Tagged: Angels

The Game Within The Game

Think Red Sox-Yankees is intense? It looks like Rangers-Angels is starting to heat up.

Before even playing a regular season game in 2012, we’be already seen the following:

1) CJ Wilson tweeted Mike Napoli’s phone number.

2) The Rangers decided not to start Yu Darvish against the Angels in exhibition play Sunday, pitching him instead in a minor league game.

3) The Angels quickly followed suit, pulling Wilson from starting Sunday against his old team and pitching a minor league game himself.

The regular season is two weeks away, but it sure looks like the games, or at least the gamesmanship, has already started.

I’ve Got Yu Under My Skin

Boy it’s been quiet in Rangers Land lately. Ever since the Angels stole the MLB show with the signings of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, there’s been a quiet uneasiness as the baseball world waits to see if the Rangers strike back with a meaningful signing or trade.

There’s been lots of negatives reported over the past few days. One report says the Rangers won’t be spending much because they owe former partner Chuck Greenberg, who helped put together the ownership group, a $30 million buyout this off-season. Said story also attempted to tie this into the Rangers’ failed attempt to re-sign Wilson or even to put in a substantial bid. Speculation in these reports also indicated the Rangers wouldn’t even put in a bid for negotiating rights to Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, who posted yesterday.

On the other hand, there have been several reports that the Rangers have been negotiating new contracts and/or extensions for Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and now Derek Holland. Nelson Cruz wants to sign long-term with Texas as well, but I still haven’t heard a thing about the Rangers willingness to do the same.

Turns out the Rangers did put in a bid for Darvish on Wednesday and we could know as soon as today who won the rights to negotiate a contract with him.

Are the Rangers as cash poor as some reports would seem to indicate? Taking it all in as a whole, I’d say absolutely not. What this is is an ownership group who has decided A) They’re going to try to keep the core together for as long as possible and are willing to pay to do so; B) They’re willing to spend for free agents they feel are a good fit for the team but they aren’t going to overspend needlessly; and C) Just because another team makes a move doesn’t mean you have to make an immediate counterpunch. They’re willing to wait for the right deal instead of overreacting to what someone else does.

The Rangers didn’t get where they’ve gotten the past two years because of spending money or panicking. They are a smart organization, they do their homework and aren’t afraid to stick to the plan they have in place. In addition to free agents, Texas has been linked to trade talks for Gio Gonzalez, John Danks and James Shields. Every report I’ve read indicates teams are asking way too much in return. Now that the Rangers are successful and vying for championships, other teams are trying to strip their farm system of too many pieces.

As much as the Rangers have coveted Darvish, I have faith they already have a Plan B in place. If Plan B is Garza, Danks or Shields and the price in prospects is too high, there’s probably already a Plan C in mind. And if the Rangers head to Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona having made no changes since this column, I’m pretty sure it won’t have anything to do with money or the lack thereof, but everything to do with the right deal at the right price not being there.

Goodbye Mr. Wilson…

The CJ Wilson era has ended. Can’t say I’m surprised with either his departure or his choice of team. How do you react to such things? Well, if you’re my friend Matt, you do this:

 

Sayonara, CJ!

 

Matt texted me and told me he’d torn up his Wilson shirt and threw it in the garbage. I asked him why he wanted to do that to perfectly innocent garbage? (Insert rim shot here).

Seriously, I don’t begrudge Wilson for leaving, although it pains me a little to see him go to a division rival. Wilson told MLB Radio today that, were it not for the fact the Angels were also going to be getting Albert Pujols, he’d probably be signing with the Miami Marlins today instead of his hometown team.

Of course, everyone looks for winners and losers during the free agency period and the Winter Meetings in particular, and many Rangers fans are apoplectic and convinced the Texas Rangers world is coming to an end. I am not one of them.

Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson make the Angels a better team, to be sure. It’s still a team that finished ten games behind the Rangers in 2011, despite a pretty deep rotation. Pujols upgrades the Angels’ offense, but it still doesn’t put said offense on the same level of the Rangers.

Wilson improves their starting pitching depth, but the Rangers still have the superior bullpen as of this writing (word is the Angels are trying to get Andrew Bailey from the A’s in a trade). I also think Wilson, as good a pitcher as he is, won’t be any more than a .500 pitcher against the Rangers as they’re constituted today. While he does love nibbling for the edges of the strike zone, he’s still more of the “hard-throwing lefty” variety, and the Rangers do pretty well against those types of pitchers.

