Nothing like being swept at home by the Kansas City Royals to take away the luster of a fine season so far.
The last two home games for the Rangers have been nothing short of putrid. The hitters stopped hitting, the defense stopped playing defense and the pitching on Tuesday was flat-out awful.
Some of this was to be expected. Texas was coming off taking two of three from division rivals the Angels. Following the Royals is a two-game set with the division rival Oakland A’s. Thus, this brief two-game set with KC seemed to be a perfect time to give some regulars a little rest. Ron Washington gave Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli the night off on Monday, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz on Tuesday. Scott Feldman put in a spot start Monday night and pitched rather well, but fell victim to a lack of offense and an uncharacteristic error on a routine play by Adrian Beltre.
If blame can be assigned to Tuesday’s loss, it belongs squarely on Lewis. Not only did he give up lots of hits, he also committed both Rangers errors on the night, the first prolonging the first inning until the Royals had put four runs on the scoreboard. Since starting the season with a 3-0 record in April with a 1.93 ERA, Lewis in May has gone 0-3 with a 6.52 ERA. And it would be worse if not for the fact that five of the seven runs he gave up last night were officially unearned, thanks to his own bonehead plays. It makes one wonder if Lewis’ degenerative hip condition is flaring up again. Whether it is or it isn’t, this bad stretch isn’t likely to make the Rangers front office want to consider keeping him after his contract runs out at the end of the 2012 season.
One can only hope this brief malaise is just a little hiccup as Texas gears up to take on the A’s tonight and tomorrow. If not, this will be one of the more worrisome 23-14 teams out there.
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
Yesterday the rumor mills were ablaze with possibilities of Lance Berkman joining the Rangers.
24 hours later, two deals DID happen, all to provide the Texas Rangers with insurance as we head closer and closer to the post-season.
Texas re-acquired Matt Treanor from the Kansas City Royals, apparently in a straight cash transaction. Treanor was a key member of the 2010 AL Champions who filled in valiantly when Jarrod Saltalamacchia fell out of favor with the organization and Taylor Teagarden struck out more than he put wood on the ball. Treanor was the Rangers’ regular catcher until the acquisition of Bengie Molina. Treanor’s a grinder who gets the utmost from his talent, which is major league minimal, but he’s a great influence in the clubhouse, he’ll work a pitcher for long at-bats and is familiar with the pitching staff. Treanor probably will sniff a Rangers post-season roster only if Mike Napoli or Yorvit Torrealba suffer a late-season injury. Meanwhile, he’ll be able to provide them with the occasional rest day down the stretch.
Acquisition #2 is Orioles southpaw relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez. Again, this is just an insurance policy for the most part. Gonzalez will serve as a left-handed specialist for the next month. He will only make the post-season roster if A) Darren Oliver gets hurt; or B) if the team they’re facing in the playoffs is particularly vulnerable against lefthanders. Otherwise, maybe he’ll make Koji Uehara feel more comfortable being a Ranger, since they were teammates just a month ago. Gonzalez was acquired for the very popular Player To Be Named Later.
Two deals giving the Rangers for post-season options. Now all they have to do is make it to the post-season.
While Elvis irritatingly keeps booting grounders, it was good to see not only a Rangers win for the first time in four games, it was incredibly gratifying to see the performances of both Chrises on the Rangers roster.
The biggest was from Christopher John Wilson. It’s been said often (especially by Rangers fans) that Texas doesn’t have a true Top of the Rotation guy, the stopper who puts an end to losing streaks and sets the tone for the entire staff. One CJ Wilson did his best to put that notion to rest.
Wilson was brilliant in pitching the first Rangers complete game of the season, allowing only six hits, none for extra bases, walking only one and striking out 12. It didn’t start out looking good for Wilson, as he gave up single runs in each of the first two innings, the first off a combination of weak singles and the second due to the now annoyingly obligatory Texas errors (Andrus and Ian Kinsler).
After the second, Wilson was nigh unstoppable, retiring the final 14 batters in order and moving to 4-1 on the season. This is also the third game out of the last four that Wilson has walked only one batter. A year ago, CJ gave up more walks than anyone in the AL.
A year ago, Wilson was “Grasshopper” to Cliff Lee’s Master Po, soaking up knowledge from a pitching master. Those lessons are starting to take root now. Wilson is well on his way to becoming the premier free agent pitcher after this season concludes. He’s made it clear he would love to stay in Texas. Here’s hoping Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan can make it happen.
Meanwhile, Chris Davis had reason to celebrate as well. Davis hit his 40th big league home, but only his second since the end of the 2009 season, to give Texas an insurance run, making it a 4-2 game at the time.
Adrian Beltre is the Texas third baseman for at least the next six years. Mitch Moreland is the lefthanded hitting first baseman and has done nothing to warrant losing the position. Davis, for all his potential, played his way out of the Rangers good graces and is pretty much a dead man walking on the roster, merely filling a space until Josh Hamilton returns from the DL. From there, he’s destined to either return to AAA Round Rock or be used as trade bait.
