Tagged: Phillies

Opening Day Eve: Random Thoughts

While thinking of story ideas, so many random thoughts came to mind now that the regular season is upon us, it’s time for one of those hodgepodge columns with no defining topic…

  • In the Rangers last exhibition game against AAA Round Rock, Darren O’Day gave up yet another home run. That’s six now in his last 9 Spring Training innings and 12 HR in his last 22 innings, including the regular season and post-season of 2010. This is one pitcher I’m VERY worried about.
  • Key to the 2011 season? Let’s take injuries out of the equation. All teams have to deal with injuries. So, assuming a relatively injury-free year, the biggest key is Derek Holland. I see Colby Lewis having a better year than 2010, CJ Wilson an equal or slightly lower year. For his third go-round with the big club, it’s time for Holland to put it together. We’ve seen some tantalizingly good games from Derek, but it’s been more like three average to subpar outings for every great one. It HAS to turn around in the other direction for the Rangers to repeat in the West.
  • As if the feeling that the starting pitching depth isn’t as good as initially thought wasn’t bad enough, Michael Kirkman only lasted an inning and a third in the exhibition game last night. Kirkman left after taking a Nelson Cruz line drive to the elbow. Kirkman doesn’t think it’s anything for than a giant owwie, but it sure doesn’t help in the peace of mind department.
  • Second key to the 2011 season: Elvis Andrus in the 2 hole. He led the team in batting average with runners in scoring position in 2010. He’s good at bunting guys over to second and he’s a decent contact hitter. Unfortunately, Andrus had the lowest number of extra base hits of any everyday player in baseball last year as well. Maybe it was because he knew as the leadoff guy in 2010, the Rangers didn’t want power from him, just for him to get on base. Still, like Holland, Andrus HAS to step up his offensive game or he won’t be in the two hole for long.
  • I’ve been antsy all week waiting for the season to start. Will be in Arlington on Saturday with my oldest to see the Rangers get their AmericanLeague Championship rings before Colby Lewis matches up with John Lackey. Lackey played junior college ball right up the road from Dallas at Grayson County College in the Sherman-Denison area. The Rangers have a pretty good track record against Lackey over the past few years. I hope that continues on Saturday.
  • 18-Year-Ranger-Fan plans to see two of the three games between the Rangers and Orioles in Baltimore next week, along with Ranger Fan-In-Law. He’s also excited to see the Rangers High-A club in Myrtle Beach, as he’ll get a chance to see the Pelicans when they visit his hometown Frederick Keys this season. Looking forward to his reports this year as well.
  • Prediction 1: The Astros are my pick for the surprise team in baseball this year. They did pretty well after Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman left last year. A bunch of young, hungry, unknown players. Even if the finish somewhere around 78-84, that would be more than many are expecting of them. I’ll also be interested in seeing how Clint Hurdle does managing the Pirates.
  • Prediction 2: The Phillies may win the NL East, but they won’t be as good as people think they’ll be with that starting staff. I’m guessing the absence of Chase Uttley is going to hurt the offense more than thought, making for a lot of low-scoring games for the Phils this year. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves nose ’em out for the division title.
  • I already miss Matt Treanor. I just looked at the roster the Royals are heading into 2011 with and I’m willing to bet Treanor misses the Rangers just as much right around now. KC is supposed to be very close to having a contending team, with a whole slew of young bucks ready to hit the big time. Let’s just say they haven’t arrived on 3/31/11.
  • I read a fan poster the other day who opines that when Jason Kendall comes off the Royals DL, Treanor will come back to the Rangers as the “player to be named” in the trade a couple weeks ago of minor league infielder Johnny Whittleman. I can actually see that happening.

 

    The regular season has arrived. Here’s hoping the expected bad weather doesn’t cause postponements of any of the six openers today.

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The Third Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 Hours Later.

In the afterglow of seeing the team I wanted to win the Super Bowl succeed in doing so, combined with the luck of winning the office numbers pool in said game, comes the first official word that Michael Young has told the Rangers he is unhappy with his role on the 2011 club and feels moving on will be in his best interests.

Just a day ago, I expounded on all the speculation concerning a Young deal, how there were no hard facts and, particularly, no word from the man himself on such a deal.

Now, the Fort Worth Star Telegram is reporting Young has made his feelings known to the Rangers brass and a trade is being pursued.

