Tagged: Blue Jays

Fire The Manager! Break Up The Team!

Ouch, the first back to back losses of the season. The second straight series loss. This is the end of the Texas Rangers as we know them.

Not really, but it does show how manic-depressive we fans can be. When the Rangers were winning, as they were the entire month of April, it’s as if the team of our affections was Superman, impervious to pain, able to steal bases at will, more powerful than the ’27 Yankees.

Now, after starting the month of May at 0-2, the fingers have started pointing, the mood has blackened and we’re sure Lex Luthor has found a big hunk of kryptonite and placed it smack dab under the Rangers bench in the dugout.

Truth be told, this team probably wasn’t as good as their April record indicated, nor are they as bad as they’ve looked in going 2-4 over the past six games. In the end they probably resemble the April team more than the May team thus far, but the season will show us where they stand. Right now, it’s still firmly in first place in the AL West with the team considered their most serious competitor still either seven or eight games out, depending on how tonight’s game turns out.

A lot of scribes are going to say this two-game skid is perfectly understandable. After all, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre haven’t been in the Rangers line-up the past two games, so losses can be expected.

The problem with this is the last two games haven’t been lost due to lack of offense. Texas has scored 11 runs the past two games and even had a 5-0 lead in Tuesday’s game. No, the losses have come because two of the Rangers’ strong suits both failed on Tuesday and Wednesday: the pitching and the defense.

Tuesday Neftali Feliz didn’t have a particularly strong outing Tuesday, giving up two home runs in a 4-run 3rd inning to turn a 5-0 Rangers lead into a 5-4 lead. In the 7th, it was Elvis Andrus’ first error in 54 games, on a routine play no less, that opened the gates for the Blue Jays 3-run inning to turn a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead. Elvis’ error opened the inning. With runners on first and second, a sacrifice bunt Mike Napoli couldn’t field cleanly resulted in another error and a bases loaded, no out situation. Alexi Ogando came on and got two groundouts right away, but both plated runs tying the game. A base hit later and the Jays had a 7-6 lead, with all runs charged to rookie Robbie Ross, who deserved so much better.

Michael Young tied the game in the 9th, but Mike Adams gave up a walk-off solo shot to open the bottom of the 9th. Bad defense, bad pitching, one loss.

Wednesday’s day game was even worse for the pitching staff. Matt Harrison had his second straight bad outing, giving up eight hits and eight runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Harry has now given up 14 earned runs and 22 hits in his last two starts combined, comprising just 8 1/3 innings. As good as Harry was in his first three starts and most of 2011, I hope this isn’t a sign of a physical ailment. Harry and Dutch (Derek Holland) have both had two consecutive poor outings. Long man/spot starter Scott Feldman gave up a three-run homer to close out the scoring.

On the good news side, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe continue to pitch well, even though they’ve mostly been used in non-pressure situations. Still, it’s good to know the bullpen seems to be pretty consistently good, at least more consistently good than the starters have been. Oh, and Josh Hamilton was named AL Player of the Month and Yu Darvish the AL Rookie of the Month.

As good as the Rangers have been the past few years, that success has not translated to Canada. Texas is a combined 5-11 at the Rogers Centre since 2009, including the 1-2 mark for this road trip. Thursday is a day off, then three games in Cleveland. Hamilton and Beltre should be back in the line-up. That would be good. What would be better is seeing Colby, Dutch and Yu dealing zero’s and the defense dealing DP’s. This team will play better. They already have and they will again.

Yu Makes The Jays Blue

He’s starting to make it look easy.

Yu Darvish’s 5th major league start had the same result as three of his first four starts: a win. Darvish is now 4-0 and his ERA is darting down to the low 2’s after a seven inning, nine strikeout performance against the other main team who bid on his services in the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays.

No Josh Hamilton? No problem. When you’re missing your big slugger, just replace him with that well-known power hitter Craig Gentry, he of the one career home runs (inside the park) and watch him tee off in the later innings for his first career MLB out of the park shot.

