The initial All-Star Game balloting numbers were released a couple days ago, with the top five American League vote-getters revealed at each of the nine offensive positions (actually, 15 outfielders without specific positions), for a total of 45 players among the 15 AL clubs.
There were zero Rangers.
The AL West-leading Rangers, that is, whose 31-22 record is a half-game short of the league’s best.
Maybe that’s not a shocking thing, given that the two most likely (or at least deserving) All-Star participants from Texas are probably a player who didn’t have a team until half a month after spring training started and another who began the season in AAA and, if not for unforeseen circumstances, might still be in a Round Rock jersey rather than back-to-back recipient of AL Rookie of the Month honors.
But Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara are both outfielders, and neither is among the top 15 in the vote.
Baltimore Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is.
Desmond and Mazara aren’t.
Now, I’ve never cared much about the All-Star vote and don’t now.
I bring this up to make a different point.
The Most Valuable Part of the 2016 Texas Rangers, a third of the way in, is this team’s depth. The vertical length of the roster (and beyond) that Jon Daniels and his crew assembled going into the season has been indispensable.
Shin-Soo Choo, the club’s best player as it made its second-half run to 162+ last summer, goes down within this season’s first week.
Mazara comes up and is known as the youngest player in baseball for about 10 minutes, after which his bullet points start to change entirely.
Delino DeShields regresses. Desmond — signed despite zero outfield experience when it didn’t look like Josh Hamilton was going to be able to give the team much — takes over in center, and has been one of baseball’s best players for the last month and a half. Ryan Rua (.811 OPS) settles in as the primary left fielder.
Rougned Odor gets suspended for a week. Jurickson Profar steps in and doesn’t just keep the club from skipping a beat. He adds a new dimension, and a really interesting conversation.
Robinson Chirinos breaks an arm in the season’s fifth game and Chris Gimenez can’t shake a leg infection coming out of camp.
No sweat: Relatively anonymous Rangers catchers Bryan Holaday, Bobby Wilson, and Brett Nicholas, none of whom is on the 40-man roster until the day before the club breaks camp in Surprise, combine for a MLB-high .287 batting average at the position, and a shared AL lead with 30 RBI, playing solid defense.
Keone Kela gets hurt, and Shawn Tolleson and Tom Wilhelmsen struggle.
Career minor leaguer Tony Barnette shows up from Japan and Matt Bush shows up from Golden Corral.
Remember the name Jose Leclerc — it might take only short-term memory — and at some point lefthander Michael Roth, whose non-roster deal didn’t even include an invite to big league camp, could help.
And then there’s Sam Dyson.
Since taking over for Tolleson in the ninth: nine strikeouts and zero walks in 6.2 innings.
Twelve ground balls and two fly balls.
Three hits and four saves.
Yu Darvish can’t go out of the gate, but Texas goes 7-2 in starts made by non-roster replacements A.J. Griffin and Cesar Ramos, who post a collective 2.88 ERA as starters in Darvish’s absence.
Darvish joins a rotation that has the American League’s best starters’ ERA (3.39), the Rangers’ best such mark through 53 games in 40 years.
The Rangers’ ace goes tonight against a Mariners club that staged an incredible comeback win in San Diego last night that resulted in a tie atop the division and a flight putting them in Texas just before the sun came up.
Three with Seattle, and the Rangers have a shot at a ninth straight series win at home (a Globe Life Park record), and an opportunity (3.0, 1.0, -1.0, or -3.0) to reclaim sole possession of the division lead.
It’s a remarkable thing, given that Texas has had to rely meaningfully on depth in the rotation and in the bullpen and at catcher and at second base and at all three outfield spots already.
Meanwhile, only Boston has a better AL win-loss mark, by half a game.
The Rangers haven’t looked to depth at first base or DH in spite of Prince Fielder’s and Mitch Moreland’s extended labors. But they could. Joey Gallo (a triple, a single, and a walk last night, now up to .294/.438/.676 in 130 AAA plate appearances) awaits, productively.
The Profar question persists, as Odor is set to return to action after tonight’s game. Could he remain on the roster, at least until Choo and Drew Stubbs return? Texas presumably won’t ask him to play the outfield (his arm hasn’t been conditioned for it), but could Texas roll with both Profar and Hanser Alberto on the bench for now?
Depends largely on the blueprint for getting Profar in the lineup. It’s not reasonable to expect Odor, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus to sit, even once a week each.
As Ben Rogers and I talked about yesterday while recording the latest Spitballin’ podcast episode, comparing Profar to Zobrist is more convenient than it is fair. In all those Rays and A’s years when Zobrist was earning MVP votes while playing all over the field, he was shuttling between positions manned otherwise by Eric Sogard, Mark Canha, and Sam Fuld, or Logan Forsythe and Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson and Matt Joyce and Ryan Roberts and Reid Brignac and Akinori Iwakuma and Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett.
That’s not the same as Odor and Beltre and Andrus and Fielder.
Profar needs to play.
He’s got nothing left to prove (well, aside perhaps from his arm strength from the left side of the infield). He has hits in all six games he’s played for Texas, with multiple hits in half of them, and has scored in the last five of those six games out of the leadoff spot. He’s made all the plays at second base, and he’s been big running the bases.
