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I’m not sure which is the biggest shock as far as Miguel Cabrera is concerned: (1) that he was a shortstop for the first two years of his pro career in the Marlins system; (2) that in his three full minor league seasons he never hit more than .274 or more than nine home runs; or (3) that he had only eight 2013 home runs coming into last night’s game, tied with Raul Ibanez and Yuniesky Betancourt, among others, and trailing John Buck and Wilin Rosario.
For me, only Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols keep Cabrera company on the short list of the greatest hitters of the last two generations.
I dumped 65 tweets during Texas 11, Detroit 8, among which was this one that I’m not backing off of:
“I shouldn’t want to, given his age and defensive fit, but whatever it would take to get Giancarlo Stanton, I’d give up for Miguel Cabrera.”
Last night, Cabrera was evidently the 23rd player in MLB history to fill a day’s box score with at least four hits, three home runs, five RBI, and four runs scored, but in the last 80 years, the only other to do so in a loss was Bob Horner, a July 6, 1986 game in which the Braves fell to the Expos by the familiar score of 11-8.
Another thing that happened on July 6, 1986 was a 5-2 Texas loss to Detroit, completely ordinary except for the fact that it would be the last day on which the Rangers would lead the AL West until three years later.
Different story these days, as Texas has now occupied the top spot in the division 209 of 231 days since the 2012 season began, and 524 of 564 if you want to dial back to May 2, 2010.
I don’t pick that date arbitrarily, as it was the day the Rangers sat alone atop the West for the first time in the 2010 season, which ended with Texas in the World Series.
The Rangers beat Seattle, 3-1, that May 2, 2010 afternoon.
The Mariners’ starting pitcher was Doug Fister.
Tonight’s starting pitcher, for Texas, will be Josh Lindblom. His last start before 2013 was also in May 2010, when his AAA Albuquerque ERA ballooned to 7.06, prompting a shift to the Isotopes’ bullpen. That was five years after he was drafted by the Astros in the third round but didn’t sign, three years after the Angels drafted Matt Harvey in the third round but didn’t sign him (sorry for getting off-topic; no I’m not), two years after Lindblom was drafted by the Dodgers and fast-tracked, one year before Lindblom’s big league debut, two years before he was traded to the Phillies as part of a package for Shane Victorino, and two-and-a-half years before Philadelphia sent him to Texas in the Michael Young trade.
In every one of Lindblom’s seven starts for AAA Round Rock this year (4-0, 2.23 [2.08 ERA overall]), Jurickson Profar started behind him, six times at shortstop and the last time at second base. He’ll start at second behind Lindblom again tonight, and in this paragraph there are two reasons I’m really looking forward to tonight’s game, a third of which might be that Miguel Cabrera will be out of town.
Lindblom was a middle reliever in whom Texas saw a starting pitcher. Going back the last time through the rotation, though, you see that the Rangers’ starters came from Oakland’s minor league outfield (Alexi Ogando), Japan (Yu Darvish), Day Two of the 2010 draft (Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm), and the 25th round (Derek Holland).
The Texas Rangers are very good at talent accumulation.
Their scouting soldiers and generals are going start holing up in Arlington soon, if they haven’t already, synthesizing and tuning up plans for this year’s draft, when there’s no reason for us not to be confident that they’ll add another Lewis Brinson or Joey Gallo, find another C.J. Edwards in the late rounds, swipe another high-end shortstop or two since someone’s going to be traded before long, or grab a toolsy catcher to start dreaming on.
Maybe “and” rather than “or.”
And maybe, a couple years from now, when I’m going to allow myself to hope that Cleveland is still pretty good, and that the Royals were able to move their rise forward, joined by the Twins behind Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton and whoever they get for Josh Willingham, Detroit will decide it’s time to re-core things and move 32-year-old Miguel Cabrera, just as they boldly moved Curtis Granderson to get younger four years ago, and that Texas can take some of its middle infield prospect strength, and more than that, and go get the former shortstop from Maracay, Venezuela, pair him with another shortstop from Maracay, Venezuela, and more than that, and make one of the greatest hitters I’ve ever seen a Texas Ranger during the greatest period of Texas Rangers baseball anyone has ever seen.
When Yu Darvish completed the top of the fifth inning on Friday night, a crisp 11-pitch frame against perhaps the most dangerous heart of a lineup in the league, Texas had reached the quarter pole of the 2013 season. Torii Hunter bunted out, Miguel Cabrera grounded out to Mitch Moreland, Prince Fielder singled to right, and Victor Martinez flew out to center.