Back to Darvish. For a little while there, I was wondering if he had no-no type stuff. Through 3 2/3 innings, Darvish hadn’t given up a hit and had struck out seven batters. Edwin Encarnacion answered in a hurry, with a 4th inning solo shot that ended the no-hitter and the shutout bid at the same time. Yes, it was early, but when seven of the first 11 outs are of the whiff variety, you get your hopes up.

Once again, the Rangers still have not lost back to back games this season and are now 9-1 on the road so far. Darvish’s start was the 16th quality start for a Rangers starter in the first 23 games.

I think I heard Darvish and Robbie Ross are the first rookie teammates ever to start their careers at 4-0.

Joe Nathan looked like the Joe Nathan of old tonight, making quick work of the 9th inning for his 6th save.

Good pitching makes it easy not to notice that Michael Young is in an awful offensive slump right now. He did get a hit in the 9th, but he’s only hitting about a buck-30 over the past week plus.

Kyle Drabek was equally impressive for the Jays. He pitched well enough to win. Just his luck he was facing Darvish tonight.

A 4-1 win at a venue, the Rogers Centre, that has not been kind to the Rangers the past few years. Great way to start a 10-game road trip!

A Managerial Travesty

Texas Rangers’ skipper Ron Washington finished 3rd in the AL Manager of the Year voting. That’s not a travesty. He actually did a little better than I expected. I thought maybe even Joe Girardi of the Yankees would finish ahead of Wash. It’s the nature of the Manager of the Year voting that the winner is usually the manager of a team that did surprisingly well, which the Tampa Bay Rays did, so Joe Maddon was deserving of the honor (I sadly forgot to put Maddon on my ballot in the BBA voting for AL Manager of the Year, an omission I regret).

The headline does say “A Managerial Travesty”, though, and there is one to write about, but it only has to do with Ron Washington in a tangential way. When the Rangers made the post-season for the second consecutive season, it occurred to me that not many African-American managers have been to the post-season in consecutive seasons. I decided, therefore, to look up where Wash stacked up on the list of African-American managers. The results both surprised me and filled me with dismay.

I checked online and didn’t find a single source listing all the African-American managers in MLB history on one page (if there is one, I didn’t find it), so I had to look up every major league team’s managerial history separately.

Frank Robinson was the first African-American manager in major league history, when he became player-manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. That was 36 years ago.

Ron Washington: 5th in Wins Among African-American Managers

Here’s what surprised me: In his five years as manager of the rangers, Ron Washington already ranks fifth in wins among African-American managers with 427 regular season wins. The only ones ahead of Wash on the list now are Dusty Baker (1,483), Robinson (1,065), Cito Gaston (913) and Don Baylor (627). That’s the good news if you’re a Wash fan like me.

The bad news hit me shortly thereafter. It only took five years for Wash to rank fifth in all-time wins? That’s when it hit me. Unless there’s someone I’m missing, it appears that in the 36 years since the color barrier was broken in the MLB managing ranks, there have been a grand total of 12 African-American managers in baseball. Twelve in 36 years. Only four of them (Robinson, Baker, Baylor and Hal McRae) have managed more than one team in the managing careers. Gaston managed the same team, the Toronto Blue Jays, twice. That means the other eight were given one chance and one chance alone at managing and were never given a second opportunity.

Every business uses networking in their hiring practices. At its worst, networking is known as “The Good Ol’ Boy Network”, which has been used to hire the overwhelmingly Anglo-American group of managers, many of whom seem to easily recycle from one job to another to another. MLB has seen more Hispanic managers hired in recent years, to which they should be applauded. Don Wakamatsu was the first manager of Asian-American heritage to be hired when he skippered the Mariners in 2009 and part of 2010. Yet the dearth of African-Americans vying for managerial positions continues to be abysmal.

Washington and Baker are the only African-American managers in the majors right now. The Cubs and Cardinals have both hired Anglos as their new managers. The only other available slot as of this writing is in Boston, where the candidates seemingly at the top of the list are Anglos as well.

Twelve African-American managers in 36 years. MLB has to do better.

