Hard to believe, the season is already at the 25% mark. The Texas Rangers finished the first quarter of the season a lackluster 18-23 at the quarter pole but, considering the season started at 8-16, it’s not horrible. Horrible would be the team behind the Rangers in the standings, the Oakland A’s, who are a full five games behind Texas, which sits in fourth, a half game out of third.
At the end of April, the Rangers’ report card reflected a totally awful offense. The first quarter report card has improved.
The offense has improved greatly from April. The season’s opening month saw the Rangers offense putting together a miserable slash line of .210/.293/.318 with an OPS+ of just 75 (league average would be 100). Shin-Soo Choo ended April at .092. The offense has recovered in May so now they stand at a more respectable .237/.312/.383 with an OPS+ of 96. It still isn’t good but it’s improved to just below average. If the Texas offense performs the rest of the season the way they have in May, the numbers at season’s end could be in the upper third in the league. At this point, the biggest need for offensive improvement is the average with runners in scoring position. The Rangers sit at a measly .214 with RISP. Only 16 of their 117 extra base hits have come with runners in scoring position and only 37 have come with a man on first. Texas is hitting for decent extra base power but nobody’s on base when they do it. Grade: C
Defensively, the Rangers have committed 33 errors in 41 games. Only Oakland has committed more in the AL. Greatness wasn’t expected defensively, despite a couple of well-regarded defenders like Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. In Baseball Reference’s defensive stats, Texas has a MINUS 5 on Total Fielding Runs Above Average, putting them 10th among the AL’s 15 teams. The good news is Prince Fielder admitted Mitch Moreland is a better defensive first baseman than he is and will agreeably be the DH if it helps the team win more games. Grade: D
The rotation took a header right off the bat when Derek Holland went down shortly after making his first start. With Yu Darvish already lost for the year, it was yet another hit the pitching staff could ill afford. The joke is, the Rangers have a better rotation on the Disabled List than many teams have on their active roster (Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Nick Tepesch). Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez have been outstanding, Yovani Gallardo below average (more later), Ross Detwiler awful and Wandy Rodriguez a godsend. Grade: C
A nice 4-game stretch to close out the season’s first quarter makes the relief stats look better but only Oakland has a worse bullpen thus far. When Neftali Feliz blew a save on May 16th against the Indians, it gave Texas more Blown Saves than Saves on the season. There have been some bright spots: rookie Keone Kela and long reliever Anthony Bass but overall, inconsistency has been the pen’s modus operandi. One night they’ll look like killers, the next like victims. Jeff Bannister has made moves lately to try solidifying the bullpen. Feliz is no longer the closer. Shawn Tolleson has taken to the role so far, having picked up saves in consecutive nights against the Red Sox. Other than that, Banny says he’s not going to have role players in his bullpen for now. He’ll play match-ups more than having a 7th inning guy or an 8th inning guy. Grade: D-
There is no bigger surprise than the play of Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields. The expectation for Double D, who hit only .236 for AA Corpus Christi last season, was, at best, being the 24th guy on the 25-man team, serving primarily as a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. Instead, he’s putting pressure on the Rangers to find a place for him in the line-up every day once Josh Hamilton arrives.
DeShields leads the club in steals with 10. He’s actually tied with Adrian Beltre for first on the team in WAR at 0.9. He leads all Rangers regulars in pitches seen per at bat at 4.09 (Tommy Field is better but only has 9 games under his belt). When Hamilton joins the roster, DeShields could find himself in a CF platoon with Leonys Martin as well as a 2B platoon with Field.
While he has an impressive track record, nobody thought Prince Fielder would be as good as he’s been thus far. Fielder’s hitting for average, he’s hitting for power, he’s been the steadiest hitter all season. Facing a shift just about every day, Prince has learned to hit against it, going the opposite way many a time. He leads the AL in multiple hit games. And, as mentioned earlier, he manned up and became the primary DH because he saw that Mitch Moreland’s D gives the team a better chance to win.
On the pitching front, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Keone Kela all get nods. Lewis has possibly been even better than he was in the Rangers’ World Series years. Usually one of the league leaders in home runs allowed, he’s only given up three in 8 starts. In 50 innings he has 41 K’s, outstanding for a pitcher whose fastball seldom tops 90 on the radar guns. All this on a resurfaced hip. Colby pitched in pain for years. Now he probably wishes he’d done the procedure sooner.