Looking at other fan sites as I do, there seems to be a pretty even split amongst Rangers fans about Michael Young. They even seem to resemble opinions of the George W. Bush administration- those on Young’s side love him and feel he can do no wrong and the others hate him (many amongst the SABR community seem to make a case for Young being one of the most over-rated players in history).

I’m on the side of being for Young, but perhaps on the more moderate side. I admire Young and feel he has a lot left in the tank, but I also would welcome a trade IF it goes to improving this club for 2011. And in this case, I don’t think it will.

Young demanding a trade puts the Rangers in a position of weakness. They would have to settle for less than what they should get for a player of Young’s caliber AND will have to eat a good portion of his $16 million dollar a year salary over the next three years to boot. Not a win-win situation, is it?

I can understand Young’s position- he still sees himself as an asset on the field, being a fulltime DH now could affect how much he could get in his next contract three years from now, maybe even feeling disrespected by the Rangers front office- but that doesn’t make me any more anxious or willing to trade him.

Some say leadership on a team is over-rated. I disagree. Since businesses always use sports analogies, I’ll use a business analogy. I could have a great boss- someone who keeps me motivated and helps me enjoy working for the company- but sometimes you need that person in your own ranks who does the stuff the boss wants you to do that you really don’t want to do. They do it, they do it without complaint and help you see how that helped the company. That is Michael Young.

If Young indeed is traded, I don’t see the people on the 2011 roster who will be that guy for the Rangers. Josh Hamilton is the bona-fide star of the team, but he doesn’t embrace that leadership role. I think he doesn’t have to change much to be the true leader on this team, but I can’t help but think Josh has a mental block that he wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be followed because of his past. Elvis Andrus is said to have leadership qualities, but he’s still too young for the job (no pun intended). The next closest I see to that type of leader is Matt Treanor, a career back-up.

What worries me is the leadership void that losing Young (and Vlad Guerrero before him) and the effect that will have on the team as it tries to defend its first AL Championship. Replacing Young and Guerrero is more than replacing the numbers they put up in 2010. Even if we replace the numbers, this year’s Rangers might not have what it takes. And that would be a shame.

NOTE ON A PREVIOUS POST: A couple weeks ago, I expounded on the case of non-Ranger and minor league free agent Matt Miller and how I hoped he would find a taker considering his minor league numbers. Turns out he was no longer a free agent at all. Despite my constant searches online (sometimes it’s not as easy to find stuff as you think), it was only two days ago I discovered Miller had signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in November. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a 40-Man roster slot, but the Phillies aren’t deep in the outfield slots so he could get a chance with a strong Spring Training.

Poker Face

Can’t read my, can’t read my

No he can’t read my poker face

You’ve got to give the Philadelphia Phillies credit. In the high stake poker game for Cliff Lee, while the Rangers and Yankees were staring each other in the face, raising and calling, the Phillies were the ones holding the cards and claimed the biggest chip of the free agent market in Cliff Lee.

Most of us used to hearing about the annual sweepstakes involving Scott Boras clients had learned to discount any time a “mystery team” was mentioned as getting involved. This is a favorite Boras ploy to get the real teams in the running to up their bids to his client. So when a “mystery team” was proclaimed in the press concerning Lee, I know I took it with a massive grain of salt. Who’d a thunk this time there actually was a “mystery team“?

While I’m saddened to see Lee go, I think I am like most Rangers fans in saying if we couldn’t get him, at least A) he’s not going to the Yankees and B) he’s going to another league.

We will thank him for what he did in helping the Rangers achieve their first ever World Series appearance. I’m sure his former teammates will want to socialize with him when they visit Philadelphia during interleague play in June 2011. If those games were played in Arlington, the fans would probably cheer him in his first appearance, much as the Angels did for Vlad Guerrero 2010. If that game were to be a World Series game, though, all bets would be off.

There are strange things to consider in all of this. By all accounts, the Rangers and Yankees were close enough on the money, but Lee wanted a 7th year from the Rangers and the Rangers wouldn’t do it. Yet Lee turned around and accepted a five year contract with the Phillies. On the Philadelphia end, this is a team that traded Lee to Seattle a year ago because they didn’t want to pay him $100 million, yet a year later they sign him for $120 million.

