Tagged: Tigers

Best. Road Trip. Ever.

8-1. The Rangers first road trip of 2012 was the best in their entire history, an 8-1 trip through Minnesota, Boston and Detroit that has now left no doubt this team still has its sights firmly set on getting to the post-season again.

13-3. The best 16-game start in Texas Rangers history.

This team is playing so well, even their negative statistics take a positive tone. To wit: The only Rangers starter to have a loss on their record is Neftali Feliz, who dropped the 3-2 decision in Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader with the Tigers. So what Rangers pitcher is the only one with a complete game this season? Feliz, of course, in Game 2 of yesterday’s doubleheader.

The Rangers have lost only three times in 13 games, all by one run. In other words, at the 10% point of the season, Texas has been in EVERY game to the end. Nobody has blown them out.

To be certain, there are still red flags. Red flag #2 cropped up in Game 1 of the twin bill Saturday, when Adrian Beltre tweaked his hamstring. Beltre doesn’t think it’s serious and expects to only miss a few games. I’d love to take his word for it, but Beltre missed almost a month towards the end of the regular season in 2011 with a bad hammy and you can’t help but worry he is going to start having these problems more and more as he moves into his mid-30’s. Maybe he will only miss a few games this time. But maybe he’ll have another problem later on in the season. Texas has already had enough problems with Nelson Cruz’ hamstring problems (5 DL trips in 2 seasons). They don’t need another one.

Red Flag #1, Joe Nathan, got the save in the series finale Sunday, but Rangers fans had to breathe a sigh of relief when Prince Fielder just missed getting a hold of Nathan’s first pitch. Instead of a walk-off two-run homer, Fielder ended up with a foul out just a couple of feet short of the right field foul pole.

Robbie Ross, meantime, continues to lead a charmed life. The only rookie on the pitching staff is now 3-0, all the wins coming on this road trip. The only other Rangers rookie to approach Ross in recent years is Alexi Ogando, who started his Rangers career in 2010 with wins in each of his first three appearances, along with a base hit in his first major league at bat in Interleague play.

Best of all, Texas won today in a game which they easily could have lost. They were facing the one pitcher known to always give Rangers hitters fits: a rookie left-hander whom they’d never faced before. Drew Smyly gave up a first inning home run to Josh Hamilton, but that was his only blemish as he went six strong, giving up 5 hits and striking out 7 Rangers. Fortunately, Colby Lewis pretty much matched him, throwing seven innings of 2-run ball. Lewis has only walked one batter all year in 19.2 innings. Still, Lewis trailed 2-1 when he departed the game. It took an 8th inning walk to Elvis Andrus, followed by a wild pitch, error and Hamilton sac fly to tie it up. Then a bases loaded squeeze bunt in the 11th that ended up becoming an Alberto Gonzalez infield single proved to be the deciding run of the game.

It was the Rangers only trip to Comerica Park in Detroit this season. The only way they see it again is if it’s a playoff game, which could very well happen.

Best road trip ever and no chance to savor it. The Yankees visit Arlington tomorrow night. No rest for the weary. This fan, though, will savor it for the next 24 hours.


Six Feet Under

A couple of days ago, I tweeted that it WILL get harder but I like seeing my team at the top of the hole looking down while my main competition is looking up from 4 1/2 feet in the hole.

Now the hole is six feet deep. Again, I have no expectation it will always be this way, but it sure is sweet.

The Angels are proving to have a significantly shallower bullpen than the Rangers. So far, even the starting pitching for Texas has been superior to the vaunted Angels staff. Texas starters have yet to lose a game (8-0 at this point) and the Rangers lead the majors in run differential, although the 15 run beatdown of the Red Sox Tuesday has a lot to do with that.

You could make the case the Rangers have feasted on the White Sox, Mariners and Twins. While that is part of the story, the other part is the Angels are losing to the Twins, the A’s and the Royals. Beat the teams you should, break even against the rest is the recipe for a pennant. The Angels aren’t beating the teams they should and the Rangers are.

What’s scary to think about- this Rangers team hasn’t even hit its stride offensively, but it’s starting to come around. Just days ago, Mike Napoli was hitting .118. In just three games, he’s hit four home runs and a double and upped his average into the .270’s. Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus have yet to get going. The Rangers running attack has actually been pretty dismal thus far. Ian Kinsler has been caught stealing two of three times, plus he got picked off first last night. Craig Gentry is 0-1 stealing. The Rangers as a team have only four steals in 12 games, and two of those belong to Yorvit Torrealba and Adrian Beltre.