At that point, Darvish had allowed four runs in those five innings on seven hits (including two homers and a double), an intentional walk, a wild pitch, and two run-scoring sac flies. Not a particularly sharp effort for the Rangers’ ace, at least to that point in the game, but this was the most productive offense in the American League he was facing, and it was good enough to win.
The next two nights, Texas would throw its number seven and number eight starters at the Detroit offense, and be without Ian Kinsler, its most sabermetrically productive offensive player, in both games. The Rangers’ starting catcher remained out of action, leaving the club’s beleaguered backup and recently designated-for-assignment call-up to handle number seven on Friday night and number eight on Saturday.
Number seven held the Tigers to two runs over five innings in what would be a 2-1 loss – just the Rangers’ third loss in one-run games out of 12.
Number eight held Detroit to two runs over 6.2 frames in a decisive 7-2 win.
A win that was the Rangers’ 28th of the year. No other team in baseball has as many.
Texas sits at 28-15, good for baseball’s best record, and the best 43-game record in franchise history.
The club’s +51 run differential is baseball’s best.
The Rangers’ 6.5-game edge in the AL West exceeds the other five division leads (1.0 + 1.0 + 1.5 + 1.5 + 1.0) combined. The seven-game lead they’d built after Darvish-Verlander was the first such lead this early in a season since Boston and Milwaukee led their divisions by as much in 2007.
The Rangers have played 25 road games. Twenty-eight of the other 29 teams have played fewer.
The club has yet to lose a game it led at some point by two runs or more, probably more meaningful than its 3-0 record when Robinson Chirinos starts behind the plate.
Except Chirinos has caught Nick Tepesch, a secretly injured Alexi Ogando, and Justin Grimm. Number seven, an ailing number five, and number seven.
I still like the two-run lead note better.
MLB.com’s Richard Justice is the latest of the national writers to pen a sentence like this one: “Few people were picking the Rangers to finish in front of the A’s and Angels in the AL West after an offseason in which they traded their clubhouse leader, Michael Young, and lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and two key relievers, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.”
Every time I see that particular column, I hear in my head Jon Daniels’s comment, issued as early as November and as recently as this week, which never sounded like spin or bluster coming from him:
“We like our team.”
It’s Derek Holland vs. Doug Fister tonight, in front of a national TV audience.
Then tomorrow Josh Lindblom – number nine – makes his Rangers debut against Bartolo Colon and the A’s. Lindblom has appeared in 101 big league games with the Dodgers and Phillies, zero of which have been starts. Before this season, his last 65 minor league appearances had been out of the bullpen. But Texas, having acquired Lindblom from the Phillies in the Young trade this winter, saw something different, and the 25-year-old was off to a 4-0, 2.08 start out of the Round Rock rotation (.173/.232/.295 slash) when word emerged that he’d be recalled for Monday’s start in place of the injured Ogando.
He’s the Rangers’ number nine starter (I suppose number 10 if you’re in the Neftali-Feliz-as-starter camp, which I’m not), and I’m very interested in what happens tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, the draft approaches, and then the international free agent sign date, and then the trade deadline becomes a big part of the focus. This organization has given us lots of reason to feel good about those things, too.
These are, still, the good old days.
Last year proved that really good stories can have horror endings, but really good stories are better than the alternative, and I suspect you’d rather take the best record in baseball at the completion of the first quarter and whatever’s behind Door Number One as far as 162+ is concerned than to be invested in what’s going on in Los Angeles.
We like our team.
For the last time conscience calls
For a good friend I was never there at all
Yesterday Joe Sheehan wrote this in the Joe Sheehan Newsletter: “I tend to graze, particularly on short-schedule nights where I can follow 3-4 games without getting overwhelmed. Not tonight. At 8, this game gets the full-screen treatment and stays there for three hours. These might be the two best teams in the AL, and the starters are two of the top five starters in the game: Justin Verlander taking on Yu Darvish. . . . This isn’t a game you analyze. This is put-your-feet-up, close-the-laptop, pour-a-drink baseball.”
Well, yes, and no.
Agreed on the part about steering clear of over-scrutiny, which is partly why yesterday morning’s word count was what it was.
And normally, I’d be all about the last part, too, but I didn’t watch any of the big Boston series, and that turned out pretty well, so it felt like the right thing to do last night was to watch no baseball.