Davis is a plus defender at both first and third. His problem has always been a big hole in his swing and a failure to hit breaking pitches. As a power hitter, the hole probably will never go away, but if Davis ever learns to lay off some of the breaking balls, he could come back to being a scary big league hitter. Getting a tater off AL Rookie of the Month Michael Pineda was a good start.
Chris Davis might actually have a small window of opportunity with Texas right now. Nelson Cruz is out nursing a tight quad muscle. By necessity, that puts Moreland into the outfield for now, allowing Davis to get a couple consecutive starts at first. Since there doesn’t seem to be much future for him long-term in Texas, every successful at bat not only helps the Rangers in the game, it also enhances his trade value. Keep it up, Chris!
Colby Lewis had his first strong start of the year his last time out against Oakland. He’ll get the ball tonight in the series finale against Seattle. Texas hasn’t won consecutive games since their three game sweep of the Royals a week and a half ago. Sure would be nice to see that happen tonight!
After the euphoric three game home sweep of the Royals, the Rangers celebrated by dropping three of four at home against the Blue Jays, and now three of four on the road to the A’s.
It’s been aparticularly gruesome time to be watching Texas Rangers baseball. The starting pitching that was so strong in the early going has encountered some problems, particularly Matt Harrison or, as one web site so aptly put it, “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Harrison.” As good as Harrison’s first three starts were, his last two have been the polar opposite, including Sunday’s 1 2/3 inning, four run debacle.
It would be easy to lay much of the blame on the lack of Josh Hamilton in the line-up, but the reigning AL MVP doesn’t have anything to do with the Texas defense committing 18 errors in the last 12 games. Even a defensive whiz like Elvis Andrus has been affected. He’s up to 7 errors already on the young season, putting him on pace for almost 40 errors (Elvis had 21 a year ago). As much as I ragged on Michael Young in a previous post for his abysmal D at first base when he plays there, EVERYONE is joing the E parade. Outfielders, infielders, pitchers. If there was a way for the DH to commit an error, right now the Rangers would find a way to do it.
Even without Hamilton, this should be a potent line-up, but the offense is bipolar as well. Sandwiched in between a one and two run performance against the A’s was an 11-run outburst in the second game of the set. The problem has been, outside of Young, nobody is hitting with any consistency, although Elvis is starting to hit a little better. But the biggest culprit to the Rangers offensive inconsistency is Nelson Cruz. The boomstick has fizzled. Since Hambone went down, the Rangers #5 hitter has sputtered, hitting a weak .203 with 26 strikeouts in only 77 at bats. It’s awfully tough to get a sustained rally going when your biggest power hitter is barely contributing.
Still, I take comfort in the following:
1) The Red Sox, who lost three in a row to the Rangers and almost lost three in a row to the Mariners, are an astounding 5-0 against the Angels this year, helping the Rangers stay tied for the AL West top spot at 16-13.
2) That 16-13 record is a game better than the Rangers’ mark a year ago, and we all know where Texas went from there.
3) It’s pretty funny watching the message boards at the other Rangers sites, where the Michael Young haters are really digging deep to explain why the only consistent offensive force right now for Texas is still somebody the team could easily do without. Even I have to admit that, despite his defensive shortcomings, Young played a GREAT defensive game at second base in Monday’s series closing loss.
4) Chris Davis still doesn’t have an RBI for the Rangers this year, but he’s not stinking up the joint in his latest stint. Since striking out in three of his first four at bats, Davis has since gone 4-13 with two doubles, three walks and only two K’s. I still think Texas would be better served with another outfielder on the roster as opposed to Davis, but he is being productive in his limited playing time.
5) Seeing the young pitchers get an opportunity in important situations. Cody Eppley, Ryan Tucker and Pedro Strop have all gotten some meaningful innings. Strop has command issues, but has also gotten out of some jams of his own making. Eppley has given up only a solo home run in his first four appearances. Tucker struck out the side in his first outing against the A’s on Friday and gave up an unearned run in his second outing on Sunday. While the bullpen is in desperate need of Neftali Feliz coming off the DL on Friday to close games out, these three show the loss of Darren O’Day as a 6th/7th inning righthander might not be as severe a loss as initially thought.
6) CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland all had pretty good starts against the A’s. Not great, but pretty good. Harrison has posed a problem, but there’s been good news reported on the rehabbing Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman. Help could be on the way soon.
7) Osama’s gone bye bye.
Three games against the Mariners to close out the road trip. Lay an egg in Seattle and I might not be seeing quite so many silver linings. Still, it’s pretty easy to see that, with better defense and Nelson Cruz coming out of his slump, this team could improve a lot very quickly. It’d be great if it started tonight.
Who knew the way to best way to draw the Rangers out of their lackadaisical play of late would be for the wife and me to take a three day jaunt to Sin City?
