I have this nagging, unwelcome, unpleasant feeling about baseball right now, and I can’t swear it would be any different if my periodontist hadn’t thrown cut fastballs at my mouth for two hours on Thursday.
This crummy feeling is stupid, and I’m going to write some words down now, to try and pull myself out of it.
There’s not really a good reason to be sad about Yu Darvish’s latest near-miss.
I think I was in a multi-day funk when Al Oliver and Buddy Bell went a combined 0 for 3 in the 1980 All-Star Game, too.
It’s about wins.
It’s all about wins.
It’s not about All-Star games or batting averages or Rookie of the Year results or no-hitters.
And Texas 8, Boston 0 was a spectacular win. A thorough taking down of the reigning World Champs, a May baseball beating of the highest order, with lots of offense, and three hours of majestic, special, breathtaking artistry painted on a canvas that stretched across the 60 feet and six inches between one slab of rubber and the other.
It was, what, one of the ten greatest Texas Ranger pitching performances I’ve seen?
How can I be upset about it? What sense does it make to feel even a little sad?
Yeah, maybe Alex Rios cost Yu Darvish a bit of baseball history. And an extra nine pitches. And another matchup with David Ortiz in the ninth that probably wouldn’t have happened if Rios had properly called Rougned Odor off the ball in the seventh.
But that’s baseball, and baseball is about wins, and we got one of those and that’s the best you can do.
At least as far as the bottom line is concerned.
To that point, on some levels baseball is about number one pitchers, and we got one of those and that’s the best you can do, and I think back to that December 7, 2011 afternoon at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, where Jon Daniels and Thad Levine and A.J. Preller and Don Welke and Josh Boyd spent three hours making a case, in front of Ray Davis and other members of Rangers ownership, for an unprecedented posting bid on the young Nippon Ham righthander. And then drove to Fort Worth the same day, to repeat the pitch to Bob Simpson.
Thank goodness for all that went into that, and came out of it.
I care less about whether there’s thought and discussion today that lead the official scorer to tear up the existing E-9 ruling than whether there’s thought and discussion underway that lead an organization and its ace to tear up his existing contract and replace it with a lengthier one, rewarding both sides.
Sure, I wish Darvish went 27 up, 27 down last night. Of course I do. But not as much as I wish Wash had put Endy in for defense 926 days ago, in the penultimate game the Texas Rangers played before Yu Darvish arrived. And if you give me the choice: last night’s result and wins in the next eight straight against Boston, Houston, and Toronto, or a perfect game and wins in only five of the next eight, I’ll take the win streak.
There were 293 one-on-one confrontations in last night’s game, and Texas won most of them, enough to give them the nod as far as the one ultimate outcome goes. That’s what matters.
There are lots of fascinating notes to come out of the game, from the Rangers’ league-leading shutout total, to Darvish’s league-leading volume of recent bids for perfection, to his transcendent strikeout totals, to the reassuring results in his starts following a 120-plus-pitch effort. Plus FanGraphs writer David Golebiewski pointing out that Darvish’s “Game Score” (under the Bill James definition) of 92 last night was actually higher than the average for all recorded no-hitters in big league history.
But that’s more numbers. More content for the record books and the pregame clips.
Texas won the ballgame, handily, thanks in very large part to one of the greatest performances ever turned in by one of the greatest pitchers in baseball.
It was pretty much a perfect game, even if not according to the rulebook definition.
Last night being what it was, Wednesday’s Rangers highlight came not at 1000 Ballpark Way but instead at 951 Ballpark Way, 1100 miles east, in front of a Winston-Salem Dash crowd of 5,682 that included Jon Daniels. The Rangers GM was on hand for Myrtle Beach 5, Winston-Salem 4 in 11 innings, a game marked by Joey Gallo’s 11th home run of the season, which traveled an estimated 450 feet, and his 12th, an opposite-field job in a left-on-left matchup in the eighth inning.
The 20-year-old now leads minor league baseball in home runs, after doing the same thing in 2013. His dozen bombs matches White Sox slugger Jose Abreu’s total, though Gallo has racked up his in four fewer games.
FanGraphs writer Nathaniel Stoltz, also among the 5,682 in the building, issued comment on the two Gallo shots on Twitter: “First might be the longest [home run] I’ve ever seen live; [on the] second, he got jammed. Frightful, insane power.”
Baseball America writer/editor J.J. Cooper, like Daniels and Stoltz in attendance for the Gallo display, answered a Twitter question asking if there’s another hitting prospect as feared right now as Gallo by saying, in no way hyperbolically: “No. Best power in minors since [Giancarlo] Stanton.”
In the throes of an extended case of bat anemia at the big league level, one that has lowered the Rangers’ slug (.377) to 10th of 15 in the American League, it’s fun to think about the path of destruction that Gallo is on (an almost-Tulowitzki-esque .327/.431/.745), but if you’re looking for a shakeup of some sort in Arlington (and I have email evidence that a bunch of you are), forget about Gallo. Chances are good that he’ll be asked to leave Myrtle Beach at some point this summer for Frisco, but to even conceive of a scenario in which he progresses any further in 2014 than that would have to involve Round Rock getting deeper into September than Frisco does, and maybe Gallo gets rewarded with some extra playoff ball at the AAA level in that case.
He’s not a consideration for the big leagues this year. And probably not in 2015, either.