The Stan Musial Award

Last but not least in the BBA Post-Season Awards is the Stan Musial Award for Player of the Year.

Last month, while returning to the Rio Grande Valley from Arlington, where I saw my beloved Rangers top the Mariners in the next to last home game of the season, I tuned as usual into MLB Radio on XM. At the time, they were having a grand debate: Did Justin Verlander deserve to be in the discussion for AL MVP? I don’t remember who the two hosts of the program were, but one was adamant that Verlander, as a pitcher, should not be considered. He was a pitcher, he only starts every fifth game and there’s no way someone who starts every fifth day should be considered right alongside everyday players.

Here’s the kicker, though. This same co-host was asked several questions concerning the upcoming playoffs. Every time he was asked a question about the Tigers chances in the playoffs, he would answer by talking about the Tigers advantage because of Justin Verlander and, conversely, how the Tigers wouldn’t have a chance without Verlander. So apparently, he was saying if he starts every fifth game, he should not be considered for MVP, but it all changes when he’s in a situation to pitch every fourth game. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Seriously, what is the big deal about this? As far as I’m concerned, if a pitcher has a season in which he has so outperformed every other pitcher in the league, why shouldn’t he be considered for an MVP Award? It only happens once every decade or so, maybe even less than that. In all my time of following major league baseball, the only AL pitchers I can think of that would have to be part of the discussion for any one year would have included Denny McLain for his 30 win season of 1968, maybe Ron Guidry for the year he went 25-3 for the Yankees and Verlander this year. That’s three pitchers in 43 years. You’re going to get bent out of shape over something that happens so seldom? In the National League, I would probably have considered Bob Gibson the year he had a 1.12 ERA. Despite being on a last place team, Steve Carlton’s 27 win season for the Phillies has to be one of the singularly best accomplishments of all time. He literally won almost half of his team’s games. But he shouldn’t be considered because he wasn’t an everyday player? Hogwash!

I’m not voting Verlander as #1 on my BBA ballot, but he does have a place there. I don’t care if he only played in 20% of his team’s games. His production in those games and the final result are what earns him the right to be considered.

Herewith is my official ballot for the Stan Musial Award:

1) Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees: Yes, he only hit .262, but on a team of stars, it was his increased production in 2011 (41 HR, 119 RBI) that helped pace the Yankees to the best record in the American League.

2) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: If I based the award on post-season play in addition to the regular season, Cabrera would probably be #1. We’re just looking at regular season play, though, so despite another MVP-caliber campaign (.344 BA, 30 HR’s, 105 RBI), Cabrera finishes second once again.

3) Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox: It didn’t take long for Gonzalez to become one of the most feared hitters in the AL (.328 BA, 27 HR, 117 RBI). If not for the Bosox collapse at the end of the season, A-Gon might have rated a little higher as well.

4) Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: Bautista had another great year, leading the league in home runs and adding an over .300 batting average with a ton of walks thrown in for good measure. In my mind, what kept Bautista from finishing higher was his RBI total (103 RBI with 43 HR). They looked kind of low for someone with as many home runs as Bautista had.

5) Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: Yes, he deserves to be here. Easily the best pitcher in the AL in 2011, leading the league in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.

6) Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox: A perfect combination of power and speed, Ellsbury was an incredible threat in the Red Sox line-up, hitting .321 with 32 HR’s, 105 RBI and 39 steals.

7) Michael Young, Texas Rangers: Young had personal bests in batting average (.338) and RBI’s (106), while seeing time as DH and playing all four infield positions. Don’t scoff at his low power numbers. You won’t find very many players in either league over the last ten years to get over 100 RBI’s with less than 15 home runs. Young has now done it twice, this time with only 11 long balls. He also topped 200 hits for the sixth time.

8) Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: He could’ve been a Texas Ranger, but Texas took Alfonso Soriano instead in the A-Rod deal, only because they believed Ian Kinsler was going to be a pretty good player. They were right about Kinsler, but boy, can you imagine a Rangers line-up with Cano (.302 BA, 28 HR, 118 RBI)? Scary, right?