He sports a .929 OPS.
Jurickson Profar is a winning baseball player.
But he needs to play, whether that’s in Arlington or, for now, in Round Rock.
Daniels told the Ben and Skin Show yesterday that the inner circle is “still talking about ways” to keep the 23-year-old on the club once Odor returns.
Jeff Banister told MLB Network Radio that Profar “sure makes our club good,” and said to the local beats: “[Profar has] shown great energy [as] a guy who loves to play the game, and resilience after being away so long. I’m assuming what I’m seeing is what everybody else saw in the past.”
Someone in the middle infield has to move.
Not this weekend — that’s no longer a slam dunk, because of the dimension Profar has brought in his week up here — but while he has an option remaining in 2017, he clearly won’t need it. The Rangers are going to need to capitalize on his value no later than this winter, unless they move Andrus or Odor to make room for him here.
While procedurally he can, the dynamic Profar is not going back to AAA next April. He’s just not.
Someone’s gonna move.
That’s a conversation for another time. A conversation that will have added depth as the summer unfolds.
But not the same kind of depth that, two months in, has been this club’s MVP, pretty much carrying this team in the absence of any one or two players doing so themselves, a point driven home by something as pedestrian as the early returns on the All-Star vote.
It’s rained a ton this holiday weekend, wiping out lots of youth baseball and other outdoor plans but holding off long enough for Texas to get in three against Pittsburgh and win the majority of them.
Helped along by Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar, teammates for the first time in two and a half years.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way.
One finished 2012 in the top 10 in both Rookie of the Year and Cy Young voting, the other as baseball’s best prospect.
They occupied the Rangers’ starting nine together 13 times in 2013.
And three times in May.
Twice in Round Rock.
And then, here, on Saturday night.
It was a night on which Darvish and Profar reminded us of visions every one of us had four years ago, and three.
The big righthander, returning from an elbow injury that wiped out a year and two thirds, won his fourth season debut out of four. The command was there and the velocity was shockingly there, and the strikeout-to-walk was better for Darvish than it often is. It was a dazzling reminder of what we’ve missed and, just as much, a taste of the kind of boost his return should give this already strong club.
The 23-year-old infielder singled in the first (on an 0-2 count) from the leadoff spot, and scored. He grounded out his next two times up (seeing eight pitches), and then tripled and scored in the seventh. He saw 11 strikes in 12 pitches — watching four, fouling off three, and putting four in play — never swinging and missing (or looking at strike three). He made all the plays at second base.
The 2014 season, a terrible one for the team, started badly for Profar and ended badly for Darvish.
Neither of them was able to contribute to the Rangers’ fantastic 2015 season. What if they had?
As for 2016, for different reasons, their arrivals were delayed until late May.
It’s probably going to be short lived for Profar.
But so far, he’s 5 for 13 (.385/.385/538) with more multi-hit games (two) than strikeouts (one), and he’s found a way to score three times in three games.
Leadoff hitters do that.
I’ve been saying for a couple months that he’s the guy in the system I’d most like to see atop this lineup long term — the tricky part is finding the place he fits defensively, less so because of his abilities than because of who is already in place.
Profar has started nine big league games in the leadoff spot. He’s hit safely in all nine, and is a .310/.341/.476 hitter in that role, markedly better than in any other spot in the lineup (second, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth).
If nothing else, Jurickson Profar is helping his own stock, and that’s a very good thing, no matter where this is headed.
Profar is a winning player.
That’s not to say Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus are not. They are.
But so is Profar.
Gallo returned to Round Rock as Darvish arrived, and made his third pro start at first base on Sunday. (The first was last August. The second was his final day with the Express before being recalled a week ago to temporarily fortify the big league bench.)
He drew two walks in yesterday’s game, once leading off an inning and another time with the bases loaded, and in each case that’s a really promising thing for a guy with Gallo’s profile, another demonstration of a huge step forward in approach and a tempering of what had to be an urge to be big in a situation that didn’t necessarily call for it. He singled in his third chance, before fanning and flying out.
Think back to the hitter you saw last summer, when he struck out 57 times in 123 big league plate appearances and drew a dozen unintentional walks — with 90 more whiffs against 25 unintentional walks in the 128 AAA trips that followed his promotion to Texas.
He’s walked 24 times (22 times unintentionally) and gone down on strikes 25 times in 111 AAA plate appearances this spring.
Gallo has nearly cut his strikeout rate in half.
And nearly doubled his walk rate.
While playing first base, on a day that the struggling Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland each homered. (Off a lefty. In the same game. In the same inning.)
Gallo will probably continue to see AAA time at third base (as he’s the player Texas would turn to if Adrian Beltre needed to be deactivated) and maybe some on one outfield corner or the other as well. He’s DH’ing today.
But he’s going to play a good amount of first base as well, and with Moreland a free agent at season’s end, there’s added meaning to Gallo’s defensive assignments at this point, if not for 2016 then certainly beyond — especially with Beltre now locked in for another couple years.
There hasn’t yet been a day when Darvish and Profar and Gallo were all here.
Or anywhere, as Gallo was on the DL when Darvish made his two AAA rehab appearances early this month.
In fact, Gallo has suited up just once in 2016 in Texas with either one, when Profar made his season debut on Friday and Gallo remained on the bench in a 9-1 loss to the Pirates.