Martinez was hands down the AL’s best pitcher in April, posting a sub 1.00 ERA. He’s struggled in his last few starts but still sports a 3-0 record with a 1.88 ERA. Pretty good for a guy who had never pitched above AA when forced into the Rangers plans a year ago. Martinez was below average a year ago, expected considering his situation, but posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 5 September starts. Seeing his success roll over to 2015 is great.
Keone Kela is a rookie who’s performed well in every role the Rangers have given him this year. He’s been used in long relief, short relief, in the middle of games and in high leverage late inning situations. Through it all, he’s put up a 3-1 record, 2.25 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20 innings. Only 22 years old, Kela is already thought of as a future closer in another year or two.
With three-fourths of the season still ahead, everyone has time to improve back to expected levels. Still, two of the biggest disappointments are infielders.
Everyone had high hopes for second baseman Rougned Odor following a rookie campaign in which the 21-year-old hit a respectable .259 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI. This writer projected Odor for about .270 this season with 14 home runs and 70 RBI. Instead, he laid a big egg. The league adjusted to Odor and he didn’t adjust back. With a .144 average after 29 games, Texas sent Odor to AAA Round Rock to get his game back. He’ll likely be back no later than the All-Star break (and already has 3 Home Runs for the Express) but nobody expected him to get sent down either, so who knows?
Meanwhile, his teammate Elvis Andrus has everyone worried. Never a great hitter, Elvis is regressing so far again this year, checking in at this writing at .224 with a homer and 11 RBI. After spending most of his career as the #2 hitter in the line-up, Andrus shows up at #6 more often than not these days. Once he’s on base, he only has 5 steals in 8 eight attempts. This would all be acceptable if he played defense the way he’s known to, but even that is regressing. Elvis has nine errors in the season’s first 41 games and should have gotten tagged with his 10th in a game against the Red Sox this week. Put it all together and you have a MINUS 0.5 WAR. That’s right, Elvis is now considered a BELOW REPLACEMENT LEVEL player! This from a guy who averaged over 4 WAR from 2011 to 2013. Oh yeah and a new long-term contract just kicked in this year. The only thing saving Elvis right now is the Rangers feeling they don’t have an everyday shortstop down on the farm. I think the problem is mental. In the World Series years, the Rangers were full of leaders and Elvis could just enjoy playing baseball. Now he’s a veteran and maybe expected to do more and he’s letting it get to him. If he doesn’t hit, fine. But Elvis, you’ve got to get your D back!
On the pitching side, I could say Neftali Feliz is a disappointment but he’s never regained his velocity since Tommy John surgery. For me, the biggest pitching disappointment is Yovani Gallardo. Sure, he’s a bit removed from his days fronting the Brewers rotation. But I didn’t expect him to have so many command issues. Gallardo is 3-6 with a somewhat respectable 4.26 ERA but it seems every start is a struggle for him. I’ve gotten used to Eric Nadel describing the action on the radio and hearing an opposing batter has worked the count to 3-2 on Gallardo. He’s only allowed 15 walks but every batter feels like a long battle. While he’s not a heat thrower, Gallardo is reminding me of Rich Harden in 2010, where you just prayed the at bat would end soon. He’s averaging less than 6 innings a start and he’s the guy who’s needed as the “ace” with Holland and Darvish out. When acquired, Gallardo got pencilled in as the #3 starter. He’s pitched like more of a #4 than the #1 or 2 results the Rangers need from him now.
That’s the first quarter report card. Overall grade: C-
Two weeks into the season, the Texas Rangers stand at 5-8, in last place in the AL West, albeit just a game and a half out of first. The season is still early but it’s not too early to give a State of the Team address. Here are the takeaways from the season’s first 8% of the schedule:
Thank God For Nick Martinez
It could change rapidly but the big league sophomore has been the Rangers’ best pitcher, starter or reliever. Martinez has gone seven innings in each of his first two starts and has yet to surrender an earned run in getting off to a 2-0 start. Without Martinez, the Rangers pitching staff would be lowly indeed. Colby Lewis has been OK, Yovani Gallardo slightly below average and Ross Detwiler abysmal to the point you’d be hard-pressed to find a single Rangers fan in favor of letting him make another start ever. On top of that, no sooner had fans resigned themselves to being without Yu Darvish for the year then the new expected ace, Derek Holland went down for two months with a shoulder issue. Anthony Renaudo wasn’t the answer in one start. The chorus of fans singing for promoting Chi Chi Gonzalez is growing.
