SO LONG AND WELCOME BACK
Another week, another Ranger lands on the disabled list. Alexi Ogando is the latest to join the walking wounded. Things have gotten so bad I’m fully expecting to hear that Luis Ortiz, the Rangers #1 pick in Thursday’s MLB
Draft, will need to undergo Tommy John surgery the day after he signs with the club.
Still, the overall news of the week for the Rangers health is positive. Tanner Scheppers returned from the disabled list Thursday and got thrown right in the fire during the 8th inning of Texas’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Scheppers didn’t look particularly good, giving up a home run to Adam Jones, but he induced a double play to end the 8th with only the solo home run as damage. What was heartening to see was the bullpen line-up after Colby Lewis got pulled following five meh innings: Robbie Ross Jr., Scheppers and Joakim Soria. It was the first time this season the pen had a familiar ring to it. Ross Jr. pitched his best outing in weeks, throwing two shutout innings with no hits and picked up the win when Texas broke a 5-5 tie in the 7th.
Another piece of good news on the health front. Fifth outfielder Jim Adduci is likely to return from his DL stint this weekend against the Cleveland Indians. Adduci was off to a great start in 2014, going six for his first 13 with two doubles and three RBI when he broke his finger on the bag while sliding (or diving). While only the “fifth” outfielder, Adduci is definitely a step up from Daniel Robertson, who failed to tag up at third on a fly to right in Thursday’s game and cost the Rangers a run.
Word has it Neftali Feliz is close to returning to the bullpen as well so, believe it or not, the Rangers are actually getting healthier for a change.
ANOTHER SERIES, ANOTHER FORMER RANGER RETURNS
Tuesday marked the return of Nelson Cruz to Arlington. Cruz hit a home run in Tuesday’s win over Texas but the Rangers held him in check the rest of the series. This weekend another favorite from the World Series teams returns. David Murphy was the fourth outfielder for most of his time in Texas but was the starter in left field in 2013. Now he’s back to being a 4th outfielder with the Indians and once again he’s thriving, hitting .280 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI. To put that in perspective, if Murph was still a Ranger, those numbers would lead the club in RBI and rank third in home runs.
CHOICE HEATING UP?
In the second inning of Thursday’s game against the Orioles, I tweeted that a Michael Choice hot streak would help the Rangers immensely. With Prince Fielder out for the season and Mitch Moreland stuck at two home runs, the Rangers have very little power outside of Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Choice is that potential power bat but he’s been hitting right around the Mendoza line all season long. As if he’d read my time line, Choice went deep for his fourth home run within minutes of that tweet and he added a double for good measure late in the game. Choice is not a great defensive player in the outfield so if he isn’t hitting he really isn’t doing much to help the club win. If Thursday’s game is any indication, Choice just might be getting the hang of this major league hitting thing. If so, the Rangers offense might start scoring runs more consistently.
This should probably wait a few days because there is likely a lot of movement in the Rangers minor league system coming over the next week or two. Still, I feel the need to point out the incredible season being put up by a couple of Rangers’ prospects. Joey Gallo is tearing up the High-A ranks with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Gallo is currently hitting .330 with 21 home runs and 50 RBI. Myrtle Beach is not a hitter’s park. In fact, the entire Myrtle beach roster hit only 64 home runs in the course of the entire season. Gallo is on a pace that would net him 2/3 of the entire 2013 team if he stayed with the Pelicans the whole season. That isn’t going to happen. Gallo may not even play in the Carolina League All-Star game. In just a matter of weeks if not days, expect Gallo at the AA level with the Frisco RoughRiders. The same could be said of Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Last year’s top draft pick is 5-2 with a 2.62 ERA in helping lead the Pelicans to a league best 40-18 record.
On the AA level, looking to get promoted soon is Luke Jackson. The righthander checks in at 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA and could find himself in AAA Round Rock soon. On the hitting side, if Gallo gets promoted as expected to play third base in Frisco, the current third baseman, Ryan Rua, already has a case for promotion to Round Rock as well. Rua is hitting a robust .313 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. Round Rock would certainly welcome Rua and Jackson. The Express are easily the worst team in the Rangers minor league system record-wise, posting a 26-34 mark despite having a roster full of talent with major league experience. Maybe they’re mostly utility player/back of the rotation major league experienced but still, they’ve been to the Show and fans expected more from them.
Of all the players mentioned here, I think Jackson has a shot at being in Arlington before the end of the season. He may just be a September call-up, but he should get a shot before season’s end. Don’t look for Gallo in a major league uniform until the end of next season at the earliest.
