This is Hugh.
Hugh leaves baseball games early.
As long as he’s done the wave.
Hugh will tell you there’s no bigger baseball fan.
Every chance he gets.
Hugh has a friend 240 miles south who really gets baseball. It’s about kicking the farm-rankings can and the MVP race and the countdown to someone combining Rasmus’s sweet hairstyle with Keuchel’s impeccable beard game.
Hugh will call you Broseph before he knows your name and bluetooths a lot and uses Axe body spray and has mad respect for the #AstrosRants guy.
You watch the games. Hugh is gonna dive into the playoff odds algorithms.
Chemistry is a school subject that he didn’t care about (because the teacher was stupid).
Hugh believes the game is played on paper and that every outcome is just a point plotted on a regression-to-the-mean vector. Win-loss records in one-run games are mirages and run differential is King (just you watch, man) and there’s no such thing as clutch. Hugh #occasionallyquits.
In fact, Hugh checked out last night when Cole Hamels gave the four-run lead back and the ball to Banny, who gave it to Alex Claudio, whose shuttle between Arlington and Round Rock must have broken down because, seriously dude, what does he throw, 78 miles per hour?
Hugh believes he can take Alex Claudio out of the park and over them mountains. You choose from which side of the plate.
Hugh says he hasn’t he really heard of Alex Claudio anyway, and Hugh bets he was once a top prospect that they should have traded for a controllable ace when he was in AA if they knew what they were doing because if prospects don’t turn into perennial All-Stars before they’re arbitration-eligible then you don’t know what you’re doing.
Hugh wonders if you’d like to know who he picked up on waivers on his fantasy team (“The Wave”) on Thursday. It was awesome. You really should hear the story.
Hugh was long gone last night when Alex Claudio (1.54 ERA over 15 appearances in his fourth stint with the Rangers this year) faced 10 Mariners and got eight of them out, seven on the ground (three to the mound) and one on strikes.
He was nowhere near a ballgame when Jurickson Profar stepped up in the eighth with a one-run deficit and rookie beast Edwin Diaz on the mound, having retired the first two Texas batters of the inning on just five pitches. He knows nothing about the professional at-bat that Profar battled through, not an at-bat at all actually since it went strike looking-foul-foul-ball-ball-ball-ball, not leading to a run but making sure Diaz didn’t get back into the dugout after just six or eight pitches.
Hugh didn’t see Ian Desmond’s four-pitch walk that followed or Carlos Beltran’s eight-pitch strikeout, and even if Hugh had, he wouldn’t have thought about the consequence of Texas possibly working to end Diaz’s night before the ninth — or to face the rookie in the ninth after he’d already racked up 24 pitches.
Hugh didn’t see Banny’s emotional postgame press conference or the awesome comments Emily Jones drew out of Rougned Odor before it or the home plate scrum (and Yu Darvish’s predictably awesome role therein) before it or Jonathan Lucroy’s tremendous on-deck bat spike and helmet spike before it or the intensity with which Odor, who had made a couple large-looming mental mistakes earlier in the game (Hugh saw one of those), locked eyes with Diaz throughout the five-pitch at-bat before all of that, which sent a 2-2 two-seamer, 98 and below the zone, 413 feet the other way at 103.17 miles per hour and which sent Lucroy’s bat and helmet forcefully to the ground and likely the disabled list and which sent Darvish and his teammates streaming out of the dugout and which sent Banny into an unusually powerful on-field celebration full of fist pumps and neck veins and bear hugs and which sent a nearly deshirted Odor to Emily’s side and which sent me into a baseball frenzy that I’m still riding this morning.
Hugh didn’t hear Eric Nadel’s Hall of Fame call of the Odor shot that ended the game right at Hugh was watching the end of TMZ.
If you see Hugh this morning, let him know a little about Texas 8, Seattle 7 once he gets through toothing his conference call.
But be prepared for his #SMDH response because, you know, going 30-8 in one-run games is gonna catch up with you eventually.
Just you watch.
It was game number 1,818 in the building presently known as Globe Life Park, and just the third time that neither team managed an extra-base hit.
Thanks — twice — to Carlos Gomez.