Actually not completely true. I’d bought tickets 45 days earlier to see Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band whose first release was a few weeks after the epic Nolan Ryan-Roger Clemens matchup on April 30, 1989, a 2-1 Rangers win in which the two horses each threw over 120 pitches. Lots of local media referred to that game yesterday in previewing Darvish-Verlander. Forty-five days ago, I didn’t know who would be pitching on May 16, but I knew who would be playing at the Kessler, and I wasn’t going to miss that.
And for that matter, I didn’t see that initial Ryan-Clemens matchup, either, I can’t remember what I spent that Sunday afternoon doing, but as a college sophomore it probably wasn’t trying to find a place showing the Rangers game, and back then you couldn’t get Holtz and Nadel on Austin radio.
I sit here this morning looking at a box score that looks nothing like the pitchers’ duel that Ryan-Clemens not only promised but also delivered. I see 17 hits and 14 runs, a third inning that evidently lasted almost an hour, a 7 for 16 night from the Rangers’ bottom four (including a Geo Soto homer off Verlander that was so Bengie-Molina-off-David-Price and a two run-scoring Mitch Moreland doubles that were so Mitch Moreland), two Verlander bases-loaded walks, and 90 Darvish strikes. One Rangers debut (Cory Burns) and one former Rangers farmhand’s big league debut (Evan Reed).
An epically hyped regular season matchup that turned out to be the worst of Verlander’s 253 career starts.
But I didn’t hear a minute of Eric Nadel. I was instead spending my Thursday night at his favorite place. While he spent his at mine.
(My socks, it should be pointed out, however, did not match.)
The Rangers’ offense put a beating on baseball’s preeminent moundbeast, something they did with a bit of regularity back in the early-’90s days that Toad brought back with precision last night, before a standing-room-only crowd that measured maybe 500, including me and, as I would find out, at least six of you, too.
There’s indecision when you know you ain’t got nothing left, but not for me last night. I had somewhere else to be, which felt just about right the way this season has started, and the upshot is that Texas 10, Detroit 4 is a game Sheehan and I just aren’t going to analyze.
I will say this, however: Thursday night rocked.
I’m the guy who thinks mismatching my socks is the right baseball thing to do, so I’m not going to continue to dismiss the way Texas seems to play in Oakland. It’s pretty ugly.
Now, baseball being what it is, it shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm that a good team coming off a four-game win streak, and seven of nine, would regress a bit to the mean when traveling to the house of another good team, one coming off losses in six of seven and due for its own market correction. Good teams still lose more than 50 times a year. They also tend to win more games than they lose.
But you thought the same thing I did in the top of the seventh, as Ian Kinsler, sporting a batting average better than his career best and a slug higher than his career best, stood in against a lefthander with two outs and men on second and third: It probably wasn’t going to happen.
Or maybe it occurred to you earlier, when A’s nine-hole hitter Michael Taylor, who hadn’t drawn a walk in his 44 big league plate appearances in 2012 and 2013 (54 trips if you go back to September 21, 2011, when Texas starter C.J. Wilson lost him), drew a Derek Holland walk with two men on in the fifth . . . and a Robbie Ross walk with two outs and a man on in the sixth . . . hours before he’d be optioned back to AAA Sacramento.
Or maybe it was seeing Holland, entrusted with a 3-0 lead and featuring a really good changeup, unable nonetheless to get out of the sixth, allowing the final 10 A’s he faced to go 6 for 9 with a run-scoring “Luke Montz” sac fly.
You were thinking what I was thinking. The best team in the league wasn’t going to get it done.
You start to develop a feel, for better or worse, when you watch a team day to day, season to season, and O.co Coliseum is not only a terrible name for a stadium, it’s also been a brutal place for the Rangers to play for a good while now.
Going into last night’s game, Texas had lost 9 of 11 in Oakland.
Including those three disgusting games in October.
The first of which Texas had tied in the fourth.
The second of which Texas led in the fifth.
The third of which Texas led, 5-1, after three. Before losing by seven runs.
Nobody’s been a better regular season club than the Rangers since this stretch of ineptitude in Oakland began, and yet Texas seems overmatched in that ballpark, a vibe that I was able to shake off for about half an hour last night after Mitch Moreland did Mitch Moreland things to a Bart Colon pitch in the fourth, but that resurfaced in the fifth and took root after that.
Even when Texas tied the game back up in the eighth, it still didn’t feel very good.