If there’s going to be a real shakeup — and I’m not talking about clearing spots on the 40 and the 25 for Scott Baker — then you’re probably looking at a different player who, like Gallo, is 20 years old, or yet another one who, like Gallo, was drafted as a hitter but very well could have been as a pitcher.
Both are tremendous longshots, but I needed to write this morning to stop thinking about the last three Rangers-Rockies games, so it’s Longshots Ahoy.
Both had big Tuesday nights, before getting Wednesday off.
Rougned Odor got the day off with the rest of his Frisco teammates.
Mitch Moreland got the day off because Texas faced a lefthander — and because the Rangers weren’t going to pitch him on consecutive nights.
Odor tripled in the first inning of Frisco’s 12-7 win over Midland on Tuesday. He homered in the second inning. He doubled in the eighth.
The diminutive second baseman, who plays with Dustin Pedroia’s size and with a Dustin Pedroia chip on his shoulder, struck out in his other two at-bats Tuesday, finishing a single short of the cycle. Since April 19, Odor is a .325/.350/.481 hitter in 80 trips to the plate, and while he’s probably not ready for the big leagues, seeing Josh Wilson forced into the two-hole Tuesday night made me wonder if there’s all that much to lose — especially with the club in desperate need of a spark — by giving Odor a little burn until Jurickson Profar is ready in a month or so.
Then, last night, Donnie Murphy takes a spill trying to leg out an infield grounder and suffers a neck strain. If he’s down for a couple days, you’re not going to clear a spot on the 40 for Odor to get a start or two (if that). But if Murphy needs a disabled list stay?
The downside is not so much service time or the arbitration clock as it is the danger of rushing the kid. Giving Edinson Volquez a start at the back end of an August 2005 doubleheader seemed like a cool and exciting idea, but unless you don’t believe in correlation, you probably concede that the three starts and three relief appearances the 22-year-old was given back then set him back a couple years.
I’d be a little concerned about rushing Odor.
But probably less so than I would be about just about any other player in the entire Rangers system.
I don’t think there’s a stage too big for Odor. There’s a real strong chance he would struggle to produce, but also a real strong chance it wouldn’t faze him one bit going forward. And the flip side is his game is the type that, conceivably, could give this lethargic offense a bit of a spark.
The same night that Odor put his show on in Frisco, leading a 17-hit, 12-run RoughRiders attack, Moreland was called on to mop up a 21-hit, 12-run hammering that Colorado put on the Rangers to avoid further strain on a bullpen that has been overtaxed lately.
You don’t want to make too much of situations like that, where nothing’s really on the line, but it looked pretty darn good. Moreland worked at 90-94, mixing in a cutter and a change (keeping his slider on ice), threw 10 of his 15 pitches for strikes, and shredded Charlie Blackmon’s .361-hitting bat on his final pitch, 94 up and in.
You probably know Moreland’s story. Like Todd Helton and Mark Kotsay, he was a college star as both a hitter and a closer, striking out 45 hitters in 32.2 Mississippi State innings, but like those two and like Gallo, he was drafted for his bat, when the Rangers used their 17th-round pick on him in 2007.
Moreland hit for average and power in his first full pro season, putting together a .324/.400/.536 slash line for Low A Clinton in 2008, but a few things happened that summer that led to a potential shift in thinking among player development officials about Moreland’s future. First, Chris Davis had reached the big leagues and turned in a tremendous rookie run over nearly 300 at-bats (.285/.331/.549 — production he wouldn’t match until last year’s MVP-level season in Baltimore). Second, Texas had drafted Justin Smoak in June, adding a younger player expected to be on a fast track to Arlington. Primarily a first baseman to that point, the thought in 2008 that Moreland would ever be needed in that role in Texas was a difficult one for anyone to wrap his head around.
Third, not unrelated to the other two developments: On July 20 that summer, one day after the LumberKings had been stretched to 15 innings, Clinton found itself down 10 runs in the ninth inning. The ball was given to Moreland, an obvious choice for a position player who could mop things up, just over a year after he’d closed College World Series games for the Bulldogs.
Two weeks later, Moreland was once again called on in the final frame, this time in a game that Clinton was losing to Cedar Rapids, 15-2. He allowed a single and a walk in a one-run inning.
A little more than a month later, even though he’d led the Midwest League in total bases, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and RBI, the Rangers were intrigued enough with Moreland’s stuff on the mound that they gave him a serious look as a pitcher in Fall Instructional League. For the entire month he worked almost exclusively with the pitchers, after which the organization gave the 23-year-old — old for the Low A competition he’d played against and facing stacked odds as a hitter with Texas (first baseman-outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was still around as well, for another few weeks) — a choice to make: Pitch or hit?
Moreland pointed to the Rangers’ evaluation a year and a half earlier that his potential was greatest at the plate. He opted to give hitting one more chance, at least.
Despite the gaudy 2008 numbers, Baseball America ranked Moreland as only the Rangers’ number 31 prospect going into the 2009 season. (I had him at number 21.) I’d gotten a chance to see some of his work at Instructs in Surprise, and talked to some folks out there, and when I did a Q&A on the website just before spring training in 2009, a reader asked whether I thought Moreland was more likely to stick at the big league level as a hitter or as a pitcher. My response: “He’s more accomplished as a hitter but the answer to your question, in my opinion, is pitcher.”