There’s a chance they’ll never play together. Profar could be back in AAA with Gallo once Odor is reactivated, and Profar (or even Gallo) could be traded in July.
If not, they’ll all be here in September, if not sooner — and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility, all things considered, that they’re all on a 2016 post-season roster together, when Profar in particular (with the minor league season over) could give Texas weapons on the bench that Hanser Alberto can’t.
Next year? Too soon to guess. Far too soon.
But not too soon to imagine it, and — finally — the vision isn’t entirely imaginary.
On June 27, 2010, one month short of six years ago today, Josh Hamilton stepped into the box against Houston righthander Roy Oswalt in the second inning of what was then a scoreless game in Arlington. Vladimir Guerrero had just doubled to left to lead off the frame.
Hamilton took a strike, and then watched an Oswalt pitch sail outside the zone for ball one.
The next pitch landed 490 feet away in the upper porch above right field, according to UTA physics professor Andrew Brandt and University of Illinois physics professor Alan Nathan. (Wanna see it again? Scroll 4:02 into this video.) No fair ball had ever traveled further in that ballpark.
Hamilton would go on to win American League MVP that year.
And Texas would go on to win the American League.
A year and five days after Hamilton’s blast off Oswalt, Texas paid 16-year-old Nomar Mazara a record-setting $4.95 million to leave the Dominican Republic and join the Rangers organization.
A few days after that, the Rangers brought him to Arlington to take batting practice and meet the media. He had a really pronounced leg kick. It looked like this:
He shared BP reps with Hamilton. And then they talked.
Since then, Hamilton’s career has declined.
Mazara’s has not.
He was a .756-OPS hitter in two Class A seasons.
He was an .817-OPS hitter in two AA seasons.
He was a .910-OPS hitter in two brief runs at the AAA level.
All told, Nomar Mazara hit .270/.353/.439 (.792 OPS) in the minor leagues.
He’s hitting .320/.365/.500 (.865 OPS) in the Major Leagues.
In 39 games he has 48 hits, the penultimate one of which traveled a reported 491 feet on Wednesday, landing in that same upper tank in right field. A new record, by one foot.
It was an extraordinary, majestic shot, borne of insanely easy power, a blast reminiscent of so many of Hamilton’s and of Mazara’s own career arc, as it seemed to keep rising, and rising.
The Mazara leg kick is gone, and so, at least in one sense, is Hamilton. But there’s so much more to look forward to.
The last time I wrote, about a Rangers player, “He’s ours,” was about Hamilton, way back in 2008.
I’m not suggesting that Nomar Mazara is on his way to earning MVP recognition this year, and I’m not yet predicting that the Rangers will earn their third World Series berth four months from now.
But I am going to say: “He’s ours.”
And, for now, that’s more than enough.
The Rangers traded Michael Young to Philadelphia on December 9, 2012.
Two days later, Richard Durrett reported that Texas had approached Ian Kinsler with the idea of a shift from second base to first, asking the veteran for his input on a possible position switch. It was driven less by any concern over Kinsler’s defense than by an effort to find a way to get Jurickson Profar into the lineup.
“[The discussion was] more about how would you feel about playing first base,” Kinsler said. “It’s not like a direct ‘You’re going to first.’ My feeling is whatever I need (to do) to help this team win. Honestly, if they believe putting me at first base is going to field a better team, I’m all for it. Bottom line is I signed a long-term extension to win a championship. If they think me at first is going to help us win a championship, I’m all for it.”
Kinsler had signed that extension eight months earlier, four days into the 2012 season. Five years at $75 million, covering 2013 through 2017, with a club option for 2018.
On the day Kinsler signed the deal, Profar had played five games above Low Class A.
Profar went on to have a 2012 season that started at Frisco and ended in Arlington — with him stranded on first after he’d singled the other way to load the bases in the ninth inning of the 5-1 Wild Card Game loss to Baltimore — culminated with coronation by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com as the game’s number one prospect.
Jon Daniels has called the 2012 club the one he felt best about under his term, at least in terms of the roster. Certainly not the results. Disappointing end to the season.
Josh Hamilton left for the Angels. Mike Napoli left. Koji Uehara and Mike Adams left. So did Scott Feldman and Ryan Dempster and Mark Lowe.
Young was traded.
The team was reshaping, in part by necessity and in part by choice.
In the Durrett article, it was speculated that a Kinsler shift to first base would result in Mitch Moreland “get[ting] some at-bats as the designated hitter at times or play[ing] first against certain right-handed pitchers.”
Three weeks later, Durrett reported that Texas would go to camp with Kinsler remaining at second base. “The more we’ve talked about it both internally and with Ian,” Daniels told Durrett, “it didn’t seem like something we wanted to force. You can make a good case for it, but we believe in Mitch Moreland.”
(Daniels would later tell ESPN: “We presented it as, ‘We would like you to do this,’ and we left it up to him.”)
Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reported that “[neither a move to first base or the outfield] would thrill Kinsler, friends say.” (Jeff Wilson [Fort Worth Star-Telegram] had reported, though, that there had been no talks with Kinsler about a move to left field.)