Without a doubt, the starting pitching won’t continue to be this good. Oh, they’ll be good, but they’re throwing quality starts out there at a level I don’t think can be sustained over the long haul. But the offense still has room for growth.

Texas is now 5-0 on the road. The only better start by a Rangers team in road games was 23 years ago, when they started 6-0. They have a chance to match that record tonight when they visit the Tigers in Detroit with Yu Darvish getting the ball for the opener.

Texas has a 4-game rematch of the ALCS with the Tigers this weekend. The Angels play the A’s at home tonight, followed by three games at home against the Orioles. If Texas ends this week with a larger lead than they have now, the Angels could be in a heap of trouble, even if it is only April.

The Stan Musial Award

Last but not least in the BBA Post-Season Awards is the Stan Musial Award for Player of the Year.

Last month, while returning to the Rio Grande Valley from Arlington, where I saw my beloved Rangers top the Mariners in the next to last home game of the season, I tuned as usual into MLB Radio on XM. At the time, they were having a grand debate: Did Justin Verlander deserve to be in the discussion for AL MVP? I don’t remember who the two hosts of the program were, but one was adamant that Verlander, as a pitcher, should not be considered. He was a pitcher, he only starts every fifth game and there’s no way someone who starts every fifth day should be considered right alongside everyday players.

Here’s the kicker, though. This same co-host was asked several questions concerning the upcoming playoffs. Every time he was asked a question about the Tigers chances in the playoffs, he would answer by talking about the Tigers advantage because of Justin Verlander and, conversely, how the Tigers wouldn’t have a chance without Verlander. So apparently, he was saying if he starts every fifth game, he should not be considered for MVP, but it all changes when he’s in a situation to pitch every fourth game. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Seriously, what is the big deal about this? As far as I’m concerned, if a pitcher has a season in which he has so outperformed every other pitcher in the league, why shouldn’t he be considered for an MVP Award? It only happens once every decade or so, maybe even less than that. In all my time of following major league baseball, the only AL pitchers I can think of that would have to be part of the discussion for any one year would have included Denny McLain for his 30 win season of 1968, maybe Ron Guidry for the year he went 25-3 for the Yankees and Verlander this year. That’s three pitchers in 43 years. You’re going to get bent out of shape over something that happens so seldom? In the National League, I would probably have considered Bob Gibson the year he had a 1.12 ERA. Despite being on a last place team, Steve Carlton’s 27 win season for the Phillies has to be one of the singularly best accomplishments of all time. He literally won almost half of his team’s games. But he shouldn’t be considered because he wasn’t an everyday player? Hogwash!

I’m not voting Verlander as #1 on my BBA ballot, but he does have a place there. I don’t care if he only played in 20% of his team’s games. His production in those games and the final result are what earns him the right to be considered.

Herewith is my official ballot for the Stan Musial Award:

1) Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees: Yes, he only hit .262, but on a team of stars, it was his increased production in 2011 (41 HR, 119 RBI) that helped pace the Yankees to the best record in the American League.

2) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: If I based the award on post-season play in addition to the regular season, Cabrera would probably be #1. We’re just looking at regular season play, though, so despite another MVP-caliber campaign (.344 BA, 30 HR’s, 105 RBI), Cabrera finishes second once again.

3) Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox: It didn’t take long for Gonzalez to become one of the most feared hitters in the AL (.328 BA, 27 HR, 117 RBI). If not for the Bosox collapse at the end of the season, A-Gon might have rated a little higher as well.

4) Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: Bautista had another great year, leading the league in home runs and adding an over .300 batting average with a ton of walks thrown in for good measure. In my mind, what kept Bautista from finishing higher was his RBI total (103 RBI with 43 HR). They looked kind of low for someone with as many home runs as Bautista had.

5) Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: Yes, he deserves to be here. Easily the best pitcher in the AL in 2011, leading the league in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.

6) Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox: A perfect combination of power and speed, Ellsbury was an incredible threat in the Red Sox line-up, hitting .321 with 32 HR’s, 105 RBI and 39 steals.

7) Michael Young, Texas Rangers: Young had personal bests in batting average (.338) and RBI’s (106), while seeing time as DH and playing all four infield positions. Don’t scoff at his low power numbers. You won’t find very many players in either league over the last ten years to get over 100 RBI’s with less than 15 home runs. Young has now done it twice, this time with only 11 long balls. He also topped 200 hits for the sixth time.

8) Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: He could’ve been a Texas Ranger, but Texas took Alfonso Soriano instead in the A-Rod deal, only because they believed Ian Kinsler was going to be a pretty good player. They were right about Kinsler, but boy, can you imagine a Rangers line-up with Cano (.302 BA, 28 HR, 118 RBI)? Scary, right?

9) Asdrubel Cabrera, Cleveland Indians: .273 with 25 HR’s and 92 RBI. From a shortstop. Cabrera was a big reason the Indians stayed in the AL Central race up to mid-September. He played pretty good defense too.

10) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: After a monster September, Beltre ended 2011 at .296 with 32 HR’s and 105 RBI while playing stellar defense at third base. Beltre might have been given strong consideration for MVP had he not missed almost a month with a hamstring injury.

There’s the top ten. Interestingly enough, you’ll find no mention of Josh Hamilton, last year’s MVP. He still was right around .300, he still was right around 100 RBI. Yet even Rangers fans would probably list him no better than third for team MVP. Just goes to show how potent that Rangers line-up is.

Back To Back: Rangers 15, Tigers 5

Fans are reactionary. Even when they’re fans of a winning team. Sometimes even more when they’re fans of a winning team.

If you read the message boards of most of the Rangers fan sites out there, you would have seen a familiar theme Saturday morning. Calls for Ron Washington to take Michael Young out of the #4 hole in the line-up and move someone else in there. Forget that the Rangers were up 3-2 on the Tigers in the ALCS, this move MUST be made in order for the Rangers to win.

Thank goodness Washington stuck to his guns. Young was a hitting machine in the decisive Game 6, knocking in five runs with two doubles and a home run. Four of the RBI’s came in the 9-run third inning that pretty much decided things at just the 1/3 point of the game.

Wash’s decision was easy to understand. You don’t want to move people out of areas where they’re comfortable. In the work world, if you’re a clerk in a store and you’re suddenly asked to be a department head, odds are you’ll get off to a slow start. The same is true of a batting order in major league baseball. Players are comfortable when the manager places them in a certain slot for a long period of time and asking Young to move lower or asking someone else to move up to the 4 hole isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes mental adjustments. It takes understanding that pitchers will pitch you differently at a different place in the line-up. Young has been in the clean-up spot since Adrian Beltre went on the DL in August. He’s thrived there and he will stay there until the World Series plays its last game.

Amazing. The first 12 runs scored by the Rangers were all without benefit of a home run. I’ve been saying all year this Rangers team is as complete a team as I’ve seen. Everyone has a role to play and no matter who Wash decides to go with, there’s a powerful line-up for the opposition to wade through. They can beat you by playing long ball, or they can beat you with speed and line drives. In the regular season, the starting pitching picked up the slack when the offense went into a rare slump. In the playoffs, the relief pitching picked up the starting pitching during their slump. And in Game 6, the offense was on full display.

Here’s a big difference between the Rangers and Tigers and how deep Texas is. The Rangers’ #5 starter, Alexi Ogando, was a vital piece of the post-season bullpen. The Tigers’ #5, Brad Penny, was the mop-up guy, the one you only want to bring in in a blow-out.

The defense was on full display as well. Josh Hamilton’s catch against the left field wall on one drive was as good a defensive play as any in this series. Nelson Cruz had another great catch when he almost collided with center fielder Craig Gentry.

Once again, the Rangers couldn’t get five innings out of a starter. This time, it was a shame, because Derek Holland was pitching so much better than he did in Game 2. His command was better, he was striking out batters. He was just giving up gopher balls. After the third home run cut the lead to 9-4 in the 5th, Wash decided not to take any chances and brought Scott Feldman in. In a regular season game, Holland would’ve still been out there.

Nelson Cruz got the ALCS MVP. Nobody even came close. Cruz set post-season records for home runs and RBI’s in a 6-game series.

That being said, I remarked to my wife how incredibly awesome it must feel for Mike Napoli to be coming up to bat at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and hearing 50,000 fans screaming, “Nap-O-Li, Nap-O-Li, Nap-O-Li!” That boy’s going to be getting a massive raise in the off-season.

The Rangers now become the first team in ten years to represent the AL in the World Series two consecutive years, and the first AL West team in 20 years to accomplish the feat. For a fan who’s seen more bad times than good over 41 years of following this franchise, it is very strange to hear national talking heads say they should be favored to win the World Series this year. Rangers fans are not used to being considered the favorites. Very weird.  

Next up: either the Cardinals or the Brewers. I’m not sure which, if any, I prefer. All I know is, my team is there for the second consecutive year. This time, I think the Rangers aren’t happy with the idea of just being there. This time they’re in it to win it.

