Tagged: A's

Get The Brooms: Rangers 5, Red Sox 1

More than one article during the inexorably long Spring Training period made comment to the effect that in 2011, the Rangers will be the hunted instead of the hunter and how will they respond to that.

It’s a long season, but for the first three games, it sure looked like the new hunted was Bugs Bunny and the new hunter was Elmer Fudd. I only wish I had the audio of the Bugs baseball cartoon that has that wascally wabbit continually saying “WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!” because that’s exactly what the Rangers did to the Red Sox: 26 Runs, 11 HR’s in three games. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

 

dell-comics-bugs-bunny-155.jpgAnd to top it off, Matt Harrison did the honor of actually being the best Rangers pitcher of the weekend, better than both CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis. Harrison tossed a gem, seven innings of 5 hit one run ball with 8 strikeouts. I hope Harrison has finally turned a corner, but this is only one start. A year ago, Harrison outpitched Felix Hernandez in a no-decision in Seattle, but it was his only good start of the year. That said, yesterday may have been the best start Harrison has EVER had at the major league level and I sure hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Had a chance to hear a lot of AL West baseball on the long 8 hour drive to and back from Arlington. Heard the vaunted A’s defense commit five errors in their opener against the Mariners. Heard two of the Royals three wins over the Angels as well. Well done, Matt Treanor (3-run shot in the 13th to beat the Angels Sunday)! The Royals have endured a lot of misery over the past 15 years and radio broadcaster Denny Matthews has been there for all of them. So when I hear him comment that, from what he’s seen, the Angels have a long way to go as a team, that’s coming from someone who knows because he’s been living it. Maybe the Angels just aren’t as good as some think they are.

It’s early yet. Three games do not a season make. But it’s hard not to feel pretty giddy today after the beat-down that was inflicted on the pre-season favorites to win the AL Championship over the weekend. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

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Is The Sky Falling Or Are The Clouds Just Dark?

 Even coming off a World Series appearance, we Rangers fans are a pessimistic lot. Give us one thing wrong and soon we’re ready to roll that snowball down the hill watching for the avalanch to start.

Thus it is, one week from Opening Day, that we’re already biting our nails, wondering if this confluence of events is a sign of a disastrous regular season to come:

1) Neftali Feliz will remain the closer.

    Regular readers know I have no problem with this one, but there sure are a considerable number of fans out there who liken this decision to going to war with one of your generals wearing a colonel’s uniform.

2) Tommy Hunter pulls a groin.

    Not two hours after the Rangers announcement of Feliz staying in the bullpen, Tommy Hunter goes and pulls a groin muscle and appears headed for the DL to start the season. Those in the Feliz as starter camp start howling even louder.

3) The Rest of the Bullpen

    A big reason for the Feliz staying as closer decision has to do with the Spring Training performance of the bullpen. Among the ERA’s: Alexi Ogando 5.59, Darren O’Day 9.00, Arthur Rhodes 12.60, Mark Lowe 14.14. Among the returning set-up men, only Darren Oliver at 2.25 has had what would be considered decent spring numbers while Pedro Strop is making a real play to be added to the mix at 2.00.

4) Brandon Webb Suffers Another Setback

    The former Diamondbacks ace, who’s missed most of the past two seasons with shoulder problems, has yet to pitch in a game for the Rangers. A few days ago, he couldn’t get loose and had a planned batting practice pitching session cancelled. At best, Webb won’t be ready to pitch for the Rangers until May.

5) Julio Borbon’s 5 errors and Michael Young’s 2 errors at 1st Base

    Immediate howls to send Borbon down to AAA and debates on why it’s horsehockey that Josh Hamilton would be more prone to injury in center field as opposed to left field. Move Hamilton to center! David Murphy in left! OK, let’s see Murphy in center and keep Hamilton in left!

    This series of setbacks also caused a ripple of “The front office didn’t do a good enough job in the off-season” accusations. “Feliz should be a starter, so why didn’t they go out and address the relief staff in the off-season so Feliz could start now?” is the most common example of finger-pointing. 

    What’s going on here? Isn’t it supposed to go like this? “Baseball season’s getting started, all’s right with the world.” For countless years, this fan felt that way, even when the Rangers didn’t have a chance to climb out of the cellar. It didn’t take much to envision what would happen if everything went right.

    Now we’re coming off a trip to the World Series, yet the feeling seems as pessimistic as I’ve ever seen it. What gives???