Men on first and second in the top of the ninth with Kinsler and Elvis Andrus coming up, just one out, and I’m not exactly counting on a lead.
Each goes down on strikes, meekly.
There’s no reason for this team – which Richard Justice of MLB.com points out has been in first place for 490 of 526 days since June 8, 2010, including 204 of 226 days since the 2012 season began – to be this good, and yet so irritatingly ham-fisted in Oakland.
Argue small sample size if you wish, but only if you were reasonably optimistic when Texas had Lance Berkman on third with one out in the sixth, two men on for Kinsler in the seventh, that golden opportunity for Kinsler and Andrus in the ninth, or even just one of those situations.
How’d you feel when Adrian Beltre unleashed on a 3-0 pitch in the 10th and gave Texas a 5-4 lead? Better, I’m sure. But good?
How about when Moreland blasted his second shot of the game minutes later?
I was only sort of confident. Which is crazy.
Joe Nathan coaxes a lazy fly to center from Josh Donaldson, previously 4 for 4, in two pitches to start the bottom of the 10th.
And I was still more certain that Geovany Soto would double-pump his next throw back to Nathan and then wipe the dirt in front of the plate than I was that Texas had this one locked up.
And now I know I’ll be going to work on about four hours’ sleep in the morning, no matter how this one would end.
Now it was Oakland with men on second and third – the tying run and the walkoff run – and just one out. And suddenly Nathan can’t find the plate. The first three of his 19 pitches had been strikes, but only five of the next 16, just one of which was swung through.
Four more out of the zone, intentionally, and they’re loaded up with one out. Daric Barton is up, though it feels like it doesn’t matter who is due, as long as he has an elephant (appropriately) on his shoulder.
Ball. Foul. Ball. Foul.
I have a sudden, unwanted premonition that Barton is going to hit a screaming, one-hop rocket to Moreland, and he steps on the bag – cursed to make a decision I know he knows better than to make, because this is O.co, after all – and throws to second, but Brandon Moss alertly stops short of the bag with the force gone, allowing John Jaso to cross the plate with the tying run.
The stupid premonition still haunts me until Barton swings through a slider low and outside – just Nathan’s second swing-and-miss of the night, on what was his 30th pitch. Two outs.
Still feels like something bad is imminent as Eric Sogard steps up with two outs in this objectively ordinary mid-May game with subjectively mid-September adrenaline levels that I barely remember Derek Holland pitched in.
First-pitch slider, up and over and really fat, and Sogard absolutely squares up, barreling a laser between first and second, the kind of bat-on-ball contact you don’t even feel when its yours.
The game is over, one way or the other.
Kinsler gloves it, making the play look easier than it was, and the game is over in the right way, the way I never really felt it would until Kinsler lobbed the ball toward first.
Which is just dumb, but this is baseball – spectacularly tense mid-May baseball – and with a chance this afternoon to win the damn series, in the O.co mausoleum, this morning’s sock decision is simply out of my hands.
Yu Darvish is an ace.
The stats bear it out, and so does the scouting.
It’s not just the dizzying array of plus pitches in the arsenal.
Or the strikeouts, or the WHIP.
Or the consistency.
It’s all that, plus the 22 wins the last two seasons that lead all American League pitchers (his 301 strikeouts lead baseball in that time).
But it’s something else, too.
This year Darvish has a 6-1 record, and Texas is 7-1 in his starts, and there’s something else underneath the surface of those results that makes him such a beast for this team.
These are the relief pitchers who have worked on days Darvish gets the ball:
Michael Kirkman: 7 games (5.0 innings)
Jason Frasor: 4 games (2.2 innings)
Robbie Ross: 3 games (3.0 innings)
Joe Nathan: 3 games (3.0 innings)
Tanner Scheppers: 2 games (3.0 innings)
Derek Lowe: 1 game (1.2 innings)
Keep in mind these are almost all wins. Wins are when your key relievers typically get their work.
But Nathan, Scheppers, and Ross have each worked in fewer than half of the games Darvish has started.
Kirkman, the Rangers’ least effective pitcher to date, has worked in seven of Darvish’s eight starts, eating up innings. Again, Texas is 7-1 in those games.
The Rangers’ offense gets some credit, of course. Those 7.2 runs of regular support it’s giving Darvish play big. But Darvish keeping the opponent at bay, deep into games, is huge. On average he gets the second out in the seventh inning, and it’s more than that.