The Walter Johnson Award

Every year, the Baseball Bloggers Association honors MLB’s best pitchers in the NL and AL with the Walter Johnson Award.

As an AL team blogger, it’s my privilege to place my votes for the AL version of the Johnson Award.

This year it’s not even close. In fact, with a required five pitchers on the ballot, it’s actually kind of tough to fill out the 4th and 5th this year. Quite frankly, they’d be so far below #1 you might scoff at some of them.

At best this was a two pitcher race. In the #1 slot is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Verlander was head and shoulders above the pack in the AL, achieving the pitching Triple Crown: leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Verlander won six more games than CC Sabathia, the AL pitcher who finished second in wins. His 250 strikeouts was 20 better than #2 James Shields and his 2.40 ERA just nosed out Jered Weaver’s 2.41. Add in an opponents batting average of just .192 against a pitcher who threw 251 innings and a WHIP of 0.92 and you’ve got the makings of an award winner, probably by unanimous consent. Verlander is the easy choice for #1.

The closest to achieving what Verlander did, in my mind, was my #2 pick Jered Weaver. He barely lost out to Verlander for the ERA crown, compiled an 18-8 record and a 1.01 WHIP. Had Mike Scioscia not deemed it necessary to pitch Weaver on three days rest on a couple of occasions down the stretch in an attempt to catch the Rangers in the AL West, Weaver may have won the ERA title in 2011. The three days rest thing didn’t work for him too well.

The third through fifth positions could easily be restacked and reconfigured, because I think they’re all just about equal.

Number 3 on the list is the Comeback Pitcher of the Year: James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields had a miserable 2010. Even though he had a respectable 13 wins, his ERA was a sky-high 5.18, leading the AL in the negative categories of hits allowed and Earned Runs allowed. To say he turned it around in 2011 hardly does Shields justice. He had three more wins and three fewer losses, finishing at 16-12. He threw 46 more innings than he did in 2010 while giving up 51 LESS hits and a whopping 39 LESS earned runs. He struck out 225 batters, threw 4 shutouts and led the AL with 11 complete games.

In the 4 spot, I put a pitcher that had a much better year in the end than I expected him to have: CC Sabathia of the Yankees. While Sabathia is a workhorse year in and year out, I’ve never really thought of him as a low-ERA kind of guy. And yet, there he was at the end of 2011, with an ERA right at an even 3.00, second in the league in wins with 19 and second in strikeouts with 230. A pretty good year. It will be very interesting to see if Sabathia decides to opt out of the last year of his Yankees contract in the off-season.

Rounding out the list, I’m going to mention a Texas Ranger: CJ Wilson. There are all kinds of other players I could mention at this point: Jose Valverde, Ricky Romero, Dan Haren, etc. As mentioned earlier, though, does it really matter? Nobody I put here would have any chance of finishing first in the voting. I don’t think anyone that ANYBODY puts in this position has a chance of finishing first. Or second. Or probably even third. So I’ll go with my team and name CJ. His post-season hasn’t been very memorable, but he put together a fine campaign with 16 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. So there, I said it and I’m not taking it back!

So there you go, my official ballot. To recap:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

5. CJ Wilson, Texas Rangers

Going Overboard: Tigers 7, Rangers 5

I don’t begrudge Justin Verlander. In fact, in a separate post coming about 20-30 minutes following this one, I will praise him.

Verlander deserved the win in Thursday Game 5 with the Rangers. He deserved it because he pitched better in the 6th inning, then added a seventh and part of an eighth to boot. Make no mistake, though. CJ Wilson was as much up to the task through the first five innings as Verlander. One could even make a case for Wilson being the slightly better pitcher through five than the presumptive Cy Young Award winner.

I say all this not because I dislike Verlander. In fact, I wish he was a Ranger. No, I’m just a little fed up with the non-stop adulation heaped upon him by the Fox broadcast team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

It all started in Game 4, a game in which Verlander, to my knowledge, did not pitch. Even granting that some mention of the AL’s best pitcher being slated to pitch Game 5 was to be expected as hype for viewers to tune in the next day, it was still excessive and even lent the impression that the supposedly neutral broadcast team had a distinct Detroit bias. I don’t believe that’s true, by the way, just that the impression was out there that it was.