It was a playoff-intense, 2-1 win over the Indians, and you can thank Gomez in large part for that, too. His hitless streak since the home run to kick off his Rangers career now sits at 14, but his arrival has been pivotal in at least one game, a game that extended the club’s record-setting mark in one-run contests to 29-8 and gave Texas a series win against a very good Indians team.
Without needing Yu Darvish.
Jonathan Lucroy played in three of the series’s four games and had hits in all three (.444/.500/.400), and his impact behind the plate showed up over and over. He blocked pitches in big spots, he erased a runner trying to advance into scoring position on what would have been scored a wild pitch, and, most importantly, he and Derek Holland crafted and executed a brilliant game plan.
If Lucroy had said yes to Cleveland four weeks ago, who wins Sunday’s game?
He’s gonna be here next year, too.
And Holland keeps increasing the odds that he will be as well. That was October 2011 Derek Holland on Sunday.
Because things lined up so that Jake Diekman (19 pitches on Saturday), Matt Bush (12 pitches on Saturday), and Sam Dyson (just eight pitches over the previous week, all coming way back on Wednesday) were all available, Holland’s day was over after just 84 pitches in six innings. And though the big three at the back of the pen preserved the one-run lead, it wasn’t the cleanest effort.
In the seventh, Diekman’s first seven pitches were balls.
In the ninth, with a man on second and one out, Dyson threw nine straight balls.
In between was one of the season’s extraordinary stories.
That used to be the case in terms of Matt Bush’s backstory. Now it’s just as much on the field.
Bush (in the eighth) and Dyson (in the ninth) each threw nine strikes in a scoreless frame to lower his ERA to 2.78.
But while Dyson did so over 22 pitches, it took Bush just 12 offerings.
Strike one called (97) on the inner black to Lonnie Chisenhall, followed by 96 at the knees, lobbed to short left for out one.
A curve ball over the heart for strike one called on Rajai Davis, then 98 at the knees, fouled off for strike two. Davis then took 97 up and in, after which he grounded 98 at the knees back to the mound. Out two.
The next at-bat was one of Bush’s most impressive of the year. Career Rangers nemesis Jason Kipnis (.348/.414/.528 in 99 Globe Life Park plate appearances) stepped up, a threat to tie the game on one swing.
Kipnis swung through 96 at the letters and outside the zone.
He then swung through 97 down and away.
Kipnis laid off an 0-2 waste pitch that Bush elevated, and managed to foul off a curve ball (81) on the inner half to stay alive. He wouldn’t offer when Bush went away again with 97, drawing the count even at 2-2.
But the two-time All-Star had no chance when Lucroy called for Bush to come back up and in with another four-seamer, grazing 97 that Lucroy held onto for strike three, and out three.
I kept thinking Texas was going to need to shut Bush down for a week or two at this point in the season, much as the organization did with Keone Kela a year ago, to make sure he had enough gas in the tank for September and October. And, to be fair, there are still five weeks to go before 162+.
But, if anything, Bush seems to be getting better. Aside from a brief dip more than a month ago, the velocity has held up, and more notably, the converted shortstop is pitching better than ever.
Just like we all envisioned six months ago, Texas won a big game against Cleveland in late August behind the big work of Derek Holland, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, and Matt Bush — who, in spring training, was working with the Rangers’ minor league pitchers in hopes of landing a AA job and didn’t even have an official invite to big league camp.
The Rangers, the best home team (42-21) in the American League, now host Seattle for three and Houston for three, a stretch that’s big for Texas but massive for the visitors, each of whom sit 8.5 games out in the West (and 3.0 back in the Wild Card chase). After that, the Rangers visit Seattle for four, a daytime Labor Day start followed by three late-night West Coast games that will cost me sleep.
But for now, as far as the first three days of the week are concerned, with the Mariners in town: 11.5, 9.5, 7.5, or 5.5.
Players who weren’t here for the Rangers’ last pennant race continue to make an impact in this one.
Sometimes at the plate, sometimes behind it, sometimes at the fence, sometimes on the mound.
Big week and a half coming up, at least in the sense that it can make the few weeks after that a lot less critical and could give the Rangers the opportunity to ease workloads and start looking to line things up for October.
This team has been at its best in 2016 in close games and against good teams, both of which bode well for the ballgames that start five weeks from tomorrow — or, more specifically for the Rangers, five weeks from Thursday, at home, where the Castle Doctrine has been exercised all year with league-leading authority.