The Bullpen Is A Mess
Despite bright spots like Anthony Bass in long relief and Shawn Tolleson in the 7th inning, nobody else in the pen is rising to the challenge. Nowhere was that more evident than Sunday’s gut-wrenching 11-10 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Tanner Scheppers, in his second game back from the DL, couldn’t find the strike zone in the 8th, walking the bases full. Rookie Keone Kela, seen by many as the heir apparent for the closer’s role, showed he’s not ready for prime time, walking in one of the runs after relieving Scheppers. Closer Neftali Feliz was forced to try to get a 5-out save and couldn’t get the job done, giving up a 2-run single in the 8th, then two more runs in the 9th to blow the save and get the loss. The Rangers firemen have acted more like arsonists.
Thank God For Prince Fielder
The big guy doesn’t have a single home run and leads the AL in singles of all things. He’s also been the Rangers’ steadiest hitter. He’s beating the shift by going the opposite way, which is why he’s getting a lot of singles. He’ll eventually get the power stroke going but it’s going to require Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo to start hitting the way they can. Fielder won’t see better pitches until the guys hitting behind him start giving pitchers something else to think about.
New Year, Same Problems
2014 was a record-setting injury year for the Rangers and 2015 isn’t starting much better. Derek Holland is out for two months, left fielder Ryan Rua sprained his ankle, then discovered he has a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out for a while. Choo and Mitch Moreland have missed games already with minor ailments, Scheppers just returned from the DL. Texas is a slightly deeper team than they were a year ago but can still ill-afford many more injuries.
Is Elvis In The Building?
What’s happened to Elvis Andrus? Never a scary offensive presence, now his defense seems to have regressed. Elvis makes his living being a brilliant defender first, a decent running threat second. Thus far, he’s not hitting, he’s not running and he’s not fielding. As of yesterday, he was the lowest rated position player by WAR in baseball. This HAS to improve.
The season is not off to a good start. Texas is once again resembling a last place team. They will hit better. There are too many pieces with good track records who have started out slowly. Pitching is another issue altogether. The Rangers need more innings from their starters and a couple more bullpen pitchers to step up. Otherwise it’ll be another long year in Arlington.
I figure on average, fans think their baseball teams are about ten wins better than the number of wins they end the season with. Even fans who know their teams will be terrible figure they can’t suck as badly as they eventually show us they do. On the other end of the spectrum, one only has to look at teams that win 100 games a year routinely, as the Yankees did in the early 2000’s, to know that their fans thought they should have won 110 games every year, if not more. This is really the “Backseat Manager” effect, that strange affliction that tells us we could do a better job managing our team than the current man in the position.
All this as preface to this Rangers fan still thinking, even without Yu Darvish, his team still is capable of being an 85 win team. The odds are great that they won’t get to 85. The bullpen beginning the season is nothing to brag about. The offense has the core back from injury but not enough depth to deal with any injuries to that core again. The starting rotation is actually the strong point despite the loss of their ace. It’s certainly a stronger rotation front to back than the one the Rangers rolled out most nights in 2014. Yeah, 85 wins seems a tad optimistic, but dang it, that’s the potential this team has.
Even if I’m ten wins off, 75 wins is a darn sight better than Bruce Bukiet thinks Texas will do. I should say what Bukiet’s mathematical model says they will do. Bukiet has the skins. He’s a mathematician who also runs a gambling analysis website. His winner’s picks have been pretty accurate. Here’s what CBS News wrote about Bukiet’s predictions last year and the chart of this year’s picks:
“Before the start of the 2014 season, Bukiet correctly predicted that Detroit would go on to win the American League Central, the Dodgers would win the National League West, St. Louis would win the Central and Washington would win the NL East.”
What I quibble with is not the top but the bottom of the standings. Bukiet’s mathematical model says the Rangers will finish 64-98 in 2015. Let that sink in. 64 wins. The Rangers of a year ago won 67 games, most of them without Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland. Darvish missed about the last quarter of the season and Jurickson Profar, the expected second baseman, played zero games. Zero.
Fielder is back this year, as is Choo and Moreland. Holland is here for the whole season. Colby Lewis has a year’s experience on his new hip and was visibly better in the second half of 2014 than the first half. Nick Martinez and Rougned Odor are two sophomores with a year of experience under their belts.
In other words, barring injury (and every pre-season prediction doesn’t consider injury), the Rangers offense is better than it was a year ago, the starting rotation is better than it was a year ago. The bullpen begins the year sketchy but the reinforcements on the DL are not expected out for long.
Maybe my 85 win hopes are ten games better than they’ll probably finish, but Bukiet’s 64 win prediction? No way.
Texas-Oakland kicks off the season Monday night. Time to forget last year and make this year count.