This fawning over the Tigers ace reached its apex in the extra innings of Game 4 when, once again, Fox showed a camera shot of Verlander and McCarver gushed about what a great teammate Verlander was because he’d been in that dugout the entire game cheering his team on. Well, you know, I think that does make for a great teammate. In fact, there were a number of times the Fox cameras pointed to the Rangers dugout, where you saw Verlander’s Game 5 opponent, CJ Wilson, supporting his teammates with his presence. No mention of that by McCarver. I don’t have the inclination to replay the entire broadcast to make an accurate count, but it’s pretty fair to say at best there was one mention of CJ Wilson to every 8-10 mentions of Verlander. That was in Game 4.

Game 5, the one in which both pitchers actually faced off against each other, wasn’t that much better. It was made abundantly clear by the broadcast team which pitcher had the better season. So, even though the Rangers lost, since we all know who the better pitcher is, I feel pretty good about the fact CJ matched Verlander for five innings. After all, if Verlander is that good, Wilson must be a vastly inferior pitcher.  CJ may have done well for more than 5, but what looked like a tailor-made double play in the 6th ended up hitting the side of the third base bag and took a leap over Adrian Beltre’s head for a double, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Wilson lost his focus after that. A triple and a home run later, a tight 2-2 game had turned into a lopsided 6-2 Tigers lead.

When the game was still tied going into the bottom of the 6th, I remarked to a friend if Texas could just keep it tied until Detroit had to go to the bullpen, the Rangers would wrap up the ALCS that day. I still believe that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but my boys battled back. Even down by 5 at 7-2, they didn’t give up. Nelson Cruz ended Verlander’s day in the 8th with his 5th home run of the series (the only Ranger to have a home run thus far in the ALCS). Michael Young drove another run home in the 9th to make it 7-5. And Mike Napoli represented the go-ahead run at the plate when the final out was recorded.

Off day tonight. Game 6 tomorrow. I hated seeing the Rangers lose Game 5, but I firmly believe they will win Game 6 Saturday.

And the Fox broadcast team will probably mention the name Justin Verlander almost as many times as they mention the name Max Scherzer.

Incredible: Rangers 7, Tigers 3 (11 Innings)

Tiger fans, I know you’re disappointed. I would be too. But whether my team was down 3-1 or up 3-1 right now, I think we can all agree on one thing:This may be one of the most incredible ALCS’s ever. Yes, EVER!

Every game has been tense. Two have gone to extra innings. Both teams have had their chances. There have been clutch hits. Clutch defensive plays. Clutch pitching. This series has had it all and it’s only because my team is up 3-1 that you’re not hearing about me going to the ER suffering from hypertension.

My goodness, what a Game 4. From the two-hour plus rain delay before getting the darn thing started to the masterful early performance of Rick Porcello to Michael Young breaking out of a prolonged slump to knock in the first go-ahead run of the game for the Rangers and every nail-biting moment in between.

There was Alexi Ogando, a killer throughout the playoffs, one out away from two more strong shutout innings of work when Brandon Inge took an 0-2 pitch and deposited it in the left field seats to tie the game at 3. There was Miguel Cabrera, on third base in the bottom of the 8th, taking off for home on a fly to medium depth right, only to see Nelson Cruz throw a perfect one-bounce strike to the plate, allowing Mike Napoli to deny Cabrera the go-ahead run.

Napoli wasn’t done, either. In the 9th, he faced off against former Ranger Joaquin Benoit in a memorable at bat. For nine pitches, both pitcher and batter took turns staring each other down, calling time outs to try to mess with the other’s head. Good pitches were fouled off. Benoit finally won the battle, but what an AB.

In the bottom of the 9th, one of the Tigers returned the favor and even made it better. This time it was Ramon Santiago, battling Darren Oliver through a 13-pitch at bat, before Oliver finally coaxed a fly ball to center field for the out.

There was Napoli again in the tenth, throwing a perfect strike to Ian Kinsler, who swiped the tag down on Austin Jackson for a caught stealing, snuffing out a potential Tigers rally.

And, for a fourth time, it was Napoli again, with Josh Hamilton on second and Adrian Beltre at first, flaring a single to center off Jose Valverde that scored Hamilton with what proved to be the winning run. Nelson Cruz will get all the print for the three-run boomstick Cruz missile that followed Napoli’s hit, putting the game out of reach, but die-hard baseball fans know what the key hit was.

This was such an important win for the Rangers. Had they lost tonight and allowed the Tigers to tie the series at two, Texas would be feeling the massive pressure of having to face Justin Verlander tomorrow with the chance of being down 3-2. Now they have three games to win just one, two of which are scheduled for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and Verlander will only pitch one of those games.

Less than 18 hours away from Game 5. I can’t even imagine what these two teams have in store as an encore to tonight’s classic.