Tagged: Frank Francisco

#Bullpenisweak

Words to the effect of today’s headline are often used on Twitter as a crude laugh while also drawing attention to a sad fact of life for the baseball team.

It is, in fact, a fitting description of the Texas Rangers bullpen. Weak may even be an understatement.

In April, there was much consternation over the lack of punch in the Rangers offensive attack. As we approach the end of the season’s second month, we find the Texas offense is actually not too shabby and may soon improve further with the arrival of Josh Hamilton. Sadly, outside of a brief four game winning streak, the results in wins and losses haven’t improved appreciably and the bullpen carries a lion’s share of the blame.

Through May 16th, the Rangers bullpen was carrying an anemic 6 plus ERA for the month. For the season, the Texas relief corps has more blown saves than saves. In Saturday’s loss to the Cleveland Indians, the relief staff managed two blown saves in the same game.

Neftali Feliz After Striking Out A-Rod to end the 2010 ALCS, sending Texas to its first World Series

Neftali Feliz After Striking Out A-Rod to end the 2010 ALCS, sending Texas to its first World Series

The bullpen is now in flux. Neftali Feliz, while still officially the closer, did not close out Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Tribe, Shawn Tolleson did. After just two appearances, Kyuji Fukikawa got released. The same fate earlier befell Stolmy Pimentel and Logan Verrett. Spencer Patton has come and gone, as has Jon Edwards. The newest additions to the pen are Tanner Scheppers, who started the season ineffectively in Arlington, and Ross Ohlendorf, who Sunday made his first big league appearance in two years.

If the latter two prove effective, it provides Texas a potent late inning triumvirate. What would still be missing, though, is a closer. If Feliz can’t hold down the job, and his last few outings have shown that as a distinct possibility, there is no proven option to replace him. Plenty of teams have caught lightning in a bottle with an unknown closer coming out of nowhere. The Rangers haven’t had a lot of success in that area, with one notable exception: Neftali Feliz in 2010. Five years ago, Feliz unseated Frank Francisco and helped lead the Rangers to their first World Series. Five years later, Feliz may soon suffer the same fate as Francisco.

The Texas offense is recovering. Now it’s the bullpen’s turn. If they don’t turn it around, all the offense in the world won’t help the Rangers.

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Red Flag 1

It’s great getting off to a 5-2 start, ESPECIALLY when your expected closest competitor, the Angels, stumble out of the gate at 2-4.

But Rangers fans are glass half empty kind of people. There’s always danger lurking in the shadows. So it is that a nice successful homestand has the home fans happy, yet already worried about one thing: Joe Nathan.

The way they see it is this: Were it not for Joe Nathan, Texas would be 7-0 right now instead of 5-2. Nathan has taken both of the Rangers’ 2012 losses thus far and accounted Wednesday for their first blown save of the year. They will also turn to the fact Thursday’s afternoon finale against the Mariners had Mike Adams picking up the save and not Nathan as a sign the Rangers are already regretting their decision to sign the former Twins closer to a two-year deal.

While I’m not thrilled that both losses have come with Nathan in the game, I don’t think it’s time to push the panic button yet, the way the Rangers did two years ago when Frank Francisco blew his first two save opportunities and was replaced in the first week by Neftali Feliz.

In Francisco’s case, he had been somewhat inconsistent in 2009 as well, splitting closing chores with CJ Wilson. The Rangers were in their first year with high expectations and they were quick to pull the trigger on Francisco.

In Nathan’s case, while he has lost both the Rangers games thus far, he also has saved two games, both in impressive fashion. While Wednesday’s blown save and loss was a true clunker (3 runs in one inning pitched), his first loss was in a tie game with one misplaced pitch being punished. He wasn’t brought in to the 9th inning Thursday because it would have been three straight games for him to pitch, with the third being a day game after a night game.

A two-year contract means Nathan will be given some slack by Rangers management to get it together. Meanwhile, Adams and Alexi Ogando remain ready as quality back-up plans should Nathan continue to struggle. With solutions like that, this isn’t a bad problem to have.

The first road series of the year begins tonight in Minnesota. The Twins aren’t expected to do much in 2012, but playing in Minnesota has been problematic for these Rangers over the past couple of years, whether it be at the old Metrodome or the new Target Field. The Twins took two of three at home against the Angels, so Texas can’t take anything for granted.

If there’s a save to be garnered tonight, though, Joe Nathan will get first crack at it.

Sharing Space

Chris Davis is unhappy.

Much of the unhappiness is his own doing, yet his feelings are understandable.