As Sam Wyche pointed out 27 years ago, you don’t live in Cleveland, but for a few minutes forget about everything about Texas 7, Cleveland 0 that gave you the good feels, and imagine the Indians are your team.
It’s been an outstanding year.
Going into the season, your team had a whole lot less reason to believe this was its year than your basketball team did, but . . . .
- Even though Michael Brantley has basically missed the entire season . . .
- And even though Carlos Carrasco was shut down for six weeks and Danny Salazar half a month . . .
- And even though Yan Gomes was having an awful year at the plate even before his separated shoulder in mid-July . . .
- And even though your impact trade to bring in a frontline catcher in his place was banged when the player used the limited no-trade clause on which he’d included Cleveland decided he didn’t want to be there (but then embraced the opportunity a day later to go to Texas) . . .
. . . . despite all of that, you took a 5.5-game AL Central lead into your late-August, four-game series in Texas, the only team in the American League with a better record (a two-victory edge, with the teams tied in the loss column).
Carrasco was back (and dealing lately), Salazar (among the best pitchers in baseball in the first half) was back, and both were lined up to start against the Rangers, along with Corey Kluber (pitching like he did in his 2014 Cy Young season) and Josh Tomlin.
You were also getting to miss Yu Darvish.
Three of your four frontline starters are slated to go, and if you can somehow take three of four in Arlington, against a scuffling Rangers club, you not only catch Texas for the league’s best record but likely maintain your division lead over the Tigers and Royals, if not increase it.
And, though it’s not something anyone in uniform would publicly admit paying attention to, winning three of four in Texas would give you four wins out of seven this year against the Rangers, whom you wouldn’t face again until the post-season, if at all.
Winning the season series with the Rangers would mean you’d have home field (at least vis a vis Texas) in October — and effectively into November, as the AL will have home field in the World Series this year as well, the result of AL 4, NL 2 on July 12 in San Diego (winning pitcher: Kluber).
You fell to Texas and Cole Hamels on Thursday, meaning you’d need to win three straight to finish the series, but you had Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar slated to go, with the Rangers countering with Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin, and Derek Holland, who’d made just one big league start since his own two-month shutdown.
You hammered Perez, who had been nails all year at home, beating him 12-1 on Friday night.
Carrasco-Griffin and Salazar-Holland on deck, and you had to feel like there was at least a decent chance, especially if your offense could carry over some momentum from Friday, to win both.
You get a triple from Francisco Lindor on Griffin’s seventh pitch of the game, but don’t score.
Carrasco draws Nomar Mazara to start the Rangers’ first. Mazara, the 21-year-old who had never led off a professional baseball game at any level until this series, and who was doing so only because Shin-Soo Choo is hurt. He doesn’t have anything close to a prototype leadoff hitter’s approach — and since lighting the league on fire the first two months of the year, he hasn’t really been much more than a singles hitter (.268/.324/.386), either.
It took eight pitches, but Carrasco punched Mazara out swinging.
Ian Desmond then flared one just between shortstop and second for a one-out single.
Carlos Beltran, mired in an 0-for-32 skid — the lengthiest hit drought of his 19-year career and worst for any Ranger in 42 years — bounded a ball to the left side of the infield, but because the Indians had shifted three of four infielders to the right side, by time third baseman Jose Ramirez reached the weakly struck ball and delivered it to first, Beltran had beaten it to the bag.
A strikeout and two soft singles. Carrasco looked to have his good stuff.
Adrian Beltre was up, and first baseman Carlos Santana was playing behind the runner at first, hoping to accentuate the chance to end the inning on a double-play grounder.
Carrasco was thinking about something other than that when he whirled to throw to a bag to which Beltran retreated but at which Santana was not stationed. Carrasco held the ball, and third base umpire Lance Barrett made official the obvious balk.
Now there were men on second and third.
There were all kinds of ways Beltre could put the Rangers on the board first at that point, certainly more than ways the Indians could keep the game scoreless in that match-up.
And Carrasco beat the odds, it appeared, by getting Beltre to ground sharply to third.
But the play didn’t develop as it should have for Cleveland.