9) Asdrubel Cabrera, Cleveland Indians: .273 with 25 HR’s and 92 RBI. From a shortstop. Cabrera was a big reason the Indians stayed in the AL Central race up to mid-September. He played pretty good defense too.

10) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: After a monster September, Beltre ended 2011 at .296 with 32 HR’s and 105 RBI while playing stellar defense at third base. Beltre might have been given strong consideration for MVP had he not missed almost a month with a hamstring injury.

There’s the top ten. Interestingly enough, you’ll find no mention of Josh Hamilton, last year’s MVP. He still was right around .300, he still was right around 100 RBI. Yet even Rangers fans would probably list him no better than third for team MVP. Just goes to show how potent that Rangers line-up is.

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

The Perfect Set-Up: Rangers Sweep A’s

If the last seven days of baseball had been scripted for Texas Rangers fans, it pretty much followed said script to the letter.

After nine, count ’em, nine consecutive days of having the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim staying a mere game behind the Rangers in the AL West, the week of August 8-14 stood as the best chance for Texas to put some more space between them and their closest competitors. While the Rangers were set to close their home stand with three games against last place Seattle, followed by three on the road with third place Oakland, the Angels were facing a six game road swing through Yankee Stadium and the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Sure enough, the Rangers took two of three from the Mariners while the Yankees took two of three from LA, putting the Texas lead back up to 2. Then the Atleticos (they put the Spanish name for the team on their unis in Sunday’s game) cooperated fully, letting Texas sweep them for the second consecutive series. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays came from behind to win the rubber match with the Angels in extra innings Sunday to take their series 2-1. Thus the crucial week played just as it was hoped, with the Rangers gaining three games on the week to end the week 5-1 and with a 4-game margin over the Angels.

How important is this? It’s huge, considering the first and second place teams square off against each other for a four game set in LA beginning tomorrow night. Bottom line is, even if the Angels manage to sweep this upcoming series, Texas will still leave California Thursday night no worse than tied for first place. HUGE!

Game 1 of the Oakland series was a no doubter. New A’s Public Enemy #1, CJ Wilson, who made a few comments about Oakland that were a lot milder than the way they were taken, pitched six strong innings in pacing Texas to a 9-1 pasting of the A’s. The middle game of the set, a 7-1 final, was a lot closer than the final score indicates. Colby Lewis and Trevor Cahill matched 0’s for six innings, with Cahill tossing a no-hitter through 5. Texas finally broke through with two runs, followed by the A’s cutting the lead to 2-1. It wasn’t until after Cahill left the game that Texas teed off on the A’s relief corps, plating 5 insurance runs to run away with the decision.

Sunday’s finale should have been easy. Facing former Ranger Rich Harden, the Rangers struck for 3 in the first due to Harden pitching like, well, the Rich Harden who pitched for the Rangers in 2010. By the time Harden was gone (over 100 pitches in just 4 innings), the Rangers were comfortably ahead 6-0. Consistent Matt Harrison was on cruise control when, suddenly, the A’s decided to make a game of things. Taking advantage of well-timed hits sandwiched around a couple Rangers errors, Texas suddenly found the game tied at 6 heading into the 8th inning. A 1-out Mitch Moreland walk in the 9th, followed by a stolen base by pinch-runner Craig Gentry, set up David Murphy’s game winning 2-out single. Three Neftali Feliz-thrown outs later, the Rangers had their sweep and their four-game lead over the Angels. 

AMAZING STAT: Heading into Sunday’s finale, Texas stood at 68-52 on the season. One can easily say the Texas offense is nowhere as potent as it was in the World Series year of 2010. Josh Hamilton isn’t hitting for as high an average or with as much power as his MVP year. Ian Kinsler is having a down year with the bat. Elvis Andrus has regressed defensively. Yet Texas entered Sunday’s game with a better 120-game record than the 2010 team (they were 67-53 at this point). The reason? A better rotation in the #3-#5 slots than a year ago and a LOT more offense out of the catcher position with Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba compared to Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor.

