When Nelson Cruz wakes up this morning in Surprise, a 33-year-old getting ready to hit in a group of teenagers that might include Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, Travis Demeritte, and Juremi Profar, taking live BP against Chi-Chi Gonzalez or Alec Asher or Marcos Diplan, a thousand miles west of his nuclear baseball family while surrounded by 77 Texas Rangers ballplayers a generation younger, he’ll probably have the same first thought of the day he’s had every day for a while now, wondering if his Rangers career is over, or if there will be another chance, whether in October or in 2014, wondering — like me and you — who is going to step up these final two and a half weeks to make sure the 2013 season moves past 162, so he can contribute something again this year, in the calendar month that so far has defined his career.
Will it be Adrian Beltre, whose baseball team this is, who after a monster July (.369/.414/.670) and equally torrid August (.381/.479/.577) is flicking at a .205/.279/.231 rate in September?
Will it continue to be Alex Rios, who in September is hitting a Beltre-like .378/.439/.703?
Will it be Elvis Andrus, whose July (.690 OPS) was his best month of the season after a miserable offensive first half, until he was better in August (.747 OPS), and who’s off to an even better September (.931 OPS)?
Will it be Leonys Martin, whose All-Star-level plate work in May and June (.307/.355/.486) has been replaced by a second-half struggle (.238/.300/.326)?
Will it be Juremi’s big brother Jurickson? Mike Trout hit .213/.277/.366 in his first 159 big league plate appearances, and no, Jurickson Profar (along with everyone else in baseball) is no Mike Trout, and Profar has been encumbered with inconsistent playing time and the less-than-ideal schedule of varied defensive assignments, but in 329 big league plate appearances he’s a .233/.303/.339 hitter. Now would be a great time for him to introduce us to another level. Time for a tear.
The difference between Trout and Profar is no more pronounced than the difference between Cliff Lee and Matt Garza, so keep that in mind when I point out that Lee went 4-6, 3.98 in 15 regular-season starts (team record of 6-9) after Texas traded for the rental lefthander in 2010, recording 21.7 outs per start and fanning 8.0 hitters per nine innings, while Garza has gone 3-4, 4.46 in 10 starts (team record of 6-4) since Texas traded for the rental righthander in July, recording 20 outs per start and fanning 8.5 hitters per nine innings.
Again, Matt Garza is no Cliff Lee and isn’t even in the same zip code. But maybe his best baseball for this club is ahead of him.
Will it be Garza?
Will it be Yu Darvish? (That’s sort of a silly premise, since we’d already be saying he’s stepped it up all season if his teammates were scoring a couple more times a game for him.)
Will it be the starting rotation as a whole, which had been so good all season but is 1-8, 5.26 as a unit in September, allowing opponents to hit .311/.374/.502?
Will it be A.J. Pierzynski, whose September 2005 (.229/.289/.325) and September 2008 (.224/.258/.306) were his worst months in what were his last two playoff seasons?
Will it be David Murphy, a career beast in August (.298/.356/.489) and September (.306/.362/.489) who hasn’t done a thing since May this year, hitting .216/.287/.357 in that span? Can he step it up over these final 18 September games, helping his team reach the post-season and helping himself as he nears free agency?
Will it be Mitch Moreland (.288/.338/.561 vs. .188/.270/.356) or Jeff Baker (.317/.391/.695 vs. .241/.318/.397), who were fantastic before fluky June injuries and have been so disappointing since?
It’s going to be Ian Kinsler.
Ian Kinsler is going to bring it, starting this weekend against the Oakland A’s.
It’s Ian Kinsler.
I’ve been part of a season ticket group since Rangers Ballpark opened in 1994, the same year that I moved back to Dallas and started my law career. That group originated at the law firm I started with and moved with those of us who opened our new firm six years ago.
There are some very savvy baseball fans in our group, and so when we divide the tickets up every March, it’s necessary to bring some strategy to the table. For many, many years, my focus was on Opening Day plus a fairly even distribution of games throughout the season, so I could spread out the serenity-adrenaline over those six months that were so much better than the other six months on the calendar. I’d pay some perfunctory attention to trial settings and kids’ recitals and other competing appointments, but the general priority was to make sure I never went too long without a visit to the Temple.
The last few years — the contender years — there’s been a slight shift in the plan, which this year was executed to an extreme: Almost all of the games I chose on Ticket Draft Day were in April and September. When your team is great, a thing that I now expect of the Texas Rangers every March, those are the two best months of the regular season. While there’s plenty of appeal to the out-of-school months, for me that doesn’t measure up to the April crave or the September intensity of a ticket to the ballgame, and in 2013 I set things up accordingly.
