Good old-fashioned pitchers duels don’t come along as regularly as they once did. Yet major league baseball has seen two dandies this week alone.
The first was the Tim Lincecum–Clayton Kershaw match-up between the Giants and Dodgers a few days ago. The second was yesterday, when CJ Wilson went up against Jered Weaver in Anaheim, with the Angels prevailing over the Rangers 1-0.
Obviously, this scribe was disappointed in the final outcome. From a sheer fan perspective, however, this was one of the outstanding games of 2011. It had constant drama, all the way to the last out and one could even say the better pitcher in the game was the one who lost the game.
The Rangers made only three mistakes the entire game. Unfortunately, all three came in the same inning, the 2nd, and they all contributed to the only run of the game scoring.
Endy Chavez gets the blame for the error that allowed Howie Kendrick to cross the plate with the lone run of the game. Wilson, though, made the other two mistakes that put Kendrick in the position to score in the first place. Kendrick reached first because he was hit by a Wilson pitch. Judging by the radio play by play I heard, one could debate whether the pitch actually hit Kendrick or not (there was a delayed ruling and not even Kendrick seemed to indicate he’d been hit), but he was awarded first. Mark Trumbo then struck out, but the pitch went past the catcher for a wild pitch, sending Kendrick to second. Without those two things happening, Chavez’ booting of Mike Trout‘s fly ball wouldn’t have brought about the result it did.
Wilson ended up allowing only two hits in eight innings, walking one and striking out 8. Weaver allowed his share of hits, but most of them came with two outs and the bases empty.
The Angels ended up taking two of three from Texas, but the Rangers maintain a three game lead over their nearest rivals. As much as it would have been nice to see Texas take the series 2-1, they still had a 5-2 road trip, which any team would be happy with. Now they have to take care of business at home.
Some might look at the Texas schedule and think the wins will be easy to come by with seven home games against the Blue Jays and the Twins followed by three at Toronto. Both teams, though, have given the Rangers fits the past couple years. Texas is 1-2 at Minnesota in 2011 after going winless at Target Field a year ago and they’ve already dropped three of four home games against the Jays this season. I actually was worried about the Rangers and Twins possibly matching up in the playoffs a year ago. I was more worried about that pairing than the Yankees or the Rays.
This the R’s first home series since the All-Star Break. Sounds like a good reason to start a new winning streak.
MLB: The Show ’11 arrived in Demo form on the Playstation Network last week and I finally had a chance to download it and try it out.
The Initial Bad News: It took a two day span to try it out. The thing took FOREVER to download Friday night!
The Second Bad News: I thought my controller wasn’t working right when I first tried the game out. Turned out everything was on “Total Analog” Mode (or maybe it’s “True Analog” Mode), so the controls for hitting and pitching were totally not what I was used to doing. I’d hit the swing button and the batter wouldn’t swing. At all. The pitching controls were totally different as well. Before discovering what was going on, I think I threw about 60 pitches, of which maybe three were strikes. Fielders fielded the ball but wouldn’t throw it. You get the picture.
The First Good News: The Demo has the Rangers in it- facing the Giants, of course, in a World Series rematch (FYI the default is CJ Wilson vs. Tim Lincecum).
The Second Good News: It is not bad in the “Up To Date” category. The Rangers team already had Yorvit Torrealba, Adrien Beltre and Brandon Webb on the roster. The Mike Napoli trade happened after the game was put to bed, so we have Chris Davis instead of Napoli. I didn’t check, but I assume that means it also has Frank Francisco pitching for Texas as well.
The Weird News: Since the Demo Game is being played in San Francisco, there is no DH. That means, in the Default Mode, Michael Young is NOT a part of the line-up. He is, after all, now the DH. You have to manually put him in the line-up. It seems very strange to play any game as the Rangers and not see Young in the line-up. I should get used to it now. I think that will be permanently true in 2012 (if not this year).