I was wrong.
Moreland hit .331/.391/.527 in 2009 between High A Bakersfield and AA Frisco, playing more outfield than first base, and was named the organization’s Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year. A year later, Smoak was traded and Davis couldn’t hold a job, and Moreland established himself as the club’s starting first baseman and outhit all his teammates in the World Series.
But like with Davis’s summer debut, Moreland hasn’t been able to replicate it offensively since, and particularly now that his role at age 28 has gone from starting first baseman to platoon DH — and supreme pinch-hitter — that 90-94 he was firing Tuesday night has to resonate as more than just a gimmick, right? That wasn’t David Murphy coming in to hit bats and get back to the hotel. That was a former college pitcher, a player whom the Rangers strongly considered converting to the mound as a minor leaguer, a veteran whose role has been diminished — on a club that is rolling with two left-handed relievers, Neal Cotts (not nearly as effective to date as he was last year) and reclamation project Aaron Poreda (so far, so good), at least as long as Robbie Ross remains in the rotation.
Will the club be able to resist thinking of Moreland as an occasional power reliever, in the way that Milwaukee used Brooks Kieschnick for a couple years towards the end of his career?
Yeah, probably, because even on nights when Moreland’s not in the lineup Wash won’t want to use up his best pinch-hitting option.
But Wash did tell MLB Network Radio yesterday that if he were able to add one piece by the trade deadline, he’d like another arm to rely on in the bullpen.
Could that end up being Ross, if he returns to relief? (Nick Tepesch has been dealing in Round Rock and is on the same pitching schedule as Ross.) Maybe. Tanner Scheppers, once healthy again?
Texas wanted to see if Neftali Feliz could be a starter, following in the successful paths that Scott Feldman and C.J. Wilson took, but it didn’t work for him and he got hurt and hasn’t been able to regain his form as a reliever.
Something close to the same can probably be said about Alexi Ogando.
Here’s hoping that Ross and Scheppers, if they are in fact headed back to the bullpen, are as effective as they were last year.
If they aren’t, I doubt we’ll see Mitch Moreland follow the Sean Doolittle path and put the bats away.
But there’s no denying that his little turn on the mound Tuesday night was about as close to a “spark” as anyone has given the Rangers in these last three against the Rockies. I wouldn’t expect Moreland’s next baseball card to say 1B-OF-LHP on it, and I wouldn’t expect Rougned Odor to be playing against Colorado or Boston this week, rather than Corpus Christi.
Still, stranger things have happened, and if you were to ask me to put odds on Odor playing big league baseball on this homestand, or Moreland getting semi-regular work on the mound at some point this year, or Joey Gallo doing majestic damage in 2014 for someone other than the Pelicans or RoughRiders, I know which two longshots I’d feel safest betting on.
Of all the internationally signed prospects appearing on someone’s top 30 list in Baseball America’s 2014 Prospect Handbook, the Rangers didn’t originally sign the most, but their total of 14 was second only to Boston’s 15. And yet BA’s Ben Badler ranks Texas, and not the Red Sox, as having the number one international program in baseball.
That’s all cool and everything, until you see that, among the three highest-profile international prospects signed by each club, nestled between Venezuelan second baseman Rougned Odor and Colombian catcher Jorge Alfaro on the Texas list is Venezuelan lefthander Edwin Escobar, who checked in this winter as San Francisco’s number two prospect, and will probably be making starts for the Giants before he turns 23.
You might not be familiar with the name — he only appeared in 13 games for the sixth of the Rangers’ six stateside farm clubs while in the system — and only slightly more up on the player he was traded for, left-handed reliever Ben Snyder, who made over 120 appearances for Frisco, Oklahoma City, and Round Rock between 2010 and 2012, and if you know where Snyder has been since then, you’ve done a better job keeping tabs on him than I have.
The sequence of events that made Escobar someone else’s number two prospect went something like this:
* Texas traded Kevin Millwood and cash to Baltimore for reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named on December 9, 2009 (the club would eventually sign Colby Lewis and Vladimir Guerrero for less than what it would have had to pay Millwood).
* The next day, in that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, the Rangers had the Orioles use the third overall pick to take Snyder, who had converted to relief in the Giants system that season, putting up video game numbers against Class AA left-handed hitters. Snyder was immediately conveyed to Texas as the player to named in the Millwood deal, and writers like Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein opined that he was the best bet in that draft to make an impact.
* Snyder went to 2010 camp with the Rangers to compete against Clay Rapada and Zach Phillips and Michael Kirkman (and whoever among C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison didn’t win a rotation spot) for a second bullpen lefty job alongside Darren Oliver (who was signed two weeks after Snyder was acquired).
* Even though Wilson executed on his camp audition to become a starter, Harrison broke camp as the number five starter, and Holland started the season in AAA, and even though neither Rapada nor Phillips nor Kirkman earned a roster spot, and even though Snyder had to make the club or be run through waivers, the 24-year-old gave up eight runs (seven earned) on 12 hits and a pair of walks in seven spring training innings and didn’t win a job.
* As camp ended, Texas ran Snyder through waivers unclaimed, and — under the provisions of Rule 5 — had to offer him back to the Giants for half the $50,000 draft fee. As often happens when Rule 5 picks don’t stick, the Rangers went to San Francisco with an interest in keeping Snyder once he cleared waivers, and the two teams struck a deal on April 1: 17-year-old Edwin Escobar for the AA-bound Snyder.