Avoiding having to overwork the best relief pitchers on your team, a potential issue when you’re a team that wins lots of baseball games and plans to need to win a bunch of them in October, is something an ace allows you to do.
C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison have been great here since this team became a World Series contender, but they didn’t consistently make that possible. Cliff Lee did, but that was for three months.
Darvish, more often than not, gives the bullpen stars a night off.
And that obviously bodes well for the next day’s game, when the bullpen is relatively rested. Texas started the season winning five games-after-Darvish in a row, before dropping the last two (both Nick Tepesch starts).
The eighth of those is today, as Tepesch goes again. He’ll pitch to Robinson Chirinos, who has never caught any of the Rangers’ current pitchers. The bullpen could be key today. Scheppers and Ross are rested and ready to go. After 19 pitches last night, maybe Nathan will be, too.
Darvish held Houston to three hits and three walks over seven innings last night, punching out eight, and we all view it as an off-night for him.
Still, it was a night when Frasor and Kirkman were tasked with closing the thing out, and had the situation not gotten out of hand in the ninth, that’s how it would have played out, and Nathan would have been able to watch the whole game with Scheppers and Ross behind the left field fence.
Yu Darvish takes the ball every fifth day, and more often than not he doesn’t give it up until the game is fairly well in hand.
That’s what aces do.
Happy Mother’s Day to my wife, and to my mother, and to all of you who qualify.
And to Ikuyo Darvishsefat, who has given us a seriously awesome gift.
I promise: This is not going to be a post hand-dipped in schadenfreudian bacon-chocolate, but I do want to lead into my point with a quote from Fox Sports columnist Ken Rosenthal, who delivered 1,100 words on the plight of the Angels this weekend and included this quote, two-thirds of the way in, about the club that now sits with a record better only than the two lowest-payrolled teams in baseball, the stripped-down Marlins and the brutal Astros (who beat Los Angeles last night):
“But want to know what is really scary? For the Angels, in the foreseeable future, this might be as good as it gets.”
Rosenthal goes on to talk about the fact that shortstop Jean Segura and lefthanders Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin and righthander Johnny Hellweg were sent away in Angels trades, with nothing left to show for them, while they also forfeited first- and second-round draft picks in 2012 for signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson (they didn’t make their first selection until 114th overall) and a first-rounder in 2013 for signing Josh Hamilton (they won’t pick this June until number 59). The Angels’ farm system is widely considered to be baseball’s worst, decimated by recent trades and compromised going forward by high-end free agent moves.
There’s not really a correlation between the fact that St. Louis and Texas are each one win short of the most in baseball, have two of the top three or four farm systems in the game, and didn’t put up any more resistance than they did as Pujols and Hamilton bolted for Anaheim, but, you know, the best organizations tend to feature a strong mix of aggressiveness, good judgment, and restraint. The others don’t.
The idea that Hamilton, who hit four home runs on May 8, 2012 to lift his season slash to .406/.458/.840, would be hitting .202/.248/.287 on May 8, 2013, a fifth of the way into his first Angels season and a twenty-fifth of the way into his eighth-of-a-billion dollar Angels contract, would have been rejected in Hollywood, but then again, you know. And now I’m getting all schadenfreudian again.
Maybe there’s an Angels fan out there celebrating the Rangers’ third two-game skid in a week and a half, and hey, Los Angeles is only 8.5 games back – the A’s were 13 out last year as late as the end of June.
Maybe there’s a Los Angeles fan who gets to the games late and leaves early rejoicing at the developments that have seen Mike Olt and Cody Buckel jump out to brutal starts that, at least for now, don’t appear to be physical, that have Martin Perez just now getting his season started and Ronald Guzman still waiting, and that led Jurickson Profar to exit last night’s game in Las Vegas with an apparent hand issue.
But depth is king in minor league development – there are a hundred reasons prospects end up not making it, so you hedge against that reality by pushing and pushing to keep the pipeline full – and while Olt and Buckel have struggled out of the gate, set aside the last couple nights and look at what Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have done overall. And Tanner Scheppers, whose fastball was too straight last year. And Joseph Ortiz, who slid through two Rule 5 Drafts unprotected before landing on the 40-man roster this winter and making sure in camp he wouldn’t need that first option.
And Joey Gallo, whose 10 home runs are exceeded in pro ball only by Atlanta’s Justin Upton (12) and Corpus Christi’s George Springer (11).
And Gallo’s Hickory teammate Lewis Brinson, who’s on the minor league leader board with seven bombs of his own while playing a premium up-the-middle position.