    Maybe it’s what happens once there are actual expectations for a team. Now that the Rangers have reached a level never seen before, we so don’t want it to end we see huge chasms where we once saw a little pothole. In truth, going into Spring Training, while there were questions about the starting pitching, there was no question about the depth of the starting pitching. Even with Hunter on the shelf and Webb at least a month away, the depth is still there.

    Based on past results, the bullpen should still be a strength in 2011, but the results in the exhibition games has the faithful feeling uneasy because, in truth, we don’t feel like we have a lot of depth in the bullpen. That, more than anything, is why Feliz finds himself as the team’s closer once again in 2011.

    As much as I want to see the chasm, this fan is trying mightily to retain that spirit of optimism the start of the season brings. Texas is remarkably healthy heading into the regular season, Hunter’s groin notwithstanding. There is depth in starting pitching. While past history is not necessarily a guide to future performance, there’s enough past performance to indicate the bullpen is not as bad as they’ve shown when the games haven’t counted. In addition, there are injuries on other clubs. Look at the Angels. Kendry Morales won’t be ready to go at season’s open. There’s concern about Joel Pineiro’s health and Scott Kazmir is stinking up the joint. Meanwhile, the A’s and the Mariners have good pitching but, even with additions, their offenses don’t come close to matching the firepower the Rangers have to offer.

    Oh yeah, and Michael Young and GM Jon Daniels are talking to each other again.  

    In other words, the 2011 Rangers still have to be considered favorites to win the AL West and Spring Training bullpen woes, groin pulls and errors shouldn’t make us think otherwise. I don’t like some of the things I’ve seen from the team this spring, but Mike Maddux has a great reputation as a pitching coach, Julio Borbon rates slightly above average defensively and an injury to Hunter isn’t as bad as an injury to CJ Wilson or Colby Lewis would be.    

The answer to the headline? Dark clouds that should be moving out of the area soon.

The Third Story

Much anticipation among Rangers faithful today. Two exhibition games in the Cactus League thanks to a split squad (the Rangers won both). Each game had one pitcher fans were anxiously awaiting for different reasons.

Neftali Feliz got the start for the Rangers in their game against the Indians in his quest to become a starter in the Rangers rotation. That was the top story. The result: Two scoreless innings but he didn’t wow anyone with them. Feliz got out of a two on mess of his own making in the first and allowed a hit in the second. It’s only one start but my gut tells me Feliz remains the Rangers closer in 2011.

Story #2 came against the Cubs, where rookie Tanner Scheppers was scheduled to make his first appearance of the spring in an effort to make the club’s relief staff in only his second year as a pro. Scheppers is one of the Rangers’ top prospects. He blew through AA in less than half a season and was performing well at AAA when Rangers brass decided to try him out as a starter. He didn’t do well in that role and ended the season on a sour note. His spring debut went about as well as last fall’s end. Scheppers started the 4th and didn’t make it out of the 4th, lasting only 2/3 of an inning and giving up 5 hits, 2 walks and four runs.

All that leads to the story I was most interested in- the Eric Hurley story.

Three years ago, Hurley was one of the bright upcoming stars in the Rangers organization. The Rangers’ first round pick in 2004, Hurley was twice listed as one of the top 100 prospects in the minors. In three seasons at the AA level, Hurley was 11-3 with a 2.71 ERA. And, while his AAA line in 2008 wasn’t great (2-5, 5.30), the Rangers called Hurley up on June 12th when Kason Gabbard went on the DL.

Hurley pitched five games for the Rangers in 2008. In the first four, each start was better than the one before it: 4 runs in 6 innings against the Royals, 2 runs in 5 innings against the Braves, 2 runs in 6 innings against the Astros, and then a magnificent 5 2/3 inning, 1 hit 1 run game against the Phillies (the eventual World Series Champions). Through four games, Hurley was a quite respectable 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA.

The success ended quickly. His fifth start, against the A’s on July 27, 2008, lasted only two innings, in which he gave up two HR’s and six runs overall. After the game, Hurley was placed on the disabled list- torn rotator cuff. He would miss the rest of the season.

It got no better after that. After the rotator cuff came a broken wrist. Then the wrist didn’t heal properly. Hurley missed the entire 2009 season as well. He also missed most of 2010 before finally starting his rehab in the Arizona Fall League, where he went 3-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA.

Today Eric Hurley faced major league hitters for the first time since that last 2008 start against the A’s. He faced six Indians. He retired all six on only 21 pitches.

Eric Hurley isn’t expected to break camp with the Rangers in 2011, but he could still be a key ingredient in the Rangers’ quest to successfully defend their American League Championship. He took a great first step today and made a lot of people forget what the two biggest stories were supposed to be.