Next year I’m sure I’ll try to do the same. The 2014 schedule was unveiled yesterday, and Texas opens at home — against Philadelphia, which should mean Yu Darvish against Cliff Lee on an awesome Monday afternoon — and plays 17 of its final 26 games at home, including the last seven, which will be against Houston and Oakland, also awesome (for different reasons). I expect Chuck Morgan to introduce a very different Rangers team next March 31, but I have no doubt that it’s going to be a strong team, postured to play crucial games in September and poised to continue playing into October.
In spite of the last two nights and the last four series, I’m not sitting here diverting my thoughts toward next year in any sort of disconsolate, resigned way. I’m thinking squarely about Matt Garza vs. A.J. Burnett and how huge today’s game is and about how badly the Rangers need to win this afternoon for all kinds of reasons and about #CastleDoctrine and about how glad I am that I decided in March to load up on September tickets, including today’s. There have been many more years since 1994 when mid-September baseball thoughts were centered on “next year” than not, but 2013 is not one of them.
It’s just that next year’s schedule came out yesterday.
And with that, I’m done thinking about 2014 and how many times I’ll be on hand next April and next September, and instead focused single-mindedly on how many times I’m going to have the opportunity to sit in our seats at the Ballpark next month.
I predict with absolute confidence that you will hear Mackenzy Bernadeau’s name on the radio today 10 times more frequently than Yu Darvish’s, because that’s the way the conversation generally goes here on Cowboys Mondays. I’m a Cowboys fan and I get that. I also don’t like it.
I predict with only slightly less confidence that Yu Darvish is going to absolutely shove tonight. He will settle back into beast mode and fire one of his best games as a Major Leaguer, as the 81-61 Rangers, 1.5 games back in the division and holding down home field at the moment for AL Game 163, host the 81-61 Pirates, 1.5 games back in the division and holding down home field at the moment for NL Game 163.
I predict with a slight bit of surprise that A.J. Pierzynski will probably catch Darvish tonight. Five days ago I would have bet on Geovany Soto, given what appeared to go down between Darvish and Pierzynski Wednesday afternoon (harmless or not), but Soto caught yesterday, and so there’s that.
Who catches for Texas tonight would probably make a more interesting talk show segment than Terrance Williams vs. Dwayne Harris going forward, but I’m realistic about such things.
Texas has never faced promising rookie righthander Gerrit Cole, who goes for Pittsburgh tonight, but he throws really hard, and that’s probably good.
Martin Perez-Francisco Liriano tomorrow is just as fascinating a matchup, and there’s some subtext to Matt Garza-A.J. Burnett on Wednesday, too, and who knows, maybe the troika of Liam Hendriks, Mike Pelfrey, and Kevin Correia have something left for Oakland these next three days, even if they nearly emptied their bags of tricks against Texas last week.
I sorta like that the Pirates are throwing Cole tonight, and that they’re a really good team that the Rangers can’t afford to look past with the A’s poised to visit Arlington this coming weekend for the last three regular season games between the two AL West leaders. There’s no more room, and no more time, for this club to let down.
We’re just under 12 hours away from Darvish against Cole, opening the third of eight straight biggest-series-of-the-year series of pennant race baseball games, and I can’t wait, and I’ll mention Darvish here one last time to make sure he gets referenced three times as often today, at least in this space, as Mr. Bernadeau.
On the morning of September 8, 1972: 27.5 games back
1973: 33.5 games back
1974: 6.5 games back
1975: 17.5 games back
1976: 16.0 games back
1977: 8.0 games back
1978: 8.0 games back
1979: 8.5 games back
1980: 18.5 games back
1981: 3.5 games back
1982: 23.0 games back
1983: 15.0 games back
1984: 9.5 games back
1985: 27.0 games back
1986: 7.5 games back
1987: 9.0 games back
1988: 26.0 games back
1989: 13.5 games back
1990: 16.5 games back
1991: 11.0 games back
1992: 14.5 games back
1993: 5.0 games back
1994: season ended a month earlier due to players’ strike, with Texas 0.5 games up; post-season was canceled
1995: 7.0 games back
1996: 7.0 games up
1997: 12.0 games back
1998: 3.0 games back
1999: 8.5 games up
2000: 14.0 games back
2001: 36.0 games back, with Alex Rodriguez
2002: 24.0 games back, with Alex Rodriguez
2003: 20.0 games back, with Alex Rodriguez
2004: 5.5 games back
2005: 9.0 games back
2006: 9.0 games back
2007: 17.5 games back
2008: 17.0 games back
2009: 5.5 games back
2010: 7.0 games up
2011: 2.5 games up
2012: 4.5 games up
2013: 1.5 games back
It could be better. But it could be a lot worse.
