Tagged: Rays

The Willie Mays Award Ballot

The Rookie. Most players with that designation never amount to much. Some will eventually become utility players or middle relievers, playing for as many as ten different MLB clubs before all is said and done. One or two look to have outstanding careers ahead of them, only to see physical ailments sideline them entirely too soon. For some, it’s a cup of coffee in the majors before returning to a long, unmemorable career in the minors. For a select few, however, it marks the launch of a path to stardom.

Like baseball itself, rookie years are unpredictable. Some of the best rookies never came close to duplicating their first year numbers again. Some superstars had unimpressive first-year campaigns. Where this year’s rookies will end up in the course of a career is anybody’s guess. But here are my votes for the BBA Willie Mays Award for top AL Rookie.

On offense, the main candidates are Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals, JP Arencibia of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mark Trumbo of the LA Angels and the Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. Pitching candidates include Jordan Walden of the Angels, the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton of the Orioles, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda of the Mariners.

By process of elimination, I’m taking out Walden because, even though his ERA was good and he amassed 32 saves, he also blew ten saves, which is far too many in my book. I like Arencibia, who was a pain to Texas pitching this season, but he didn’t bat well against anyone else, ending up at .219. Ackley looks like he’s going to be a star in the AL, but he’s one of those guys who came up a little too late and, with only 90 games, just didn’t play enough to get my consideration.

Michael Pineda had a hot start but cooled off after the All-Star break and then had his innings limited as a precaution. Britton did well to go 11-11 for a last place Orioles team, but the 4.61 ERA kind of dooms him.

That leaves four candidates. Eric Hosmer looks like a future star for the Royals. He wasn’t with the big club from the start of the season, but played regularly once he got the call, appearing in 128 games while compiling a .293 average with 19 HR’s and 78 RBI’s. He had the highest average among rookies with 100+ games.

Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays is the only one of the three still in the post-season. He led all rookies in innings pitched and had the lowest ERA of all rookie starters at 2.95. He amassed 13 wins for the Rays with two complete games and one shutout.

Nova led all rookie pitchers with 16 wins for the Yankees. After a very shaky start and a mid-season demotion to the minors, Nova came back and pitched strong down the stretch, maybe even earning the right to be New York’s #2 starter in the playoffs. He was 3rd among AL rookies in innings pitched.

Mark Trumbo came out of nowhere and was a big reason for the Angels contending in the AL West in 2011. The Halos had been counting on a successful return of Kendrys Morales at first base and were startled when it was determined Morales would miss the entirety of 2011 due to complications from last year’s broken leg injury. Trumbo came in and solidified first base for the Angels, playing in all but 13 games in 2011. Trumbo hit .254 with a rookie class leading 29 longballs and 87 RBI’s.

Since I’m only supposed to vote for 3, I have to take someone off the final list. I’m afraid the loser here is Nova. I take him off only because he was demoted in mid-season, which is not something you would expect to see from someone considered THE top rookie of the year.

That leaves me with three names. My picks are:

1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays

2. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

3. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels

Short & Sweet: Rays 5, Rangers 1

All a Rangers fan can say after dropping a 5-1 decision to the Rays on Labor Day:

If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, at least Texas wouldn’t have to face James Shields again in 2011.

Shields Vs. Texas 2011: 17 IP  8 Hits 1 Run 3 Walks 13 Strikeouts

Goodbye and good riddance Mr. Shields! Oh, and kudos to you. You deserve a much better record than 14-10.

Halo Goodbye: Rangers Take 2 of 3 From Angels

The most beautiful hit of the weekend to me wasn’t any of the hits that led to Nelson Cruz‘ 6 RBI night Friday. It wasn’t the David Murphy grand salami Friday. Or the home runs by Yorvit Torrealba or Josh Hamilton on Sunday. No, much like I’ve always loved the runt of the litter, the most beautiful hit of the weekend was a bad bunt.

In the 7th inning of a 5-5 game, Elvis Andrus decided to sacrifice Ian Kinsler to second to put the go-ahead run into scoring position. Andrus got underneath the ball, popping the bunt in the air. Miraculously, the bunt went just far enough to elude three Angels hoping to catch it for the first out, landed on the infield and, with a nice little piece of backspin, died hugging the first base line. Fair ball. Base hit. End of the night for Jered Weaver. Three more runs would come around to score before the 7th ended and the Rangers won the rubber game of the three game set 8-5, extending their AL West lead to three games with 37 to go.

It was a badly needed win and an improbable one, considering the Halos had staked their ace to a 4-1 lead with runs in each of the first three innings against Colby Lewis. A 3-run lead for Weaver usually means a W in the book for Anaheim. This time, pitching on only three days rest for the first time in his career, Weaver couldn’t hold it, giving up three runs in the 3rd to tie the game at four.

The Angels came back to make it 5-4 in their favor, where it remained until the fateful 7th inning. What was weird was how everything changed in the span of four pitches. The first pitch of the inning was a David Murphy double down the first base line. The second pitch a line single up the middle by Ian Kinsler. The inning’s third pitch was the aforementioned Andrus bunt single, ending Weaver’s night. And Scott Downs’ first pitch to Josh Hamilton made it to the outfield for a single, plating Kinsler with the go-ahead and, as it turned out, winning run.