“The Face” Becomes “The Story”

Michael Young.jpg
                                   “The Face” of the Texas Rangers

It’s amazing what a World Series appearance does for a team on the national stage. Just in the past week alone, two of the top stories in baseball have been “The War of Words” between Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg and the Yankees and “The Michael Young Trade”. I don’t remember the Rangers ever getting this much oress from the national media in January. Heck, I don’t even remember the Rangers getting this much press in January from the LOCAL media!

I really don’t know if the Rangers are getting ready to trade Michael Young or not. What I DO know is that NONE of the speculation being reported by national writers and broadcasters has come from the Rangers side!

The story first cropped up during the Winter Meetings and was quickly quashed as just names being brought up as they always are when possible trades are discussed. Hey, if you don’t ask about someone you’ll never know, right?

It came up again the day the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre to a 6-year contract and announced that Young would, in 2011, become the Rangers primary DH and play a “Super Utility” role on the Rangers infield. Young said it wasn’t an ideal situation for him, but he was a Ranger through and through and was willing to make the move, with the hope of becoming a fulltime field player again in the future.

“The Story” took on a life of its own, however, the day the Rangers traded Frank Francisco to the Blue Jays for Mike Napoli. As I stated in a post at the time, I didn’t see it as a threat to Young. I saw it as a great way to give the Rangers incredible versatility in their line-up on a day to day basis, as a platoon first baseman, a DH when Young plays the field and a catcher if one of the other two catchers went down with an injury.

Harold Reynolds of MLB TV was the first of the national media I heard chime in that day, saying Young should now DEMAND a trade because there was no reason to obtain Napoli except to take at bats away from Young. Since then, we have heard a deal with the Rockies is imminent, but then again maybe it isn’t. That maybe the Rockies aren’t the only ones in the mix for Young, that he could go to the A’s… or the Angels… or the Blue Jays… or the Dodgers!

The only way trading Michael Young makes sense is if 1) he demanded a trade; 2) if they don’t deal him by May, Young becomes a 10-5 player who can veto ANY trade if he so desires; and 3) if they either get a frontline starting pitcher in return or a DH who can equal his 20+ HR’s and 90 RBI in the offense.

The reasons a Young trade DON’T make sense are 1) Young is the Rangers bona fide leader on the field, an intangible that could have a disastrous effect on the clubhouse; 2) every piece of media speculation indicates the Rangers would have to add dollars to the deal to help the other team offset Young’s $16 million salary over the next 3 years, which means any deal would make little financial sense; and 3) if they don’t get a frontline pitcher or replacement DH, as most reports indicate they won’t, the Rangers won’t be improving the team, which GM Jon Daniels says is the goal of every deal the Rangers make.

Replacing Young with Napoli straight up at the DH slot doesn’t add up. Young routinely is in the line-up for 600+ AB’s every year, while Napoli’s only had a high of 453, which was last year. He also hit only .238 last year. Platooning Napoli with David Murphy at DH? Maybe, but then the Rangers lose the versatility the line-up has right now with Young still on the team.

Maybe Young is unhappy. Maybe he does want a trade. The thing is, in all the reports making the news these days, who are we not hearing from at all? Young and the Rangers, that’s who.

The Rangers have become famously tight-lipped over the past two years. Cliff Lee? Everyone assumed he was going to be a Yankee at mid-season last year until the Rangers came in and got him. Adrian Beltre? Assumed to be an Angel, until the day before the Rangers announced his signing. January’s trade for Napoli? Not on ANYONE’s radar in the national media.

As for Young? Maybe he learned a lesson when he publicly demanded a trade when he was first asked to move to third base to make way for Elvis Andrus and is keeping his feelings private. But maybe not. Have any of these reports indicated the writer has even bothered to ask Young what he thinks about it or what he knows? Not a one. If they had, they would at least say something along the lines of, “Young declined to comment on the matter.”

Here’s what HAS been said. Michael Young has stated he wants to remain a Ranger for the rest of his career. Ron Washington says Michael Young is the straw that stirs the Rangers coffee. Jon Daniels says the Rangers have no plans to deal Young this year. Nolan Ryan says Michael Young is going to be the Rangers DH at the Season Opener against the Red Sox on April 1st.

Until I see something actually happen, I think I’ll trust the words from that last paragraph before I trust any of the others I’ve read and heard lately.

New Year, New Rangers

My, what a Christmas break I took. Working in a business where the holidays are the busiest time of the year, it’s a good thing baseball season isn’t in full swing. I don’t think I could survive Christmas and baseball at the same time!