Ramirez, several steps off the bag, froze Desmond, who was several steps off the bag, after which the baseball play was for Ramirez to fire to first and record the second out, unless he was clearly (as opposed to probably) closer to the bag than the runner. Ramirez darted to the bag to try and beat Desmond there and get a tag down timely, but he failed. Desmond’s outstretched right hand reached the bag narrowly before Ramirez’s outstretched and gloved left hand reached Desmond’s waist, and Desmond and everyone else was safe.
The irony of Desmond’s tremendously athletic dive back to third base is he’s oddly reluctant to dive back into first on a pitcher’s pickoff move.
It was a really close play, but not so much that the Indians felt they had an argument to challenge the ruling on replay.
Carrasco had thrown 22 pitches, but there was still no score.
Rougned Odor was up, and even though the bases were loaded with just one out, some Rangers fans were a little worried about that, given Odor’s tendency to chase, especially in big run-producing opportunities, and given the life Carrasco had on his stuff.
Strike one to Odor (out of the zone, away, fouled off).
Strike two to Odor (out of the zone, low, swung at and missed).
And on pitch three, a breaking ball down, Odor shot it on the ground, and since you’re Cleveland you’re thinking you’ve possibly escaped the inning as the right-handed Santana turned his body counter-clockwise in preparation to gather the ball and further wheel in that same direction to start a 3-6-1 double play.
But the ball’s second hop wasn’t true, the grounder hit not Santana’s oversized mitt but instead his right shoulder, flicking up and off his body and allowing everyone to advance 90 feet, including Desmond, who arrived in the dugout as the scoreboard flicked to 1-0.
So far: A strikeout, two feebly hit singles, a balk (without which a similar Beltre grounder to third ends the inning on an easy 5-4-3), and another misplayed grounder that produced zero outs rather than one, or two.
And Carrasco at 25 pitches.
Still, the score was just 1-0, and three very quick pitches later, there were two outs, as Carlos Gomez fouled off one in the zone, swung at and missed a second pitch half a foot low and in, and flailed at and missed a third pitch, a foot and a half low and away.
Carrasco at 28 pitches, but now there were two outs and, still, just a one-run deficit.
Alas, Pitch 29 was a center-cut breaking ball, and power hitters who aren’t fooled by center-cut breaking balls send them the other direction at a much greater velocity than that at which they came in.
Mitch Moreland sent the bases-loaded offering into the right field seats really quickly.
You’re Cleveland, and you’re bemoaning the fact that Carrasco, who had already done what a pitcher needed to do in order to record, arguably, five outs, was suddenly down, 5-0.
Elvis Andrus, owner of the second-highest career batting average (minimum 200 at-bats) of any Cleveland opponent ever (behind Nomar Garciaparra), was up next, and if you still had your TV on you probably thought his 1-0 rifle straight away was headed for the seats, too, but it settled into Tyler Naquin’s glove to end the 31-pitch inning that felt like it should have lasted less than half that.
It was early, though, and you’re the Indians, and the other guys have A.J. Griffin on the mound, and you did get two runners on base in the second, even though neither scored.
Unfortunately, it was the last time you got as many as two runners on base in an inning the rest of the night, and you never did push a run across the plate.
Andrus did, though, when in the third he ripped a two-out Carrasco fastball on the inner half into the left field corner, scoring Odor and Moreland to push the score to 7-0, which prompted a bunch of Rangers fans to tweet the word “pizza” for some reason.
You didn’t even get the chance to wish outs on Jonathan Lucroy, who rested so he could play in Sunday’s day game.
You’re Cleveland, and on a night when you had the dependable Carlos Carrasco on the mound, and your offense was facing A.J. Griffin (who didn’t throw a professional pitch in 2015) and relievers Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman, and Matt Bush (two of whom didn’t throw a professional pitch stateside in 2015), you watched Jonathan Lucroy’s backup gather in 10 strikeouts, a bunch on pitches outside the zone (including several elevated fastballs), and the team you crushed, 12-1, the night before put up a pizza score offensively and held your guys scoreless.
Had you won the game, which on paper certainly looked more than doable, you’d have been 20 games over .500 just like the Rangers, and a game ahead in the loss column.
And you could have set up a Sunday ballgame with post-season home field advantage on the line, at least as between these two teams, and possibly all the way through the World Series.
That opportunity, thanks to Texas 7, Cleveland 0, is irreversibly lost.