The game was not without its setbacks. Nelson Cruz, Friday’s star, aggravated a hamstring in the 7th inning rally legging out a double and could be lost to the DL for awhile. Cruz had three DL trips in 2010 and one already in 2011 due to hamstring problems. Fortunately, Adrian Beltre starts a rehab assignment today and could return to the Texas line-up on Thursday.

The middle game of the set was easily CJ Wilson‘s worst pitching performance of the year and perhaps his career. Wilson gave up a career high five home runs as the Angels took the 8-4 decision. Only three days rest didn’t bother Angels starter Ervin Santana, four allowed just four hits, albeit in giving up four runs.

Game 1 was all Rangers, as Derek Holland pitched well and Dan Haren didn’t. Cruz, demoted to the 7 hole in the line-up, came through with 6 RBI and Murphy’s grand slam chased Haren as Texas bashed their way to an 11-1 lead before LA made it look more interesting with 6 runs in the last two innings.

Despite putting one more game of space between themselves and the 2nd place Angels, the next ten games are still a key to securing a playoff spot: three at home against the resurgent Rays, followed by three in Fenway Park against the Red Sox and another three at the Trop in Tampa. Off day today to get some much-needed rest before the Tampa series.

Still not optimistic about a return to the World Series, but feeling a little better about the chances of being in the playoffs again.

Wasted Days & Wasted Nights: Rangers Drop 2 of 3 To Chisox

You can understand the reasons something is done, you can even agree with the reasons something is done and yet, at the same time, you can be incredibly disappointed by the results stemming from those reasons.

Such was the weekend of the Texas Rangers, finishing up their 10-game road trip with three in Chicago against the White Sox. After overcoming an early deficit to take Game 1 on Friday, the team looked listless on Saturday in dropping a 3-2 decision and downright comatose in getting blown out in the finale by a 10-0 count.

It was understandable what Ron Washington was doing with his line-up on Saturday and Sunday. I even agree this was the time to do it. Yet when combined with the Angels sweep of the Orioles, the results of the decision were downright disheartening and threatening to once again make the AL West a real race to the finish.

The line-up decision? With an upcoming home stand against the Red Sox, Angels and Rays, Wash decided the weekend series in Chicago would be an excellent time to give some of his regulars a day off. Thus, Elvis Andrus, Endy Chavez and Yorvit Torrealba were given Saturday’s game off, while Josh Hamilton was given the Sunday day game off.

It makes sense. This is a big home stand coming up, every game against a potential playoff team. It was a perfect time to rest a few regulars. In fact, it might not have been a bad idea to give Ian Kinsler, Michael Young or Nelson Cruz a day off as well.

The losses Saturday and Sunday were understandable in that context. You’ve got a combination of a not optimal line-up with the possible mental letdown following the big four-game set earlier in the week against the Angels. Knowing that still doesn’t negate the uneasiness that comes from seeing your closest rival sweep their opposition at the same time, trimming a comfortable six-game lead to a mere four.

Here’s how the next week and a half shakes out. While the Rangers play the Red Sox in a four game set, the Angels get the White Sox at home. Advantage Angels. The two top teams in the West will then square off against each other for a three game set in Arlington. Slight advantage Rangers. Texas closes out the home stand with three against the Rays while the Angels travel to Seattle. Advantage Angels.

This is a crucial 10-game home stand, if only because the Angels schedule over the same period is against easier competition. Going 5-5 on this home stand might normally be acceptable considering the opposition, but the Angels could easily go 6-2 over the same span and find themselves only two games behind. Go under 5-5, and the Rangers could conceivably find themselves in second place the next time they hit the road.

Let’s just say I sure hope that rest Wash gave some of his players this weekend pays off big starting tonight.

Brain Freezes: Rangers 7-2, Blue Jays 6-5

If you were to conduct a poll of Texas Rangers fans as the month of April comes to a close, you would probably get near unanimous agreement on this statement: The Rangers are the worst first place team in the majors.

 

After dropping three of four to the Blue Jays, it’s easy to see why we’d feel that way. With injuries to Neftali Feliz, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day along with the general ineffectiveness of Mark Lowe and Michael Kirkman, the Texas pitching staff bears little resemblance to the corps that dispatched the Rays in 5 games and the Yankees in 6 to get to their first World Series. Already, the Rangers have used almost as many pitchers in the month of April (17) as they used in the entire 2010 season (22).

 

Offensively, Josh Hamilton has missed half of the first 25 games of the season. Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon are all off to slow starts at the plate. And, as was prominently on display in Thursday’s series wrap-up with the Blue Jays, mental errors have been piling up. Thursday alone, Kinsler missed an easy double play chance, allowing a Jays runner to safely reach second. Fortunately, that didn’t cost the Rangers. It just might have cost them the go-ahead run when Kinsler led off the 5th with a double and promptly got picked off second base. I don’t have the stats, but I know Texas baserunners have been picked off at least four times already this season- David Murphy twice.