I’m not sure if last night was the season’s most important game, but it might have been the most poorly played, and the Rangers, winners of only two of their last eight, find themselves in their third-worst run of a season that’s been remarkably streaky, all while Oakland has ripped off 10 wins in 13 games to move from 2.5 games down to 1.5 games up.
On the subject of streaks, while Texas has its rotation as stable now as it’s been all year, at least in terms of health and the roll call, there’s this:
Yu Darvish through August 17: 12-5, 2.64.
In four starts since then: 0-2, 4.50.
Derek Holland through August 16: 9-6, 2.95.
In three starts since then: 0-2, 5.51.
Matt Garza through August 13: 8-2, 3.23 (including 2-1, 3.38 with Texas).
In five starts since then: 1-2, 5.13.
In spite of a wicked rash of starting pitcher injuries in 2013, the rotation has been very consistent and very good, carrying the club when the offense couldn’t.
Suddenly, though, it’s Martin Perez (6-0, 2.54 in seven starts since July 31) who has been the Rangers’ most dependable starter at the most important time of the season.
Twenty-two-year-old rookie Martin Perez.
The Dallas Cowboys play one-sixteenth of their schedule tonight. The Rangers have two-sixteenths of their schedule left. I don’t know what to expect from the football team, and nothing would surprise me — my expectations are low.
My expectations are very high for the baseball team, in spite of this stretch of ugly ball, lots of which has come against teams that aren’t very good.
This is a club that, just a month ago, was in the midst of a stretch of extraordinary baseball that included 17 wins in 21 games, and 22 of 28.
Texas (probably) doesn’t need to go 17-4 over these final 21 regular season games to win the West and avoid a win-or-go-home Game 163. But with only three match-ups left against Oakland, there’s a lot of separate business that’s going to need to be taken care of, and with the 2013 season entering the final half of its fourth quarter, it’s time for this club to lock in and go on a new run.
It’s time for this very good baseball team to play good baseball again.
The A’s were winners of 8 of 10 and a .629 club at home.
The Astros were losers of 8 of 11 and a .343 club on the road.
Oakland rookie Sonny Gray came into the game with an 0.83 ERA in three home starts.
Houston journeyman Brad Peacock came into the game with a 5.98 ERA no matter where he pitched.
Astros first baseman Chris Carter, who along with Peacock was traded by Oakland to Houston seven months ago in package to get shortstop Jed Lowrie, singled off Gray with two outs and two on in the top of the first inning last night, giving the A’s a quick 1-0 lead that would stand up. It took four Houston pitchers to hold Oakland to two runs in the bottom of the eighth, stranding the tying run (Lowrie) and go-ahead run on base as Yoenis Cespedes grounded out to third off journeyman reliever Josh Fields (6.07 ERA), who stayed in the game and retired the A’s in order in the ninth, preserving a 3-2 Astros win in O.co.
The Rangers, hanging out in Anaheim, were probably glued to Broncos-Ravens instead of watching Oakland lose its third out of four meetings with Houston, the worst team in baseball.
The last time the Rangers visited the Angels, they outscored Los Angeles, 23-8, and swept the three-game series.
The Angels were in a lengthy tailspin then. They’re now a club that, without Albert Pujols, has won 10 of 13.
The Angels, 4-9 against the A’s and 2-10 against the Rangers, have more than half of their remaining games against Oakland (six) and Texas (seven), beginning tonight with ex-Ranger C.J. Wilson (10-1, 2.79 in his last 15 starts) against Californian Matt Garza.
It’s September 6, and it’s awesome that Sonny Gray vs. Brad Peacock mattered a whole lot.
It started the way Rangers games seem to be starting and ending lately, with a first-and-third, one-out, middle-of-the-lineup-due opportunity squandered and then, nine pitches into the bottom of the frame, a double and two productive outs, such an elusive concept of late, give the other guys a quick 1-0 lead.
What happened from that point forward was Lefty the Salesman opening his Muppet trench coat and asking (pssst) if he could interest you in a big batch of You Can’t Predict Ball.
Last year, on September 26, in Game 155, Martin Perez faced Oakland at home. His start lasted two outs, and his ledger was splattered with five runs on six hits, raising his ERA from 3.78 to 5.03 and narrowing the Rangers’ division lead over the A’s to three games with seven to go.