It’s a trade that never gets talked about — BA had Escobar somewhere outside their top 40 Rangers prospects that off-season (I had him at 43), and Snyder never showed up in Arlington in that 2010 World Series season or anytime after that — but it will, soon enough.
If you think this is going to be an article focusing on bad Rangers trades, sorry. That’s not where this is headed. Bad trades happen to great organizations with great General Managers.
Ask Billy Beane how Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street, and Greg Smith for Matt Holliday after Gonzalez’s rookie year worked out, especially once Holliday’s half-season of Harold Baines-esque production led to Beane shipping him to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen, and Shane Peterson. Or the Tim Hudson trade. Or AA prospect Andre Ethier for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez. Or Nelson Cruz and Justin Lehr for Keith Ginter.
This is an article about sunk costs and what happens next. I hate that Texas traded Escobar for Snyder, but what’s done is done, and I’m pulling for Escobar to keep marching on his path to AT&T Park and to settle in somewhere near the middle of the San Francisco rotation.
Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatusko for Cristian Guzman happened four months after Escobar for Snyder, and Guzman did no more to help that inaugural World Series club than Snyder did from Frisco and Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Roark (whom Texas had found in the 25th round) has eight quality starts in 11 tries for the Nationals (including a three-hit shutout against the Padres 10 days ago), Tatusko (18th round, and then a spin as a baseball blogger) is pitching well enough in AAA that a big league opportunity with the Nationals can’t be ruled out, and I’m good with all of that.
Most Julys and most Decembers Norm Hitzges recirculates the meme that you’d better run away from the Braves when they’re offering you a pitching prospect. I’ve always taken some amount of issue with that — seems to me that the ones who paid off for the new team (Jason Schmidt, Odalis Perez, Kevin Millwood, Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis, Harrison, Neftali Feliz) soundly outnumbered the flops (Dan Meyer, Randall Delgado, Joey Devine, Micah Bowie, Matt Belisle, Tim Spooneybarger). But you don’t want the reputation that your prospects are overhyped, or that their minor league numbers are optical illusions.
Like, say, those early 1980s Dodgers hitters (Mike Marshall, Greg Brock, Candy Maldonado, Sid Bream, Franklin Stubbs, R.J. Reynolds, Ralph Bryant) whose voyages from San Antonio and Albuquerque to Cooperstown were interrupted by big league reality.
The Matt Garza trade didn’t work. Neither did the Koji Uehara deal, or the Ryan Dempster deal, but the wins on Jon Daniels’s trade ledger decisively outweigh the losses, the Rangers’ farm system pipeline has been deep enough to survive the hits, and the last thing I want from my team is a gun-shy front office.
Myrtle Beach lefthander Andrew Faulkner and righthander Jose Leclerc both shoved last night in Winston-Salem, with Daniels on hand (according to BA’s J.J. Cooper). That’s a very good thing for Texas as far as those two arms, legitimate but not on the top two tiers in this system, are concerned.
If what Roark and Kyle Hendricks and Pedro Strop have gone on to do helps build a big-picture reputation regarding the prospects Texas scouts and develops, if back-of-the-draft picks like Edwards and Danny Ray Herrera and Cody Eppley continue to outdevelop players taken 30 rounds earlier, if the next-step success that Escobar and Chris Davis and Christian Villanueva have gone on to have suggests anything at all, all of that can help the next time the Rangers make a third tier of prospects available for a set-up reliever or a platoon bat, or gets into talks about not only the lead piece but also the next two and the one after that when it’s time to discuss Giancarlo Stanton or David Price or Max Scherzer. At least theoretically.
Trading Leury Garcia for Alex Rios isn’t the same as losing Danny Amendola off your practice squad. Shipping Jake Brigham (and then Barret Loux instead) for Geovany Soto is not moving Kris Humphries for Eduardo Najera, or Corey Brewer for half of a second-round pick.
Texas has built a deep inventory over the last six or eight years of prospects that other organizations want. That’s a good thing. Matt Garza was here and is gone, and whether C.J. Edwards goes on to be a number three starter for the Cubs, or is chronically dogged by the shoulder problems that have him sidelined now, isn’t going to change that.
I will always pull for that kid, and for his trade-mates Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez (now up to four scoreless appearances out of the Cubs bullpen) and Justin Grimm, not to mention Nick Masset, whose ninth-inning work against Texas last night was his first big league appearance in nearly three years, in part because I became a fan when they were here and that doesn’t change, but also because I’d rather not have a talk show host in Miami — or a senior advisor in Tampa — wondering aloud whether trading for Texas Rangers prospects is too often an exercise in chasing mirages, a premise that Baseball America, at least, would continue to take issue with.