Daniels added a couple days later: “When we originally approached [Kinsler], it surprised me at first how open he was to it. He came out and said his preference [was] not to move, but [he] want[ed] to do what’s best [for] the team. He’s had some time to think about it and we’ve had some time to think about it. We’re not saying it’s definitely not happening, but . . . [o]dds are it probably won’t.”
Kinsler was the Rangers’ everyday second baseman in 2013.
His final Rangers at-bat was in Game 163, when he doubled to left in the eighth inning off Tampa Bay’s David Price, bringing Elvis Andrus up as the tying run with a Wild Card Game berth on the line. There was one out. Alex Rios was on deck.
Andrus, who had singled his previous time up, bunted. Strange. Price threw him out, and Kinsler moved from scoring position to slightly better scoring position, when his run in what was then a 4-2 game wasn’t the most important one.
Rios then grounded out to shortstop, stranding Kinsler at third.
The Rays tacked on a run in the top of the ninth, and Texas went quietly in the bottom, losing 5-2.
Nelson Cruz and Colby Lewis and David Murphy and Joe Nathan and Matt Garza and Lance Berkman and Jason Frasor and A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto were free agents.
The roster was heavily right-handed, and Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara were teenagers in Low Class A. Rougned Odor was a teenager who had split his 2013 season between High Class A and AA, but again, Kinsler wasn’t switching positions, and Profar was a step closer, having split his season between AAA (37 games, with numbers equalling his 2012 production the year before in AA) and Texas (85 games, with defensive starts at second, shortstop, third, and left). The young left-handed bats (Odor, Gallo, Mazara) weren’t yet factors when the 2013 season ended.
According to Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News), in fact, Odor had apparently been part of the Rangers’ July 2013 trade with the Cubs for Garza until the Rangers raised concerns about Garza’s elbow diagnostics and Chicago “had to accept [righthander Justin] Grimm instead of Odor” to complete the deal (which sent righthanders C.J. Edwards, Grimm, and player to be named Neil Ramirez and third baseman Mike Olt to the Cubs). Wilson, incidentally, reported that shortstop Luis Sardinas was involved in the deal rather than Grimm at one point.
In any event, Texas wanted to balance its overly right-handed lineup, needed to add power, and didn’t have a natural opening for Profar.
November 20, 2013: Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and $30 million.
Better power profile.
A spot for Profar.
January 2014: Profar hurts his right shoulder lifting weights. Tendinitis, it was called.
February 17, 2014: Profar cleared in camp to throw.
February 18, 2014: Profar shut down due to ongoing shoulder tendinitis.
February 22, 2014: Baltimore signs Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million pillow deal.
Is it fair to wonder what would have happened if Kinsler had agreed to move to first base before the 2013 season? Perhaps the Fielder trade still happens, but with Profar in the lineup the motivating reasons wouldn’t have been the same. If the trade never happened, when Profar was shut down as camp got underway, there would have at least been the option of sliding Kinsler back to second base.
Would Cruz have been an option to sign at that point, to serve as the club’s DH? The outfield had Alex Rios in right, Leonys Martin in center, and newly signed Shin-Soo Choo in left. Choo had signed in December, and you’d have to think that would have still happened under the scenario that Kinsler-for-Fielder didn’t happen in November, as the team would have been even more heavily right-handed without the trade for Fielder — and in better financial position without that trade.
It would also stand to reason that if Kinsler had moved to first base for the 2013 season, Texas probably would have already traded Moreland, if not that winter leading up to the season then after it, and signed a stopgap DH.
For 2014 maybe that would have been Cruz, if he were willing to accept that role in a one-year deal pushing his market entry back an extra winter. (Or Texas could have made Rios the DH, putting Cruz back in right.)
Though re-signing Cruz would have cost Texas the supplemental first-round pick (30th overall) it used to draft righthander Luis Ortiz, whose AA debut Monday was dazzling. (The Rangers forfeited their own first, which would have been 21st overall, to sign Choo.)
But maybe the club wouldn’t have asked Kinsler to move back to second, Cruz wouldn’t have accepted a DH job, and the Rangers would have gone with Brett Lillibridge or Josh Wilson or Donnie Murphy or Adam Rosales at second base — until turning the job over to Odor, as they ultimately did, assuming they didn’t move the coveted Odor over the winter once it appeared that Profar and Andrus were the long-term middle infield with Kinsler at first base.
Kinsler’s WAR in Detroit, where he’s still playing a solid second base: 5.7 in 2014, 6.0 in 2015, and already 2.1 in 2016.
Fielder’s WAR in Texas: -0.2 in an injury-marred 2014, 1.9 in 2015, and -0.9 in 2016.
And now Texas is imbalanced to the left side, and will be going forward with Odor and Mazara in place, Gallo on the way, and the productive Ian Desmond poised to take his right-handed bat elsewhere in this winter’s very thin free agency market (though I’m unwilling to rule out the possibility that Desmond stays, something that I hope is at least being considered).
Texas wouldn’t have won in 2014 with Kinsler here and Fielder not. That club lost a record number of games to injury (many of which were Fielder’s, granted) and dropped 95 games.
Would the Rangers have been better off with Kinsler in 2015? Fielder’s slash line was a good bit better, Odor was really good in the second half, and Moreland had a very good season, his best. But Kinsler had a terrific year, too.