Five days later, in Game 160, Perez started in O.co Coliseum. He gave up two runs in the first and two more in the fifth, getting chased without getting an out in that inning, and Texas would lose, 4-3, sending relievers Scott Feldman, Michael Kirkman, Koji Uehara, and Roy Oswalt to the mound in a critical game that drew the A’s to within a game of the Rangers, with two regular season games to go.
Perez was left off the playoff roster for Game 163, even though, four days after throwing 69 pitches, he’d theoretically have been available to contribute an inning or two.
He wasn’t ready.
He wasn’t anything close to the same guy he is today.
Still, even though Perez has been really good the last five weeks, this was Oakland, whom the 22-year-old hadn’t faced since those two season-ending starts, and when the game started the way it did last night, well, you know.
And then he started busting the fastball inside and locating that filthy change down and away and he walked nobody and in fact had only one three-ball count until his final inning of work and he fanned five and every one of those five came with runners on base and four them came on swings and misses and a couple shutdown innings turned into a shutdown outing and six straight starts won is a franchise record for a rookie and the last four have come against Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, and Bartolo Colon, who will share space on a different list in two months, and he’s barely half Colon’s age and barely half Colon’s weight and was twice as good last night in front of 16,133 which is not a typo and there’s Jurickson making huge plays at shortstop and making big noise at the plate when he’s allowed to swing the bat and speaking of Profar in the field that heady diving-snare-and-throw-home to get Joshy “no more sliding” D seemed to shift momentum and speaking of Profar at the plate what if he’d gotten more of a chance to do that last September and October and that’s water under the bridge and water is for sharks and stuff and let’s focus on Profar and Perez and the Rangers in 2013 and that’s now 21 straight wins when the offense scores at least four which is not unrelated to the fact that the pitching staff has now allowed five or fewer runs in 31 straight baseball games which is staggering to think about and is one thing that distinguishes late 2013 from late 2012 and another one of those things is Martin Perez and now it’s Darvish Day and yyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaRRRRRRRRRRR and mismatched socks and no tweets and respect the streak, especially the one My Favorite Martin is on, and pssst.
Can I interest you in some more of that?
We talked back on August 3 about the stretch of games between the last Rangers-A’s series and the one that kicks off today, 24 games for Texas that included no opponents with a winning record and 25 for Oakland that included 15 against teams with more wins than losses.
The Rangers went 17-7.
The A’s went 14-11.
In the process, Texas went from 2.5 games down in the West to one game up — though at one point (10 days ago) the Rangers had pushed their lead over the A’s to 3.5 games.
Series losses to Seattle, Chicago, and Minnesota notwithstanding, it was an outstanding August for Texas (20-7), coming off a brutal July (11-15) that triggered talk show segments questioning whether trading for the market’s best-available starting pitcher, Matt Garza, had been a mistake.
But the way Texas lost its series to the White Sox and then its home set against the Twins — especially in light of how the schedules stack up for the Rangers and A’s the rest of the way — leaves a bit of an uneasy feeling as Texas heads into this four-week sprint. In each of the club’s two losses to Chicago and three games against Minnesota, the offense managed to score two runs. That’s 10 runs in five games against two awful teams, from the same offense that, in between, put up nine runs in three innings against Felix Hernandez.
Maybe it’s just as well that Texas has 16 of its final 26 regular season games against winning teams.
I don’t really mean that, but the way the offense produced against King Felix twice and Chris Sale once in a 12-day stretch, we all know it’s still in there, and there’s not going to be any room for letdown against Oakland, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Oakland again, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Houston, or Los Angeles again.
The Rangers went 4-9 down the stretch in 2012, when even one more win might have meant no Game 163 and a completely different October. Texas can’t coast this September, because the division lead is in present danger and because the schedule is tough and because the only six games Oakland plays against winning teams over its final 26 are these three hosting the Rangers and next week’s three in Arlington. Texas can’t coast this September, because most of the players on the roster remember what happened 12 months ago.
Cancel out the common opponents and sites, and here’s what the Rangers and A’s have left:
TEXAS: one home game against the Angels, three at home against Pittsburgh, four in Tampa Bay, three in Kansas City, three at home against Houston
OAKLAND: four in Houston, three in Minnesota, four at home against Minnesota, three in Seattle
If Oakland wins twice more than Texas these next four weeks, the best the Rangers can hope for is another Game 163 berth.
Last year, Texas and Oakland had each other seven times in the final 10 days of the regular season.
The A’s won five of those seven games. If they’d won only four, the Rangers would have had a best-of-five to play next, rather than a win-or-go-home game that ended their season.
This year, for better or worse, Texas and Oakland face each other zero times in the final 10 days. They’re done with each with two weeks to go, unless one wins Game 163 and draws the other after that.