“With the 1,252nd pick in the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft, 1,242 picks after selecting Drew Meyer, the Texas Rangers select Jesse Chavez, a righthander from Riverside Community College who stands 6’2” and weighs just 145 and projects as a reliever, and in fact we’re going to sit on him for a year before deciding whether to sign him as a draft-and-follow, and when we do that we’ll give the starter thing a look but, after a couple seasons bouncing him between the rotation and bullpen at Short-Season A and Low A, we’ll relieve him about 80 times in High A and AA and once in AAA before trading him, three days after trading four players for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz and on the same day as swapping Jose Diaz for Matt Stairs, to Pittsburgh for Kip Wells, who will make two starts for us before pitching for nine other organizations over the next six years, and that 42nd-round reliever will spend four years with the Pirates, briefly getting to the big leagues in the third of those seasons and working out of the Pirates bullpen for all of the fourth, after which Pittsburgh will trade him to Tampa Bay for Akinori Iwamura in November, kicking off a Rays stint that will last five weeks before a December trade to Atlanta for Rafael Soriano, and two-thirds of the way into his Braves season he’ll be traded to Kansas City in a five-player deal with four more heralded players, and after the following season he’ll be designated for assignment by the Royals, and claimed by Toronto, seven weeks after which he’ll be designated for assignment by the Blue Jays, and clear waivers, but that next year he’ll earn his way back to the big leagues with Toronto in May, two months after which he’ll be designated for assignment by the Blue Jays again, and clear again, but a few weeks later he’ll be sold to Oakland, who will get both AAA and big league work out of him in 2012 and 2013, as a reliever with the A’s but as a starter with Sacramento, an idea that the Blue Jays first had in 2012 with mildly interesting results, and in 2014 Oakland will get hammered with rotation injuries and wonder if, hey, maybe that journeyman reliever can hold things together for a while, and in his eighth big league start (out of 197 big league games pitched), on the final day of April, he’ll deal for a career-high-matching seven innings, allowing (as a starter) a career-low one hit and a career-low zero runs (you might chalk that up to a struggling opposing offense but you might also want to look at what the righthander’s been doing against everyone else), and naturally it will happen against the team that three days earlier had a share of the best record in the American League, the team that drafted him six organizations and 12 years ago with the 1,252nd pick, because you can’t predict ball.”
“Next up on the clock: The Florida Marlins.”
Neal hasn’t been the same and Alexi is a model of inconsistency and Robbie’s a starter and Tanner is hurt and so is Pedro and Neftali has been pretty much all the above and for some reason Jason, who’s been spectacular all month and who had thrown just 12 pitches in six days, sat and watched while Shawn and Alexi were asked to get six outs in the seventh and eighth to protect a Matt Harrison-built lead, one of them offered Kyle Seager 86 belt-high, and now opponents have scored 18 times in 25 eighth innings against Texas and I can see this July being another Mike Adams/Koji Uehara type of July.
There went a winnable series in Seattle, but the road trip ends up with a healthy 4-2 mark, and Texas still shares the American League’s best record — with a rotation that’s starting to look right, even if the bullpen isn’t quite there yet.
“Game Six” now infects the Dallas Stars lexicon too, along with the ugly numbers 2:10 and 0:24, and what appeared to be a sure countdown to a glorious Game Seven between a 1 seed and an 8 seed whose awesome momentum can be measured on two completely different levels instead led to that assembly line handshake on ice that, as a fan, either raises goosebumps or kicks you in the junk.
What a fantastic hockey season, even if it ended one game, or one series, or more than that too soon.
A trip out of state for your kid and his teammates is full of great baseball and a hundred great moments, plus some comments from a very cool umpire and some behavior from a coach in the opposite dugout that both gave us all something to learn from.
Your kids, on this brand new team, play five games over the weekend, every one of which was against a team in a higher classification, and they win three times. Plenty to be proud of, and to build off of.
Mavs-Spurs tonight. Who knows?
I guess there’s a mindset that sports can be so deflating at times that we’d be better off not caring so much. I’d be surprised if anyone who cares enough to read emails like this one is in that camp, but we’ve probably all had people tell us we’re crazy for investing as much emotion in this stuff as we do.
Especially when bad sports things happen.
But again, the bad eighth innings, the inability to close out in the final seconds against the odd man rush, the 9U loss that puts you on the highway back to Texas before the championship game — all those things, all that sports adversity, all the battles that sometimes go the other guys’ way and all the disappointments, those things can fuel better things down the road, and make overcoming the next challenges so much more cool when they come around, because when you do care that much, you know how difficult it is, and should be.
Give me Seattle 6, Texas 5. Give me Anaheim 5, Dallas 4. Give me a sixth-place finish in a 20-team Oklahoma Shootout field. I’ve got no use for the idea that sports agony isn’t worth it.
Wednesday was about Jamie and Kari and Antoine and Cody and Vernon and Shawn and absolutely Alex.
And about Devin and Shawn and Monta and Jose and DeJuan.
And underdogs and stepping up and big games between hated opponents and, on one day, it all coming together for all three of your teams, if that fits your profile like it does mine.
Sports days like that don’t come along very often, and neither do 23-year-old pitchers like Martin Perez, whose image occupied the header of these emails for years, before his graduation to Arlington ceded the spot to Jorge Alfaro, and now my sports morning is even better thinking about the idea of Alfaro catching Perez for most of the seven years that the Rangers control the lefthander.
Maybe Joey Gallo is next for the email header, though for various reasons I’m not so sure Alfaro beats him to Arlington, and now my thought bubble has Gallo holding down one of the infield corners while Perez is on the mound, with Alfaro behind the plate.
Gallo hit three more home runs last night for Myrtle Beach, raising his Pelicans slash line to .359/.458/.891, and that’s all very cool and everything, but as you read Scott’s daily deliveries, keep paying attention to that significantly improved strikeout rate.