 

Nothing topped the mental lapses of the 9th inning Thursday when first, Adrian Beltre committed his first error of the season on an easy grounder, bringing home an insurance run. Then, when time hadn’t been called, the Jays’ Jose Bautista made a mistake taking off for 3rd when it was already occupied. Instead of getting an easy out and getting out of the inning with no further damage done, Darren Oliver threw the ball past second and into center field, allowing the 5th and final run to score.

 

And yet, through all the bleakness, the Rangers are still in first place in the AL West. With a successful West Coast swing for seven games against the A’s and the Mariners, they could even put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.

 

To do that, though, they’ll have to get their heads back into the game. It’s been woefully lacking of late.

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.

Rescue Me: Rangers 10, Yankees 3

Thank you, Bengie Molina and Derek Holland.

The two of you rescued me from the most excrutiatingly boring baseball game I had seen all year. Easily.

Trust me, I would have felt that way if it had been the Rangers in front by one instead of the Yankees going to the top of the 6th. Tuesday’s Game 4 of the ALCS was two hours old and we hadn’t even made it to the halfway mark of the game.

I managed to cook a five-course meal over the course of one half inning.

I started reading “War and Peace” in between Tommy Hunter pitches. I got through half of it by the time Hunter was mercifully pulled.

The tempo of the game started to turn when Derek Holland came in from the bullpen in the 4th. While Tommy Hunter has regressed in two starts of the playoffs to the point where a 2010 13-game winner is now going to enter 2011 as the #5 starter at best, Derek Holland has finally turned a corner in his development.

Who knows whether it’s because he finally just decided to start trusting his catcher or some other lightbulb suddenly went off in his head? Whatever the reason, Holland is finally starting to show the “upside” everyone in the Rangers organization has been talking about for the past three years. Holland has turned in two solid scoreless long-relief outings in the ALCS. He started turning the corner in the ALDS when, after giving up a two-run homer to his second batter, Holland settled down to hold the Rays scoreless for four innings. He has allowed a couple inherited runners to score but otherwise has been solid and is now a favorite to nail down the #4 slot in 2011 (#3 if Cliff Lee isn’t resigned).

While the tempo picked up a bit with Holland on the mound, it still was only good enough to keep me from reading half the time. AJ Burnett matched Hunter’s pace and he lasted two innings longer than Tommy. And one batter too long.

Oh, Yankee Nation will be talking about Joe Girardi’s decision to intentionally walk David Murphy to get to Bengie Molina for a LONG time. Molina finally provided the jolt to bring the game back to something worth watching (not to mention giving the Rangers a 5-3 lead).

By the time the smoke cleared, Texas had scored five more times on the Yankee bullpen, Josh Hamilton had cleared the fences twice and Nelson Cruz went yard big time as well.

All this and I haven’t even said a word about the two disputed home run calls in the 2nd inning (both calls were correct to my mind- Cano had a homer, Berkman did not). Really, all I have to say about it is this: Did you see the guy in the stands giving Nelson Cruz attitude after Cruz complained about interference? I sure wish we could have gotten a shot of his face after Molina’s shot…and Hamilton’s…and Hamilton’s again…and especially after Cruz’, although I have a feeling he wasn’t even in the stadium any more when Cruz added the icing on the cake.

Here’s how I feel bad about the Yankees. I wanted Mark Teixeira to go 0-21 in the ALCS. I wanted to see him fail miserably. But I would NEVER want Tex to have to bow out of a series the way he did. You always want to win a series with your best players against their best players. The Yankees are now missing one of their best players. We’ve won three of the four we need against their best. If and when we get the last one, it’ll be just a little less pleasurable because he won’t be there. Tex, I hope you’re ready and raring to go come April 2011!

Media Alert #1: Don’t be at all surprised if you hear or read someone in the national media say one of the following, either before Game 6 begins this afternoon or in the off day tomorrow (if there is one): 1) How the Rangers are making the Yankees look, well, old; and 2) That some unnamed scout or other sundry baseball insider told them before the ALCS that a Rangers rout was not surprising at all because of this, this and this. In the first case, they’d be making a valid observation. In the second, they’re just trying to make you think they knew something all along when they really didn’t.

Media Alert #2: Some national writers and reporters I don’t give much credence to, mainly because they pull out Example #2 listed above after every big game or series. One reporter who this does NOT apply to is Peter Gammons. Pete’s a pretty sharp guy and he’s usually got a pretty good idea what’s going on in baseball. Yesterday on MLB Radio, Gammons was asked where he thought Cliff Lee would end up in 2011. Gammons thinks Lee stays a Ranger. And he sounds pretty sure of it too.

If not for one bad inning, the Rangers would have swept the Yankees. Still, the toughest win is yet to come. The good news is we have three shots at getting it while the Yankees have to win out without Teixeira on their side. A tall order. Still, New York has Sabathia, Hughes and Pettite going the next three games. Each and every one of them has given the Rangers fits in the past. There’s still one more to get before reaching the Promised Land for the first time. I’m not going to gloat yet.

I do, however, thought it funny when the TBS broadcast team started talking about how the Yankees now want more than anything to face Cliff Lee a second time. Seeing him in Game 7 is the only way they have a chance at the World Series now.