dwarfs the 5.5 games that Oakland made up in the brutal final 25 days of the 2012 season.

It’s August 24, and if you have a few minutes to surf around a bit you might land on an article about Oakland blowing four of its last five save chances (and a closer look might have you wondering if the crazy workload that set-up weapons Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle have had the last two seasons might not be catching up to them), or you might read this unbelievable schadenfreude-laden CBS Sports article and this one too, each about what’s been going on behind the scenes the last couple years with the Angels, who on this date were 9.0 games back in 2010, 3.5 games back in 2011, 8.5 games back in 2012, and 18.5 games back today.

But this is no time to dwell on the A’s skid or the Angels’ festering dysfunction.  Texas is 17-4 and Oakland is 8-12 since the Adam Rosales DFA train got rolling, and who knows, maybe Rosales gets his second straight start tonight, behind Darvish, as the Rangers face their third left-handed starter in a row, in a stretch that will extend to five straight.

Magic seasons tend to have Ross Wolf and Adam Rosales contributions here and there — Neal Cotts is on a different level altogether — and here we sit, 80 percent into another 162, and in spite of all the major injuries and The Suspension and issues with the offense and the baserunning breakdowns, the Texas Rangers have the best record in the American League.

It’s August 24.  Happy Birthday to Jon Daniels.

Happy Baseball Day to the rest of us.

Check, mate.

Tuesday was a big day for Travis Blackley, and for Ryan Dempster.

A good one for Blackley, and a bad one for Dempster, which pretty much matches up with how October 2 and October 3 went for the Australian lefthander and the Canadian righty.

Blackley rescued a further decimated Rangers staff with a spot start Tuesday for Alexi Ogando, DL’d for the third time this year, contributing four solid innings of work in his Texas debut as he gave up one scoring play in a game eventually won late, hours before his former Oakland teammates would lose theirs late.

Dempster was suspended Tuesday for five games because he intentionally drilled Alex Rodriguez on Sunday night.

On October 2, Blackley went a strong six, holding the Rangers to one scoring play in a game his A’s would come back to win.  That was Game 161.

On October 3, Dempster would have served Texas better if he’d been suspended, as he watched his teammates jump out to a 5-1, third-inning lead, only to spit it up by issuing a four-pitch walk to start the Oakland fourth, followed immediately by a double and a single and another single and his prompt exit from Game 162, which was basically a playoff game and one of the biggest baseball gut punches ever.

Later that inning, as Dempster watched Derek Holland allow two of the runners he inherited to score (moments after which Josh Hamilton Dropped the Fly Ball), the book was slammed shut on Dempster’s game ledger and his Rangers career, and basically the 2012 Texas season.  Oakland 12, Texas 5, a pile-up on the mound that included Blackley, and preparations for Game 163, which the Rangers would drop spiritlessly to Baltimore two days later.

Dempster became the Rangers’ 18th pitcher in 2012 — 19th if you count Craig Gentry — when he was acquired from the Cubs on July 31.  The club would run only one more pitcher, reliever Wilmer Font, onto the mound all year.

Blackley is already the Rangers’ 23rd pitcher in 2013 — 24th if you count David Murphy.

Dempster, who makes $13.25 million this year and will make the same in 2014, will keep getting his paycheck even though he’ll be forced by MLB to miss one Boston start (and pay some undisclosed fine).

Whether Blackley, who at $550,000 makes slightly more than league minimum, will get the ball Monday in Seattle is unknown.  Last night’s four innings of work was the most he’s thrown all year, in the big leagues or the minors — and in turn the most he’s thrown since October 2 — and that’s a risk, knowing you’re going to need four innings from the bullpen when he starts, if not more, even though workhorses Matt Garza and Holland are working before and after what would be his day to pitch.

Tonight the Rangers draw Houston lefthander Erik Bedard, who had cleared trade waivers earlier in the month and was at least rumored to be under Texas consideration as a trade pickup to make last night’s start rather than Blackley, or Josh Lindblom, or Ross Wolf, or Jake Brigham, or Evan Meek.

Instead, Bedard will pitch in this series in the road uniform, while Blackley hangs in the home dugout with Garza and Yu Darvish and Martin Perez watching Holland do work, and watching Adrian Beltre — who after last night’s heroics offered to reporters: “This is what I’m supposed to be doing, right?” — do what he’s supposed to be doing.

The Rangers have a game and a half on the A’s at the moment, but it feels foolish to think the AL West is going to come down to anything other than who might manage to win more against the other in the clubs’ six remaining matchups, though oddly the two will be finished with each other (at least in the regular season) on September 15, with 14 games to go.