Here we are, a week into the baseball season’s second month. Statistics start meaning a little bit more than the first three weeks where a hot or cold streak looks great or horrific on paper but signify nothing more than a hot or cold streak. So far, the Rangers have done about as well as could be expected considering all the injuries they’re up against. Now, however, we’re starting to get more of a feel for this year’s team and, quite frankly, it doesn’t look so good. The offense has been spotty, the pitching is growing more suspect by the day and defense seems a dirty word so the Rangers avoid playing it well at all costs.
There are still a number of Rangers who will be arriving in the coming months to help: Derek Holland, Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto. That’s fine for June and July. The problem is, Texas still has a slew of games to play in May and June before the first reinforcement arrives and this team needs help NOW.
Case in point: When Profar went down with an injury in his throwing arm, the Rangers went with a second base platoon of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy. This looked like another one of Jon Daniels’ genius moves, getting two utility guys on the cheap and having them perform way above expectations. On April 17, the Wilson-Murphy combo was hitting .267 with 4 doubles, 7 RBI, 6 walks, a sacrifice and two sac flies. Since that time, they’ve hit a combined .197 and, while they have one more RBI at 8, they also have 23 strikeouts and just three walks in 71 at bats. In other words, they’re showing us who they’ve always been- spare pieces expected to shoulder more of a load than usual. The Rangers have at least a month left before Profar returns and I’m not even convinced it won’t be even longer period. Wilson and Murphy displaced Adam Rosales and Brent Lillibridge from the roster. Rosales in particular is doing a decent job at AAA Round Rock. He’s now up to .283 on the season with 7 doubles and 5 homers. Rosales has some pop in his bat and can play second, third and first. At this point, he might offer more to the Rangers than they’re getting from Murphy so why not give him a shot?
There aren’t any real solutions in the catching department. Soto is out for at least another month, the catchers at Round Rock aren’t anything to write home about and Jorge Alfaro is probably two years away from the big club. Texas is just going to have to lump it with Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia, unless JD decides to trade for a proven catcher.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff still needs sorting out. While the starting staff is starting to settle down, at least until Holland returns in June or July, it will probably remain inconsistent for a while. Matt Harrison came back from the DL and had one good and one bad start. That will likely continue for the next 4-6 starts as he works his way back. Same thing applies with Colby Lewis. Despite almost two years between big league appearances, he’s performed well overall, but not well enough to guarantee any more than six innings in any start. After an incredibly hot start, Martin Perez has looked awful his last two starts. Robbie Ross has had three consecutive bad outings as well. Veteran Joe Saunders is now on a rehab assignment but you won’t find many Rangers fans waiting for him to return.
One solution is Nick Tepesch. The righthander had a terrible spring and got sent back to the minors midway through Spring Training despite contributing four wins in 17 starts for Texas in 2013. At Round Rock, Tepesch has pitched like the ace of a AAA staff, going 6-1 with a 1.58 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only 9 walks in 38 innings of work. Tepesch has nothing left to prove at AAA and, if anything, is more likely to give the Rangers 7 innings every time out than Robbie Ross will. Ross earned his rotation spot with a strong spring but, like any walk of life, hasn’t proved it lately. Ross has been a valuable bullpen commodity. It’s time he returned there.
Speaking of the bullpen, it has quickly turned from one of the Rangers strong suits to a mess of stinking you know what. Alexi Ogando has gotten overworked and gave up six hits and a walk in just a third of an inning of work in Colorado last night. Ogando has done nothing to sway me from my earlier stated opinion that by seasons end, he will be a non-factor on the Rangers. Also worrisome is Neal Cotts, who thus far (1-2, 5.68 ERA, 3 Blown Saves) has not come close to being the pitcher he was in 2013 (8-3, 1.11 ERA). Because Perez, Lewis, Harrison and Ross haven’t been able to go deep into games, the bullpen is pitching too many innings. If Texas were to bring up Tepesch and send Ross back to relief, it will help settle down a combustible situation. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers will return soon as well and should go back to being the 8th inning guy.
It’s only two players, but adding Rosales for Murphy, then adding Tepesch while moving Ross to relief and placing Ogando on the DL for whatever reason they can come up with, could help this team navigate through a tough month of May in better shape than they’re in now.
WTF (Why The Face?)?