And don’t get me started on Gallo’s and Brinson’s teammate Jorge Alfaro, who plays the up-the-middle position I’m desperate to see Texas find a stable answer at, a potentially elite defender at catcher who came into 2013 with 12 career home runs in 604 at-bats, and who now has eight in 109 at-bats this year, including four the last four nights. (I’m reminded of this comment a high-ranking Rangers player development official shared at Fall Instructs in September about Alfaro: “It’s starting to come together – and when it gets there, it’s over.”)
All three are 19 years old, Brinson as of today.
And Jake Brigham and Neil Ramirez, and Luke Jackson and Victor Payano, and C.J. Edwards and Alexander Claudio.
And Roman Mendez.
Check that one out if you have a minute.
As for Josh Lindblom and Robinson Chirinos, who are on the roster, and Neal Cotts, who is not, you may get the chance to check them out on Fox Sports Southwest by summertime.
Bob Nightengale (USA Today) tweeted this weekend: “The Texas Rangers are in first place on this week’s power rankings, playing better than anyone envisioned, and only getting better.” But let’s widen the lens.
Think back on Rosenthal’s quote about the Angels, and you might agree we can flip it as far as Texas is concerned:
“But want to know what is really scary? For the Rangers, in the foreseeable future, things might actually get better.”
They’re 20-13. The only team with more wins is Boston, who got spanked in Arlington this weekend.
The outfield defense is brutal, a few aging hitters look like aging hitters, the pitchers and catchers aren’t controlling the running game, the rotation has been racked by injuries.
They’re 20-13, and no team has a bigger division lead than the 2.5 games the Rangers have on Oakland. (While the Angels are closer to fifth place in the West than to third.)
And in July, when Giancarlo Stanton is healthy again and maybe available, and when David Price is dealing again and maybe available, and the trade market gets populated by names we haven’t even though of yet as available, Texas will be able to talk about Grimm and Gallo and Jackson and Mendez, not to mention Leury Garcia and Luis Sardinas, Hanser Alberto and Rougned Odor, Wilmer Font and Lisalverto Bonilla, Engel Beltre and Nick Williams, and plenty others who will be on selling clubs’ watch lists.
And I’m betting Olt is back in a groove, and maybe Guzman, too.
The Cardinals will be able to compete with Texas at trade deadline time. Boston, too.
So can Kansas City and Pittsburgh, if they hang around, but there are a few others (Houston, San Diego, Minnesota to start) who won’t be buying in July, even though they could.
The Angels won’t be buying, and they wouldn’t be able to anyway.
Of course, the same probably could have been said a year ago, when they took Segura and Hellweg and Ariel Pena from an already weak system and mortgaged them for two ultimately meaningless months of Zack Greinke.
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) spitballed this one over the weekend: “[H]ere’s my made up trade rumor of the day. . . Profar, Grimm and Olt to Tampa Bay for David Price . . . who says no?”
But it’s a hypothetical you can’t even entertain in Anaheim.
I’d suggest the Angels will be sellers this July, except for that problem of not having a whole lot of meaningful pieces they can sell.
It’s a safe bet that the Texas outfield, for the second straight off-season, will undergo a significant transition. Probably the catching tandem, too.
In Anaheim, they transition by throwing massive money at aging icons.
In Texas, they spend money, too (Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish, extensions for core veterans), but they make the whole thing work by reloading through player development, which delivers assets both to the manager and to the GM, routinely so in the current era of Rangers baseball.
Well, crud. I said I wasn’t going to hound the Angels too much today, and I blew it.
But rubber-necking on rock bottom is hard to avoid, and somewhere between Holland-Lohse in Milwaukee tonight and Colby Lewis, Neil Ramirez, Luke Jackson, and C.J. Edwards getting minor league starts tomorrow, I’ll be keeping an eye on Blanton-Norris and Vargas-Harrell in Houston, as the Angels and Astros, each losers of 8 of 10, keep the Minute Maid field warm until the Texas Rangers, playing better than anyone envisioned and only getting better, come in to pay a weekend visit.
I said last night I wasn’t going to write today. Didn’t feel like it. Still don’t, really.
But I took a quick look at the standings, just to take my mind off Chicago 3, Texas 1, which never felt close.
Texas is 17-11, and leads Oakland by 1.5 games.
Four division leaders have the same win-loss record, and only of those has a greater division lead.