Four games in LA coming up. Reasonable expectation? Missing Dan Haren’s spot in the rotation works in the R’s favor and gives Texas a good chance to go at least 2-2 and maintain the 4-game lead. Too bad I won’t see every inning of every game. Can’t stay up that late and function well at work the next day like I used to. Having a lead when it’s time to retire for the night would be nice, though…

By the way, thank you Robinson Cano, for beating the Angels Thursday and thank you, Edwin Encarnacion, for your game-winning hit for the Blue Jays today!

 

For Whom The Beltre Tolls

So let me get this straight. The VERY DAY I post my first ever somewhat negative comments about Nelson Cruz and how his season to date could make him a part of a trade package this week, he goes out Friday night and goes 4 for 4 with 8, count ’em, 8 RBI??? Nelson, did you take exception to something I wrote or what???

 

Adrian Beltre

All kidding aside, The Texas Rangers will need Cruz to start coming through in a big way more than ever now. In the very game he went nuts against the Toronto Blue Jays, All-Star 3rd baseman Adrian Beltre was pulling up lame and headed for a minimum two week stay on the DL. The only good part about Beltre’s injury during the game is it gave Omar Quintanilla his first action in a Rangers uniform. Who’s Omar Quintanilla, you say? He’s the utility infielder called up from Round Rock when Andres Blanco went on the DL. Despite being with the big club for over two weeks, this was the first game Quintanilla had gotten into in all that time. Shows how much the Rangers really need that last utility infielder.

With Beltre on the shelf, Chris Davis has gotten the call for the third time this season to try to re-establish himself as a bona fide major leaguer. Davis has been tearing up AAA pitching this year to the tune of 22 HR’s and 68 RBI, as well as chipping in three longballs and five RBI for the parent club. Davis and Michael Young will share the third base duties while Beltre is out, unless Davis is involved in a trade. I was worried Beltre’s injury would take Davis out of the picture as a possible trade piece, but scribes with more inside knowledge of the Rangers than I feel he’ll still go if the piece Texas gets in return is that good.

 

Chris Davis

Still, Davis, Young and Cruz are all going to have to step up in Beltre’s absence. Adrian was leading the club in RBI’s and providing great protection for Josh Hamilton in the three hole. Young moves into the clean-up spot for now with Cruz moving up to 5th.

Texas took two of three from the visiting Blue Jays over the weekend, easily taking the first game 12-2 behind Cruz’ 8 RBI and Colby Lewis‘ outstanding pitching. Game 2 was a 5-4 squeaker that looked like a Rangers loss until the ultimate in small ball did the Jays in.

Trailing 4-3 entering the bottom of the 9th, Mike Napoli led off with a walk. Mitch Moreland, who had ZERO sacrifice bunts in his major league career entering the at bat, laid down a bunt and managed to reach first safely when the throw to the bag was wide. With runners on first and second, Ian Kinsler went for another sacrifice bunt. This one was fielded cleanly for the first out, putting runners at second and third. Craig Gentry then replaced Napoli at third. Not to be outdone, Elvis Andrus laid down the squeeze bunt. Gentry scored the tying run and a real heads-up play got Andrus out at first to put a runner on third with two outs. The Jays intentionally walked Hamilton, bringing Young to the plate. Michael hit a fly to right that was misjudged and dropped in at the warning track, plating the game winner.

Going for the sweep on Sunday, the Rangers faced their first southpaw since Beltre went on the DL in Brett Cecil. Things did not go well. Cecil stymied the R’s on four hits and the Jays scored 3 against Alexi Ogando in the 6th to come away with a 3-0 win to salvage one win in the set. It was kind of surprising to see the lefthanded Davis in the line-up against Cecil at DH. I figured Texas would go with Napoli at DH and Yorvit Torrealba at catcher, but it was not to be. It will be interesting to see if Texas will struggle against lefties more with Beltre out.

All in all, a decent weekend. Texas maintains a three game lead against the second place Angels. Now the Twins are in town for a four game set. Trade deadline is Sunday. Who’s about to become a Ranger? Heath Bell? Mike Adams? Carlos Beltran? Tune in next time, same “bat” channel!