The August 27 game against the Rangers in Texas certainly wasn’t one you circled when the season began, but it’s a ballgame — or at least a first inning — that you not only look back on with disgust today but might a little more than a month from now as well.
You’re Cleveland, and while those guys in the other dugout and their fan base are probably feeling really good about taking advantage of extra chances offensively and putting zeroes up on the mound last night without a frontline starter or the closer having to pitch, you’re having trouble escaping the thought that you just spit up a game that might end up meaning a whole lot more than a late-August game should, especially if you bothered watching all nine innings after the first one went so horribly and nauseatingly wrong.
A little housekeeping this morning . . . .
I don’t know what to think about Martin Perez. He’s made 75 Major League starts. Has thrown over 450 Major League innings. His flashes of dominance have gone from occasional to nearly an even bet.
Statistically, you can make the case that he’s been more effective in the big leagues than he was in AA or AAA, a true example of a kid who was developed well and whose game has matured as he’s advanced. No starter has been tougher on lefties in the AL this year and nobody in the big leagues coaxes more double plays.
But the man who came into the game last night leading the entire American League this season in home ERA (2.36) looked more like the pitcher whose road ERA this year is 6.23. He threw strikes (a very strong 74 percent) but only nine were swung at and missed over 27 batters, the 10 hits he gave up in 5.2 innings included four that went for extra bases, and five of the six runs he allowed scored with two outs.
All night, he just couldn’t close the deal, and that’s now one win for Perez in his last 11 starts, after he’d gone 6-0 in his previous seven starts, all seven of which Texas won.
When Perez makes his next start Wednesday afternoon against Seattle at home, he will set a new career workload mark (Majors or minors) once he gets his fifth out. I don’t want to believe the 25-year-old is gassed, but maybe two years removed from Tommy John surgery the stamina is an issue.
I pondered after his last start, not jokingly, whether he might be a candidate to start Game 2 in the ALDS, assuming the Rangers hang onto home field — so that Yu Darvish or Cole Hamels could get the Game 3 assignment on the road, where Perez has been so ineffective.
But then he spit things up at home last night, and depending on how Derek Holland and Colby Lewis pitch over these next five weeks, now the question over the same timeframe probably has to be whether Perez belongs in a playoff rotation at all.
He’s on an extremely team-friendly contract ($4.4 million in 2017, followed by three team options at $6 million, $7.5 million, and $9 million), is younger than Nick Martinez and Ryan Rua, and, again, in a legitimate sample size has been really good in a significant split, last night’s effort notwithstanding.
All of which is to suggest it wouldn’t shock me if Perez is sought, and included, in a deal the Rangers could pursue this off-season for another front-of-rotation starter to put alongside Hamels and Darvish, the latter of whom could leave after 2017.
As for this series pitting perhaps the AL’s best two teams against each other for four, two aces pitched like aces in the first two games, got far more run support than they needed, and won. Fine.
Texas needs either A.J. Griffin or Derek Holland to step up today and tomorrow. They’re facing two bigtime righthanders in Carlos Carrasco (dealing lately) and Danny Salazar (scuffling), but their job involves getting hitters out and letting their teammates worry about producing runs.
Big spot for Griffin and Holland.
It would be stupid to draw any conclusions from two baseball games, but I think I’d like to look at Carlos Gomez (1 for 8 with a home run so far) as this year’s version of 2015 Josh Hamilton. Gomez doesn’t need to OPS .800 to be useful, given the team’s outfield situation. If he can hit .250/.267/.500 like Hamilton did from this point forward a year ago, and has three or four moments that impact the outcome of a game (positively), then right on.
(MLB Network Radio’s Casey Stern on Gomez, for what it’s worth: “Happy for Carlos Gomez. VERY misunderstood guy. Passion misdirected at times, but good dude.”)
Four more days before teams can no longer add a player from outside the organization and have him eligible for the post-season.
Are the Rangers finished adding?
I wasn’t able to jump on myself, but Jared Sandler stepped in for me and did this week’s Spitballin’ podcast with Ben Rogers yesterday. Good stuff. Give it a spin.
Thanks to all of you who participated in the honor system contributions to the Newberg Report team. I won’t bug you about it anymore this year. If you still want to contribute, you can click the yellow “DONATE” button at the top of the page on http://www.newbergreport.com, or go here for further details.