It’s amazing how, in the span of four days, an entire month of pretty good feeling is eviscerated. Such is the case of the 2014 Texas Rangers. After taking the last two games of a three game set with the Chicago White Sox, the Rangers went to Oakland and promptly swept a three game road series with the 2-time defending AL West champions. A 5-game winning streak with a line-up occupied heavily by names such as Wilson, Murphy, Kouzmanoff, Choice and Chirinos and a pitching staff held together with rubber bands and Elmer’s Glue was accomplishing the impossible. Then Kyle Seager followed by a home rematch with the A’s happened. Now the Rangers are reeling, losers of four in a row for the first time this season. Adding insult to injury, not only did Oakland return the favor of a road sweep, they did it in such convincing fashion to make even the hardiest of Rangers fans openly weep in the streets. The A’s played another game of “Who’s Your Daddy?” with Yu Darvish, they not only ended Martin Perez‘ streak of scoreless innings at 26 2/3, they demolished the young southpaw. Then they closed out the old-fashioned butt-whipping with a 12-1 pasting of Robbie Ross with a relatively no-name journeyman pitcher by the name of Jesse Chavez, who was originally drafted by the Rangers.
Now it’s on to Anaheim and the first meeting of the season with the suddenly resurgent Angels. LA is pounding the ball. Albert Pujols is looking like the Albert Pujols of old, Mike Trout is looking like the Mike Trout of always and Howie Kendrick is also hitting a ton. Adopting Murphy’s Law, this of course means the Angels will probably get production this weekend from the likes of David Freese and JB Shuck. The Rangers are “lucky” they don’t have to face CJ Wilson or Jered Weaver this weekend: lucky being in quotes because Texas actually has fared pretty well against them. On the other hand, the Angels are lucky they don’t have to face Martin Perez. They’re further lucky because the first two pitchers they do face, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis, are both coming off injuries that kept them off a mound for a year (Harrison) and a year and a half (Lewis). Texas has the talent to win this series. After the meltdown they had against the A’s, though, have they sufficiently recovered mentally to do the job?
It’s easy to lay blame for the Rangers offensive misfortune at the feet of Prince Fielder. The big guy finished April right about .200 with less than 10 RBI and just two home runs, both solo shots. Still, the big question in Rangers land is what’s going on with Elvis? The Rangers shortstop has never been a power hitter so that isn’t an issue. What he always has been is a slick-fielding shortstop who makes contact at the plate and is especially dangerous with runners in scoring position. The Elvis we’re seeing now is in a 3-35 slump and has already committed seven errors in only 28 games after committing only 14 errors in all of 2013. Fourteen of his last 20 at bats have resulted in groundouts. Shin-Soo Choo is doing a great job at the top of the line-up getting on base. Elvis isn’t moving him along. Thus far, Elvis isn’t sacrifice bunting as much as he did with Ian Kinsler ahead of him in the batting order. Maybe not bunting is affecting his mentality at the plate a bit. Without Andrus moving Choo along, Fielder and Adrian Beltre have less chances to knock him in. And, with two journeymen occupying second base for another month and Fielder not a great defensive presence at first base, the pitching staff needs Elvis to at his best defensively. This is a situation that needs straightening out fast!
You would think the rotation is pretty well settled now. There’s no moving Yu Darvish and Martin Perez out of the mix, Matt Harrison’s first start off the DL showed signs of his being the Matt Harrison of old and Colby Lewis, while not pitching more than five innings in his first few starts, certainly has what it takes to be the Rangers’ #5. Up until Wednesday, Robbie Ross looked like he was a rotation lock as well. The A’s torched Ross for eight runs , six earned, on eleven hits in just 3 1/3 innings. In his last start against Seattle, he gave up just two runs in six innings but also hit three batters. Meanwhile, Nick Tepesch has performed brilliantly for AAA Round Rock. Tepesch is now 5-1 for the Express with a 1.59 ERA, a .207 Batting Average Against and a 13-inning scoreless streak. Derek Holland will be ready to go in about a month and the Rangers bullpen is short a lefthander. It would make some sense for Ross to return to the pen and the Rangers to bring Tepesch up from Round Rock to take Ross’ place in the rotation. When Holland returns, if Lewis is still only able to give Texas five innings every time out, Tepesch could replace Lewis, who would then become the Rangers long reliever. I don’t think this is going to happen before Ross’ next start, but I bet it’s something the front office is considering.
Down On The Farm
The Texas minor league guys are doing a pretty decent job thus far. AAA Round Rock sits at 15-12, tied for first in the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division. Despite an excellent 17-10 overall mark, the AA Frisco RoughRiders sit a half game behind the Midland Rockhounds in the South Division of the Texas League. In High A, Joey Gallo‘s ten home runs gives him a tie for the overall minor league lead and his Myrtle Beach Pelicans are a game up on Salem in the South Division of the Carolina League at 16-9. Finally, the Hickory Crawdads of the Class A South Atlantic League are the only Rangers affiliate sitting below .500. The Crawdads are 12-13 and in 4th place in the Sally League’s Northern Division, 7 games behind my original hometown team, the Hagerstown Suns.