Much has passed since my last missive. The Rangers lost out on Cliff Lee in a surprising last minute move that proves one thing- when you’re talking about the dollars a Cliff Lee is going to earn over the next five years, the deciding factor is obviously going to be- the city where Lee’s wife finds it easiest to get around in. In essence, that’s why Lee was willing to take less money and less years in the contract. For those of us who are married, can you honestly say how your spouse would feel wouldn’t enter into your decision? No matter how you slice it, Lee was going to be richer than Croesus, so why not make sure the wife is happy too? Win-win.

Meanwhile the Rangers moved on in ways I wasn’t even fathoming at the start of the off-season. After missing out on not only Lee but Zack Greinke as well, all Texas did in the pitching department is sign reliever Arthur Rhodes to a two-year deal (at age 41!) and inked Brandon Webb to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

Rhodes surprised me. He had an awesome year for the Reds in 2010, but I don’t see him in anything but the same role that Darren Oliver currently has with the Rangers- a 7th/8th inning lefthanded set-up guy. I guess if they split the duty, the thought is neither will wear down in the second half as much as they both did in 2010.

Webb is a less expensive gamble than Rich Harden was a year ago (though one at the time I probably wouldn’t have labelled Harden as much of a gamble as he turned out to be). I won’t bore you with the consesnsus- huge upside if he’s healthy. Only time will tell.

The aforementioned Harden has signed on with the A’s, a team he has had success with in the past. Now he will try to succeed as a bullpen pitcher for Oakland. The A’s also signed Brandon McCarthy who never realized his potential with the Rangers due to injury. With the A’s starting staff, I don’t see much of a role for McCarthy in Oakland either.

Max Ramirez, a catcher who saw part-time play with the Rangers over parts of the past three seasons, was dropped from the 40-man roster and has been claimed by the Red Sox, who almost got him a year ago except Mike Lowell couldn’t pass a physical in Texas. Pitcher Clay Rapada was also dropped from the 40-man and may or may not clear waivers.

Which leads us to the most immediate moves- the signing of Adrian Beltre and the agreement of Michael Young to move to DH/Utility Guy, thus also meaning the end of Vlad Guerrero’s one-year career with Texas. Popular opinion is- defensive upgrade, good move short-term, but a worry about the length of the contract (6 years).

Defensively, this appears to be a HUGE upgrade. Offensively, I would call it a slight downgrade. You’re basically swapping out Beltre for Guerrero, plus Young’s a year older. Odds are that part of the order will regress. HOWEVER, if Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz can stay healthy and Mitch Moreland continues to improve, the overall offensive attack should be fine, even when figuring Josh Hamilton can’t possibly improve on his 2010.

Texas will head into 2011 as the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL West champs. The Angels weren’t able to upgrade, losing out on both Carl Crawford and Beltre, although they will still be a better offensive team if Kendry Morales returns strong. The A’s added a little offense to their already potent pitching staff, but not enough to scare anyone (although their starting pitching is scary). About all the Mariners added offensively was Jack Cust (although I think Justin Smoak is going to be a thorn in our side for the next few years).

Entering 2011, it appears the Rangers only have one or two open roster spots. Catchers will be newly acquired Yorvit Torrealba and returning Matt Treanor. Infield is Moreland, Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Beltre, with Young and Andres Blanco to back up. Outfield is Hamilton, Cruz, David Murphy and Julio Borbon. That’s twelve players already. While Young will work out some at first base, the only real need in the field appears to be a right-handed Moreland type who can back up at first and in the outfield.

The relief staff is pretty set as well, with Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Frank Francisco, Oliver, Rhodes, and Darren O’Day. Starters are a little more fluid. Definites are Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, with the remaining three coming from a group of Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Webb. That leaves the two odd men out of the rotation battling with Michael Kirkman, Mark Lowe and rookie Tanner Scheppers for the long relief slot.

The starting rotation is the scariest thought. Losing out on Lee leaves the Rangers with no clear ace, although Wilson and Lewis are no slouches. The Rangers could really use Webb to eat up a lot of innings and Derek Holland to finally start realizing his promise. Otherwise, GM Jon Daniels will be doing more mid-season shopping.

I can’t help but feel there could still be a trade happening for a starting pitcher before the Rangers head to Surprise, Arizona for spring training. While you never know what might happen on the injury front, I think the Rangers have too many proven commodities with not enough spaces for them. For example, notice how the name Chris Davis hasn’t even been mentioned for a slot? Or Taylor Teagarden? Both started 2010 with the Rangers and are on the 40-man roster, but aren’t even considered as possibilities to break camp with Texas in April.