Seriously, you guys: Thanks.
I’ve mentioned this on Twitter but should probably give AOL users the heads-up here as well: The last few days the Listserv that distributes these emails to you has deleted more than 280 AOL addresses from the mailing list. I’m not sure why and I have no idea how to prevent this. So if you receive these reports on AOL, please either sign up under a non-AOL address to ensure that you continue to get them, or at least be prepared to resubscribe with your AOL address if you start to notice that you’re not getting my reports and Scott’s.
Finally, Jeremy Jeffress.
All kinds of emotions about this, obviously.
Is he accountable to you and me? In the strictest sense, yeah, maybe. I guess.
But more so, the man is accountable to his family and to his teammates and organization and to himself.
Texas acquired Jeffress despite his two minor league suspensions in 2007 and 2009 (reportedly for marijuana use), and I’m 100 percent OK with that. This franchise gave second chances to Hamilton and to Matt Bush, each of whose history in this area was worse than Jeffress’s, and I was OK with those.
But this isn’t about Jeffress’s past. It’s about a mistake he made while accountable to his Rangers teammates, and the associated consequences. It was bad judgment, and now he’s confronted with a completely different challenge from the ones he’s faced since arriving four weeks ago, and presumably an opportunity to meet it head on and get things right.
Jeffress was apologetic and embarrassed about what happened in the middle of the night on Friday morning, according to folks to whom he most owed an apology, and there’s really no room for the 28-year-old to have been anything else.
I hope he gets things straightened out.
The Phillies traded Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers yesterday, in connection with which the club promoted catcher Jorge Alfaro, not to AAA for the first time in his career, but straight to the bigs.
Maybe he’ll get the chance to catch Adam Morgan in New York tonight.
Maybe he’ll catch Jake Thompson, whom he’d caught in Frisco with the Rangers, back in Philadelphia on Monday.
Or Jerad Eickhoff, whom he’d caught in Spokane and in Hickory and in Myrtle Beach and in Frisco with the Rangers, on Tuesday.
Thompson has had a tremendous season, going 11-5, 2.50 in 21 AAA Lehigh Valley starts to earn his big league debut this month.
Eickhoff has had an outstanding start to his Major League career, posting a 3.57 ERA in 34 starts the last year and a week, striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings while walking just two per nine and averaging over six innings a start.
Nick Williams hasn’t set AAA on fire this summer (.265/.293/.434), but check his history for what happens whenever he repeats a level.
Alec Asher’s disjointed minor league season is back on track, as is his effort to return to the Phillies’ rotation.
Lewis Brinson missed a week and a half with AAA Colorado Springs with a hamstring strain, but since his return he’s homered three times in three games, including twice last night. He’s hitting .414/.410/.707 for the Sky Sox.
Luis Ortiz has yet to allow an earned run in four starts for AA Biloxi, spanning 17.1 Shucker innings.
Erik Swanson threw another scoreless frame last night for Low A Charleston in the Yankees’ system, and has now fanned 15 and walked four in 15 innings for the RiverDogs.
Nick Green made two effective starts for Short-Season A Staten Island (1.69 ERA) before making two more for Charleston (0.75 ERA), and he’ll get the ball again tomorrow.
Swanson and Green’s teammate Dillon Tate has more upside than either of them.
The player to be named later that Texas owes Milwaukee will have legitimate upside, too.
In other news:
Back on July 4, after Texas had lost its third straight and fifth out of six (four to teams with losing records), seeing what had been a 10-game division lead tighten to 7.5 games in less than a week, I tweeted: “If, after play August 9, Texas is still up at least five games in the West, I’ll feel good.”
The date wasn’t picked at random. August 9, though five weeks away at that point, would be the final day of what seemed like a big eight-game homestand against East-leading Baltimore, the hard-charging Astros, and Colorado.
Though the Rangers’ division lead shriveled further, all the way down to 2.5 games late in July, the club found a groove on that pivotal homestand and built the cushion, as of that August 9 benchmark date, back up to 7.0 games.
So, yes, I felt good.
Now it’s August 24. The regular season has less than six weeks left. Time is on the Rangers’ side, and they still maintain a lead of 5.5 games in the West, though now it’s the Mariners — who play Texas seven times in the next 15 days (and not again after that) — who are tightening things up.