When the Texas Rangers take on the Philadelphia Phillies today in the season opener for both teams, the Rangers Opening Day 25-man roster includes 17 players who were NOT on the Rangers Opening Day roster just one year ago today. The only holdovers? Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.
Part of the turnover is due to the current length of the Rangers disabled list. Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto were all on the 2013 roster when the Rangers played the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball. Still, that’s a better than 50% turnover of the roster in just one year’s time.
Of the Rangers 2010 squad that appeared in the World Series for the first time, only Andrus, Moreland and Ogando are on the Opening Day roster in 2014.
From the 2011 World Series team, you can add Adrian Beltre to the list.
Even accounting for the players currently disabled and expected back this year (Harrison, Holland and Colby Lewis), the 2014 Rangers bear only the vaguest resemblance to the team that came within an eyelash of being the 2011 World Champions. Still, this is a team that has playoff aspirations. If the injury bug that him them in Spring Training gets fixed and remains fixed, maybe they can do it. We just don’t know. To borrow a cliché, that’s why they play the games.
#1 of 162 begins today. Time to find out what these 25 guys, including the 17 newcomers, have got.
That’s a possibility for the Rangers come Opening Day against the Phillies on March 31st. We know for a fact Jurickson Profar won’t man second base for the first game, or the second, probably not for the first 81 games. Profar got diagnosed with a torn muscle in his shoulder and will miss 10-12 weeks.
Meanwhile his middle infield partner, Elvis Andrus, is still experiencing soreness on his throwing arm. He is currently DH-ing and isn’t supposed to throw until this weekend’s final exhibition games in San Antonio, cutting the margin extremely close for the opener.
The Opening Day starter, Yu Darvish, got scratched from his last start because of a sore neck. He insisted it wasn’t an issue but the word out of Rangers camp Sunday made it sound like it hasn’t cleared up as much as he’d like.
Who will start Opening Day? For sure not Profar. Maybe not Andrus. Maybe not Mitch Moreland, still getting over and oblique strain. Maybe not Darvish. Maybe not Shin-Soo Choo, who still has left elbow soreness. Maybe not Geovany Soto, who got pulled in the first inning of Sunday’s exhibition when his leg locked up.
Let’s make matters even worse, shall we? The Rangers announced Friday Tanner Scheppers had earned a spot in the rotation and Joakim Soria will be the closer, making it a four-way battle for the last two rotation spots between Tommy Hanson, Joe Saunders, Colby Lewis and Robbie Ross. So what happens? Hanson starts on Saturday and gives up 7 runs in 5.2 innings. Advantage Saunders, right? Wrong! Saunders started Sunday and couldn’t even make it through two innings, giving up 9 runs in an inning and a third. Ross has pitched well enough to earn a rotation slot. I’ve always loved Colby Lewis but this is a guy coming off a hip replacement whose last two starts have come in minor league games. That makes the starting rotation Proven Commodity with a sore neck (Darvish), Second Year Starter who may or may not have a sophomore slump (Martin Perez), Former Reliever (Scheppers), Former Reliever (Ross) and Hip Replacement Guy (Lewis). One of them will get replaced in a few weeks by Missed All But Two Starts Last Year Guy (Matt Harrison). So there’s no concern about the starting rotation, right?
You sense a trend here? Opening Day for the first time in five seasons is filling me with dread. The optimism just isn’t there now. The Rangers have a lot of depth in the minor league system but there’s not much there now at the big league level. That’s why we have a possible starting middle infield of Adam Rosales and Josh Wilson.
A national beat writer wrote last night the Rangers wouldn’t miss a beat at second base if they start rookie Rougned Odor while Profar is on the mend. Odor is one of the Rangers top prospects, a player Rangers minor league analyst Scott Lucas says just has “that look” about him. Maybe so but he also has only 134 at bats at the Double A level. Is he ready for that big a leap? And if he succeeds, what then? Now there’s another logjam in the middle infield with three quality players for two positions.
I’m not totally against the idea of Odor playing at the big league level. He may already offer more than Rosales or Brent Lillibridge over the next three months. Or he could flame out spectacularly, which is why someone like Rosales or Lillibridge could be the stopgap measure. We know they won’t add much, but as veterans, their output is more of a known commodity. Also to be considered is if Odor hits the big stage, that accelerates his free agency timetable by at least a year. Is the front office willing to risk that year right now?
Only a week to go before Opening Day and there are still a lot of decisions to be made.
Here’s a wrap-up of the past week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.