Starting to gear up for another season of Rangers baseball. Already have four regular season games on my travel schedule (double last year’s regular season number), as well as a trip to the Rangers’ FanFest later this month (hope to have plenty of pictures and maybe an interview or two to share). I’m still mulling a new name for the blog. Be looking for it by the open of the regular season.

 

Requiem For The Vanquished

As I did for the Mariners, Angels and A’s before them, we take this break to acknowledge the fallen on the Rangers drive to the World Series.

Back in about the third week of the season, I declared the Tampa Bay Rays the scariest team in baseball. Indeed, they looked to all of baseball like a team on a mission at season’s beginning. They were scoring runs in bunches and pitching lights out from the get go. The Rays weren’t just winning, they were winning by wide margins, threatening to make a mockery of the league.

Alas, three weeks do not a season make. As the weeks progressed, it became apparent the Rays, offensively, were a very streaky team. When they were good, they were very very good. When they were bad, they made headlines. Headlines for not getting any hits. The Rays would go into funks in which they looked like anything but a pennant contender.

Throughout it all, the pitching usually held up. David Price began to show more than potential on the mound, molding himself into a Cy Young Award candidate. Matt Garza threw a no-hitter of his own and, while a bit inconsistent, provided quality starts a majority of the time.

Ex-Ranger Joaquin Benoit was a revelation. He didn’t make the club out of Spring Training coming off injuries, but when he was called up, he was lights out as a set-up man.

Despite the ups and downs of the offense, the Rays got through the AL East as the champions, knowing this could be a make or break year. Carl Crawford is almost certainly leaving to free agency. Closer Rafael Soriano is expected to follow. As is another ex-Ranger, Carlos Pena.

In the regular season, the Rays were cold when they visited Arlington but hot when they hosted the Rangers. In the playoffs, it was just the opposite- cold at home, hot on the road.

Tampa Bay, you provided a series to remember for Rangers fans. We know you’re disappointed in the final outcome of this season, but we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the role you’ve played in writing a new chapter in Texas Rangers history.

Good luck in 2011.

Dynamic Duo: Rangers 3, Angels 2

The Nellie and Vladdy Show appeared at a ballpark near Dallas Thursday night and it was everything a fan would hope to see next week when it REALLY counts.

Back to back doubles by Nelson Cruz and Vlad Guerrero in the 4th gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Then, after the Angels had tied it in the top of the 8th, the dynamic duo had an encore, with Cruz swatting his second two-bagger of the game and coming home when Vlad followed up with a single. Four batters faced by Neftali Feliz later and the Rangers had sealed their 89th victory and accomplished something no Rangers (or Senators) team had done in their history: secure more than a 10-game lead on their second place division opponent. Texas now stands 11 up on the Angels and the A’s.

Tonight we’ll see if the Rangers can accomplish something they’ve tried to do several times this season and failed to do each time: get 20 games over .500. A win by Tommy Hunter tonight against Angels ace Jared Weaver would put Texas at 90-70 on the year.

Meanwhile, with a mere three games left in the regular season, we still have no idea who the ALDS opponent will be. The Rays and Yankees are tied in the East, with the division winner taking on the Rangers. The Rays, in actuality, can be considered a game up on the Yanks, as they won the season series between the two clubs and thus would win the division should they remained tied after Sunday’s games. The odds still look like it’ll be Cliff Lee vs. David Price on Wednesday.

Poor Cliff Lee. Great game last night, giving up only one unearned run in 7 innings with 8 K’s, only to have Darren O’Day give up his first home run on American soil in 2010 (the only other HR’s off him this year were in Toronto), tying the game, and then picking up Lee’s win when the Rangers scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th.

BAD NEWS: David Murphy will not play the rest of the regular season due to a mild groin strain, but is expected back for Game 1 of the ALDS.

GREAT NEWS: Josh Hamilton returns to the Rangers line-up tonight!!! After 24 games off, in which the Rangers went 14-10, Hambone is scheduled to play six innings in the field tonight, the entire game Saturday as the DH and the entire game in the field on Sunday. That should give him about 12 AB’s before the ALDS and, fingers crossed here, no further setbacks in his attempt to come back from bruised ribs.

With Hamilton back, I expect the Rangers will go with every starter tonight. My only question is will Hamilton be in the #3 slot he usually bats in, or will they put him at 5th or 6th to let him get his bearings with less pressure? Only Ron Washington knows for sure!

92 is still a possibility.