Every Day Is A Winding Road: Twins 6, Rangers 4

I missed Thursday’s series finale with the Twins despite being in the Metroplex for the first time since seeing the Rangers-Royals in May.

I was otherwise disposed with seeing Sheryl Crow and Colbie Caillat in a concert that started about an hour after the Rangers game started and ended about two hours after the Rangers game ended. In other words, Sheryl and Colbie put on a helluva show!

Unfortunately, so did the Twins, beating Cliff Lee, who is now a mortal 2-5 in Rangers colors, while his new team is 3-7 in his starts. Lee’s influence on CJ Wilson has been noticed by all. By all accounts he has been an influence on other Rangers pitchers as well. Yet Lee is struggling as a Ranger.

Some will blame this on Ron Washington keeping Lee on a 5-day rotation, even when there are off days. Some, like a certain nameless bonehead ESPN announcer, claim to have “inside info” that Lee hates Texas and is “mailing it in” before signing with the Yankees at the first opportunity in the off-season.

I don’t know the validity of either of these arguments. Lee could just be suffering a rough stretch. I haven’t gone back and checked what Lee’s career record in August is. If I were to buy either of the above two arguments, I might accept the one that Washington should have rested him when off-days would allow for an extra day’s rest. On the other hand, a starting pitcher conditions himself to start every five days, so not getting an extra day here or there shouldn’t be an excuse for poor performance.

The second argument doesn’t hold water either. If Lee hated Texas and was mailing it in, why would he take the time to mentor other pitchers on the staff?

Another ESPN employee wrote something a few days ago that makes more sense to me than either of the other explanations. He opined that Lee is very much a spot pitcher. He has pitch-perfect control and if he’s off even just a little bit, it can be hit a long way. Thus the 4 Orioles home runs last Saturday and Jim Thome’s blast last night. I remember another pitcher like that a few years ago. Greg Maddux, brother of Rangers pitching coach Mike. He would go through a stretch just about every year of three or four starts where he looked as average as any pitcher out. Then he’d snap out of it and throw eight quality starts in a row.

As a fan, I think I would give Lee an extra day off the next time the Rangers have an off-day. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure he’ll snap out of this funk pretty soon.

So what did this series with the Twins prove? It proved to me the Rangers are fully capable of winning a playoff series on the basis of pitching. For three games, Texas pitchers held the best hitting team in the AL in check, especially the relief corps. Pitching is a premium in the post-season. That’s why more and more in the national media are feeling the Rangers could be primed for a deep run. As wonderful as Hamilton, Guerrero and the rest of the offense has performed for the most part this season, it’s the pitching that’s going to be key to success in the second season.

The last two games and the next three with the A’s are also crucial for the Rangers. Texas is in a middle of a stretch where they’re facing 5 consecutive left-handed starters. They were 1-1 against the Twins lefties, now it’s three southpaws in a row from the A’s, starting with Brett Anderson tonight. All those lefties and yet, the Rangers (and Colby Lewis) have to be ecstatic about the lefty they don’t have to face this weekend. Trevor Cahill has squared off against Colby Lewis three times this year and has come out on top all three times.

All these southpaws point to the importance of getting the right-handed Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler back soon. Last night against Francisco Liriano, the Rangers were forced to start an all left-handed hitting outfield. Cruz will be back on Monday and Kinsler a few days after that. Their bats are sorely needed.


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