Get this: Since the Rangers’ 4-3 win over the Angels on July 29 (the Geo Soto Game), when the Rangers score four runs — just four runs — they are 15-0.  When they score fewer than four in that stretch, they’re 2-4.

Pitching, man.

Get to four runs and you win the game.  Just get to four.

(Even when Kyle Seager is on the other team.  It will drive you crazy if you read this sentence more than once: Seager was 0 for 19 leading up to the Mariners’ weekend series in Arlington, during which he hit .364/.462/1.000, and since then he’s gone 0 for 8 the last two nights in Oakland.)

You pitch, you win.

And when Travis Blackley, on his fifth big league team and on his fourth major or minor league club in 2013 alone, does his part, getting the ball to the Frasor-Cotts-Scheppers-Nathan core of the relief corps, with none of those four relievers needing to get more than four outs, you’ve pitched, and you’ve won, even if there isn’t a “W” that gets assigned to the back of your baseball card.

Big day, Travis Blackley.  Good on ya.

Stuff.

Real quick: Two meaningless things, and then one that means a bunch to me.

First, things got pretty edgy on Twitter last night, and while it’s clear that some fans thought it was unfair to question the bench decision not to insert Craig Gentry for David Murphy defensively in the top of the eighth with a 1-0 lead, and the bench decision not to hit lefty-killer Jeff Baker for A.J. Pierzynski against lefty-killer Charlie Furbush with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, I thought it was unfair to complain too much about Neal Cotts missing his spot on his second 0-2 pitch to Kyle Seager — a pitch he wouldn’t have had to throw if Gentry had been in left on the first 0-2 pitch — and surrendering the Seager bomb.

It was the second home run Cotts has given up all year (both, incidentally, giving the Mariners a lead late in a game in Arlington).  You can probably count on one hand the better American League relief pitchers in 2013.  Seager’s a very good hitter with stupid-great numbers in Rangers Ballpark.  Sometimes the other guy beats you.

Derek Holland had thrown 105 pitches, and with a one-run lead I’m not going to complain about turning that game over to the Rangers’ very good back of the bullpen.  Seager beating Cotts isn’t a story.

And neither is Elvis Andrus hitting the trade-waiver wire this week and clearing.

As we talked about in the August 9 COFFEY, the waivers process after July 31 is completely different, primarily in that a club request for waivers on its player is revocable.  Almost every player on a big league 40-man roster gets run onto the waiver wire in August, and in almost every case the waivers request is ultimately revoked.

Why put Andrus on waivers at all?  Flexibility.  There’s no downside in the move, and the upside, even if it’s a one-in-a-thousand scenario, is that, as an example, if Tampa Bay were to lose 16 straight and decide late in August to run David Price onto waivers, just to increase that club’s own flexibility, and no American League team lower than Texas in the standings at the time puts in a claim, and Jurickson Profar has been on a Soriano-like tear at the plate and a Simmons-like tear in the field, then you can sit in the GM box and toss around the idea of making Andrus available in a deal for Price, right now, because you’ve gotten Andrus through waivers.  Maybe if you wait until then to run Andrus out there — procedurally he can’t be a player to be named later — a team chasing Texas sniffs what’s going on and blocks things by claiming Andrus, knowing it has no downside since the Rangers would never just stick that team with Andrus’s contract.

So why didn’t anyone put in a claim on Andrus this last week, like Texas did with Alex Rios, for example?  There’s probably less “blocking” that goes on than we might think.  Particularly with very good players on very good teams, other clubs know there’s virtually no chance that player will be traded during the pennant race, and so they don’t put claims in because they’re not concerned he could get dealt to a team they’re chasing.

Aside from that — and this too falls under the one-in-a-thousand heading, if not one-in-a-million — let’s say there’s 50 players on the revocable waiver wire on a given day in August, maybe 100 (teams can put up to seven players on trade waivers per day).  And let’s say Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis both tear knees up in a gnarly collision and the Diamondbacks, who have gotten hot, are on the Dodgers’ tail and want to make sure that neither Andrus nor Ian Kinsler, who just hit the waiver wire, ends up on with Los Angeles, and there’s Yovani Gallardo on the wire at the same time, too, and he’d look great in an Arizona lid.  Even if it’s a ridiculous scenario, what if the Diamondbacks put claims in on all three, and get stuck with Andrus’s contract (unable to flip it the rest of the season because of waivers and without a realistic way to play both him and Didi Gregorius) and Gallardo’s contract, too?