I’m really of the opinion that Lee took the Lebron James approach to things. If what has been reported is correct (and there’s so much speculation involved by reporters in these things that you never know if it is), then the Yankees and Rangers were the only serious suitors for Lee’s services and it was Lee himself who reached out to the Phillies.

In free agency, it’s usually reported that the teams are the ones who approach the agent and say we’re interested in your guy. That’s probably why the money usually wins out (and thus, the Yankees usually win out). But what if the high profile free agents like Lee suddenly say, “Let’s call that team” on a regular basis. We could see a major shift in baseball’s power balance much the way the NBA has with the recent Lebron James/Chris Bosh move to the Heat and Carmelo Anthony’s insistence of not playing for anyone else but the Knicks if he leaves Denver.

You have to envy Lee’s position. Not only is he getting the payday he’s been waiting for, he doesn’t have to be “THE GUY” for the team he signed with. With the Phillies, he doesn’t have to be the ace. That’s Roy Halladay’s job. In fact, he could even cede the #2 role to Roy Oswalt and be the most expensive #3 starter in baseball.

One caveat, though: For all those already anointing the Phillies as the probable 2011 champs, remember this. Following the free agent season of 2010, after the Winter Meetings and all the off-season trades and signings, does anyone remember who most of the sports pundits congratulated for improving their teams the most? The Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles, that’s who. The Mariners were even the cover story for ESPN The Magazine’s baseball preview issue. As the old saying goes, that’s why they play the games.

Where my Rangers go from here, who knows? They still have to address the DH issue, with popular opinion being the re-signing of Vlad Guerrero. They’re constantly mentioned as possible trade partners for Matt Garza or Zach Greinke. And Adrian Beltre is a name being mentioned more and more, although I can’t see that happening unless Michael Young is willing to become a full time DH or a former Ranger, both of which I find highly unlikely.

There’s still a lot of off-season to play out. These games can be just as fun as the real ones to follow!

Gearing Up For Wednesday

So it’s the Rangers and the Giants for all the marbles and here’s a new twist- my beloved Rangers are going into a playoff series as the FAVORITE!

I don’t think the Rangers have EVER been favored in a playoff series, unless they were tabbed to win their first ever appearance in 1996, a year in which they beat the Yankees in the regular season.

The question is, how will the Rangers respond as the favorites?

Being picked to win can sometimes have an adverse mental effect on a team. It can allow them to get overconfident and just expect to win instead of going out and doing the work to make it happen. Some say that’s what happened to the Yankees in the ALCS.

For this group? I don’t think so. To a man, this team talks about the last game being over, it’s time to focus on this one.

Another adverse effect is the “First Time World Series” syndrome. This is when a team is so star struck by being in the championship round they get sidetracked by all the media attention. Examples here would be the Astros in 2005, the Rockies in 2007 and maybe even the Rays in 2008. All were on hot streaks going into the WS and were disposed of in short order in the Big One.

I would be more worried about this if the Rangers were playing the Phillies, since they’d be the big boys in the Big Show for the 3rd straight year. Instead, it’s the Giants who are here. That’s not meant to disparage the Giants, it just puts them in the same boat as Texas. As a result, I don’t think we’ll see either team in awe of their surroundings.

From a TV standpoint, this is the worst of the 4 possible scenarios for World Series participants. We just have to accept that Yankees-Phillies is what Fox was most hoping for, followed by Yankees-Giants, Phillies-Rangers and Rangers-Giants. It’s true. Ratings nationwide would have been higher for Yankees-Phillies than they’ll be for this one. But at least Fox can be grateful it didn’t end up a Twins-Reds Series. That would have been ratings poison. Again, not throwing darts at other teams. They all are talented and earned playoff berths. They just don’t translate right now into nationwide ratings winners.

On the face of it, the Rangers should be favored. Offensively, they have a lot more firepower than the Giants. Starting pitching is pretty equal, if not in favor of the Rangers slightly. Defense is about equal. Relief pitching gives a slight edge to the Giants.

Pitching and defense, they say, win championships. I think the Rangers have enough of both to win it all, but I do have great respect for the Giants pitching. Seeing their relief corps throw six plus innings of scoreless ball against arguably the National League’s most potent offensive team sure makes you take notice.

Tim Lincecum-Cliff Lee in Games 1 & 5 could be all time classic duels.