When I think of the 2012 season, I have a hard time thinking about anything other than October 1, 2, and 3 in Oakland. It will be different this year.
That doesn’t make this afternoon or tomorrow night or Wednesday afternoon, or September 13 or September 14 or September 15, any less huge. Just less irreversible.
This is going to be a month we’ll long remember as Rangers fans. No matter what happens, buckling up for whatever these next four weeks bring sure beats all those decades when football season necessarily replaced the local baseball team’s annual playing out of the string.
Let’s go, Derek. Be great.
It was July 29. The Rangers had lost four straight, which would have been bad enough if not for the fact that they’d failed to score in three of those games, a depth of offensive ineptitude to which the franchise had managed to sink only two other times in its 42 years of existence.
Matt Garza was set to get the ball the next night, his second start as a Ranger, and there were already talk show segments wondering aloud whether Texas might consider trading the righthander, just a week after acquiring him for four or five prospects. The Rangers were six games behind Oakland in the West, their greatest deficit in the division since the end of the 2009 season, and hadn’t gained any ground on the A’s in a staggering 31 days.
Garza took the hill opposite Jered Weaver, and the game was playing out seemingly the only way it could: Weaver, coming off two straight scoreless outings, was blanking the hapless Rangers offense on one hit through five innings. Garza matched Weaver through four, before a J.B. Shuck home run (the first of his career), an Erick Aybar walk after an 0-2 count, a Mike Trout double, and a two-run Josh Hamilton single paced Los Angeles to what felt like a completely insurmountable 3-0 lead.
After responding with a three-up-three-down effort in the bottom of the fifth (including two strikeouts), Texas had gone 26 innings without scoring a run, the club’s second-longest drought ever, trailing only a July 1972 skid that lasted 28 frames.
If there was a lower regular season point for this franchise in its current era, I don’t remember it.
Texas scratched out a run in the sixth inning that night — Mitch Moreland popped out (after attempting to bunt on the first pitch of the inning), Leonys Martin bunt-singled, Elvis Andrus bunted Martin to second, and Ian Kinsler refused to be the fourth straight Ranger to square around, singling to center and driving Martin home — but stranded two runners to end the inning, and the Angels and Rangers exchanged zeroes in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Oakland had just put up four runs on Toronto starter Esmil Rogers in the first inning out West.
A friend of mine sent me a text that said: “Unreal the slump the entire team is in. Need a comeback in this game right now. I feel like tonight is the season.”
The invincible Neal Cotts relieved Garza to start the eighth, with Texas still down 3-1. Trout singled. Hamilton singled, sending Trout to third. If you can stretch your brain to recall how anemic the Rangers offense was as of July 29, how snakebit the team seemed to be as a whole, how steady the plummet in the West was at the time, you know how ridiculous the idea was that Texas might claw back from a two-run deficit in the eighth, with opposing runners on the corners and nobody out.
It’s cool: Not every year is going to be your year. I’m pretty sure I had sorted through that thought more than once that week, with increasing frequency.
Then Cotts struck Mark Trumbo out swinging, on eight pitches.
Then Cotts struck Howie Kendrick on three pitches, all swings-and-misses.
An Alberto Callaspo full-count walk followed, loading the bases.
And then Cotts got Hank Conger to ground out to second.
Texas halved the Los Angeles lead with a manufactured run in the bottom of the eighth — Martin grounded out to second, Andrus singled to right and stole second and took third on Conger’s errant throw, and Kinsler sac-flied a shot to right, scoring Andrus — but even the 3-2 deficit felt like a miracle short.
Then the ninth happened.
Jason Frasor was excellent, logging a pop to shortstop and two strikeouts looking, and in from the visitors’ bullpen trotted Ernesto Frieri to shut things down.
A.J. Pierzynski swung through two pitches and watched one miss the strike zone in between, after which he turned on a 94-mph fastball and blasted it over the right field fence, tying the game. Nelson Cruz singled to center on his own 1-2 count, before David Murphy rolled over the first pitch he saw, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play.
And then Geovany Soto crushed a full-count fastball out to left, just inside the foul pole, sending the Angels walking off as he circled the bases with a couple dozen teammates huddled around the plate, waiting to pounce. The outcome itself was as unlikely, given the state of the club at the time, as a team tying and winning a game with homers by two catchers in the same inning.
Texas would walk off the next night too, thanks to Martin.
And the night after that, courtesy of Adrian Beltre.
All told, the Rangers have gone 22-6 (including 20-0 when scoring at least four runs) since Neal Cotts got out of that volcanic jam on July 29.
And gained 9.0 games in the standings in that month and a day.
