THE BEST WEEK

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas- Week six of the season proved to be the best week of the season so far; and when the regular season ends, that’s likely to still be true. The Rangers put together a six game winning streak to finish the week at 6-1. The streak moved them to within one game of .500 at 19-20, and swooshed them past Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles for second place in the division. They trail first place Houston by eight games after Houston beat Miami Monday night.

The week began with a split of two games in San Diego. They were the Rangers’ first inter-league games this season, and the offensive performance was emblematic of the inconsistent offense this season. They scored a run on just two hits in the first game, and then exploded for 11 runs in game two.

Nick Martinez started game one and was knocked around for four runs in six innings. He gave up eight hits, two of which were home runs. Alex Claudio surrendered another home run to complete the Padres’ scoring. Shin-Soo Choo homered for the Rangers’ lone run. Carlos Gomez singled for the other Ranger hit. 5-1 was the final score.

On Tuesday, the offense put five spot on the board in the first inning. Nomar Mazara doubled home a pair of runs, and Ryan Rua capped off the inning with a three run home run.

A. J. Griffin took the mound staked to the early lead and said later that the runs took the pressure off. He threw a complete game shutout on 104 pitches. It was his second career shutout, and it gave the beleaguered Ranger bullpen a much needed day off. Griffin is 4-0 with the win.

The Rangers added six more runs for the 11-0 final. Joey Gallo and Robinson Chirinos drove in four of those six additional scores with two run home runs.

With the games in the National League park, Ranger pitchers batted for the first time this season and went 0-4 with four strikeouts and two walks.

The venue shifted to Arlington on Wednesday and Thursday, and began with a nicely played Ranger win. The weather was delightful. Yu Darvish pitched six innings giving up three runs, two of which scored on solo home runs.

The Rangers’ offense rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning and did so without hitting a home run. Texas scored the go ahead run in the seventh without getting a hit, and the bullpen shut down the Pads for three scoreless innings.

4-3 was the final score with Jeremy Jeffress getting the win and Matt Bush earning his second and the Rangers’ fourth save of the season.

Game two of the Arlington portion of the series looked early like a reversion to the Rangers’ losing ways. Martin Perez pitched well going into the eighth inning. He allowed just one run over the first seven innings, but left with one out in the eighth inning and the bases loaded. One of those base runners scored.

San Diego took a 2-0 lead to the bottom of the eighth as the Rangers had managed just three hits on the night. However, Mike Napoli cut the lead in half with a solo home run, setting the stage for a ninth inning remindful of last year’s come back wins.

Sam Dyson held the Padres at bay in the ninth inning leaving the Rangers a run behind at 2-1. Texas quickly tied the game with three one-out singles, and Napoli came to bat again with two runners on base. He didn’t disappoint. He hit a mammoth home run into the left field seats above the Jack Daniels Club for the 5-2 walk-off win.

It completed a two game sweep of San Diego, the Rangers’ second series sweep of the season.

The script for Friday’s game was almost identical to Thursday’s. Texas again trailed 2-1 going to the ninth inning. Both Padre runs came on solo home runs. This time it was Joey Gallo that hit the three run home run to break a 2-2 tie. His blast was down the right field line, unquestionably out of the field of play. The only question was fair or foul. The ball made it an easy call as it hit the foul pole and deflected into the right field seats. 5-2 was the final score for the second consecutive night.

On Saturday, the Rangers fashioned another come from behind win. Trailing 4-2 in the seventh inning, they put together a four run rally to take a 6-4 lead and held on for the 6-5 win. Nomar Mazara hit a two run double to break the 4-4 tie, RBIs that proved to be the game winner.

The Rangers again came back to win on Sunday. They trailed 4-2 when they came up to bat in the seventh inning. They put three runs on the board to take a 5-4 lead. Three straight two out hits drove in the runs.

Texas added an insurance run in the eighth inning for the 6-4 final score. Dario Alvarez (2-0) got the win in relief. Matt Bush continues to impress in the closer role wrapping up his fourth save in the ninth.

This week, the Rangers finish the nine game home stand with three games against Philadelphia beginning Tuesday. Next weekend, the Rangers begin another three city road trip in Detroit.

NOTABLE:

* On the injury front , Carlos Gonzalez left Sunday’s game with tightness in his hamstring. He was placed on the disabled list on Monday and is expected to be out four to six weeks. His offense has been questionable, but he has been very good defensively in center field. His loss will hurt. Most likely, Delino DeShields will shift to center field, leaving the left field playing time to Ryan Rua and a AAA call-up, which is most likely to be Jarod Hoying or Jurickson Profar.

* After Saturday’s game, the Rangers had the best starting pitching ERA in baseball at 3.36. One of the reasons is that the starters have been walking fewer batters. Texas had a streak of six games with two or fewer batters walked come to an end Sunday, when A. J. Griffin walked three. However, the streak enabled the Rangers to hand the lead in most walks allowed over to the Baltimore Orioles./em>

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BACK TO THE BASEMENT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers are back in last place after dropping two of three to Seattle this weekend, and finishing the week with two wins and five losses. They are a season high six games under .500 at 13-19 and trail the first place Houston Astros by eight games. Texas is two games behind in the loss column to third place Seattle and fourth place Oakland. The Rangers are now 3-6-0 in series and have had losing weeks in four of the first five weeks of the season.