There is nothing harder in baseball than putting together a good bullpen. No matter what team you’re a fan of, you’re sure to remember the year the lights-out bullpen that ended up being one of the league’s worse. Conversely, many a team has gone to the playoffs when a little-regarded bullpen suddenly became dominant.
Unless your name is Rivera, closers can go from 45 saves one year to 15 the next with said closer replaced by another 100-mph fireballing phenom in mid-season.
Look at the Texas Rangers. In their World Series years of 2010-2011, the bullpen was one of the team’s strengths. Neftali Feliz replaced Frank Francisco just a week into the 2010 campaign as closer and rode that train for two years. Darren O’Day was a waiver claim who had an incredible 2010. On the other hand, Koji Uehara should have been the final bullpen piece when the Rangers acquired him at the deadline in 2011. He pitched so poorly for Texas he was left off the World Series roster. A year later he was dominant again and now he’s the closer for the Red Sox.
Year to year consistency in the bullpen is the toughest thing to acquire. Among the many ills for the Rangers in 2014, the bullpen was one of them.
Under the circumstances, one could make a case that the Rangers relief corps kept the team from finishing worse than 67-95. While not as formidable as earlier years, they were overall middle of the pack in the American League in contributing a 4.0 WAR. Much of that came early in the season, when the pen consisted of veterans like Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria, both of whom got sent packing at the trade deadline to pennant contenders. And, while the WAR was decent, the Rangers were a piddling 13th in Saves and 11th in Holds.
General Manager Jon Daniels has a philosophy when it comes to bullpens. The main mantra is “Save your money”. Outside of closer, you’ll seldom see Texas spend any substantial dollars on relievers. The aforementioned Frasor pitched two years in Texas, both times on 1-year contracts. Same with recently departed Neal Cotts. Occasionally Daniels will spring for a 2-year deal. Outside of O’Day, those get reserved for proven closers (Joe Nathan, Soria).
Daniels does like to gamble a little with the bullpen. He’s constantly acquiring relievers with big league experience but got released by other clubs due to injury. Success stories include Cotts and Soria, but there have also been busts, such as Nate Adcock and Kyle McLellan. But what the heck, they didn’t cost much money so do real harm there. Daniels mixes these low risk, high reward veterans with young bucks from the farm system whose contracts are under club control for the foreseeable future. It’s worked pretty well during the Daniels regime and it’s what the Rangers once again looking at in 2015.
What is certain for the Rangers is the closer will be Neftali Feliz, back in the role of his greatest success during the World Series years. Feliz missed most of 2013 to Tommy John surgery and moved back to closer in 2014 after Soria got traded to the Tigers. His velocity isn’t what it once was but he says he finally has most of the zip back.
Texas hopes the 8th inning set-up man will be last year’s Opening Day starter, Tanner Scheppers. Feliz, Scheppers and the departed Robbie Ross were the final nails in the coffin that was Texas trying to convert relievers into starters. It worked once with CJ Wilson but failed miserably with the other three. Scheppers and Feliz are now okay with their roles. Scheppers was the best set-up man in the AL in 2013 and the Rangers are hoping he’ll return to form.
Shawn Tolleson was one of Daniels’ low risk, high reward signings a year ago. Coming back from Tommy John, Tolleson was a respectable 2.76 ERA in 64 appearances and 71.2 innings pitched with 69 K’s. He was a little homer prone, giving up 10 dingers. Tolleson will be the 7th inning reliever. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux is already saying Tolleson looks better in the early going of camp than he did all of last season.
Four more spots are open in the bullpen and be assured whoever starts the season is in no way guaranteed of being there in September. Among the farmhands, the hopefuls include Alex Claudio, Phil Klein, Spencer Patton and Jon Edwards, who all got a taste of the bigs with the Rangers in the last month of the 2014 season.
A young heat thrower who hasn’t reached the major league level yet is Keone Kela, but he isn’t considered a factor in Arlington until later in the season at the earliest.
Joining the competition are those LRHR players Daniels loves, including Kyuji Fujikawa, Japan’s all-time saves leader whose move to America and the Cubs resulted in yet another Tommy John surgery; Juan Carlos Oviedo who, when pitching as Leo Nunez, saved 113 games from 2009-2011 with the Florida Marlins; and ageless veteran Jamey Wright, back with the Rangers for the second time in a career that has spanned 19 years and 10 different teams.
The most thankless job in the bullpen is long reliever. A pitcher in that role might go two weeks between appearances, then be asked to make a spot start two days after throwing 2 1/3 innings in a game. Veteran Scott Baker admirably filled that role for the Rangers last year and it’s a darn shame nobody has signed him for 2015.