It’s the best 28-game stretch in club history, matching what Texas did from July 6 (or 7 or 8 or 9) through August 6 (or 7 or 8) in 1977. In this run of 28, the Rangers have scored more than that previous record-setting club did, a fact that must be digested along with the reminder that this offense had just come off that four-game stretch in which it had failed to score three different times. This 22-6 team has allowed fewer runs than that 1997 club did, too, and that’s with Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, and Nick Tepesch on the disabled list, and Alexi Ogando DL’d for half of it.
Through five innings on July 29, coming off of New York 2, Texas 0, and Cleveland 11, Texas 8, and Cleveland 1, Texas 0, and Cleveland 6, Texas 0, with the Rangers behind the Angels and Weaver, 3-0, the idea that the team was poised to fire off the best 28-game run in its history was no less preposterous than the fact that the streak would start with three straight walkoff home runs and would feature blowout wins over Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, and Felix Hernandez again.
Texas now has the best record in the American League. Unimaginable on July 29.
The club has gone 26 straight games without allowing more than five runs, the longest such streak for an American League club since Oakland in 1972. And the Rangers will get Feliz back on Sunday or Monday, with Ogando and Tepesch presumably not far behind.
Before that, Texas could add a player via trade, as the club did on August 31, 2010 (Joaquin Arias for Jeff Francoeur) and on August 31, 2011 (player to be named Pedro Strop for Mike Gonzalez, and cash for Matt Treanor). It won’t be Josh Willingham or (thankfully) Mike Morse, who were claimed by Baltimore, or Kendrys Morales, who was claimed by some team but pulled back by Seattle. But theoretically, it could be Dan Haren, or Adam Dunn, or Justin Morneau, or Matt Lindstrom, all of whom have reportedly cleared waivers.
As Assistant GM Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio last weekend, “We’ve talked about need and now we’re going to talk about names to go with that need.”
We know the roster will start to expand on Sunday. We don’t know whether the roster will be upgraded beforehand.
But we do know the Rangers will be busy today and tomorrow turning over every rock.
It’s a lot more fun to be the team looking at every single roster spot and imagining how it can be maximized in September — and October — than to be the team trading Eddie Guardado back to Minnesota at the end of August, to boost the Twins’ pennant run.
It’s especially awesome to be in this position considering where this club was on July 29.
No comeback from a 3-1 score should be considered improbable for a contending team, but in the eighth inning of Rangers-Angels on July 29 it felt damn near impossible. That was a very long month and a day ago.
And there’s still right at a month to go on the regular season schedule, with Oakland having the much easier lie than Texas — though the A’s were one pitch away from a four-game sweep in Detroit yesterday, and in the last two weeks have lost home series against Houston and Seattle. You never know.
When Texas was shut out three times in four games just over a month ago, the odds that I’d be writing this article today rather than one comparing Chris Davis’s last 162 games (57 home runs, 44 doubles, 1.058 OPS) to Joey Gallo’s (56 home runs, 35 doubles, .959 OPS), or one featuring the Rangers’ 53-18 Dominican Summer League squad (which beat the Red Sox club, 14-2, to open the playoffs yesterday), or one focusing on the run that righthanders Luke Jackson and Alec Asher and Nick Martinez and Wilmer Font and Lisalverto Bonilla are on, or one about Jose Dariel Abreu or Masahiro Tanaka, or one noting that righthander Johnny Hellweg (part of what the Angels sent the Brewers, along with Jean Segura, for Zack Greinke) was just named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, were longer than Gallo’s swing.
How far ahead or back are the Rangers if Cotts and Pierzynski and Soto don’t come through on July 29?
Maybe Texas is 2.0 games up right now, rather than 3.0.
Maybe the disparity is less mathematical.
Whether you believe in momentum or mojo or Neal Cotts, right now you have to believe in the Texas Rangers. You have to feel good about Darvish-Hendriks tonight and Garza-Pelfrey tomorrow and even Blackley-Correia on Sunday afternoon, as the Twins come to town, and at least reasonably optimistic about Price-Parker, Cobb-Gray, and whoever the Rays are throwing against A.J. Griffin on Sunday as Oakland hosts Tampa Bay.
Not every year is going to be your year, but a couple days before September it’s pretty cool when it still might be, even if a couple days before August things weren’t exactly looking so good, prompting a friend of yours to send a text wondering if an entire season was actually on the line.
It’s strange to begin with, these West Coast games, especially when the first pitch is thrown just as the kids are resisting their back-to-school bedtimes. Texas 4, Seattle 3 stayed weird for 10 innings.