Whether Texas would have been in a better spot in 2015 without the Kinsler trade may depend on whether he was this team’s first baseman or second baseman, and what the club would have gotten for Odor or Moreland if Kinsler’s presence would have led to one of them being moved.
As for 2016?
Kinsler is on pace to have perhaps his best season.
Fielder, though he’s showing signs of life the last week or so, is on pace to have unquestionably his worst.
And now the team, which is strong and about to get stronger, could use some more right-handed presence.
I miss Ian Kinsler. I figured I would.
I miss that guy, more than ever.
Houston won its 10th straight, and 14th of 15, to improve its early-season record to 18-7, which was the best in baseball.
That was on May 3, 2015.
Since then, the Astros have gone 81-79, and the Rangers have gone 87-73 . . . .
. . . . if you don’t count their head-to-head battles.
Factor those 22 games in, and Texas is 105-77 since last May 3, and Houston is 85-97.
That’s a 20-game difference, in a season plus three weeks.
The head-to-head since last May 3 has resulted in 18 Rangers victories, and four for Houston.
The first of those four Astros wins was a one-run affair in July, as Texas outhit Houston, 15-9, but managed only two runs. Collin McHugh logged the win. Martin Perez — making his season debut — took the loss.
The second was a 10-0 Astros spanking behind Dallas Keuchel that same weekend at Minute Maid Park, where the lefthander was invulnerable in 2015 (15-0, 1.46).
McHugh outdueled Derek Holland in the third Houston win over Texas, a 9-7 video game affair in September that featured seven home runs and 16 other hits.
Keuchel shut Texas down in the fourth Astros victory. Three of Houston’s four runs in the 4-2 win were unearned.
All four of the Astros’ wins the last 22 times they’ve faced Texas were in Houston.
And half of those were with Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel on the mound.
But Keuchel at home did Houston no good yesterday.
Three of Keuchel’s five worst starts the last two seasons (per the Bill James “Game Score” metric) have been against Texas.
And in his last four starts against the Rangers — two in the Astros’ crucial September and two in this brutal first quarter of the 2016 season — he’s 1-3, has allowed 23 earned runs in 23.2 frames, and has served up a slash line of .349/.368/.549.
The Rangers’ domination of Houston last year (13 of 19) was, in one way of looking at things, the difference in the AL West, as the Astros finished two games back.
The Astros would still be in trouble this year even if they hadn’t lost six of six to Texas, but they wouldn’t be 10 games out just a month and a half in.
The only thing more consistent in the Texas-Houston head-to-head in 2015 and 2016 than the results is the fact that it’s all happened without Yu Darvish.
Darvish, whose four best pitching performances in the big leagues include three against the Astros.
I sorta felt like I needed to say something today about Darvish, whose final rehab tune-up took place yesterday in Frisco (six scoreless innings, three singles, one walk, six strikeouts) and whose next assignment is likely to be Saturday night, in Arlington, against Pittsburgh.
It’s weird to think that the last time Jeff Banister was suited up for a Yu Darvish start that counted was when the Pirates last visited Arlington. It was September 9, 2013, and Darvish and Gerrit Cole were locked up in just an awesome pitcher’s duel. Pittsburgh came out on top, 1-0. Banister was Pittsburgh’s bench coach.
Since then Banister has interviewed for the Astros’ managerial job. The Astros said no.
Since then Houston tried trading for Cole Hamels. Hamels said no.
And Houston, especially over the last 13 months, has been hapless against Texas, while Darvish has spent all that time rehabilitating his way back to the big leagues.
Darvish is slated to go for Texas Saturday night.
Keuchel should go Saturday, too, against the Angels.
They may not face each other when Houston comes to town June 6-9, but they should both pitch in the series.
Hamels will probably pitch the opener, because Texas seems motivated now to keep him on an every-fifth-day schedule, adjusting elsewhere in the rotation to account for off-days.
But the Astros should see Darvish, too, in that four-game set, which will be Houston’s next chance to reverse an exceptionally loud trend, one that may have ultimately defined its fate in 2015 and that has been emblematic in 2016, to date, of the most disappointing season any team in baseball has had.
The last time the Rangers transitioned into a new ballpark, they left behind a building and a uniform color scheme and Nolan Ryan.
Ryan’s final Major League Uniform Player’s Contract was replaced with a personal services contract with the organization. Blue was replaced with red. Arlington Stadium was replaced, to the south, by The Ballpark in Arlington.
Nolan threw out the first pitch at the first game (an exhibition, to be exact, on April 1, 1994 against the Mets) in the new confines.
When the turnstiles open up for next building, on April 1, 2021, give or take a few days, I don’t know if the uniforms will have changed.
I also don’t know if the roof will be closed, but only because I don’t know if there’s rain in the forecast.
And I don’t know if Adrian Beltre will trot out to third base and if Colby Lewis will toe the rubber that day, in front of 44,000, facing southwest rather than northwest, but there’s only one reason I can think of not to have Beltre, ball in hand, double-tap his right foot on the bag and fire the ball to the mound with more uncalled-for velocity than Lewis has left in his own tank, and then have Lewis kick and deliver home to Michael Young, painting, after which Lewis meets Young, not halfway, but instead vectored to a point between the mound and dugout, on the way to which Lewis walks slowly, dominantly and almost unnaturally slowly, with baseball glove transfered to the grip of his right hand as his left index finger dutifully sweeps his brow.