Davis burst on the scene in 2008 following a meteoric rise through the Rangers system. When they could hold him back no longer, Davis came to the majors and tantalized the fan base with a .285 average, 17 HR’s and 55 RBI over 80 games. Rangers fans were positive Davis would make us forget about Mark Teixeira in short order.

Sadly, it seemed to be a tease. Davis at the outset of 2009 and was sent down on July 5th with a .202 average. After almost two months of scorching the ball in AAA, Davis came back and recovered enough to compile a .239 average with 21 HR’s and 59 RBI.

Last season, the Rangers were in no mood to fiddle around with slumping players. Frank Francisco was replaced as closer two weeks into the season after a few blown saves. By the end of April, Davis was at an abysmal .188 and he was sent down to AAA again, replaced by Justin Smoak.

When Smoak was traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, Davis came back up July 9th, but by the 28th, he was still only hitting .188. Again Davis was sent down, this time replaced by Mitch Moreland.

Now in 2011, Moreland has pretty much secured the first base starters job. Davis, meanwhile, has had an awesome spring. After yesterday’s 3-3 showing, Davis is now hitting .405 with 3 HR’s and 11 RBI. Unfortunately for him, Moreland is hitting .359 with 2 HR’s and 7 RBI of his own.

There is no real place on the Rangers roster for Davis right now. By all accounts, he is one of the hardest workers in the Rangers organization. His defense at first base is excellent and he’s no slouch at third either. But, there’s no place for him unless there’s an injury.

Ron Washington has been paying attention. That’s probably why last night’s exhibition game against the Rockies featured Mike Napoli at catcher, Davis at first base and Moreland in right field. From a Rangers standpoint, this is a good problem to have. From Davis’ standpoint, not so much. Under such a scenario, you might envision Wash compromising on his “defense first” catchers approach and send Matt Treanor packing. Maybe, but I don’t think he’d pull that trigger.

I’d hate to see Davis leave, especially if the Rangers got little in return for him. On the other hand, I’d hate to see him force a roster move and once again not have him come through.

Davis has one option year left, Moreland has two. I actually wonder if the Rangers might consider sending Moreland back to AAA to give Davis one last chance. No matter how it goes, one of those two players will probably be sent down to AAA to start the season and neother one will deserve it.

Another Sharing Space Note: I got inspired to start this blog in two ways: one was the movie “Julie and Julia”. The other was Jamey Newberg, who was one of the original Texas Rangers bloggers. Today, Jamey and I share a space in a way. We both contributed our Rangers thoughts, independently of each other, for the blog of a fellow member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. You can check it out here:  http://www.cardinal70.com/playing-pepper/playing-pepper-2011-texas-rang.php

 

The Show Demo Arrives

MLB: The Show ’11 arrived in Demo form on the Playstation Network last week and I finally had a chance to download it and try it out.

The Initial Bad News: It took a two day span to try it out. The thing took FOREVER to download Friday night!

The Second Bad News: I thought my controller wasn’t working right when I first tried the game out. Turned out everything was on “Total Analog” Mode (or maybe it’s “True Analog” Mode), so the controls for hitting and pitching were totally not what I was used to doing. I’d hit the swing button and the batter wouldn’t swing. At all. The pitching controls were totally different as well. Before discovering what was going on, I think I threw about 60 pitches, of which maybe three were strikes. Fielders fielded the ball but wouldn’t throw it. You get the picture.

The First Good News: The Demo has the Rangers in it- facing the Giants, of course, in a World Series rematch (FYI the default is CJ Wilson vs. Tim Lincecum).

The Second Good News: It is not bad in the “Up To Date” category. The Rangers team already had Yorvit Torrealba, Adrien Beltre and Brandon Webb on the roster. The Mike Napoli trade happened after the game was put to bed, so we have Chris Davis instead of Napoli. I didn’t check, but I assume that means it also has Frank Francisco pitching for Texas as well.

The Weird News: Since the Demo Game is being played in San Francisco, there is no DH. That means, in the Default Mode, Michael Young is NOT a part of the line-up. He is, after all, now the DH. You have to manually put him in the line-up. It seems very strange to play any game as the Rangers and not see Young in the line-up. I should get used to it now. I think that will be permanently true in 2012 (if not this year).

So it took awhile, but I finally figured out a few things. First, you can switch in the demo from playing as the Giants to playing as the Rangers. Second, you can go to Game Controls and set everything back to Classic Mode on your controller, which is the way I’m used to playing. It is a little time consuming to do it, but since it’s just a demo designed to get you to buy the game when it comes out, I can live with it.