That certainly seems to be what happened. I started having a feeling about the weekend when, on Friday, I managed to win an incredible $11 on the quarter slots… and the Rangers scored 11 runs in their 11-6 series opening win over Kansas City. While we were busy enjoying Janet Jackson, Texas was getting into a “Rhythm Nation” groove. Since fans had been saying “Miss You Much” about the offense, the Rangers pounded out 15 hits, including five longballs. “The Pleasure Principle” for Texas fans, for sure!
The lucky streak continued into Saturday, when I added another $4 to my winnings on the nickel slots and the Rangers scored… well, they didn’t get four runs, they scored three in a 3-1 win. But this is Vegas, baby! Things don’t always add up right! All I know is a win is a win and Alexi Ogando once again was sterling in the starting role he was assigned when Tommy Hunter went down in Spring Training. Through four starts, Ogando’s WHIP is a miniscule 0.79. Amazing.
There was no winning for me on Sunday. I gave up all the previous $15 I had won and a little bit more to boot but the Rangers didn’t care, magically securing the sweep with an 8-7 triumph. Must be the magic left over from the Penn & Teller show we saw Saturday night. Thank you, Penn & Teller! The magic bats appeared again, this time to the tune of 11 hits and three home runs, while CJ Wilson worked his prestidigitation on the mound, striking out ten Royals while only issuing one free pass. Over the past two starts, Wilson has walked only two and struck out 19.
All in all, a pretty impressive weekend, made better by the fact that the Angels, who had taken over first place with a win over Texas on Wednesday, proceeded to lose four in a row to the Red Sox team the Rangers swept to open the season. From one game behind to 2 1/2 games up in a span of four days. Very nice.
The weekend was not without trouble spots. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation. Texas insists this was just a precautionary move, but it still is disconcerting. Any shoulder issue has a chance of being something much worse and the Texas relief corps is not a strong suit right now. In addition, as good as he’s hitting right now, Michael Young really has no business playing first base for this team. I can see him backing up Ian Kinsler at second on occasion, but his defense at first is brutal. Young committed his third error at first base in only three games. He’s also not done well on scoops, which I believe has cost the Rangers a couple more errors in the field that they shouldn’t have had. Michael, I implore you, for the good of the team, tell Wash you’ll bypass playing first base!
Going back to the good, rookie Cody Eppley had a spectacular debut with two scoreless innings in Saturday’s game and ancient warriors Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes picked up saves in the last two games of the series.
I’ve spent very little time talking about free agent acquisition Adrian Beltre thus far. The new Rangers 3rd baseman started out slow, but as of this writing, on a team featuring the likes of Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler (and Josh Hamilton when healthy), Beltre finds himself quietly leading the Rangers, and the American League, in home runs and RBI. Pretty impressive. Oh, and he has yet to commit an error in the first 21 games. Someone needs to make up for what we’re seeing from Young at first!
Tough week coming up- the Blue Jays are in town for four, followed by a three game set on the road in Oakland. The Jays gave the Rangers fits in 2010 and have an offense to equal the Rangers. There could be a lot of balls flying out of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this week. Colby Lewis faces Kyle Drabek in the opener. Lewis hasn’t gone more than six innings yet in a start and hasn’t once looked like the pitcher who was so brilliant against the Yankees in the ALCS. Even though we’re back from Vegas, I hope we’re still on a lucky roll.
I’ll say it. At this point of the season, the Angels deserve to be in first place. They’re hitting better, they’re pitching better, they’re playing better defense.
That being said, I still believe the 2011 Rangers are a better team than the Angels and that they’ll prevail once the season ends (barring more injuries). Even in dropping their first two home games of the year, Texas had some positives in the set.
CJ Wilson got some of his mojo back, striking out nine and walking only one in giving up just a single run in the Rangers win in Game 1.
Michael Young is thriving in the 3 hole in place of the injured Josh Hamilton.
Matt Harrison, even in defeat in Game 3, pitched his 4th consecutive quality start. He just had the misfortune of facing the best pitcher in the American League right now in Jered Weaver.
Mitch Moreland continues his steady hitting and Elvis Andrus appears to be coming out of his slump.
What’s Not Working
Unfortunately, too much and just about all of it was shown in the Game 2 15-4 beatdown the Angels inflicted on the Rangers.
On the pitching side, new father Colby Lewis hasn’t looked like the 2010 Colby Lewis all year, Michael Kirkman got shelled and earned a trip back to Round Rock, and Mason Tobin got hurt and may be gone for the season.
For a team that is supposed to play good defense, there’s been some shoddy play out there. Even defensive utility man Andres Blanco dropped an easy pop-up. Mental laziness.
Offensively, Texas is showing no consistency. Nelson Cruz’ boomstick has stopped booming, Ian Kinsler is still struggling, and, outside of Michael Young, nobody seems to be hitting the ball with much authority. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been abysmal lately. To top it off, when runners get on, they’ve been getting picked off. Putrid.
After an off day, the surprising Kansas City Royals come to Arlington. Hopefully the day off will bring some semblance of the defending AL champions back. As it stands right now, this is a team trying to find its identity again.