Texas will also be at a disadvantage when they play in San Francisco. The choice is either to sit Vlad Guerrero with no DH or play him in right field, where he’s not bad, just slow enough to be a bit of a liability. This also leaves a capable left-handed bat in David Murphy on the bench.

This will not be a cakewalk. Still, I have to go with my boys and say Rangers in 6.

The Morning After

alcsnumber6204.jpgAll photos from The Associated Press.

After a celebratory night, I can now write a little bit about Friday night’s pennant clinching victory.

During the course of the day, I was astounded by how many people told me emphatically that the Rangers would win Game 6. People at my office, people at my wife’s office, my kids, everyone seemed more sure than I of a Rangers win.

Being so used to this team not performing to expectations, I was having visions of Phil Hughes pitching the way he has before against Texas instead of the way he pitched in Game 2. And, I had seen Colby Lewis so many times in July and August get little run support and end up giving up the first runs. Those runs often turned out to be the winning runs. All I could do was hope against hope for a similar result to Game 2.

It started right off the bat, with an Elvis Andrus double, a Josh Hamilton single and a Vlad Guerrero groundout, his first RBI of the ALCS, in the bottom of the 1st.

I started feeling better. Unfortunately, the Rangers stopped hitting after that. Hughes didn’t allow any hits in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Lewis was matching Hughes, actually having a no-no through 4. Still, the Yankees were hitting some incredible shots, just right at people. Andrus skyed like Kobe Bryant to snag one sure double to end an inning. Ian Kinsler scooped up a hot Robinson Cano shot to turn an inning-ending double play and there were a couple of warning track shots as well.

When it was still 1-0 going to the 5th, I was getting worried. It didn’t help my mood that Michael Young came up twice to that point with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs and not only couldn’t cash in the run, he couldn’t advance the runner, either. Then the Yankees started intentionally walking Hamilton, daring Guerrero to beat them instead. Vlad failed to deliver.

Finally, the Yankees got some hits and tied the game at 1 in the 5th. Texas had Derek Holland warming in the pen. It looked like Lewis might be done. That sinking feeling was hitting me big time. Cliff Lee or not, I really didn’t want there to be a Game 7, but it was looking like the defending champs were gaining momentum.

Lewis managed to work out of the jam with no further scoring when he struck out Marcus Thames with a runner on second. Tie game.

Now the question was, could Phil Hughes have a shutdown inning? He hadn’t given up a hit since the first. Mitch Moreland started it off with a grounder deep in the hole to Cano. Hughes didn’t get to the bag in time and Moreland was on. An Andrus groundout with Moreland going put a runner on second with one out. Again, Michael Young came up with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs. Again, Young didn’t get a hit. Again, an intentional pass to Hambone to bring up Vlad.

Different result.

Guerrero sent a deep shot to left center, scoring Moreland and Hamilton and the Rangers were back on top 3-1. Phil Hughes’ night was over. David Robertson came in and, after five straight curveballs, threw Nelson Cruz a fastball that was promptly deposited into the left center field seats. 5-1 Rangers.

That sinking feeling was gone. We were really going to win this thing! Lewis worked a 1-2-3 6th inning. Feeling better.

I knew for sure it was over in the top of the 7th. Robinson Cano, who had killed Rangers pitching the entire series, not only struck out, he did it badly on a curve in the dirt. The life was gone from the 2009 champs.

Lewis came back for the 8th and, with one walk included, struck out the side to end his night: 8 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks and 7 K’s.

Neftali Feliz came in to pitch the 9th and how fitting was it for Rangers fans for the game to end with Alex Rodriguez taking a called third strike?

alcsnumber6208.jpgA-Rod, whom the Rangers signed for that mammoth quarter billion dollar contract in 2003. The one who was supposed to take the Rangers to the Promised Land. To be fair, any player would have taken the contract. It was former owner Tom Hicks who overspent on A-Rod, thus handcuffing the team for years from making significant free agent investments. Still, Rodriguez’ comments when he left the Rangers about how it was him “and a bunch of kids” left a sour taste in Rangers fans’ mouths.

Well, guess what, folks? A-Rod really did lead the Rangers to the Promised Land. He just did it with a strikeout instead of a home run!