For the Rangers, the likely long man is whoever the last man out is in the competition for the #5 starter. At this writing, the prediction would be for either Ross Detwiler, Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez to fill that role.
Bullpens are more works in progress than any other part of a ball club. No matter the predictions here, out of the seven member relief corps that starts the season, odds are good three of them will be gone by season’s end. If Texas can improve on last year’s 4.0 WAR pen, they’ll be a playoff contender.
That’s right, 15 different pitchers got at least one start for the Rangers in 2014. If a member of the rotation never misses a start, he’s on track to make 32 or 33 starts. For Texas, not a single starter managed even 30 starts and the pitcher who had the most starts, 29, didn’t even play in 2013, was coming back from hip replacement surgery and posted a 6.54 ERA after his first 16 starts.
Yes, 2014 was a disaster from the get go for the Rangers pitching staff. It began before Spring Training even arrived, with Derek Holland messing up his knee in a home accident involving a flight of stairs and his dog. Thanks to a stiff neck, ace Yu Darvish got scratched from the Opening Day assignment and replaced by Tanner Scheppers, making his first ever major league start. Among the names getting a start in 2014 were Robbie Ross (12), Miles Mikolas (10), Scott Baker (8), Joe Saunders (8), Lisalverto Bonilla (3), Jerome Williams (2) and Phil Irvin (1).
More well-known names started but fell by the wayside. Second-year Martin Perez threw back to back complete game shutouts in April, then went down for the dreaded Tommy John surgery in May. Matt Harrison appeared on the comeback trail from back issues and thoracic outlet surgery, but lasted only four starts before back issues resurfaced. His career is in jeopardy. Lastly, Darvish began experiencing elbow discomfort and wound up making only 22 starts before calling it a season.
So why is there so much hope in Arlington this year? Believe it or not, it starts with starting pitching. A year ago, the lack of depth in the minors contributed to the poor performance of the pitching staff. This year, two guys who made over 20 starts for Texas a year ago aren’t even sure if they’ll make the team for the Season Opener. Here’s the rotation as we know it:
There’s no question Darvish is the ace of the staff. On any given night, there’s the potential for greatness. Darvish has the biggest arsenal of pitches most anyone has seen. At any given time, a hitter can expect one of 8 to 10 different types of pitches. Yu is temperamental and will often shelve a pitch for good in the first inning if he feels it isn’t working that day. Still, he’s good for 15 wins or more for the season.
It was Dutch who suffered the first injury going into 2014. If the results he showed upon his return in September continue in 2015, this could be a special year for the lefthander. Holland made five starts down the stretch in 2014 and posted a 2-0 record with a 1.46 ERA, going seven innings in four of the five starts and giving up two earned runs or less in all of them. Holland has been inconsistent throughout his big league career but his 4-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series ranks as one of the best performances in Rangers history. He’s got the stuff. By all accounts, last year’s injury has upped his desire. If Derek gets consistency, he could easily add another 15 wins to the Rangers total.
Gallardo is the new kid in town, a guy who lives in Fort Worth in the off-season and now truly gets to plays his home games at home. Gallardo is an innings eater and, as he’s gotten older, has become more of a ground ball pitcher than a strikeout machine. Ask Matt Harrison and CJ Wilson how that ground ball thing works out in Arlington. There’s reason for excitement about having at least a year of Gallardo (he becomes a free agent at season’s end). He was once the ace of the Milwaukee Brewers staff. Now he’s a #3. That’s something to feel good about.
It’s incredible to believe that Colby Lewis led the Rangers staff in starts with 29 in 2014. As mentioned above, this is a guy who didn’t even play a game in 2013. After blowing out an elbow near the end of the 2012 season, Lewis’ arthritic hip added to his woes, finally getting to the point where his career was in jeopardy. After getting his hip shaved, Lewis began a long rehab process. As much as a thank you for his contributions during the World Series years as anything, Lewis got the chance to rehab in the minors. Who knew the injuries on the big league club would bring him back to Texas in mid-April. The results weren’t good the first half of the season. Just looking at box scores and statistics, one might think Lewis merely suffered from bad luck from the BABIP gods but those of us actually watching the games knew differently. Colby got shelled often. His pitches weren’t fooling anyone and he wasn’t hitting his spots. Remember, though, this is a guy who was still getting used to pitching without pain when putting pressure on the hip. Once he started getting used to it, the results were outstanding. From July 19 on, Lewis was only 4-8 but his ERA was 3.86. The BABIP through July 18 was .410. The rest of the way it was .267. Now Texas has the fully rehabbed Lewis for a full season and as their #4 starter instead of #2.