Yes, the Angels have gotten stronger with Pujols and Wilson. The Rangers have gotten a little weaker losing Wilson. Don’t think for a moment that there won’t be more news from the Rangers side now that the big fish have signed their contracts. Texas didn’t acquire Adrian Beltre until January 5th last season. Mike Napoli didn’t become a Ranger until January 25th. There’s still plenty of time.

Will it be Yu Darvish coming over from Japan to Arlington? Will Texas trade for Matt Garza, John Danks, Gavin Floyd or James Shields? Anything is possible. Maybe Texas won’t make any moves. While there’s no clear #1 type of pitcher, a rotation of Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz isn’t chicken feed either. The first four still managed to win between 13 and 16 wins each in 2011 and there’s no reason to believe they can’t repeat the feat in 2012.

Kudos to the Angels for signing Wilson and Pujols. I still think the Rangers have the horses (and the trade chips) to win the West for the third consecutive year.

The Walter Johnson Award

Every year, the Baseball Bloggers Association honors MLB’s best pitchers in the NL and AL with the Walter Johnson Award.

As an AL team blogger, it’s my privilege to place my votes for the AL version of the Johnson Award.

This year it’s not even close. In fact, with a required five pitchers on the ballot, it’s actually kind of tough to fill out the 4th and 5th this year. Quite frankly, they’d be so far below #1 you might scoff at some of them.

At best this was a two pitcher race. In the #1 slot is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Verlander was head and shoulders above the pack in the AL, achieving the pitching Triple Crown: leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Verlander won six more games than CC Sabathia, the AL pitcher who finished second in wins. His 250 strikeouts was 20 better than #2 James Shields and his 2.40 ERA just nosed out Jered Weaver’s 2.41. Add in an opponents batting average of just .192 against a pitcher who threw 251 innings and a WHIP of 0.92 and you’ve got the makings of an award winner, probably by unanimous consent. Verlander is the easy choice for #1.

The closest to achieving what Verlander did, in my mind, was my #2 pick Jered Weaver. He barely lost out to Verlander for the ERA crown, compiled an 18-8 record and a 1.01 WHIP. Had Mike Scioscia not deemed it necessary to pitch Weaver on three days rest on a couple of occasions down the stretch in an attempt to catch the Rangers in the AL West, Weaver may have won the ERA title in 2011. The three days rest thing didn’t work for him too well.

The third through fifth positions could easily be restacked and reconfigured, because I think they’re all just about equal.

Number 3 on the list is the Comeback Pitcher of the Year: James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields had a miserable 2010. Even though he had a respectable 13 wins, his ERA was a sky-high 5.18, leading the AL in the negative categories of hits allowed and Earned Runs allowed. To say he turned it around in 2011 hardly does Shields justice. He had three more wins and three fewer losses, finishing at 16-12. He threw 46 more innings than he did in 2010 while giving up 51 LESS hits and a whopping 39 LESS earned runs. He struck out 225 batters, threw 4 shutouts and led the AL with 11 complete games.

In the 4 spot, I put a pitcher that had a much better year in the end than I expected him to have: CC Sabathia of the Yankees. While Sabathia is a workhorse year in and year out, I’ve never really thought of him as a low-ERA kind of guy. And yet, there he was at the end of 2011, with an ERA right at an even 3.00, second in the league in wins with 19 and second in strikeouts with 230. A pretty good year. It will be very interesting to see if Sabathia decides to opt out of the last year of his Yankees contract in the off-season.

Rounding out the list, I’m going to mention a Texas Ranger: CJ Wilson. There are all kinds of other players I could mention at this point: Jose Valverde, Ricky Romero, Dan Haren, etc. As mentioned earlier, though, does it really matter? Nobody I put here would have any chance of finishing first in the voting. I don’t think anyone that ANYBODY puts in this position has a chance of finishing first. Or second. Or probably even third. So I’ll go with my team and name CJ. His post-season hasn’t been very memorable, but he put together a fine campaign with 16 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. So there, I said it and I’m not taking it back!

So there you go, my official ballot. To recap:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

5. CJ Wilson, Texas Rangers

The Willie Mays Award Ballot

The Rookie. Most players with that designation never amount to much. Some will eventually become utility players or middle relievers, playing for as many as ten different MLB clubs before all is said and done. One or two look to have outstanding careers ahead of them, only to see physical ailments sideline them entirely too soon. For some, it’s a cup of coffee in the majors before returning to a long, unmemorable career in the minors. For a select few, however, it marks the launch of a path to stardom.

Like baseball itself, rookie years are unpredictable. Some of the best rookies never came close to duplicating their first year numbers again. Some superstars had unimpressive first-year campaigns. Where this year’s rookies will end up in the course of a career is anybody’s guess. But here are my votes for the BBA Willie Mays Award for top AL Rookie.