And that’s if Colby Lewis’s bionic baseball body is still fully suited up as he lines the first base chalk with his teammates.
Unlikely, but maybe no more so than what he’s doing right now (3-0, 2.75, eight quality starts out of nine, .242/.284/.411) with a repaired elbow and repaired shoulder and re-repaired elbow and uniquely repaired hip.
I don’t have it in me to bet against Adrian, either.
They’re both freaks, and artists.
The new building will be Rougie’s and Nomar’s, and maybe Joey’s and maybe Dillon’s and maybe, we can hope, Yu’s.
It will be Ray and Bob and Neil’s and it will be Banny’s and it will be yours and mine and, in some capacity, it will be Michael’s and Adrian’s and Colby’s.
I don’t know if Colby Lewis’s jersey will look different that day.
Perhaps more to the point, I don’t know whether it will be accompanied by some weathered boots and a pair of Levi’s, or a pair of the home whites worn down to the cleats that, for now, cover one of the last remaining parts of the right-handed warrior’s body that hasn’t been broken and newly constructed, brought back to almost unthinkably steady and unassumingly dominant life.
Maybe you’re not old enough to remember those 1970s Hot Wheels race tracks that had crossing lanes. You’d spend a lifetime (a childhood, really, but what was the difference?) trying to reenact the commercial and have those cars cross intersecting paths at a million blinding miles per second while still grabbing the plastic road and skillfully avoiding collision, when truthfully the triumph was in just staying on the track while, on occasion, trading lanes.
Sitting back and watching the race without having to chase upended cars or losing interest, whichever came first, might not have made a great TV spot, but it was success.
Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots: Knock the head off the opponent, game over. Drop the mic, street cred for days.
Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. Useful.
Lite-Brite refills, allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. Patience.
Etch-A-Sketch: Part of that weird period of English construction (Choc-O-Lunch cookies??), but solid. Precision. Station to station.
Chutes and Ladders: Don’t roll a 5 or that center-cut fastball is gonna basically drop you off the board.
View Master felt like the future. More, please.
Keep overusing that Brick Red and that Midnight Blue, tempting as it is, and your 64-man roster is going to be compromised. Cadet blue just isn’t the same.
For fun, it’s a wonderful toy.
It’s fun for a girl and a boy.
Worst walk-up music ever.
And like, the Hot Wheels track, never quite lived up to its marketed billing.
Mouse Trap, on the other hand: Underrated.
Longball Baseball, Go for Broke, Super Slam/Super Toe, Go to the Head of the Class, and Yahtzee, too.
The bottom of the roster counts.
Texas and Toronto were both swept in their series immediately after throwing down with each other. An 0-6 record, outscored 50-14.
So much for the galvanizing effect.
One of those teams, for what it’s worth in mid-May, is relatively healthy but four games under .500, and a half-game out of last place in its division.
The other, still somewhat decimated, is three games over .500, and a game out of first.
The current focal point in Texas, the bullpen, . . . .
It will be better.
This team hasn’t yet found that click-rhythm, that run of consistency in all phases that leads to eight-game winning streaks and 14 of 17.
The Rangers have spent 23 days in first place, and 23 days not.
Today they’re not.
But Shin-Soo Choo is apparently a day away, Yu Darvish a start away, and Sam Dyson may have a few saves in the meantime.
Texas might enter the weekend back in first place. Might not.
There have been ladders and there have been chutes. They’ve wobbled. Haven’t fallen down. Rocked ’em, socked ’em, have turned the bullpen Etch-A-Sketch upside down and shaken.
Some refills have arrived, some are on the way, and there’s more in that View Master if you want to take a peek.
Bottom line? Texas is still very much on track, trading lanes occasionally, moving forward. Can’t complain.
Just waiting for that blinding tear.
I’ve been on record for years, and as late as yesterday’s seventh inning, that as much as we as Rangers fans can’t stand Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, I’d take them on my team in a second. I like good baseball players who bring an edge to the game.
Well, after yesterday, this is as close to a sports-lock as it gets: It’s not ever happening.
And though you’d be hard pressed to find one admitting it in the last 15 hours, I bet, deep down, there are diehard Blue Jays fans that would love to have Rougned Odor on their team.
We get territorial. That’s part of why sports grabs us in the first place, eh?
Would I trade circumstances right now with Toronto — for my team to have been the one whose bat flip moment led to an ALCS date with the Royals, and the one whose dirty play on Sunday led to my guy(s) getting embarrassed on the judges’ cards and on the scoreboard, boarding a Sunday evening flight to Tampa a season-high 5.5 games back in the division?
My team had ALCS tickets printing and let the other team take that away.
Yesterday was energizing for so many reasons, but let’s face it: Texas came back to win a series against the Jays, but not that kind of series.
OK. Enough of the rational stuff.
When Matt Bush came on to relieve a struggling Tom Wilhelmsen in the top of the seventh, inheriting a two-run deficit and a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in what was his second big league appearance, he struck Darwin Barney out looking, gave up a run-scoring sac fly to Kevin Pillar, and got Donaldson to sky out to center himself.