So it took awhile, but I finally figured out a few things. First, you can switch in the demo from playing as the Giants to playing as the Rangers. Second, you can go to Game Controls and set everything back to Classic Mode on your controller, which is the way I’m used to playing. It is a little time consuming to do it, but since it’s just a demo designed to get you to buy the game when it comes out, I can live with it.
As always, the overall graphics are wonderful. The Giants stadium looks very realistic and the crowds look less like the same people layered 50 times in the stands. While the players aren’t bad, I still am surprised the faces aren’t as realistic as I thought the technology allowed. Maybe I’m too picky.
I only played a couple of games but saw one new thing in terms of events on the field. I had an at bat where Josh Hamilton fouled a ball at the plate. It bounced into his leg and Ham-Bone went down wincing. Nice subtle feature.
Didn’t check out all the controls, but it seems now you can use all four control buttons in hitting mode. The triangle is now for bunts, while the circle button is now for a “Contact” swing. I gues that’s for trying to stay alive at the plate when you’ve got two strikes. The X button is still normal swing and the square is power swing.
You can still predict the pitch and locationas a batter. Now they’ve added colored hot and cold zones for your batter to better gauge what pitches are good for you to swing at. Pitchers now have as many as three different pick-off moves. I couldn’t get it to work when I played, but I think that’s because I had “Balk” mode turned off. Yes, this year’s edition can have balks called if you so desire. Your pitchers can now take eight warm-up tosses before the inning as well, so you can get an initial feeling on how their control is.
I know there are more new features than I’ve even discovered but, like the great game itself, I like to play (or watch) but don’t feel the need to dig as deep as I can go. I know enough that I plan to get this year’s edition and retire my ’09 version.
What’s this? A bold prediction coming from 40-Year-Ranger-Fan following a blow-out loss in Game 1 of the World Series? You bet! And here is that bold guarantee: I guarantee the ratings of Game 2 of the World Series will be lower than those of Game 1!
Seriously. The World Series is baseball’s showcase event, the one time of year when even the casual fan will check out what’s going on on the diamond. We rabid Rangers fans and the equally rabid Giants fans will be glued to TV sets tonight. The casual fans nationwide, the ones with no dog in the hunt, probably watched last night’s game and came away with one of these responses: “Those are the two best teams in baseball?”; “Those are two of the best pitchers in baseball?”; or “Is CSI on tomorrow night?”
If the World Series is indeed when baseball puts it’s best foot forward, the casual fan most likely came away completely underwhelmed. We were treated to lots of runs, true. We were also treated to mostly bad pitching, even more horrid defense (mostly by the Rangers) and a very poor barometer of the caliber of both of these teams.
For my Rangers, it really started out well. The single runs scored in the first and second innings were textbook Rangers playoff baseball. In the first, an Elvis Andrus single, a Michael Young walk, a groundoutto advance the runners and and infield single scoring the run. In the second, a Bengie Molina single (who, by the way, was given an AWESOME reception by the San Francisco fans during the player introductions), a surprise double by Cliff Lee after faking the bunt and a sac fly.
But there was trouble in paradise. I’m sure I’m not the only Rangers fan who noticed that Cliff Lee was struggling with his command in the first two innings. It got progressively worse in the 3rd, when Lee had to expend over 30 pitches to get out of the inning and by then, the Giants had managed to tie the score.
San Fran exploded in the 5th and chased Lee, making him look very human after two years of looking invulnerable in post-season action. Then, after chasing Lee, the Giants iced it with a three-run jack off of Darren O’Day, capping a 6-run fifth and staking the Giants to an 8-2 lead which they never relinquished.
Not that Tim Lincecum was the light’s out pitcher everyone was expecting either. Lincecum gave up his share of hits and, after being staked to a 6-run lead, couldn’t follow up with a shutdown inning. Lincecum didn’t make it out of the 6th, but still left up 8-4.