Gallo was born in 1993, like his Class A teammate Alfaro.
Which is a good opportunity to remind myself that Martin Perez was born in 1991.
And right in between them is Tyler Seguin (1992).
That’s two straight complete-game shutouts for Perez, in a season that has included only one other complete game by an American League pitcher — and David Price allowed three Minnesota runs in his.
Two straight complete-game shutouts in which Perez has allowed three hits (two singles and a double) on 109 pitches, and while he missed more bats in his blanking of the White Sox on Friday, not a single Athletic reached third base yesterday, and that’s just sick.
Perez’s 26 straight scoreless innings is baseball’s best in 2014, and his 11 wins since August 1, Fox Sports Southwest’s Anthony Andro notes, lead baseball as well. ESPN points out that, over these last 26 innings, Perez’s opponents are 1 for 36 with two strikes, 1 for 20 in at-bats ending in a changeup, and 0 for 23 with runners on base. He leads baseball in ground ball percentage, and hasn’t surrendered a home run.
But this morning, those video game numbers are secondary — to Texas 3, Oakland 0, and Dallas 4, Anaheim 2, and Dallas 113, San Antonio 92.
The Rangers now have the best record in the American League, and the most heavily populated disabled list in baseball — though I’m not sure whether that lead gets surrendered this weekend when Adrian Beltre and Matt Harrison return to active duty.
There won’t be another sports day around here like Wednesday for a while. Stars tomorrow, Mavericks Saturday, Stars Sunday, Mavericks Monday, Stars Tuesday, Mavericks Wednesday.
But they won’t overlap again like they did last night in these first-round series, in both of which the 8 seed is fairly clearly outplaying the 1 seed, despite the knotted game count.
On every one of those days, though, they’ll share the sports page with the Rangers, underdogs in their own right but current occupants of the first-place slot in the AL West standings, thanks to an improbable sweep of the A’s in Oakland, with an exclamation point planted by a pitcher whose work assignments have become appointment television and radio (if not attendance) for me.
And while the juggling act can be tough and exhausting when you have another team concurrently engaged in playoff battle, if not two, this is why. It’s days like yesterday and months like this one when the sports investment feels the least wacky, and the ROI feels like three homers in one game.
I’m gonna ask you to imagine that you’re an A’s fan for a few minutes.
(And it’s not meant as a humblebrag that there are probably three times as many of you reading this as there were in O.co Coliseum last night.)
You have the best record in the American League, and are playing at home against the team in the division you most need to beat.
You’ve already lost the series opener, even though you had their ace on the ropes that night.
You draw a Rangers rookie pitcher in this one, a college shortstop at a small school just three years ago who had five games of experience above Class A coming into 2014. Once you force him from what was his second big league start and get into the more vulnerable flank of the Texas pen, you first see a non-roster invite who hadn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2009 and didn’t pitch anywhere in 2013. And then a waiver claim. And then another waiver claim.
The Rangers’ hottest hitter leaves the game after the third inning with a back injury and is replaced by a kid who isn’t ready for the big leagues, leaving Texas having to go the final two-thirds of the game with Luis Sardinas, Donnie Murphy, Robinson Chirinos, Leonys Martin, Josh Wilson, and Michael Choice batting 5-6-7-8-9-1, with four of the six in roles they’re not ideally suited for, and there’s a handful of DFA’s and waiver claims in those bios, too.
You scratch out a couple runs in the fourth that you shouldn’t have gotten, when Wilson misplays a bounder that an eighth-grader can’t misplay.
You open the sixth with a double off the wall and a single to short left, and don’t score.
You find yourself in a spot in the ninth, when your closer (sporting a 1.69 ERA), entrusted with a one-run lead, allows a pinch-double to a hitter who was 0 for his last 8 with four strikeouts, but after two bunts, the second of which involved a botched sign and an easy out at the plate, you have the Rangers’ number nine hitter — who not only came into the game 1 for his last 11 but also had an easily calculable 0 for 18 split against right-handed pitchers for the season — down to his and his team’s final strike . . . .
. . . and he doubles on a ball that you, as an Oakland fan, believe Yoenis Cespedes had a reasonable opportunity to catch.
Then, facing the untested rookie that you traded for a 30-year-old backup outfielder in the winter because you didn’t think the untested rookie was quite ready to be meaningfully tested, your closer allows a single up the middle to turn what a minute earlier was a 4-3 lead that was a strike away from becoming a 4-3 win into a 5-4 deficit.
But you do have Ranger destroyer Coco Crisp (3 for 4 the night before and 1 for 3 in this one), Jed Lowrie, and the formidable Josh Donaldson due up, facing a fallback closer who had thrown a season-high 20 pitches the previous night and would be pitching on back-to-back nights for only the second time this season — after doing so only five times in 2013.
A quiet, 10-pitch ninth.
And another loss to Texas. A lost game, and a lost series. With a Sonny Gray-Martin Perez matchup on deck that, if it goes the Rangers’ way, will have the A’s in second place all of a sudden to a grossly decimated team that has now won four straight series.
As Scott Lucas pointed out on Twitter, 10 of the 17 players Texas used in the game last night weren’t on the 40-man roster in October.
And five of them weren’t on the 40 a month ago.