With the score Toronto 6, Texas 3 at that point, I wasn’t really joking when I tweeted: “Whaddaya say we get Matt Bush his first win?”
I didn’t say it with a lot of conviction, but, hey, you know: Twitter.
Then, in the Texas half of the seventh: Double. Single. Run-scoring double play groundout. Now it’s 6-4, but the bases are clean. A little demoralizing.
But with those two outs: Walk. Infield single. Ian Desmond bomb.
Texas 7, Toronto 6.
Bush in line for a flippin’ win.
And, given the state of the Texas pen (with Shawn Tolleson unavailable), the 30-year-old rookie was sent back out for the eighth to preserve the lead he’d just been given.
The top of the eighth lasted 10 pitches.
And, seemingly, an hour and a half.
The most descriptive account of what would then go down was delivered by WFAA Sports writer Levi Weaver. I’m going to try and be more succinct.
Bush’s first pitch of the eighth traveled 97 miles per hour on a direct line from the righty’s hand to the velcro cyclone around Bautista’s elbow.
Texas, minutes after regaining an emotional lead in front of 40,000-plus, put the tying run on base to lead off the eighth.
And 40,000-plus cheered.
Because sports fans, by and large, have a hockey mentality, and long memories, many with an irrepressible urge to maintain both.
That’s not a criticism. It’s in me, no doubt.
Bush then threw three balls outside the zone to Edwin Encarnacion, followed by strike one looking, strike two swinging, and a flyout to left.
Jake Diekman was brought in to face Justin Smoak.
Bush exited to wild cheers.
Ball one. Ball two. And then a bounder to Adrian Beltre’s left.
Beltre snared it on the run and darted the ball to Odor in an effort to start an inning-ending, lead-preserving twin-killing.
And by “darted,” I don’t mean “fired.” I mean “threw like a dart towards a dartboard.”
By time Beltre’s throw reached Odor, somewhat low and inside the bag, Bautista was bearing in on him, with no less premeditation about what he was doing than anything that was in Bush’s head when the inning’s first pitch was delivered a few minutes earlier.
Then, as artistically rendered by local baseball coach and T-Shirt designer Paul Ylda, this happened: https://teespring.com/thepunch051516
As Weaver wrote: “What happened next, you’ve already seen a hundred times by now, so let me do my best to put words to it: Rougned Odor got elected into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.”
(Here’s an angle of all of it you may not have seen. Stick with the video to the end to see what Russell Martin did the next half-inning.)
I’ve never seen Twitter, at least in the algorithms that populate my timeline, more frenzied. Not in October. Not in 2011. Not ever, I’m pretty sure.
This is where I’m not going to revert to lengthy memory or a hockey mindset to comment.
I get emotional in this space all the time, which is why you should go to your favorite beat writers for information. I’m not a journalist.
My emotions on this are no more informed than yours, no more acute. Probably no less, but likely no more. You know how you feel, I know how I feel, and there’s a real good chance nobody’s going to change that.
I’m right there with NBC Sports columnist Craig Calcaterra, who wrote this morning: “There was last night and certainly still will be today . . . an effort by columnists, pundits, radio hosts and fans to portray who among [Odor and Bautista and Bush] was worse. Resist that urge and ignore people with hot takes about who was so very wrong and who was so very right. . . . . Calcaterra’s First Rule of Sports Opinion is that one’s opinion on any sports controversy can invariably be determined by one’s rooting interest in the participants of the controversy. It’s no different here. If you’re a Rangers or a Blue Jays fan, save it. You’re blinded by the laundry.”
You’d hate Odor if he were the opponent.
He’s not. And that’s awesome.
(Yahoo’s Jeff Passan last night: “One scout when Rougned Odor debuted: ‘The thing I love about him the most is you do not want to [expletive] with him.’ That’s a good scout.”)
Saturday was Rougned Odor Bobblehead Day at Globe Life Park. Sunday, on the other hand, . . . nah, I’m not gonna say it.
The flip side (sorry) is that Jays fans would despise Bautista (whose reputation, at least before yesterday, was far more cemented than Odor’s) if he were on any of the other four big league clubs he’s played for (including Jeff Banister’s 2004-08 Pirates) or any of the 25 who have yet to put a uniform on him. He’s consistent. Though he said repeatedly in October and over the winter that he expected retribution for his Game Five hammer throw and that he’d wear it, nobody really thought he’d really take the ball off his elbow armor and consider it done. Odor was clearly ready for the dirty slide, because of who was sliding.
It would be gratuitous at this point for me to toss in this Calcaterra line: “Bautista dropping the ‘play the game the right way’ bomb after the game last night is one of the more hilarious things I’ve heard in a long time.”
Maybe even more gratuitous, cheap almost, to point out that Donaldson had zero hits in the three-game series.
Your opinions right now on Banister and John Gibbons, whatever they were, are probably firmed up this morning. They are for me.
You will never again be ambivalent about Marcus Stroman, who’s a really great pitcher and sort of outspoken.
Maybe Stroman wishes he hadn’t sent that tweet before getting on his plane. Maybe he doesn’t. There will be no such mixed feelings in show prep meetings today.