That would obviously never happen, but with the absence of any real upside to putting the claim in on a player like Andrus, who isn’t going to be moved in August, you get the idea: There’s no sense in risking the one-in-a-million financial downside when there’s no upside at all.

Andrus passing through revocable trade waivers, unclaimed, isn’t news.

Finally, thank you very much to those of you who chose to participate this year with “honor system” contributions to the Newberg Report effort.  It’s always a completely voluntary deal, and I’m grateful for your support in recognition of the great and tireless work that Scott and a bunch of others behind the scenes put in to keep this thing rolling.

Thank you.

Chances.

Yu Darvish entered the game with a 7-2, 3.03 record in 10 starts, facing Kansas City starter Ervin Santana, whose career ERA in Rangers Ballpark was an appropriate 7.47, with an opponents’ OPS hovering around 1.000.

Darvish set the Royals down in order in the first, and Texas put a run on the board in the bottom of the inning, in a way that was just as old-school Rangers as it was old-school Royals: Elvis Andrus hit a ground ball to short and ended up on second base when Alcides Escobar threw wildly, took third on a David Murphy fly to center, and scored on a feeble Lance Berkman grounder between the mound and the plate.

Then Darvish and Santana matched zeroes under sunny afternoon skies and 80 Arlington degrees in the second inning.  And the third.  And the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh.

And then something that just doesn’t happen happened.  Neal Cotts allowed a run.  It had happened to him once in the minor leagues in 2013, and hadn’t happened at all in the big leagues.  Alex Gordon rifled a broken-bat double down the right field line, Escobar bunted him to third, and Eric Hosmer hit a bounder to third base, where Jeff Baker gathered it in and threw home high and late.  Tie game.

Tanner Scheppers replaced Cotts and got out of the inning, and Kansas City then called it a day for Santana, who was at 108 pitches, replacing him with journeyman reliever J.C. Gutierrez, who is now blowing games for the Angels.  And Texas then did something to J.C. Gutierrez that teams do to J.C. Gutierrez.

Five pitches into the inning, Gutierrez had recorded two outs, and he then had Jurickson Profar down 0-2 before the 20-year-old watched a pitch sail out of the strike zone and fouled another off.

And then Jurickson Profar homered to right.

An Andrus single and stolen base and a Murphy single extended the Texas lead to 3-1, and Joe Nathan retired the Royals in order in the ninth to seal the June 2 victory.

The win allowed Texas to maintain a 2.0-game lead on Oakland, the tightest the gap had been in a month.

It’s also the last time the Rangers were as many as two games up on the A’s.  Until last night, two-and-a-half months later.

On June 2, Cubs righthander Matt Garza was between starts, having just appeared for the third time all season and recording his first 2013 win, a 7-2 Chicago victory over Arizona in which the veteran righthander went a strong seven.

The day before the Diamondbacks fell to Garza’s Cubs, the Diamondbacks fell to the Rangers and Justin Grimm, who improved to 5-3, 3.93 with a strong six frames of his own.

The day Garza downed the Diamondbacks, Mike Olt returned to minor league action after a five-week layoff due to vision problems.  Olt homered off a AA relief pitcher that day, helping to seal a 7-4 Frisco win over Tulsa for rehabbing starter Alexi Ogando, on the disabled list at the time with biceps tendinitis.

On June 2, Hickory righthander C.J. Edwards was in the midst of a brief DL stint of his own, nursing a 5-2, 2.22 record in 11 Crawdads starts.  The South Atlantic League was hitting .189/.276/.229 off the 21-year-old.

So much has changed since June 2.  Edwards got even stronger.  Olt reestablished his health and his power stroke, even if other parts of his game lagged.

Grimm posted a 9.73 ERA (.351/.410/.656) from that point until a brutal July 12 start against Detroit, the day after which Garza completed a six-game run in which he went 5-0, 1.24 (.210/.264/.302) and established himself as the top available pitcher on the trade market.

It was Garza’s final start before the All-Star Break, and his final start before he was traded to Texas on July 22, for Edwards and Olt and Grimm and either Neil Ramirez or two minor league pitchers of reportedly lesser repute.

Since the trade, Edwards has pitched three times for the Cubs’ High A affiliate in Daytona, yielding three runs in a combined 9.2 innings, punching out a Darvish-like 17.

Grimm has a 6.52 ERA (.316/.391/.408) in four starts for AAA Iowa.

His teammate Olt is hitting .133/.188/.267 in 80 plate appearances, fanning 20 times against Pacific Coast League pitchers.