But back to you pretending you’re one of those A’s fans.
You’re the best team in the league. Playing at home. With a patient, savvy, opportunistic offense facing a kid who barely pitched in college and couldn’t even be described as battle-tested in AA.
Against what looks like a spring training “B” game lineup.
Kevin Kouzmanoff leaves the game early, after which Pedro Figueroa leaves the game early, a night after Shin-Soo Choo had left the game early, which is not to be confused with Oakland A’s baseball fans, who simply never show up.
A defense-first journeyman infielder gifts you two runs, as a result of which the two-time defending AL champs are staked to a lead in the fourth that holds up until there are two outs (one of which was gifted) and two strikes in the ninth inning against that defense-first journeyman infielder, the ninth-place hitter in a lineup in which he shouldn’t even be that, and the ball is in your reliable closer’s hand, the particular hand against which that defense-first journeyman infielder hadn’t hit safely all season coming into the game.
You’re a pitch away from evening the series up against the team right behind you in the standings, a team that’s more than just hanging in the race early on in spite of a ridiculous swarm of injuries that won’t encumber it forever.
Your closer doesn’t beat the defense-first journeyman infielder with two outs and two strikes, and your veteran left fielder isn’t able to make his glove the first thing that the ball hits.
The prospect you traded a few months ago then beats your closer himself, a few minutes after which the exact three hitters you want up in the bottom of the ninth each quickly gets beaten by the other team’s closer on the second night of an uncommon back-to-back, a veteran who is only their closer because the guy they wanted to seize that role failed to, not because of injury like so many of his teammates but instead because he just didn’t pitch well enough.
Still, their closer is a fallback with a lot more stature in the game than a bunch of the fill-in’s on that team who beat you Tuesday night, 5-4.
Man, what a brutal loss. Just brutal.
Maybe it’s because the weekend wiped me out and the after-work nap didn’t help and I was on added edge due to the collision of Stars-Ducks and Rangers-A’s but, even having gotten at least part of a decent night’s sleep, I sit here this morning still feeling like Texas is behind Oakland by three runs in a game that ended eight hours ago with the Rangers meeting on the infield and the A’s packing up their things.
Last year Yu Darvish pitched through a lot of hard luck. The Cy Young runner-up had 10 no-decisions (2.98 ERA, .209/.280/.357 opponents’ slash) and nine losses (3.88 ERA, .195/.293/.375 opponents’ slash).
Focusing solely on the no-decisions, Darvish pitched effectively enough to earn a win in lots of those in 2013. But thanks to inadequate help from the offense and/or bullpen, the Rangers’ record in games that were decided after Darvish exited last year was 4-6.
In 2014, Darvish has three no-decisions in four starts (2.14 ERA, .205/.271/.282 opponents’ slash). And no losses.
This year, Texas is 3-0 when the pen earns the decision in a Darvish start.
Which means the Rangers haven’t yet lost when its ace takes the ball — not that it’s been easy. They’ve won all three Darvish no-decisions by one-run margins (1-0, 3-2, 4-3), and the one victory he has (a 3-0 win over the Rays in his season debut) came when the score remained 0-0 after he threw his final pitch.
It’s a pretty cool thing to think about, the idea that this might be the year that the offense picks Yu Darvish up more often than it lets him down. And he needed the support last night. Give the man credit for keeping Oakland scoreless in five of six frames, but he gave up a dozen hits plus walks, threw strikes only 58 percent of the time, threw more first-pitch balls than first-pitch strikes, and seemed to rely so much on the slow curve that it lost its function as a deception piece.
It’s also a pretty cool thing that Texas, in spite of a ridiculous swarm of injuries (hold your breath until we get results on Shin-Soo Choo’s ankle MRI today) and early nothingness from the offense, now holds the second-best record in the American League and the fourth-best mark in baseball.
There’s seven-eighths of a season to go, but in the end Texas 4, Oakland 3 (Neal Cotts over Sean Doolittle) may be one to look back at, a night that might be well remembered not so much for my 30,000th tweet (a “Pickin’ machine” tip of the cap to Prince Fielder) as for the reigning AL Player of the Week coming up big yet again, and a fellow former A doing so a few innings after that, and of course it was Kevin Kouzmanoff and Donnie Murphy picking Yu Darvish up, because this is a new year.
Darvish was judged to be the American League’s second-best pitcher last year, and (not that I care about this at all but) there are probably old-school baseball writers out there who would have changed their votes if Darvish had a larger number of wins by his name in a season when the Rangers somehow went only 17-15 in his starts.
Win totals are dumb, though, and Darvish obviously deserved much better in 2013 than that sort of team record the 32 times he took the ball.
He’s only 1-0 right now. There are 77 pitchers with more statistically generated “wins.”
But I’ll take the 4-0 team record on Darvish Day, and the inference that goes with it, because it means one of the truly elite pitchers in baseball is, in this very short and early sample, getting a bigtime boost for a change from his teammates, a lot of whom aren’t even among the two dozen that were supposed to go to battle with him in April.
I didn’t see a minute of Colby Lewis’s 5.1 innings of work last night, or of any of the five relievers who came on to preserve it. Awake at 5:30 am and away until 10:30 pm, for me Saturday was a day of baseball at another place and another level.
A pitcher’s win total doesn’t really matter, and neither does a 9U baseball trophy, but still.