You had two of the American League’s best pitchers, Derek Holland and Hisashi Iwakuma, firing statistically certified Quality Starts (the 9th out of 10 for Holland, 7th out of 10 for Iwakuma) even though neither was sharp as we’re accustomed to seeing.
You had a second-inning moment, with Mitch Moreland on second and one out, when David Murphy shot a single to right and Gary Pettis ordered Moreland, as he approached third seeking guidance on whether to sprint another 90 feet, to go-no-stop-no-go, with a pleasant enough result as Moreland beat the throw to the plate and tied things at 2-2, after which another run-scoring single gave Texas a 3-2 lead before their half of the frame was over.
After getting behind in the count and ultimately walking the leadoff hitter in each of the first two innings, Holland issued ball one to Franklin Gutierrez to start the third, after which Gutierrez deposited the next pitch over the center field fence to re-tie the game. (I think it somewhere around that time that I tweeted “If Texas wins this game, it’s gonna be one helluva great win.” Holland was battling, but just wasn’t on his game.)
Pitch counts chased both starters after six.
Then there were the top of the eighth and top of the tenth.
Eighth, game tied, 3-3: Ian Kinsler singles. Adrian Beltre is hit by a pitch. Rather than having A.J. Pierzynski bunt, which if successful would have led Eric Wedge to put Alex Rios on and pitch to Moreland with one out and the bases loaded, needing a sac fly to grab a lead, Pierzynski was allowed to swing away, and on the first pitch he popped out to first. Rios then grounded into a double play.
(Bottom of ninth: Tanner Scheppers could have retired three Mariners on one pitch, had Moreland let Humberto Quintero’s popped-up bunt fall at his feet. Instead, Scheppers got the job done in 12 pitches, getting the pop-out and two strikeouts, each including three swing-and-miss strikes.)
Tenth, game still tied, 3-3: After Elvis Andrus was called out on a weird batter’s interference call (running centimeters inside the chalk as pitcher Danny Farquhar fielded his dribbler down the first base line and dodgeballed Andrus in the back), here we went again . . . Kinsler single, Beltre single, Pierzynski up.
There’s one out, so there’s no bunting Kinsler to third.
So Kinsler takes some initiative, reads Farquhar’s time to the plate on ball one to Pierzynski, and on the second pitch of the at-bat, which happened to be a breaking ball down, Kinsler took off for third and was comfortably safe.
With runners now on the corners and just one out, Pierzynski again popped out, this time to third, and the sac fly was no longer in order.
But the decisive-run-scoring balk was.
Technically, C.B. Bucknor’s call was probably correct, as was his interference call that nullified Andrus’s single minutes earlier, but in each case it seemed reasonable for one team to feel like it had gotten jobbed in a major display of game-deciding #umpshow.
After Rios struck out to end the inning, Joe Nathan came on to preserve the Rangers’ 4-3 lead. Gutierrez harmlessly grounded out to Andrus. Kyle Seager singled to left center, which, given that it was Kyle Seager, felt basically harmless in what was a one-run game (his 16 extra-base hits against Texas this year are more than Vladimir Guerrero ever had in one season). Kendrys Morales struck out swinging, and it was down to Justin Smoak.
Nathan fell behind, 2-0, but then evened the count. Smoak then foul-tipped a fastball that changed direction no more than Farquhar’s shoulder did on The Balk, and Pierzynski couldn’t hang onto what would have been a game-ending strikeout.
And then, in one of the season’s strangest games, Smoak went on to work an eight-pitch walk, pushing the tying run to second and giving way himself to pinch-runner Endy Chavez, who represented the potential walkoff run.
Michael Saunders, who is playing less than Michael Morse for some reason, was up, two innings after entering the game and singling sharply off Neal Cotts. As he swung through strike one and watched ball one sail by, and then ball two, I couldn’t stop thinking about strike three to Smoak barely eluding Pierzynski’s grip, and how in this really weird baseball game, which had moved well past midnight locally, that millimetered difference was probably going to end up being the final difference between a “W” and an “L.”
That’s what was still burning a hole in my brain when Saunders rocketed a grounder past the mound, seemingly headed for center field sod if not for the exquisite defensive positioning that had Andrus almost behind second base, and as Andrus scooped the ball up, I half-expected a shoelace to come loose and prevent him from beating Chavez to the bag while Seager did Seager things and tore past third, ignoring the subtlety of third base coach Jeff Datz’s go-no-stop-no-go directive, prompting Andrus to raise to a knee and fire a strike to the plate, appearing to beat Seager to end the game if not for the baseball barely eluding Pierzynski’s grip, resulting in a tie game, and that’s where my nightmare ended when I realized that Andrus’s trot to the bag with ball in hand was unimpeded and true, and there was nothing C.B. Bucknor could do to make it not so, and with the game no longer capable of further weirdness and firmly in the one-helluva-great-win column — that’s now 19 straight when Texas scores at least four times — I paused the TV so I could walk up to the screen and give Jackie a hug.