And Garza?  He’s 2-1, 3.86 for the Rangers, who are 4-1 in his five starts.

Even in his two no-decisions, he’s kept his team in the game, and they’ve won.

If Grimm, who isn’t getting AAA hitters out right now, had made those five Garza starts, or if Josh Lindblom or Ross Wolf or Jake Brigham or Evan Meek or someone else had made those five starts, where are the Rangers right now?

Probably not two games up, where they are this morning and where they were last on June 2.

Since that time, the lead disappeared and the deficit grew to an ominous six games and then the Rangers rattled off five straight, and 14 of 16, and here they are, two games up again on the A’s, who have lost 9 of 13, including the last two nights at home, against the Astros, who immediately before that had lost all four to the Rangers in Minute Maid Park.

Sometimes you have to take a chance.  You dash home on a grounder to Jeff Baker, you give Ervin Santana that one extra inning, you run on Leonys Martin.

And you trade key pieces for Matt Garza, even though he may be holding up someone else’s jersey in a press conference four months from now.

Baseball, man.

Counting on Yu.

1: Texas maintained a one-game lead over Oakland behind another dominating Yu Darvish effort, beating Houston, 2-1.

2: Darvish is the second pitcher in Rangers history to have multiple starts in one season of at least 8.0 innings pitched and no more than one hit allowed (Nolan Ryan had three in 1989).

3: Darvish is one of three pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920) to have four starts in a season of at least 14 strikeouts and no more than one walk (Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Randy Johnson in 1999 are the others).

4: Darvish’s 428 strikeouts are the fourth most by any pitcher in his first two big league seasons since 1900.

5: Darvish is the fifth pitcher in big league history with at least five games of 14 strikeouts or more in one season (Ryan, Martinez, Johnson, and Sam McDowell are the others).

6: Texas plays Houston six more times in 2013.

7: Oakland plays Houston seven more times in 2013, starting tonight.

8: The Rangers have won eight straight games — all on the road, a club record.

9: Darvish has punched out at least 10 hitters nine times in 2013, which leads the big leagues.

10: Texas finishes its 10-game trip to Oakland, Anaheim, and Houston with nine wins, making it the most successful road trip (by winning percentage) in club history.

11:

yu 11

 

12: Darvish victories in 2013.  Also the number of Darvish’s 15 strikeouts yesterday that came on offspeed pitches.

13: The number of Texas wins . . .

14: . . . in the last 14 games.

15: Darvish strikeouts yesterday, setting a personal best (after four games of 14 punchouts).

16: The Rangers control Darvish through 2016.  His contract extends through 2017, but he can void the final season if one of two things happens: (1) he wins the Cy Young in any season before that and finishes second, third, or fourth in the vote in another season; or (2) he finishes second in the Cy Young vote once and finishes second, third, or fourth in two other seasons.

17: Darvish leads the big leagues in 2012-13 with 17 starts of at least 10 strikeouts.  Max Scherzer and Chris Sale are next with nine such starts.

18: It was on the game’s 18th Astros hitter that home plate umpire Ron Kulpa issued a walk and ejected Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski out of the game, an exquisite example of #umpshow that he’s likely very proud of.

19: Darvish has allowed 19 hits and 10 walks in 34.1 innings since returning from the disabled list on July 22.  In that span he’s 4-1, 1.31, holding opponents to a .160/.231/.277 slash line and punching out 50 batters.

20: Kulpa has ejected 20 baseball people since 2005, which is as far back as this website goes.

21: Number of times between now and the end of 2016 that I’ll beg in writing for Texas and Darvish to tear his contract up and replace it with a new, longer, more awesome one.

22: The uniform number of Astros backup catcher Carlos Corporan, who’s not as bad a word pair as “Marwin Gonzalez” but man, that home run sucked.  It’s also the uniform number of Matt Garza, who could be pitching for a JD Wash-do tomorrow if Alexi Ogando and his teammates beat the Brewers tonight.

51,703,411: Thank you, Bob & Ray & Neil & your whole bad-ass crew.

 

cpunt punch

 

Ah ah ah.

Pressure.

Before Mike Bacsik was a local radio personality and after he was the son of a 1970s Texas Rangers pitcher, he played in the big leagues himself, for the Indians and the Mets and the Rangers and the Nationals.  Whether that gives him added credibility or not to have said what he did yesterday after Texas traded for Alex Rios, a player whose motor and body language has been questioned more than once and whose untapped potential gets mentioned as often as his actual production on the field, I’m unsure, but what he said struck a nerve.