I like to give broadcasters the benefit of the doubt, having been one once myself. Sometimes you make a stupid mistake with a name or something. As long as you quickly correct it, no harm no foul. Still, I had to chuckle at Tim McCarver last night when he said Lincecum pitched a good game. Really??? Maybe in relation to Cliff Lee he did, but rarely if ever do you hear a broadcaster refer to four runs in 5 2/3 innings a good game. Nitpicky, I know, but I found it funny…
We did have two innings of solid baseball by both sides. Alexi Ogando had his strongest post-season outing striking out four in two shutout innings, while San Francisco’s relief corps dominated the Rangers bats during the same stretch.
The Rangers made it real ugly in the 8th. Mark Lowe, on the post-season roster for the first time these playoffs pitched so well I almost wanted to bring Rich Harden back. Vlad Guerrero proved all those naysayers about his defense in right field absolutely right by butchering not one but two plays. The combination of those two let the Giants score three more times to make it 11-4 headed to the 9th.
But here’s where I give the Rangers credit and why Game 1 is not necessarily an indication of Texas being out of it by any stretch. They still came out in the 9th and battled. Battled so much that the Giants even brought their closer in in a blow-out game to finish it off. And the Rangers did some damage against him as well. They fought back from the Giants’ 6-run 5th with a 2-run 6th of their own and the answered the Giants 3 in the 8th with 3 of their own in the 9th.
And Cliff Lee? Well, now we know he’s not perfect. If there’s one knock I have on Lee now that I’ve had half a season to see him, is he is all about his command. When he’s on, he’s lights out. When he doesn’t have the command, he gets knocked around. Other pitchers can go out there and not have their best stuff and can sometimes figure out how to be successful without it. With Lee, I haven’t seen that. He has it or he doesn’t and there’s not much in between.
Game 2 has CJ Wilson against Matt Cain. Cain is perfect in the post-season himself, even to the tune of a 0.00 ERA. Maybe the Rangers can prove that he’s human tonight. Whether they do or not, this I guarantee. It may be a better played game by both sides, it could even be one of those classic 3-2 affairs, but it won’t be seen by as many people as saw Game 1 last night.
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.
All photos from The Associated Press.
After a celebratory night, I can now write a little bit about Friday night’s pennant clinching victory.
During the course of the day, I was astounded by how many people told me emphatically that the Rangers would win Game 6. People at my office, people at my wife’s office, my kids, everyone seemed more sure than I of a Rangers win.
Being so used to this team not performing to expectations, I was having visions of Phil Hughes pitching the way he has before against Texas instead of the way he pitched in Game 2. And, I had seen Colby Lewis so many times in July and August get little run support and end up giving up the first runs. Those runs often turned out to be the winning runs. All I could do was hope against hope for a similar result to Game 2.
It started right off the bat, with an Elvis Andrus double, a Josh Hamilton single and a Vlad Guerrero groundout, his first RBI of the ALCS, in the bottom of the 1st.
I started feeling better. Unfortunately, the Rangers stopped hitting after that. Hughes didn’t allow any hits in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Lewis was matching Hughes, actually having a no-no through 4. Still, the Yankees were hitting some incredible shots, just right at people. Andrus skyed like Kobe Bryant to snag one sure double to end an inning. Ian Kinsler scooped up a hot Robinson Cano shot to turn an inning-ending double play and there were a couple of warning track shots as well.
When it was still 1-0 going to the 5th, I was getting worried. It didn’t help my mood that Michael Young came up twice to that point with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs and not only couldn’t cash in the run, he couldn’t advance the runner, either. Then the Yankees started intentionally walking Hamilton, daring Guerrero to beat them instead. Vlad failed to deliver.
Finally, the Yankees got some hits and tied the game at 1 in the 5th. Texas had Derek Holland warming in the pen. It looked like Lewis might be done. That sinking feeling was hitting me big time. Cliff Lee or not, I really didn’t want there to be a Game 7, but it was looking like the defending champs were gaining momentum.