As always, the overall graphics are wonderful. The Giants stadium looks very realistic and the crowds look less like the same people layered 50 times in the stands. While the players aren’t bad, I still am surprised the faces aren’t as realistic as I thought the technology allowed. Maybe I’m too picky.

I only played a couple of games but saw one new thing in terms of events on the field. I had an at bat where Josh Hamilton fouled a ball at the plate. It bounced into his leg and Ham-Bone went down wincing. Nice subtle feature.

Didn’t check out all the controls, but it seems now you can use all four control buttons in hitting mode. The triangle is now for bunts, while the circle button is now for a “Contact” swing. I gues that’s for trying to stay alive at the plate when you’ve got two strikes. The X button is still normal swing and the square is power swing.

You can still predict the pitch and locationas a batter. Now they’ve added colored hot and cold zones for your batter to better gauge what pitches are good for you to swing at. Pitchers now have as many as three different pick-off moves. I couldn’t get it to work when I played, but I think that’s because I had “Balk” mode turned off. Yes, this year’s edition can have balks called if you so desire. Your pitchers can now take eight warm-up tosses before the inning as well, so you can get an initial feeling on how their control is.

I know there are more new features than I’ve even discovered but, like the great game itself, I like to play (or watch) but don’t feel the need to dig as deep as I can go. I know enough that I plan to get this year’s edition and retire my ’09 version.

 

Hello, Goodbye, & Please Don’t Go

mike-napoli-_44 copy.jpgAnother unexpected move by the Rangers brass today, sending reliever Frank Francisco and some cash north of the border to the Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Napoli, making his stay with the Blue Jays all of four days after being dealt there by the Angels in the Vernon Wells deal. I wonder if Napoli even had a chance to talk to anyone in the Blue Jays front office before he was dealt again? Ah the life of a professional athlete.

 

 

Frankie Frank gave the Rangers some good years, but the fact Texas got to the World Series without their regular 8th inning set-up guy made him expendable. Many were surprised he accepted arbitration from the Rangers instead of testing the market, but I’m sure not in the mood to complain about that now.

When this deal was first announced, it both excited me and depressed me. Excited me to get another power bat in the line-up. Depressed me because, as primarily a catcher, that might mean the end of Matt Treanor’s days as a Ranger (I just sang his praises in my FanFest post a day ago).

 

matt-treanor-200aj121310 copy.jpgI perked up a little, though, when I realized Napoli also can play some first base. Then it all made sense to me. The Rangers don’t have to give up Treanor and there is now incredible flexibility in the line-up.

As a righty, Napoli can platoon with the left-handed Moreland at first base. That means Michael Young won’t have to worry about learning how to play first. MY will still back up the other three infield positions while primarily serving as the Rangers DH.

Meanwhile, Treanor and Yorvit Torrealba will be the two main catchers. If, however, one of them goes down with an injury, now you have Napoli as the back-up catcher and eliminate the need for the Rangers to call up Taylor Teagarden, who inspires the confidence of approximately 0 Rangers fans, give or take 2.

If Treanor stays, the man on the bubble now is Andres Blanco, who proved a capable defensive back-up in 2010 on the infield and even became a decent hitter when he got some regular playing time during Ian Kinsler’s second DL stint. Barring injury, the offensive line-up is completely set before spring training even begins, with the only decision left being do you keep Blanco and Treanor, or waive one of them to open a slot for a 5th outfielder. Since Moreland also played outfield in 2010, I think the 2011 Opening Day line-up has already arrived in Arlington.

Unless there’s another trade. As many off-season surprises Jon Daniels has pulled out of his hat so far this off-season (Adrian Beltre, Arthur Rhodes, Napoli and Torrealba), I wouldn’t put it past him to have another ace up his sleeve.

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.

 

One Incredible Year

I became a fan of the Texas Rangers before they were the Texas Rangers:

 

Senators Jersey.jpgMy very first post outlined my allegiance to the Rangers from the time we both resided on the Eastern Seaboard. My first baseball game ever was a Washington Senators game and, as of this moment, my most recent baseball experience was a Texas Rangers game, Game 4 of the World Series.

I have seen a lot of miserable seasons in 40 years and a few good ones. But I have never encountered what 2010 brought to me as a fan.

When I began this blog just before the start of the 2010 season, I’m not going to claim I didn’t expect all of this. Actually, I had a pretty strong feeling the Rangers could win the West, which is truly why I started it. I wanted to chronicle not only the games, but the feelings I had leading up to winning a Division Championship for the first time in 11 years. Beyond that, I certainly had hopes that the futility of first round playoff losses would also come to an end. Again, that came to fruition.