#5: Up For Grabs
This is the reason for optimism about the Rangers. A former #1 is now a #3, the former #2 is now the #4 and two of the guys fighting for the last spot were the #3 and #4 pitchers a year ago. This bodes well for the Rangers. It certainly gives them more depth than they had a year ago. Nick Tepesch (5-11, 4.36) and Nick Martinez (5-12, 4.55) are the incumbents. Martinez was here by necessity a year ago after never having pitched above AA all year. Despite staying all year, he’d surely benefit by at least beginning the year at AAA. For Tepesch, this is his third year with the Rangers. He needs to show improvement, particularly in facing the opposition batting order the second and third time. He still has at least one option so he could also go to AAA for a while. Martinez and Tepesch will compete with Lisalverto Bonilla, who pitched decently in three starts, newcomers Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Anthony Ranaudo (Red Sox) and possibly top prospect Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Some have Gonzalez pegged as a possible surprise winner, but GM Jon Daniels would like to get him some more seasoning and not rush him. Before the first exhibition game is in the books, Detwiler and Tepesch are the likely front-runners.
In The Wings
He isn’t available until after the All-Star break at the earliest but Martin Perez will be ready to pitch again this season. Meanwhile, there’s no telling what will happen with Matt Harrison. Nobody has ever attempted to return from the type of back surgery he had. Harrison could come back or his career could be over. If it’s the latter, he can retire knowing he was a vital part of two World Series teams.
No matter how you slice it, this is a much deeper starting rotation than the Rangers had a year ago. It may not stack up in quality to the Mariners rotation or even the A’s but it has the potential of being a very good staff, not to mention one able to withstand an injury or two.
Every Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.
The Rangers have both the youngest and the second youngest players in the big leagues and they’re platooning at second base. Luis Sardinas is the second youngest but he only plays about 25% of the games at second base. The other 75% goes to the youngest player in the majors, Rougned Odor. While he did wow Rangers fans with an upper deck shot for his first major league home run a couple of weeks ago, he was still hovering at the Mendoza line at the start of the week. But oh what he did on Saturday gave fans their first real inkling why the kid with the funny name (and the younger brother with the same funny name) is one of the top prospects in the Rangers’ system. In the top of the fourth inning, with the Rangers leading 2-1, Odor smacked a line drive that went just over the glove of Miguel Cabrera and down the right field line. By the time the Tigers’ Torii Hunter got it back to the infield, Roogie was standing on third base with a triple and two RBI to make it 4-1. Three innings later, Odor faced highly touted rookie Corey Knebel, making his major league début. With the bases full of Rangers, Odor went deep to right, just missing a home run and ending up with the same result, a triple. This one plated three runs. In the ninth, Odor blooped a double to left off knuckleball throwing utility player Danny Worth and came home to score on a Michael Choice double to close out a 12-2 Rangers victory. Odor’s final line: 4 for 5 with a run, an infield single, a double, two triples and 5 RBI. Meanwhile in Arizona, injured second baseman Jurickson Profar must have felt a chill go down his spine. Here’s the video of Odor’s big day:
For the first time in three weeks, there was some competition for the Offensive Player of the Week. The middle of the line-up, Alex Rios and Adrian Beltre, both performed in above average fashion, hitting above .400 with an OPS above 1.000. Still, there’s a lot to like about how the bottom third of the Rangers order hit and even more to like about the change made at catcher. At the start of the week, the Rangers optioned J.P. Arencibia to AAA Round Rock after only managing to accrue eight hits in 60 at bats over the course of 20 games. Even for a player with power potential, a .133 average isn’t going to cut it in the big leagues, especially if you add two passed balls, seven wild pitches allowed, two errors and just an 18% caught stealing rate. Texas recalled Chris Gimenez, a journeyman catcher playing for his fourth big league team in five years. All Gimenez did was get five hits in his first three games, 62.5% of the total Arencibia managed in 20. While Rios and Beltre played more games with bigger success in all departments, Giminez added instant offense to a position that woefully lacked all season long, getting 5 hits in his first 13 at bats with a double and two RBI. Gimenez got himself a lot of new fans and Twitter followers over the past seven days.