Of the six division leaders, only Boston (20-8) has a better record than Texas, and that’s going to remain the case unless the Rangers beat the Red Sox tonight, and again tomorrow, and again Sunday, in which case they’ll have identical records.
Imagining this offense putting enough good stuff together against Boston three times in a row isn’t easy, even though the Rangers will miss Clay Buchholz and will get John Lackey, but then again maybe Felix Doubront, Lackey, or Jon Lester will come down with a stomach bug and some emergency starter will breeze through the Texas lineup.
Boston-Texas tilts tend to involve big offense, and while I’m normally a pitching/defense guy, I’m in the mood right now for a 9-3 win, an 11-9 ice cream headache, a five-run eighth that ends up extending a game past nine.
That would feel good.
With Matt Harrison now needing a second back surgery and Colby Lewis and Martin Perez still a few weeks away, at least, it would stand to reason, one month in, that the pitching would be the tension point for this club.
And yet the Rangers’ number eight and number seven starters, Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch, just finished number one and number two in the American League Rookie of the Month voting for April.
Grimm deserved better last night. He made one bad pitch, after two weak two-out singles, and suddenly a shutout flipped to a 3-1 deficit.
Three Chicago runs shouldn’t have been enough. They were.
I had a story idea yesterday that I’ll eventually run with, but not today. And my writing this weekend will be sparse (and maybe even confined to Twitter). I apologize for that in advance.
This is still a first-place team, and not in a hold-your-breath Royals/Rockies kinda way. The pitching is solid, the defense is, too, the baserunning is usually a strength, and the offense will be fine.
Really. The offense will be fine.
I’d just sorta like to see that happen now, with the great Mike Napoli and baseball’s best team in town. There will be at least one (well-deserved) standing ovation this weekend for the former Rangers dirtbag, but I’m ready for a few more than that for the Texas offense that he left behind.
Sorry this is late today. The day job being what it is, today I was going to have to write over lunch, or not at all.
If I’d stayed up last night for the end of the Angels-A’s series opener, I’d probably just be waking up. Early on in that game, I tweeted: “I suppose I should be happy LAA is up on OAK early. Difficult for me.”
The thing about a skirmish between those two clubs is, on a day when the Rangers are idle, one of them is going to gain ground.
Might as well put ’em both through 19 innings in the process. Oakland 10, Los Angeles 8 ended, after about 300 pitches each side, at 1:41 a.m.
1:41 a.m. Pacific.
On what was Josh Hamilton Appreciation Night in Oakland, an apparently unofficial but widely recognized exercise in super-gauche as A’s fans loudly thanked the Angels’ new right fielder all night for booting that fly ball in Oakland last October 3, he went 0 for 8.
Not only that, but he struck out three times, a bit more frequently than his nearly-every-third-at-bat rate for the season.
Not only that, but in the five at-bats that didn’t require at least three pitches to end, three of them lasted one pitch, and another lasted two pitches.
It had been going so well for Los Angeles, too. Albert Pujols had busted out of a deep slump with two home runs. The club was up, 7-2, needing to record only six outs with that five-run cushion to close the thing down.
The Angels lost.
Not just the game, but Peter Bourjos, who lands today on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring suffered in an inning (the 11th) that should have never been played. Third baseman Luis Jimenez left the game with a bruised shin and could miss at least a game. Same holds true for relievers Jerome Williams (73 pitches last night) and possibly Michael Kohn (31), Barry Enright (28), Ernesto Frieri (27), and Michael Roth (“only” 23 but brutalized therein).
As Orange County Register writer Jeff Fletcher noted, not even midway into the extra frames: “This may be the Angels’ toughest loss of the year . . . even if they win.”
We talked yesterday about how Texas has just lost consecutive games for the first time this year.
The Angels have managed to stop the loss-bleeding after one defeat just one time all season (when they beat Texas in 11 innings a week ago today). They have losing streaks of three games, and five, and two, and two, and now three, going into tonight’s Game Two in Oakland.
After Los Angeles finishes with the A’s, they head home for four with Baltimore, while Oakland has a day off before traveling to New York for three with the Yankees to kick off a 10-game road trip.
Once the Angels are done with the Orioles, they have a day off of their own before jumping to Houston for three.
Is it gauche to wonder, if the A’s and O’s series don’t go well, whether there might be a high-level meeting at 2000 E. Gene Autry Way in Anaheim on that Monday before the team leaves town?