The response to yesterday’s Yu Darvish post was interesting, in some instances making me consider whether I failed to state clearly enough my basic point, which was merely that I think Darvish — who is great and an ace and my second favorite pitcher in Rangers history — has room to be better (that would be good thing, right?). Based on the responses, I know many of you understood the point I was trying to make, but some didn’t, and that’s my fault, but either way, the issue of whether there’s a potentially correctable piece in Darvish’s already extraordinary game is one on which there is some clear disagreement.
Anyway, I didn’t suit up in a flak jacket before sending Sunday morning’s report out, but I’ve got it on right now as I throw the following out there . . . .
David Murphy makes $5.775 million this year, a product of his third and final arbitration-eligible season. He’ll be 32 in October, and is having his worst big league season, whether you measure it by OPS or OPS+ or WAR or none of those.
At this point, what is he this winter? A two-year, $9 million player? One year and 6 million? Two years and $10.5 million, given how thin the free agent market is?
Hypothetically, what if Murphy cost only $500,000 or so in 2014? Would you take him back in the fourth-outfielder role that he’s held for most of his career, with Leonys Martin in center, Alex Rios in right, a new left fielder, right-handed-hitting center fielder and runner Craig Gentry on the bench, and someone like Nelson Cruz at DH?
What if Murphy were a little better defensively than he is, and capable of playing a reasonable center field? Would he fit for you, especially at a league-minimum salary?
What if he could play a little first base as well?
What if he were a baserunning threat?
What if he were 28 years old this off-season, rather than 32?
I don’t think Murphy will be back in Texas after this season. He’s entering the first free agency of his career, and at age 32 it will be his one chance to shop the market for a contract that could set his family up for life, perhaps coming close to doubling the $13 million he’s made so far.
For various reasons, it would make sense that it would come from a club not loaded to contend right away, as 2013 has probably sent signals that he’s better off (especially in his declining years as far as age goes) as a fourth outfielder on a contender, though he might fit in an everyday role on a young team with a front office that values Murphy’s playoff experience and his intangibles, counting on a bounceback year statistically. That’s probably where he stands the best chance at maximizing his next contract.
What I’m wondering is whether Jim Adduci, at age 28 the epitome of a 4-A baseball player, might not be able to step in next year, at the league minimum, with better defense, versatile enough to handle center field and first base in addition to the outfield corners, offering a left-handed bat that is hitting .296/.378/.465 against AAA pitching this year — including .395/.471/.547 this month — while torching right-handed pitching to the tune of .314/.402/.498, with the added ability to run a little bit (32 steals in 41 tries), and help the Texas bench.
Adduci’s not on the 40-man roster, but maybe in a week you get him up here for a handful of targeted opportunities down the stretch. (The roster has one open spot, but even once Neftali Feliz comes off the 60-day disabled list to fill it you have other options, like putting Roman Mendez or perhaps Justin Miller on the 60.) We will see Engel Beltre back in Arlington when rosters expand, and maybe Joey Butler (a right-handed bat) and even Joe Benson (also a right-handed bat), who is on his final option. If Adduci came up his opportunities would probably be very limited, but he’d get around the team and the coaches for a month, and there’s some benefit to that.
Fortunately, Neal Cotts, whom the Rangers had on a minor league deal in 2012 but didn’t add to the roster last September, felt enough loyalty to Texas to sign a new non-roster contract in the winter rather than take advantage of one of what was probably a handful of other opportunities around the league. Maybe Adduci, who spent three seasons in the Marlins system and then six seasons as a Cubs farmhand before signing in November with Texas — on the recommendation of pro scout Scot Engler, who is also responsible for Cotts and Ross Wolf and several other off-the-radar acquisitions — and who hit .388/.464/.612 in camp this spring for the Rangers while playing more games (31) than anyone besides Julio Borbon, is prepared to build off his breakout minor league season by returning to the organization he’s turned that season in for.
Adding Adduci to the 40-man roster in September would prevent other clubs from approaching him this winter and fighting Texas to bring him to camp in 2014.
It might also give the Rangers another look, in addition to the one he gave them in 55 plate appearances in Surprise and the 526 plate appearances he’s given them so far in Round Rock, that even in very small doses can help to start put a picture in the frame, as the organization decides what its reshaped outfield and bench might look like going into 2014.