Hamilton was given the ALCS MVP award. He had a great ALCS and his 5 intentional walks in the series (3 in Game 6 alone) is certainly all the proof one needs for Josh to win the AL MVP Award this year. Still, I think I would have given the award to Andrus. Elvis was a key in every early offensive rally the Rangers had this series. He had a hit in every game, his baserunning disrupted the Yankees from the get go and he made some incredible plays defensively, including the force out at 3rd in Game 4 that kept the Yankees from having a big inning. I’m happy for Hamilton, though.

And how about the whole concept of “TEAM” shown in the post-game show. When they interviewed GM Jon Daniels about “HIS” success, Daniels immediately pointed to the scouts and advance men under his wing, singling them out for praise first. When Hamilton was awarded the MVP, you could see him mouth to someone (or to the entire team) “You deserve this.” He then thanked God and Jesus first, and made it all about the team second before even talking about himself. How refreshing in these days of spoiled athletes!

There’s only one thing I regret about the ALCS. It sure would have been nice to see Andres Blanco get into a game. Blanco has been with the team from the start of the season and really earned his spot on the post-season roster when he filled in for Ian Kinsler so ably on his second trip to the DL. I sure hope Blanco gets some AB’s in the Fall Classic.

All that’s left to decide now is who the Rangers will be playing. Both the Phillies and the Giants have great pitching staffs. The Phillies have the better offensive team. Despite the bats, though, I’d have to say my choice is Philly. The reason? Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Two possible Hall of Famers. Tough as they come. Still, the Rangers know both of those pitchers a lot better than they know the Giants Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and company. The Rangers have faced Halladay, Oswalt and Brad Lidge many a time over the years and will be able to game plan against them better.

In the end, though, it matters not who they face. What matters is THE TEXAS RANGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!!!

alcsnumber6203.jpg

The Seamy Side of the World Series

Seeing my Rangers live in the Fall Classic is one of those items on my Bucket List. After much discussion with Mrs. Mariner Fan/Ranger Fan, we decided to take the opportunity when it presented itself. Thus, we are now the proud owners of two tickets to Game 5 of the World Series, should the Rangers be so fortunate to beat the Yankees and make it that far.

If that happens, there will be no happier person at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington than yours truly. I will be as loud as my voice will allow me for as long as it will allow me to. It will certainly go down as one of the best moments of my lifetime, one I’ve waited 40 long years for.

That being said, I have to say I am disappointed how much I am paying for this privilige. This is actually said not to disparage the Rangers front office or even Major League Baseball. It has to do with the companies that specialize in reselling.

I’m sorry, but reselling companies are worse than scalpers. I dutifully logged on to the Rangers web site this morning and sat in a “virtual waiting room” for close to an hour and a half, trying to procure tickets for Game 4. As I sat watching a page that refreshed every 15 seconds, I was first informed only single seat tickets for Game 3 and 4 were available about 45 minutes in. Soon after, a message said only single seat tickets were available to all three games. Next came word Games 3 & 4 were totally sold out. And finally, all three games were sold out. I was left out in the cold.

As I sat fretting, my wife called 17-Year-Ranger-Fan, who did his own search. He found tickets for Game 5 and we bought them- at four times the face value of the ticket!

I don’t mind making Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan rich. They own the team that has given me an almost infinite number of thrills this season. They deserve my money. Sadly, some company not affiliated with the Rangers is going to make the biggest profits over my attendence. This company probably cares not one whit about Texas Rangers baseball or its fans. Four times the face value of the ticket. Just imagine the profit margin that company is making.

This is a problem with no easy solution. I know many ticket companies contract with ball clubs to sell tickets all the time, so this one probably has a deal with the Rangers that entails Texas giving them x number of tickets to sell. So the Rangers are making some money on the deal.

There are also most likely representatives of some of these companies that park themselves outside the stadium to buy even more blocks of tickets for the games. In the end, your average Joe fans like me, going about things the right way, end up high and dry unless they’re willing to pay the resellers’ price.

People are entitled to make a buck in our capitalistic society. I don’t have any problem with that. I just wish there was a way to make events like this a little more equitable to the cunsumers instead of the companies.

Incredibly, I’m lucky to be paying the price we paid to see a game in Arlington. I understand the same seats in Philadelphia are twice THAT price. That would be eight times face value.

For the chance of seeing my team one time in the World Series after 40 years of being a fan, it’s a price I’m willing (and fortunately able) to pay. But is it worth the price I’m paying?

I wish it were possible to make me four times happier when I’m there.