One more in Cincinnati today, followed by a huge Indians-Mariners-Astros homestand, and then four in Seattle through September 8.
The Rangers have allowed two more runs than they have scored in 2016, an extraordinary statistic given that they lead the American League with 73 wins.
Seattle, by way of comparison, is at +49, and Houston is at +42.
MLB’s five other division leaders: +214, +137, +100, +98, +72.
The four teams currently holding down Wild Card spots: +121, +87, +45, +26.
The 73-53 Texas Rangers: -2.
Of course, the present roster is not the same as the one that Texas played with for much of the first half.
Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are gone (and man, does this lineup miss Choo and his approach), but in are Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran.
Yu Darvish is back and soon Colby Lewis should rejoin Derek Holland (who was outstanding last night) to boost the rotation.
As it appears Lucroy is doing himself.
The arrival of Jeremy Jeffress and the emergence of Alex Claudio have helped to settle and ease the workload on a bullpen that’s missing Shawn Tolleson and that got nothing out of Tom Wilhelmsen.
In a week Joey Gallo will give the club another weapon on the bench, Dario Alvarez and a sizzling Jose Leclerc and a rejuvenated Andrew Faulkner could bring swing-and-miss stuff back to the pen, and don’t count Tanner Scheppers out. If Lewis’s return means A.J. Griffin moves into long relief, that should help.
The lead is back down to 5.5. Texas has lost three straight, all to teams not only with losing records but in fact sitting in last place in their own divisions and hopelessly out of the running for anything in 2016 aside from draft position.
But after today, better opponents loom, and for whatever reason this year that’s been a very good thing for the Rangers.
If, after play September 8, two weeks from tomorrow, Texas is still up at least five games in the West, I’ll feel good.
And then I’ll feel comfortable spending time thinking about the fact that the Rangers, happily, will only have to face teams with winning records when the post-season rolls around.
One year ago this morning, the Rangers woke to find themselves in the second Wild Card position (and as high as second place in the West) for the first time in two months, having won 17 of 23 to get there.
During that stretch, Texas had picked up Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson and Mike Napoli and Bobby Wilson and Will Venable, and was about to add Drew Stubbs.
Six days earlier, with the Rangers fourth in the Wild Card standings and third in the division, asked if he believed his club would continue its march up the standings and nail down a spot in the Wild Card Game, Jon Daniels told our group at Newberg Report Night, with six weeks to go: “Man, I think we’re going to win the division.”
He, of course, was right.
Today, the team hasn’t had to claw its way to contention. It has a 5.5-game edge on the division and on the teams chasing a Wild Card spot. The last time the Rangers didn’t lead the West was in May.
This isn’t a worry so much as an observation: Texas seems to be at its best when the pressure is dialed up.
The club has the most wins in the American League but isn’t all that good (22-26) against teams who currently have losing records.
The Rangers seem to play their best baseball in close games, evidenced less by their league-leading number of comeback wins than by that insane run differential of +1.
How a team that’s scored just one more run this season than it’s allowed, a mark that’s eighth in the AL and 15th in the Major Leagues, nonetheless has more victories than any AL club, with only one team in all of baseball having logged more wins, is difficult to fathom, or explain. The Rangers win the close ones and, from time to time, lose big.
They’re not great against subpar teams, they yield far more blowouts than they claim, and, it seems, they are at their sharpest — defensively, in their approach at the plate, in the win column — when things get tight.
It’s almost akin to a lockdown closer who isn’t at his best when handed the ball in a non-save situation.
In the last four weeks the Rangers have added Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran and Jeremy Jeffress and Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez, and is about to add Carlos Gomez, who in his first two AAA games has gone 4 for 9 with a double and a triple and a hit-by-pitch that I don’t believe led to any bench-clearing activity.
Gomez will be here, by all accounts, in two days, when the big Cleveland-Seattle-Houston homestand kicks off.
Which, for this team, has proven to be a good recipe.
And of course, which bodes well for a team that hopes not only to get to October but also to hang around very deep into the month and, if necessary, into November.
But first there’s two in Cincinnati, with Derek Holland and Yu Darvish facing Dan Straily and Tim Adleman and a club that sits 26 games out of first place.