On offense, the main candidates are Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals, JP Arencibia of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mark Trumbo of the LA Angels and the Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. Pitching candidates include Jordan Walden of the Angels, the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton of the Orioles, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda of the Mariners.

By process of elimination, I’m taking out Walden because, even though his ERA was good and he amassed 32 saves, he also blew ten saves, which is far too many in my book. I like Arencibia, who was a pain to Texas pitching this season, but he didn’t bat well against anyone else, ending up at .219. Ackley looks like he’s going to be a star in the AL, but he’s one of those guys who came up a little too late and, with only 90 games, just didn’t play enough to get my consideration.

Michael Pineda had a hot start but cooled off after the All-Star break and then had his innings limited as a precaution. Britton did well to go 11-11 for a last place Orioles team, but the 4.61 ERA kind of dooms him.

That leaves four candidates. Eric Hosmer looks like a future star for the Royals. He wasn’t with the big club from the start of the season, but played regularly once he got the call, appearing in 128 games while compiling a .293 average with 19 HR’s and 78 RBI’s. He had the highest average among rookies with 100+ games.

Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays is the only one of the three still in the post-season. He led all rookies in innings pitched and had the lowest ERA of all rookie starters at 2.95. He amassed 13 wins for the Rays with two complete games and one shutout.

Nova led all rookie pitchers with 16 wins for the Yankees. After a very shaky start and a mid-season demotion to the minors, Nova came back and pitched strong down the stretch, maybe even earning the right to be New York’s #2 starter in the playoffs. He was 3rd among AL rookies in innings pitched.

Mark Trumbo came out of nowhere and was a big reason for the Angels contending in the AL West in 2011. The Halos had been counting on a successful return of Kendrys Morales at first base and were startled when it was determined Morales would miss the entirety of 2011 due to complications from last year’s broken leg injury. Trumbo came in and solidified first base for the Angels, playing in all but 13 games in 2011. Trumbo hit .254 with a rookie class leading 29 longballs and 87 RBI’s.

Since I’m only supposed to vote for 3, I have to take someone off the final list. I’m afraid the loser here is Nova. I take him off only because he was demoted in mid-season, which is not something you would expect to see from someone considered THE top rookie of the year.

That leaves me with three names. My picks are:

1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays

2. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

3. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels

A New Record

True in two ways: The Rangers set a new team record for most wins in a season with their 96th in the 2011 finale. Also true is effective today, that record is 0-0 and all that counts now is getting to 11 wins before anyone else.

I’ve been wrong this season. A lot. Early in the year, I thought Houston would surprise a lot of people this year. Well, they surprised me with how truly awful they were. Most recently, I told my son, 18-Year-Ranger-Fan, that it was doubtful the R’s would set a single season win record, as it would require winning out on the road against the Angels. Wrong again (happily). Lastly, for over a week, my mindset has been on a first round match-up with the Yankees and, if not the Yankees, then the Red Sox. Guess again, genius. Instead we get a rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays, with the only difference being this time, the Rangers have home field advantage. Of course, last year the road team won every game of the series so that might not be a good thing.

What the Rangers have done in September offensively has been nothing short of incredible. Get ready for this eye-popper: In the month of September, the Rangers AS A TEAM has hit .320, with 49 home runs in 25 games for an OPS of .916. I believe it was reported in the game telecast that it has been the single best offensive month by a major league team since 1946.

And it hasn’t been just power. Only the Orioles and the Rays had more stolen bases in September than Texas as well. On the other side of the coin, Texas also led the AL in pitching in September with a 3.22 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 219 strikeouts in 221 innings. Only the Tigers had a better September record than the Rangers and that was only because they played one more game (20-6 vs. 19-6 for Texas).

Plain and simple, this team is on a roll. The Rangers ended the regular season with three players hitting 30 HR’s or more: Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and, with 4 HR’s in the last two games, Mike Napoli, who had a career year in 2011. Nelson Cruz came within two feet last night of being the 4th 30-HR batter in the Rangers line-up. Beltre and Michael Young both eclipsed the century mark in RBI’s, with Josh Hamilton in the 90’s and Cruz at 89. In the pitching department, all 5 Rangers starters ended the year with at least 13 wins. I haven’t checked, but I’d wager the Rangers had more starts from their starting five than any team in baseball. They were remarkably sturdy in 2011.