Lewis managed to work out of the jam with no further scoring when he struck out Marcus Thames with a runner on second. Tie game.
Now the question was, could Phil Hughes have a shutdown inning? He hadn’t given up a hit since the first. Mitch Moreland started it off with a grounder deep in the hole to Cano. Hughes didn’t get to the bag in time and Moreland was on. An Andrus groundout with Moreland going put a runner on second with one out. Again, Michael Young came up with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs. Again, Young didn’t get a hit. Again, an intentional pass to Hambone to bring up Vlad.
Guerrero sent a deep shot to left center, scoring Moreland and Hamilton and the Rangers were back on top 3-1. Phil Hughes’ night was over. David Robertson came in and, after five straight curveballs, threw Nelson Cruz a fastball that was promptly deposited into the left center field seats. 5-1 Rangers.
That sinking feeling was gone. We were really going to win this thing! Lewis worked a 1-2-3 6th inning. Feeling better.
I knew for sure it was over in the top of the 7th. Robinson Cano, who had killed Rangers pitching the entire series, not only struck out, he did it badly on a curve in the dirt. The life was gone from the 2009 champs.
Lewis came back for the 8th and, with one walk included, struck out the side to end his night: 8 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks and 7 K’s.
Neftali Feliz came in to pitch the 9th and how fitting was it for Rangers fans for the game to end with Alex Rodriguez taking a called third strike?
A-Rod, whom the Rangers signed for that mammoth quarter billion dollar contract in 2003. The one who was supposed to take the Rangers to the Promised Land. To be fair, any player would have taken the contract. It was former owner Tom Hicks who overspent on A-Rod, thus handcuffing the team for years from making significant free agent investments. Still, Rodriguez’ comments when he left the Rangers about how it was him “and a bunch of kids” left a sour taste in Rangers fans’ mouths.
Well, guess what, folks? A-Rod really did lead the Rangers to the Promised Land. He just did it with a strikeout instead of a home run!
Hamilton was given the ALCS MVP award. He had a great ALCS and his 5 intentional walks in the series (3 in Game 6 alone) is certainly all the proof one needs for Josh to win the AL MVP Award this year. Still, I think I would have given the award to Andrus. Elvis was a key in every early offensive rally the Rangers had this series. He had a hit in every game, his baserunning disrupted the Yankees from the get go and he made some incredible plays defensively, including the force out at 3rd in Game 4 that kept the Yankees from having a big inning. I’m happy for Hamilton, though.
And how about the whole concept of “TEAM” shown in the post-game show. When they interviewed GM Jon Daniels about “HIS” success, Daniels immediately pointed to the scouts and advance men under his wing, singling them out for praise first. When Hamilton was awarded the MVP, you could see him mouth to someone (or to the entire team) “You deserve this.” He then thanked God and Jesus first, and made it all about the team second before even talking about himself. How refreshing in these days of spoiled athletes!
There’s only one thing I regret about the ALCS. It sure would have been nice to see Andres Blanco get into a game. Blanco has been with the team from the start of the season and really earned his spot on the post-season roster when he filled in for Ian Kinsler so ably on his second trip to the DL. I sure hope Blanco gets some AB’s in the Fall Classic.
All that’s left to decide now is who the Rangers will be playing. Both the Phillies and the Giants have great pitching staffs. The Phillies have the better offensive team. Despite the bats, though, I’d have to say my choice is Philly. The reason? Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Two possible Hall of Famers. Tough as they come. Still, the Rangers know both of those pitchers a lot better than they know the Giants Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and company. The Rangers have faced Halladay, Oswalt and Brad Lidge many a time over the years and will be able to game plan against them better.
In the end, though, it matters not who they face. What matters is THE TEXAS RANGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!!!
Well wasn’t that just a dandy weekend in Arlington?