The toughest part about the last couple weeks of Rangers baseball is knowing that beyond Yu Darvish, it is doubtful a Rangers starting pitcher is even going to make it to six innings, let alone seven. Colby Lewis, considering his age and the injuries he’s coming back from, is probably six innings max on a good day. Robbie Ross Jr. was getting shelled and got moved back to the bullpen, Scott Baker got a start and will get replaced this week by Joe Saunders, Nick Tepesch just got recalled from Round Rock and hasn’t yet established what we can expect from him. And then there’s Nick Martinez. Following two early season starts, Martinez went to the bullpen for five games, then returned to a starting role due to the season-ending injuries to Martin Perez and Matt Harrison. His first two starts back in the rotation have been against two of the highest powered offenses in the American League. Against the Blue Jays May 18th, the rookie gave up only a single run in five innings of work. Saturday, he drew the start against 7-1 Rick Porcello and the Detroit Tigers, featuring three of the AL’s top hitters in former Ranger Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. While Porcello was getting shelled for the first time this season, Martinez more than held up his end, going six strong innings and giving up just a single run. Martinez has yet to top six innings in any start but he’s shown no fear of big league hitters despite never pitching above AA ball before this year. His performance Saturday was just one of the shots in the arm the Rangers have needed:
The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be
Talk about taking the bad with the good or the good with the bad. Just a few days ago most folks, including a high percentage of Rangers fans, were ready to write the season off after the announcement that Prince Fielder would be the latest Rangers player to miss the rest of the season due to injury. On the same day, Rangers brass announced Jurickson Profar had re-aggravated his shoulder injury and would miss significantly more time than expected and might not appear with the Rangers until 2015. Add them to the aforementioned losses of Perez and Harrison and you’ve got the makings of big trouble.
So what did the Rangers do? First, they made several roster changes. Gone was Arencibia, replaced by Gimenez. Fielder got placed on the DL and utility infielder Donnie Murphy got activated. Ross went to the bullpen, Baker was given his next start. And then, to the surprise of just about everyone but their manager, the Rangers started winning again.
It started humbly enough, gaining a split at home with the Mariners before heading out for the longest road trip of the season, 11 games starting with four a AL Central leading Detroit. Despite having been swept in Cleveland, the Tigers already had a big lead in the Central due to a strong starting rotation and an offense that could beat you with both power and speed. Despite long odds, the Rangers went into Detroit and not only took three of four from the Tigers, they beat them into submission by a combined score of 35-15. Along the way, they beat 7-1 Rick Porcello 12-2 and then followed it up by pounding Justin Verlander for nine runs en route to a 12-4 pasting on Sunday. The Claw and Antlers, a staple of the 2010 World Series team, appeared again in the series and Texas got incredible production from the lesser names like Gimenez, Odor, Leonys Martin and Michael Choice.
The road trip continues all this week with a four game set in Minnesota against the surprising Twins (and the original Washington Senators) followed by three in the Rangers’ original home of Washington DC as the Senators reincarnated against the current team residing there, the NL East Nationals. The good news is the Rangers have three day games remaining in the week. Last week, all four of their wins came during the day and Texas is now 11-5 in day games following their Memorial Day win over the Twins to start this week. Texas only needs two more wins to garner a winning record for the road trip. If they manage that, which would put them at 3-4 for the week at the least, I think most fans would be happy considering the shape of the current roster.
Every Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.
After the 3-game debacle that was the home series against the Oakland A’s, it was beginning to look doubtful the Rangers would have ANY Star Players of the Week in ANY department. The offense wasn’t hitting, the defense wasn’t playing well and the pitching was woeful. Then the Rangers took to the road to play the Los Angeles Angels and all was right with the world again. In taking two of three from the Angels, the Rangers not only got back on the winning track, the offense showed a few signs of life again. Even J.P. Arencibia got into the act Sunday with a two-hit performance that raised his batting average up to a whopping .116 (his OPS went from .271 to .420 in the game). Still the Single Game Star of the Week goes to one of the rookies in the line-up, Michael Choice. In Sunday’s 14-3 pasting of the Angels, Choice led a balanced offensive attack with two hits in five at bats, including a 3-run blast to left center that broke the game wide open. Choice ended the day with 4 RBI, giving him 12 for the season. The two honorable mentions for the week came from the same game as Choice’s winner. Prince Fielder had his first 3-hit game as a Ranger, with two doubles and 3 RBI. And the aforementioned Arencibia came within an eyelash of hitting a grand slam his first time up, only to have the ball caught in a leaping grab at the fence. Had that one cleared, the Rangers catcher would have sat on a 3-hit, 2-home run, 6 RBI game. Baseball is a game of inches, though, and seeing as that first ball was inches short, Choice gets the award by inches.