Like Calcaterra said, national media voices will inevitably raise today, taking sides. In some contexts, this is bona fide ratings- and click-driving theater. Hey, it’s gonna suck me in until Sean Manaea delivers a pitch a little after 9:00 local time tonight, playing in Oakland before a soft multiple of the number of uniforms that were on the field in Arlington in yesterday’s eighth.
But those takes aren’t going to sway you, and they don’t really matter. That goes for this column, too.
Order was temporarily restored. Jesse Chavez made Prince Fielder laugh with a post-warning ejection pitch to the backside, Texas eventually put two men on, but pushed none across in its half of the eighth.
With Tolleson shut down for the day, Sam Dyson trotted from the bullpen to the diamond for the third time in less than hour, this time handed the ball.
With the cut across his right cheek swabbed down, Dyson started Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Saunders and the fully unbuttoned Martin off with strikes, inducing groundouts to third, second, and short in a matter of eight pitches, and the most quiet and eerily anticlimactic save of a one-run game between teams that clearly hate one another seemed to take about 20 seconds.
Texas 7, Toronto 6 put the Rangers back in first place in the division for the first time in almost two weeks, which drew almost as much notice as the fact that Keone Kela was there yesterday and evidently kept himself in check.
The first place result, of course, is exponentially less meaningful than what the consequence of Toronto 6, Texas 3 was on October 14, a game that also featured Bautista and Odor and Dyson in roles that one fan base will never forget, and that the other one won’t, either.
But signature moments don’t always have a stage set.
Ian Desmond wasn’t there in October, but you think Beltre is glad that beast is now on his team?
Bryan Holaday wasn’t there, but you think he’s relieved that Dyson isn’t on someone else’s team?
Nomar Mazara wasn’t there, but you think he’s happy that he plays for Banister?
[insert name of anyone else who wasn’t a Ranger in October] wasn’t there, but you think he’s fired up to share a uniform with Odor?
Matt Bush wasn’t there — he was getting his release from a halfway house in October and throwing in a Golden Corral parking lot in Jacksonville for Rangers officials Josh Boyd, Jake Krug, Brett Campbell, Josiah Igono, and Roy Silver — but do you think he earned something Sunday as far as his new teammates, his first as a big leaguer, are concerned?
Toronto can keep Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson.
I’ll keep my team, and a lot of the rest to myself.
When I sat down to write on Wednesday morning, and suggested that the Rangers designate righthander Anthony Ranaudo for assignment, recall lefthander Andrew Faulkner, option outfielder Delino DeShields to AAA (without waiting for Shin-Soo Choo’s activation), and purchase the contract of non-roster outfielder Jared Hoying, there were two things I absolutely didn’t anticipate:
1. That the White Sox, who worked five walks off Ranaudo in the space of seven hitters 10 hours earlier, would help Texas remove the 26-year-old from the roster by trading for him days later.
2. That the Rangers felt Matt Bush was ready to join the big club.
Texas did exchange Ranaudo for Faulkner later in the day on Wednesday, and optioned DeShields this afternoon, but filled the 40-man roster spot vacated by Ranaudo and the 25-man roster spot vacated by DeShields by making Bush a Major Leaguer for the first time, 11 years and 11 months and six days, one DUI prison term, and one position change since he was the top pick in the amateur draft, a high school shortstop whose name was called first in the 2004 draft by his hometown San Diego Padres.
I’m happy Faulkner is back in the big leagues. I’m happy DeShields is in Round Rock, because I think this could be what he needs to rehabilitate his game. I’m even happy for Ranaudo, because he’s going to get a chance with Chicago, all other things being equal, before he was ever going to get another chance here.
But I’m happier for Matt Bush, and if you’re a believer in second chances . . . .
The man has done everything the Rangers insisted that he do, and not just when the uniform was on, since he signed a minor league deal with Texas on December 18 — three years to the day after he was sentenced to prison for driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injury in an auto accident in Florida.
In 17 innings out of the Frisco bullpen, he scattered nine hits and four walks, fanning 18. And he’s been exemplary off the field, by all accounts.
The Rangers also signed veteran righthander Kyle Lohse today to a minor league deal, reportedly carrying a June 1st opt-out. We can talk about that another time.
They’re expecting huge crowds tonight and this weekend in Arlington, as the Rangers host Toronto for the first time since October. Hockey is over and basketball is over and it’s the Blue Jays.
The last professional baseball Matt Bush played before this season was in a minor league game against those same Blue Jays, on March 16, 2012. It was six days before the auto accident.
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were on that Toronto club and in that day’s lineup, but by time Bush came on to pitch the seventh, he was asked to face Ben Francisco (who had replaced Bautista) and Mike McDade (who had replaced Adam Lind) and David Cooper (who had replaced Encarnacion). Bush retired all three. None are still around in affiliated ball.
It’s going to be more crowded in Arlington tonight and tomorrow and Sunday than it’s ever been in a baseball game Matt Bush played in. At times it will be louder than anything he’s ever experienced as a player. Maybe even as he takes that walk from the home dugout to the home bullpen, dutifully wearing the pink backpack, even though only 11 of his two dozen teammates are older than he is.
DeShields is now in Round Rock, replaced in center field by a former shortstop.
But he’s also replaced on the active roster by a former shortstop, and I didn’t see that coming this quickly.