You’ve got to admit, the Rangers are the most generous team around. They saw what good hosts the Rays were in Games 1 & 2, they decided to return the favor. Now all I can do is hope the Rays do the same one more time on Tuesday.
From the heights of glee to the depths of depression. That’s playoff baseball for the fan. I can only tell myself this morning, “At least I’m not the Twins. Or the Reds. Or Brooks Conrad.”
Then from depression comes anger. Anger at so many of my fellow Rangers fans, all knowingly saying, “See? We should’ve gone with Cliff Lee on three days rest! Starting Tommy Hunter was a mistake from the get go!”
Give it a rest, guys! You know what? The Rays didn’t start David Price on three days rest either. Tommy Hunter has had success against the Rays in the past and we kicked Wade Davis’ butt in the regular season! It was a good match-up for the Rangers!
Of all the message boards I’ve read since Sunday’s game ended, I think I may be the only person in Rangers Nation with this particular feeling: I think they pulled Tommy Hunter too soon.
I don’t have the stats to back it up (only because I don’t have the time to do the research), but my feeling is the team that most plays the way they played in the regular season will have the greatest post-season success, and that includes how the pitching staff is managed. Look at how the Giants let Tim Lincecum go out in both the 8th and 9th innings in a 1-0 game against the Braves. The Giants have a good bullpen and closer. They showed no fear. The Rangers did. Plain and simple, I think the Rangers pushed the panic button too soon.
On Saturday, it was obvious Colby Lewis was losing his command, so pulling him early was understandable. Not so much with Tommy Hunter.
The first run off Hunter shouldn’t have even scored. Had Josh Hamilton been backing up David Murphy further away from the wall, Carlos Pena would have had only a double and not a triple. And don’t get me started on Ian Kinsler’s dropped fly allowing Pena to score. Nelson Cruz would have easily had that catch and would have been in great position to gun down Pena at the plate, so much so I doubt Pena would have even tried to score on Cruz. Hunter gets no blame for that run.
In essence, then, we had a 2-run 4th inning to blame on Hunter. And Ron Washington pulls him. With the Rangers up 2-1 in the series. If it’s the elimination game, I understand. You’re down 3-0 and it’s time to throw the kitchen sink at the Rays. No, Hunter was pulled with the Rangers trailing but still in a position of power.
The second Hunter was pulled, it was clear to all that Derek Holland was going to have to go at least three innings to give the bullpen a break and give the Rangers time to get back into the game. Holland did give the Rangers three innings. In fact, he gave them four. He also gave up a 2-run homer to Evan Longoria in his first inning of work, which pretty much made his last three strong innings worthless. A 3-0 deficit can be overcome. A 5-run deficit becomes a much harder hill to climb.
Would Hunter have given up two more runs if he’d been allowed to pitch the 5th? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is his pitch count wasn’t that high and he was even striking out batters, which is unusual for Hunter.
My biggest reason for keeping him in is because of the message it sent to the team. Despite all the preaching from the front office on down about starters going longer, they gave Hunter ZERO opportunity to show he could recover from one bad inning. Again, if it’s the elimination game, I completely understand. This wasn’t the elimination game.
All this would be moot were it not for the Rangers inability to take advantage of opportunities. Texas has a good hitting team. They led the AL in hitting. I believe they even led the league in BA with runners in scoring position. In the latter category, however, they are extremely streaky. Sunday was a perfect example. It’s not that the Rangers weren’t hitting. Eight hits isn’t a lot, but it isn’t bad either. They were also drawing walks. They just couldn’t buy a hit when they needed it. This could have been a much closer game than it was if the Rangers had just come through once or twice when they had the opportunities.
It comes down to Tuesday’s game. It’s kitchen sink time. If need be, CJ Wilson will come in to relieve Cliff Lee, just as Matt Garza will make a relief appearance if the Rays need him to. Who cares who’ll start Game 1 against the Yankees. Just win Game 5 first or there’ll be no Yankees to face.
Time to win a third road game.