In the series at Oakland, Shin-Soo Choo went down with a badly sprained ankle trying to beat out an infield hit and proceeded to miss the next six games. What Choo has done since returning to the Rangers line-up is nothing short of sensational. In the just-completed series with the Angels, Choo came to the plate 15 times and reached base 12 of those 15 times. That’s an On Base Percentage of .800 over a 3-game stretch. For the week, Choo went 8-16 at the plate with a home run and 3 RBI. He also walked six times, two of those intentionally, was hit by a pitch twice, stole a base and scored four runs. For the week, Choo hit .500 with a .667 OBP and an OPS (On-Base plus Slugging Percentage) of 1.354. If The 2-3-4 hitters in the Rangers order (Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder) start producing the way they have in the past, this Rangers line-up will be plenty dangerous in the weeks and months to come.
After the Oakland series it was doubtful the Pitching Star of the Week was going to come from the starting rotation. Yu Darvish had the shortest outing of his MLB career on Monday and started his second start of the week against the Angels by giving up solo home runs to two of the first three hitters he faced. Previous 2-time winner Martin Perez came down to earth by a patient A’s line-up that ballooned his ERA northward by over a run in a single outing. Robbie Ross Jr. had his second consecutive poor outing. Colby Lewis did prove pretty effective against the Angels but Matt Harrison laid an egg in his second start off the DL Saturday. The Rangers bullpen had to do an awful lot on the week, accounting for almost half of all the innings pitched for the week. Which brings us to another rookie making a name for himself with Texas: Nick Martinez. Coming into the season, Martinez had pitched only 32 innings as high as the AA level when he earned a starting nod in the Rangers’ 5th game of the season. He returned to AA Frisco after the start, pitched two games and less than ten innings, then returned to the Rangers to fill in as the long reliever, at least until Joe Saunders returned from the DL. After the last week, the question is does Saunders have a place with the Rangers when he’s ready to come off the disabled list? In two games this week against the A’s and the Angels, Martinez threw 7.2 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only four hits and three walks while striking out four batters. The first game was especially welcome to Ron Washington. Yu Darvish had only gone three and a third against the A’s in the first of a 3-game set. Any bullpen breakdown would put the Rangers at a major disadvantage for the rest of the series. After Aaron Poreda finished off the fourth inning for Darvish, Martinez came on and took care of the last five innings of work, allowing the A’s only two hits. He followed that up by again relieving Darvish yesterday and taking care of the last two and a third, falling an out short of qualifying for the rare 3-inning save. Martinez could still find himself back in Frisco soon as the Rangers may prefer he get regular work instead of the inconsistent role of the middle reliever. For now, though, Martinez gets his time in the spotlight here.
The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be
Ending the week at 2-4 is probably more than most of us fans expected after Oakland decimated the Rangers in Arlington, outscoring the guys in the white hats (well, actually the red and sometimes blue caps) by a combined 25-4 score. In Arlington, no less. Texas then went on the road and righted the ship somewhat, taking two of three from the Angels to end the week in second place in the AL West, two games behind the A’s. Had the Rangers lost Sunday’s finale against the Angels, they would have fallen to third place, but a 14-3 smackdown ensured second place for at least another day.
This week just about everyone in MLB plays their “rivalry” interleague series. For the Rangers, this year’s rivalry is with the Colorado Rockies. Texas plays two games in Denver, followed by two games in Arlington. The week ends with three games at home against the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, including former Rangers Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara and A.J. Pierzynski.
The Rockies are a surprising 19-14 on the season and have a lot of offensive fireworks in their line-up, including Troy Tulowitski, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon. The Rangers also will have no DH in the first two games, relegating Mitch Moreland and Michael Choice to the bench. If there’s a bright spot, I really like the way Wash had the starting rotation set up to enter this series. The games in Denver features starts by Martin Perez and Robbie Ross, Jr., two pitchers who get a lot of ground ball outs. In the rarefied air of Coors Field, Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish would find pitching at Coors more problematic. In terms of pitching, the rotation is set up for more success in Colorado. Lewis and Matt Harrison will face the Rockies in Arlington. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will have to face both Darvish and Perez. A 4-3 record or even a 5-2 record on the week is possible if the rotation is as successful as they’ve been set up for.
Elsewhere in the division, the A’s are at home all week against the Mariners and Washington Nationals, the Angels have three at home against the Yankees followed by a 3-game set in Toronto, the Mariners travel to Oakland for 4 then return home for another 4-game set against the Royals, while the lowly Astros take to the road all week with four in Detroit and a 3-game set in Baltimore.