Tweeted Bacsik: “If you get traded into a pennant race and you’re an everyday player, you see it as, ‘I’m the player who can put the team over the top.’ . . . [A] player sees it as his chance to become a savior and doesn’t want to disappoint his new teammates.  Remember what Rick Carlisle says about pressure.”

Carlisle has a sign in the Mavericks locker room that says: “Love pressure.”  The title-winning coach says pressure “has one of two effects: It makes diamonds or it bursts pipes.”

I don’t discount the body language thing.  They don’t all have to be Matt Garza or Grant Balfour or Jered Weaver, but you want to see the key players on your team showing a pulse, and not getting benched in the middle of a game for not running out a double play ground ball.  But here’s the thing.

How would you feel if Texas, sitting right now in a virtual tie atop the AL West after this run of 10 out of 11, finished the season five games out of any kind of playoff spot?

Imagine that for a minute.  Five games out.  The Rangers have been more than five games back on just two days since 2009 (and that was two weeks ago, right as this dominant run was about to get underway).  Imagine Texas limping to a finish where the club is five games out of a Wild Card spot, and some larger number of games behind the A’s in the division.

It would be the most successful finish to a season in Alex Rios’s 10-year big league career, with the exception of one.

He’s been on a few teams that won more games than they lost, marginally, but he’s finished seasons 30.5 games out of the playoffs, 15 games back, 11 games back, 10 games back, nine games back, eight games, 7.5 games back, and six games back.  That doesn’t count the White Sox in 2013, a miserable year that has that club 22 games out of the second Wild Card spot this morning and stripping down.

The one season in which a Rios team was closer to 162+ than six games out was last year, when the 85-77 White Sox finished three games behind Detroit (having held first place for four months before spitting things up with a week to go).

It happened to be Rios’s career year.  A slash line of .304/.334/.516, an OPS+ of 125, and a number 15 finish in the AL MVP vote, a couple spots ahead of Albert Pujols.

Nobody ever questioned Adrian Beltre’s or Mike Napoli’s or Joe Nathan’s motor, but none of them had won a ring or had much of any post-season success at all, and that story line came up when Texas acquired each of them.  The hungry Rangers like hungry players.

I have no idea if Rios really plays as spiritlessly as his reputation suggests, or if he’s hungry for another pennant race, or if 2012 reveals anything reliable about how he competes when he’s on a competitive team.

But I do know he’s a good defensive right fielder, has some juice in the bat, at least in spurts, can put pressure on the opponent with his legs, and, last night notwithstanding, is a better bet to help Texas win games these final two months than a platoon of Joey Butler and Engel Beltre.  As we discussed yesterday, as long as ownership was comfortable with the financial investment — Rios is guaranteed about $3.5 million the rest of the way this season and $13 million in 2014 (when Nelson Cruz and David Murphy will be free agents), with a $1 million club option to buy out his $14 million commitment in 2015, with Chicago kicking in $1 million in the trade — you don’t turn away from the opportunity because of Leury Garcia, who has a chance to be a tremendous utility player, but no more than that in Texas.  When names like Martin Perez and Luke Jackson and Rougned Odor are getting tweeted around, that’s one thing.  This is another.

And I also know that the Rangers, in large part because of their manager, tend to get a lot out of their new players, sometimes a good bit more than their former teams did.  Maybe it’s the winning atmosphere, the culture in the clubhouse, the hands-off approach of the skipper.  Maybe it’s the type of player they target.

You probably remember seeing the national columns a week ago declaring trade deadline winners and losers, a couple of which placed the Rangers in the “L” column, presumably because they made no news in the final couple days of July.

But Texas is the team that, nine days before the conventional July 31 deadline, traded for the best pitcher in the league who was moved, and that, nine days after the deadline, traded for arguably the best hitter who changed addresses.  Be my guest if you prefer Alfonso Soriano over Rios, but make sure to factor in not only the age and contract but also the defense and baserunning.

Garza won his first start as a Ranger, and since his second start, the club is 10-1.  Nobody knows if the abstract boost that a move like adding Garza played any role in the team’s turnaround — it’s not as if the subtraction of Cruz has had an adverse effect so far — and Garza is player who, at least in the obvious sense, can only help your team win once every five days.

Maybe that’s all Rios will do, too.

But I like the idea of Alex Rios in a pennant race, not only because of what it might do for Texas but also because of what it might do for the player.  Pressure can lead to one of two things, and there’s a pretty decent stack of evidence of what being thrust into this intensely competitive battle just might lead to in Rios’s case.

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