Rangers Record: 7-0
Overall: 91-71 (2nd Place AL West) (-5)
Craig Gentry .391/.462/.435, 1 Double, 3 RBI, 6 Stolen Bases
Alex Rios .346/.357/.654 3 Doubles, 1 Triple, 1 Home Run, 8 RBI, 3 Stolen Bases
Mitch Moreland .200/.333/.200
Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching):
Raspa Frio (Pitching):
Alexi Ogando 3 Runs, 8 Hits Allowed in 5.1 Innings Pitched
The Texas Rangers have not qualified for the post-season, but thanks to an incredible last week of the season, they are guaranteed a 163rd game.
Say what you will about Texas getting to stay home the entire last week of the season to face the only two teams they dominated all season, they still needed every one of the seven straight wins they put together on the week to qualify for even this 163rd game. The Monday night match-up with the Tampa Bay Rays is not officially a play-off game, it’s actually a regular season game, with all stats counting towards the regular season total. Win tonight and THEN the Rangers can say they’ve made the post-season for the 4th year in a row.
Even with a 7-0 week, the Rangers weren’t the hottest team in the American League. That honor went to the Wild Card bound Cleveland Indians, who will take on the winner of tonight’s Texas-Tampa Bay game on Wednesday while riding a 9 game winning streak. The Indians dominated their week against the two lowest-ranked teams in the AL Central and Minnesota in particular seemed to just roll over against the hot Tribe. By the way, I want to meet the guy who could have said with certainty four months ago that the Indians would make the playoffs sporting a rotation that included Ubaldo Jiminez and Scott Kazmir.
Thanks to the Rays dropping two of their three games with the Blue Jays, the Rangers get to play the Rays tonight with rookie Martin Perez getting the start against David Price. The game will see the return of Nelson Cruz, who has now finished serving his 50-game Biogenesis-related suspension. Cruz will likely be the DH against the Rays. If Texas loses tonight, Cruz will be back for one game and then possibly no longer be a Ranger, as he heads into free agency after the season.
Seven days ago, I didn’t think I’d have anything more to write about in terms of play on the field after today’s wrap-up of the week. I am happy to say I will have more to write, at least for another day.
Here’s a wrap-up of the past week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.
Rangers Record: 4-2
Overall: 79-57 (1st Place AL West) (+1)
Elvis Andrus .421/.450/.474 1 Double, 4 RBI
Ian Kinsler .360/.385/.400 1 Double, 3 Stolen Bases
Jurickson Profar .174/.240/.348 (But he did have a home run)
Leonys Martin .174/.208/.304 (But he did have a home run and 5 RBI)
Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching):
Raspa Frio (Pitching):
Travis Blackley 5.23 ERA 6 Earned Runs in 10.1 Innings Pitched
It was a wasted week. Again. Once again the Rangers had a winning week at 4-2, but this time they lost a game and a half in the standings. Texas followed up a great road sweep of the Mariners only to come home and lay an egg in front of the home crowd against the lowly Minnesota Twins. Meanwhile, the second place A’s proved they’re up to the task of repeating as AL West champions by taking three out of four from the Detroit Tigers ON THE ROAD, then came home and swept the Wild Card-contending Tampa Bay Rays. Ron Washington is always quick to say his team can’t worry about what other teams are doing. If they take care of their own business, everything will be OK. Against the Twins, Texas didn’t take care of their own business.
Rangers Hall of Famer Jim Sundberg tweeted over the weekend that, with big series coming up, it’s natural for contending teams to look ahead a bit. I hope that’s the case because the Rangers and A’s are head to head the next three days and Texas needs to bring its A game (or A’s game, as it were). I stated last week it was important for Texas to go into September with a 4 game or more lead because the schedule this month favors the A’s. With a one game lead today instead of four you can officially label me as skeptical about my team winning the West in 2013. This week, it’s six games on the West Coast: three at Oakland followed by three games at Los Angeles. Oakland is at home all week against the Rangers and the Astros. Texas needs to take two of three against Oakland and, dare I say it, sweep the Angels. Anything less and this time next week I’ll probably be talking about the second place Rangers. I hate to talk about the second place Rangers.
On the positive side, welcome back Neftali Feliz! The man whose image is indelibly frozen in my brain when he struck A-Rod out looking to end the 2010 ALCS and send the Rangers to their first World Series returned to Texas Sunday after the long recovery from Tommy John surgery. Feliz threw two scoreless innings against the Twins. His velocity isn’t where it was a couple of years ago but he mixed his pitches well. I’ll pit the Rangers bullpen against just about any team in baseball. The offense is another question altogether,