All that goes out the window starting tomorrow when the ALDS begins at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington at 4:07 PM CDT. Texas was 5-4 vs. the Rays in 2011, with three of the wins by shutout. CJ Wilson, who was 2-0 against Tampa this season, gets the ball in Game 1. The Rays haven’t determined who will face him, but it won’t be David Price, who pitched the finale last night against the Yankees. I’m willing to bet it’ll be James Shields, who has half of his team’s wins against the Rangers this year.

Ideally, the Rays and Red Sox would have had a one game playoff today, thus giving Texas an advantage with a better-rested bullpen. That was not to be. Still, I like the Rangers’ chances in this first round.

Day off today. Showtime tomorrow. Bring it on.

Opinions On Every Subject

Since the Rangers have clinched the West and the last 3 games are on the left coast and past my bedtime, I’ll take the last few days before the playoffs to spout off, make awards picks and other miscellaneous stuff I’ve been meaning to get to but never did.

SUBJECT #1: MIKE SCIOSCIA’S RANT

Well, maybe not a rant, but I was amused with his remarks the other day concerning the end of the season. The Angels’ skipper was quoted as saying it was unfair, while his team was in a pennant race, to send his team on an East Coast road trip to face the Orioles and Blue Jays with just two weeks left in the season. Now, had he stopped there, I would have had no problem with it. The AL West has four teams and that makes sense. And even if they were to be sent on a road trip out of the division, at least make it against an AL Central team, so they don’t have as much jet lag to contend with.

But no, Mr. Mike didn’t let it end there. He then stated it was high time for the AL West to have 5 teams, just like the other two divisions in the American League. Um, Mike, do you mind if I call you Mike? Have you ever though about what would happen if the AL West had 5 teams? Seems to me that would mean at least one team in the division would always have to play a game outside their division every day in the last weeks of the season. In a pennant race. Which you stated just a minute before that you were against. And you’re considered a genius manager?

SUBJECT #2: EXPANDED PLAYOFFS

The talk is the next collective bargaining agreement will expand by one Wild Card team in each league, withe the two wild cards squaring off against each other in a one game playoff, winner goes to the LDS.

Look, I know it’s a money grab and part of me as a fan doesn’t like the idea. But I understand it and can even see some of the reasonings behind it. It’s a Win-Win for owners and players. First off, 50 more players will get extra coin in their pockets for making the playoffs. Then, think of the implications for the division winners. By having just a one game playoff, the winning Wild Card team moves on with a disadvantage because of the pitchers they had to use to get there. The Wild Card team has made it to the World Series a number of times and some think it demeans the work that went into winning a division. So this gives the division winners a little more advantage. I mentioned this to Holden Kushner and Jim Duquette on MLB Radio over the weekend and they disagreed, saying a one game playoff often features your third or fourth best pitcher starting so the ace is ready for Game one of the LDS. I disagree. That may be the case when two teams tie for the division title. But what if a team like this year’s Yankees had been one of the two wild cards with a one game sudden death playoff to determine who goes to the LDS. Do you think a team like the Yankees will start AJ Burnett or Bartolo Colon in a game like that? Nope, they’ll go with one of their top 2, giving them the disadvantage of a Wild Card team if the win and move on. This way, the odds become better for the best match-up in the World Series to occur, which then hopefully translates into better ratings and more money all around.  A best of three Wild Card Series won’t do that, as a team’s pitching staff has more time to recover.

SUBJECT #3: COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY

If I were Commissioner of Baseball for a day, I wouldn’t pick on the DH Rule or Pete Rose’s ban from baseball. No, I’d go for something new and different. How about a slight revision to the Save Rule?

As it is, the only pitcher who can earn a Save is the last pitcher of the game for the winning team. And yet, if a relief pitcher enters a 1-run game in the 6th and gives up the tying run, he’s charged with a blown save. Most of the time, this is a pitcher who never would qualify for a save under any circumstances, as he’s only considered a 6th inning guy.

Here’s my proposal: A pitcher other than the last pitcher of a game can be credited with a save IF: 1) he appeared in what would be a 9th inning save situation; and 2) his team goes on and maintains the lead or extends the lead that is never relinquished. This allows a guy who already can get credited with a blown save to actually earn a real save. Also, if the reliever goes in and shuts the door when his team is up by maybe a single run and then his team adds two runs to the lead, he gets credit for the save instead of the guy who has a three run cushion to work with in the 9th. And he earns a save if his team subsequently goes up by 4 runs or more, because he shut the opposition down when the lead was in jeopardy. If the early reliever shuts the door with his team up by 2 or 3 and another reliever comes in and coughs up a run, the early save rule would not be in effect. Any takers?

That’s enough for now. Post-season awards voting coming in the days ahead.