A week ago, before his first start in nearly two years, Lewis told local reporters: “I’d like to thank the Texas Rangers and the organization for giving me an opportunity tonight. It wouldn’t have meant as much for me to get back out there without having this uniform on.”
For lots of people, that matters.
His is a baseball path that has taken him from North Bakersfield High School to Bakersfield Junior College to Pulaski to Port Charlotte to Tulsa to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder (and surgery) to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Washington to Sacramento to Oakland to Sacramento to Oakland to Kansas City to Hiroshima to Texas to a torn flexor tendon in his elbow (and surgery) to Round Rock to Frisco to Round Rock to Frisco to bone spurs in his hip (and surgery) to Round Rock to Texas.
To “this uniform.”
There are certain players you just pull for a little more.
For Max and his Dallas Pelicans teammates, a bunch of baseball paths have brought 11 kids together from 10 different schools, into one uniform, and it’s not just a gametime thing. These guys have become brothers. And if you’re in the camp that finds value in Lewis’s words and the mentality behind it, you probably get what I’m talking about.
There are layers to the Kevin Kouzmanoff path and to the Neal Cotts path, too, the latter of which, early on, looked a lot like the Michael Choice storybook path. For Cotts, it was Illinois high school . . . Illinois college . . . drafted by Oakland . . . traded as a frontline prospect to Chicago. For Choice, it was Metroplex high school . . . Metroplex college . . . drafted by Oakland . . . traded as a frontline prospect to Texas.
(Which reminds me of a comment Choice made during a radio interview last week, when asked if he was surprised by the December trade to the Rangers: “Surprised? Not at all. Name the last guy who started his career with the A’s and ended it there.”)
These nine-year-olds aren’t yet weathered enough to have anything less than full faith in the dream of their own Michael Choice path, one that has them eventually playing big league ball for their hometown team, not that this would be the time to introduce the concept of the odds. I’m a huge believer in team, and just as much as Jake Storey clearing the fence in the morning and then bringing home the championship with a complete game, and Ty Holt playing lockdown, winning defense all day long, and Dominic Mele finding ways to get on base and score runs, and Kendall Gill and Drake Detherage getting it done at the plate and behind it, I think those 11 kids, years from now, are going to remember the uniform they had on, and the others who wore it.
Including the head coach, whose path we’ve had the good fortune to have intersecting with the rest of ours. Whether you’re a fan of a pro team or a college team or have a kid who plays or played yourself, you know how critically important — and challenging — finding the right coach, and the right fit, can be.
Most of these 11 kids will play high school baseball. Some may play beyond that, and if everything falls right someone might even earn the chance to play the game for a living, and that could mean five months of minor league ball and done, or a lengthy, memorable, idyllic career in the game that includes two years in the Far East and three trips to the operating table.
Or arriving as the youngest active player in the big leagues and singling on the first pitch you see. Where the career goes from here for Luis Sardinas — who signed with Texas on the same day five years ago as Jurickson Profar at the same age and for roughly the same money — is anyone’s guess. The formula factors in opportunity and injuries and luck and all kinds of other potential setbacks.
There are good days on the field and bad ones. At nine years old you learn a lot from those, both of those, and the lessons pay off, whether they come back into play in baseball, or otherwise. You can bet Colby Lewis learned how to handle adversity as a kid. He’s a role model at it now.
He’s a role model to young kids who understand his story, and his refusal to let it end without another fight. He’s a role model to his teammates, the ones he went to battle with in two World Series seasons and the ones just now figuring out what it takes to get to the big leagues and stay.
On Saturday, before Lewis’s second big league start since July 2012, Ron Washington said of his warrior: “Younger guys know they can bounce it off Colby. He gives them a yellow brick road they can follow.”
Given Wash’s style with the language, I’m not sure there was any ironic intent behind describing Lewis’s road to success as one paved in gold, but that’s a player who — more than a decade after he’d flamed out as a first-round pick here — was exactly right for this franchise, and vice versa, and they’re both quick to recognize that now.
I didn’t see any of Lewis’s start on Saturday, occupied instead with a full day of different baseball, but as soon as I saw the box score for Texas 6, Chicago 3, with Robinson Chirinos squeezing a final strike three hours after Kendall squeezed strike three to end Dallas Pelicans 12, Texas Titans 5, you can be damn sure I wished I’d been part of the 45,000 who gave Lewis a standing ovation as he left the game, and a lead, in the hands of his teammates.
Baseball is hard. If it weren’t for the tough times, and the challenges, the good times wouldn’t be nearly as cool.
And just like that, the Texas Rangers are tied for the second-best win-loss record in the American League.
And, with all the hang-wringing over the offense, the club is now hitting .273/.341/.400, good for the second-best batting average in the AL and the third-highest OPS.
And, in spite of injuries that had four of the club’s projected five starting pitchers inactive to begin the season, the four Rangers starters who are active now have a composite ERA of 1.70.
And, yeah, my favorite Martin(s).
A week ago I tweeted:
“10 at home vs. HOU, SEA, and CWS. Win seven and record would be 11-8. We good with that?”
The consensus answer: You bet.
Split tonight (Colby Lewis’s next start) and tomorrow’s (Robbie Ross Jr.’s) against the White Sox, and that’s where Texas would sit.
Still good with that?