If you had told me at the start of the season that my Rangers would not only accomplish those two things, but they would go beyond and get into the World Series? Well, I probably would have said, “Thanks for thinking so highly of my team, I hope you’re right.” And while I was saying it, I would have been thinking, “Golly, wouldn’t that be amazing if they did? Nah, this is the Rangers we’re talking about!”

As I look back on the season, I can’t imagine a scenario like the one that played out. The team’s two catchers at the start of the season were nowhere to be found at the end of the season. The same could be said about the Rangers’ two first basemen who started the season and two other first basemen who took over in the middle third.The same could be said again of the team’s top two starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, the Texas closer lost his job a mere two weeks into the season and was the set-up man on the DL at the end of it (Frank Francisco sure could have helped in the World Series, that’s for sure!).

If that wasn’t enough, the Rangers qualified as one of the last two teams alive with a team that featured an All-Star second baseman who had two separate trips to the DL costing almost two months of playing time, an All-Star right fielder who had three DL trips while still managing to knock in almost 80 runs, and an All-Star Left fielder/center fielder who missed most of the last month of the season and still will probably be the league MVP.

A magical season indeed. Even if they come back next year and win the whole thing, I’m not sure it would top what every Rangers fan got to experience this year because, as much as every one of the faithful has dreamt of seeing the Rangers in the World Series, I think very few of us ever really expected it to happen. Now that we see it can happen, will we as fans become jaded and expect it every year?

For that matter, will this experience change the players on this Rangers team? Several are coming up on their first arbitration year and will be getting a hefty pay increase in the off-season. Will success and more money spoil them and soften the edge they played with in 2010? So far, they seem to be answering correctly and indicating this year only makes them hungry for more in 2011. But success affects people in different ways. This will be Ron Washington’s challenge next year, to keep his team hungry and playing just as hard as they did this season.

Washington’s been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. The Rangers have already cut ties with Rich Harden, Cristian Guzman, Brandon McCarthy (who never appeared with the big club in 2010) and Esteban German. They have declined the mutual option on Vlad Guerrero’s contract, making it a 50/50 proposition the Rangers’ leading RBI man will be back next year. Bengie Molina is contemplating retirement. Cliff Lee is a free agent. As is Jorge Cantu, although there is virtually no chance he will be back. It is also doubtful Jeff Francoeur will be offered arbitration, so he is probably gone as well.

Still, a healthy core remains and if the Rangers succeed in resigning Lee, there’s a good chance Texas goes into the 2011 season as the favorites to win the West once again.

As for this blog? One of my early readers pointed out it will be tough to come up with a new name as catchy as the original of “World Series 40, Rangers Fan 0”. But change it must should I decide to continue on. I’m open to suggestions for a new name so send them my way! Until I make my final decision, I will do some off-season postings on signings, trades and the like.

I do know, if I continue to expose the world to my mostly inconsequential thoughts, that recapping every game may be difficult to accomplish two years in a row. It took incredible discipline to post day in and day out when juggling it with a demanding real-life job and giving quality time to the family while watching or listening to games almost every day and/or night. So that part of the blog may change a bit. What won’t change is my love of Texas Rangers baseball and it will continue to be the focal point of every post made in this space.

To my family, I thank you for not only supporting me in my fandom over the years, but for supporting me and even encouraging me in putting those words down for the world to see. To 17-Year Ranger Fan and Ranger Fan-In-Law, I thank you for posting during days when I was indisposed or you got to attend the game. To my eldest, a lifelong Mariners fan, I thank you for not only tolerating me over the years but actually joining the bandwagon at the end of the season. And to Mrs. Mariner Fan/Ranger Fan, your support and love is what keeps me going every day. I couldn’t have done this blog without you.

To my loyal readers and those who discovered my musings late in the regular season, I thank each and every one of you for the moments of your time you have given me. Whether you have commented or not, I appreciate each and every one of you.

I actually thought when I started this blog that I would mostly hear from fellow Rangers fans and we would commiserate back and forth over the course of the season. What was so surprising was discovering the majority of you are fans of other teams! Truly unexpected. That’s what a love for the game of baseball can do. To you, I hope you have come to appreciate the players, their attitude and the way they play the game as much as you appreciate your own teams. Who knows? Maybe I converted a couple of you along the way.

Last but not least, I thank the Texas Rangers for giving me a season worth talking about. Hardly a day went by that I couldn’t find something new to talk about with this team. I am proud to call myself a Texas Rangers fan and I will be a Texas Rangers fan until I take my last breath.

But note to family: When that last breath is taken, a Rangers casket (or urn) will not be required. We can draw the line there.