I prefer to look at this as a two-game series in hostile territory against a Reds team that has won 7 of 11, and that sends a veteran to the mound tonight who is 5-0, 2.25 since the All-Star Break in seven starts, all of which his last-place team won, and then a rookie with a sub-3.00 ERA who went five scoreless Friday against the likely playoff-bound Dodgers.
Bad team, maybe, but Cincinnati is hot right now.
Feels like that might be a good thing for this very good Rangers team that, for whatever reason, seems to rise to and play at its ceiling most reliably when the pressure is amped up.
Man, I don’t know.
He’s hitting an ugly, career-worst .210/.272/.322. The power is down, the run game is down, the strikeouts are up, he doesn’t draw walks, he makes bad decisions on defense, and he tends to swing so hard and out of control that the right-handed hitter ends up in the left-handed batter’s box.
Carlos Gomez is 30 years old and it would be a leap of faith to believe his terrible two-season run with the Astros has just been a slump.
Houston is paying Gomez the balance of this year’s $9 million salary to go away, knowing it could have meant he’d end up playing for a team the Astros are competing with (at a little more than $100,000) to extend their season past 162.
We all know all about the bat flips and the swagger that sometimes crosses a line, and the players know a lot more than we do, and not just his former teammates Prince Fielder and Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress and Carlos Beltran.
Ian Desmond has never played with Gomez but surely remembers that in June 2014, Gomez was hit by a pitch and then slid hard into Nationals second baseman Kevin Frandsen, leading Frandsen’s teammate Desmond to say something to him, which led Gomez to say something back, which led the Washington and Milwaukee benches to clear.
Jeff Banister has never coached Gomez but surely remembers that, two months after the Nationals and Brewers jawed, Gomez bat-flipped and admired a shot in Pittsburgh that stayed in the park, which led the benches to clear and punches to be thrown.
Jon Daniels and his group know all of this, because they always do their homework. Exhaustively.
Sometimes guys bounce back strong after it looks like their career might be circling the drain, or approaching that.
Nelson Cruz. Mike Napoli. Darren O’Day. Koji Uehara.
Sometimes they get those extra chances, and nothing comes of it.
Banister said this morning that Gomez, who will spend a few days with AAA Round Rock (after having not seen a pitch since August 8), was signed to be the Rangers’ starting left fielder. That project will get rolling, apparently, when the Rangers return home this Thursday for very big series against Cleveland, Seattle, and Houston.
How will Gomez, heading toward free agency this winter, respond to being given this opportunity to contribute in a pennant race?
How will Jurickson Profar and Delino DeShields respond in the meantime?
Gomez is no longer the player who finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP vote three years ago.
And Josh Hamilton wasn’t the same player last summer, also three years removed from a top 10 MVP vote, when he impacted several ballgames to help Texas reach the post-season.
Some of those games came against the team that was paying his salary, and that was chasing the Rangers.
Gomez has that chance.
On a veteran club where his antics won’t fly. He should know that.
Carlos Gomez has a lot of proving to do. To the league that he’ll shopping himself to this winter and, more immediately but not unrelatedly, to this new team of his, on the field and also off of it.
From a production standpoint, there’s not a whole lot of risk here. If it’s not working, it won’t last.
As far as the whole picture is concerned, man, I just don’t know.
But I do know that I trust this front office.
And, maybe more to the point in this situation, I trust this clubhouse.
In 2010, Jurickson was a first-year pro with Short-Season A Spokane.
Desi was a rookie shortstop with the Nationals, Luc a rookie catcher with the Brewers, Mitch a rookie first baseman with the Rangers.
Tony was a rookie gaijin for the Yakult Swallows.
Drew was a second-year big leaguer in Cincinnati, and had his career year.
Banny was the minor league field coordinator for the Pirates.
And in October, in St. Pete, on one day in particular, Elvis ran wild.
In 2011, Cole had his best Cy Young finish as a Phillie.
Carlos was traded at the deadline from the Mets to the Giants and put up insanely strong pennant run numbers.
Jake had his breakout prospect campaign in the Arizona Fall League.
Rougie and Nomar signed contracts at age 16 to play baseball professionally.
And in October, in St. Pete, on one day in particular, Adrian wasn’t satisfied with just one home run.
Texas 6, Tampa Bay 2 didn’t have nearly as much riding on it as those two October series against the Rays, in 2010 and in 2011.
But it had that feel.