Or to tweet, as Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Shaikin did today: “Hamilton can’t hit, Pujols can’t run, [Jered] Weaver can’t pitch – and [Vernon] Wells is batting third for [the] Yankees. Today ends [the] cruelest month for [the] Angels”?
Or to write a whole report, abbreviated as it might be, that’s about the fourth-place team in the division rather than the team sitting at the top?
Probably is, so let me leave you with this:
Yu Darvish, as a big leaguer, has made 17 starts immediately following a Rangers loss.
He’s 11-3, 3.01 in those games.
Including 4-0, 1.01 this season.
Not that you can find a whole lot of troublesome splits for that guy.
I’m still keeping an eye on tonight’s game in Oakland, and on every A’s game and Angels game all season long. They all matter.
The A’s are two games out, the Angels seven back.
On this date a year ago, the A’s were 6.5 games behind Texas, the Angels nine games back. And we know how that ended up.
They all matter.
Stop the bleeding tonight, Yu.
Even if, for Texas, relatively speaking, it’s basically a paper cut.
It’s an off-day for the Rangers – the first one in Texas since the day before the home opener against the Angels – and the record stands at 16-9, which is the second-best mark in baseball, while the division lead is 2.5 games, equaling the biggest edge of any team.
It feels like it comes at a very good time, as the Rangers have their first losing streak of the year, a two-game skid marked by lethargic offense and lousy baserunning. Yesterday’s loss resulted in a split in Minnesota – the culmination of 14 games on the road out of 17 – giving Texas five series wins on the season, zero series losses, and three series splits.
Compare those Angels, who had their own two-game losing streak in their season-opening set in Cincinnati, extended to three games once they fell to Texas when the home schedule kicked off in Arlington. Los Angeles already has losing streaks this year of five, three, and two, two, and two, the last one of which it takes into Oakland tonight while the Rangers hang out with family and recharge.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, whose loyalties lie with the Mariners, refused to make too much of Seattle taking three of four from the Angels this weekend but did offer this comment: “If there is one takeaway from this Angels series, it’s that the Mariners are extremely lucky they got outbid for Josh Hamilton.”
Setting aside the implications of the 4.8 years and $110 million remaining on the contract the Angels gave Hamilton, whose body carries more mileage on it than its mathematical 31 years, or the 8.8 years and $225 million (not counting incentives) left on the deal they made with Albert Pujols, whose age is almost certainly greater than its listed 33, just look at the present.
Pujols is on a 3-for-33 skid (all singles) that has his season slash line at .244/.343/.367.
Hamilton’s season-long skid: .219/.267/.323, and a strikeout nearly every third time up.
It was a year ago yesterday that Los Angeles released Bobby Abreu and recalled Mike Trout, a move that should have been made earlier.
At this point on the schedule last year, the Angels were 9-15.
This year, with Trout from the start and with the Hamilton coup and with all those bullpen additions?
The Angels are 9-15.
Three teams have worse records, and two of them are Houston and Miami.
It was 61 years ago today that Ron Washington was born.
There’s been a good amount of Twitter-angst about Wash’s in-game management this season, especially lately, and that’s probably part (1) expectations of a fan base whose team has been close to the mountaintop twice and is off to the kind of start that has lots of us thinking about missed opportunities, part (2) legitimate gripe, and part (3) that’s-how-being-a-baseball-fan-go.
The drama is part of the deal. My Twitter timeline is full of Tim Tebow this morning, and you can give me the torment of bullpen management and over-bunting and leaving right-handed bats on the bench over that nonsense all day long.
Especially with the Rangers off, however, it’s a lock that the radio talk will be about 90 percent Cowboys’ draft today, with Tebow and changes in the Stars front office and the Rangers splitting the rest, to which I have two things to say:
1. I’m glad that Ben & Skin’s non-compete expires tonight. We need them back.
2. If you need a fascinating distraction and have six minutes, I’d encourage you to watch this video. It has nothing to do with baseball. Whether you agree with the message or not, it ought to make you think.
I’m usually not a fan of the Ranger off-day, but maybe we could all use a little bit of a recharge, not the least of whom are the players and maybe even the manager and his coaching staff. Nobody likes a losing streak, of any size, but today I’m okay with a Happy Birthday tip of the cap to Wash, an appreciation for 16-9 in spite of a bunch of key injuries and other frustrating talking points that the game always promises, and at least one eye tonight on the Angels and A’s entering the cage together while our team grabs a little rejuvenation on their own couches.