Texas arrived in Seattle with a short bullpen after last Tueday’s game in Houston turned into a bullpen game when Cole Hamels was injured warming up for the start. The problem only got worse Friday. Yu Darvish was very good giving the Rangers seven strong innings. However, the offense didn’t provide much support. A dropped fly ball in the first inning allowed a run to score, and that was all the Rangers could muster through nine innings. Darvish gave up a home run to Robinson Cano, and that run was all the scoring the Mariners could muster through nine innings.

The game ended up lasting 13 innings. The damage to the Rangers’ beleaguered bullpen could have been worse, but Tony Barnette amazingly threw three shutout relief innings. It was surprising in that he had not pitched well this season. His ERA was still an ugly 5.56 after the three shutout innings were included.

Matt Bush followed Barnette in the 12th. Manager Jeff Banister was undoubtedly hoping to get two innings out of Bush, but he threw 25 pitches in the 12th inning, and wasn’t available for the 13th. Rougned Odor finally broke the tie with a two run home run in the 13th inning. Alex Claudio, who had started Tuesday’s game in Hamels’ stead and thrown four innings, was summoned for the save. He gave up a hit, but the runner was erased on a double play as he earned his first Major League save.

On Saturday, Martin Perez made his best start of the season. He pitched six innings of one run ball on 94 pitches. With the short bullpen, Banister decided to send Perez back out for the seventh inning. The strategy failed. Perez pitched to two batters, and both reached base (a single and a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt). That ended Perez’s night. Keone Kela replaced Perez, but was unable to record an out. When the smoke cleared in the seventh inning, the Mariners had exploded for seven runs and an 8-1 lead.

The Ranger run had scored on Joey Gallo’s 10th home run. Mike Napoli later added his fifth home run to make the final score 8-2.

On Sunday, the Rangers took a 3-0 lead to the bottom of the seventh inning behind Andrew Cashner’s strong performance, but the seventh inning was a problem once again. Three pitchers saw action, and the Mariners cashed in three walks and a single for three runs to tie the game.

An eighth inning run gave Seattle the lead. It came on a home run with none other than Sam Dyson pitching. He has now given up four home runs and allowed 15 earned runs for an ERA of 12.66.

Edwin Diaz made quick work of the Rangers in the ninth inning to save the game for Seattle.

With about 20% of the season in the books, it’s beginning to look like the Rangers aren’t going to contend for a playoff spot. It’s still early, but this team obviously has holes in lots of areas. The batters strike out too much, and the pitchers walk too many for starters. The bullpen is a disaster.

The question has already been raised as to whether the Rangers should take the opportunity in July to trade veterans in the final year of their contracts to contenders for prospects. Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy head the list. You can bet the Ranger front office will put this off to the last minute. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

This week opens with four games against the Padres. The first two on Monday and Tuesday are in San Diego, while the Wednesday and Thursday tilts are in Arlington.

NOTABLE:

* 10 Ranger batters struck out in Saturday’s game, the seventh consecutive game in which at least 10 Rangers struck out. That’s an American League record. The Rangers finally ended the streak on Sunday, when only nine batters struck out.

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TROUBLE IN THE BAYOU CITY

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers limped out of Houston Thursday in last place in the West at 12-17 after narrowly avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. Texas rallied late for a 10-4 win Thursday afternoon, after losing the first three games of the series. Worse, they lost top starting pitcher Cole Hamels for two months with an oblique injury.

The series started Monday with Andrew Cashner giving the team a fine performance. He pitched six strong innings, and the offense posted a pair of runs that scored on an Elvis Andrus double and Mike Napoli’s fourth home run. Cashner came out to start the seventh inning with his team in front 2-1, but lasted just two batters as he walked the leadoff batter and gave up an infield single. They both scored as did three more Astros when Tony Barnette relieved and gave up three more hits while retiring just one batter. When the smoke cleared, the Astros had tallied five runs to take a 6-2 lead.

Texas went quietly in the eighth – three up and three down with a pair of strikeouts. In the ninth, two batters reached base on an Astro fielding error and a walk, but a pop up and a double play ground ball quickly ended the game withthe 6-2 final score.

Tuesday, the big trouble came. Hamels warmed up for the start, but literally minutes before the game was to begin he felt a pain in his right side and was unable to go. Alex Claudio became the starting pitcher in what was a bullpen game. Claudio was brilliant for three innings, and the offense supported him with four home runs over the first four innings for a 5-0 lead. He gave up a soft single and a home run to start the fourth, but rallied to retire the final three batters and keep the Rangers’ lead at 5-2.

Claudio’s outing ended one batter into the fifth, after he gave up a home run to Marwin Gonzalez that cut the Ranger lead to 5-3. Under the cixrcumstances, it was an outstanding performance by Claudio in an emergency situation. Four relievers nursed the 5-3 lead into the eighth inning. That’s when the Rangers’ night fell apart. Keone Kela was the Rangers’ fifth pitcher of the game, and he was one out away from getting out of trouble. The Astros loaded the bases with two outs, and Marwin Gonzalez came to the plate again. He broke the game open with his second home run of the night, a grand slam that put the Astros in front 7-5.

Jeremy Jeffress relieved, but the third out of the inning proved elusive. He gave up singles to the first three Astros he faced to produce another run for the Spacemen. It proved to be an important run, as Nomar Mazara hit a two run home run in the ninth to bring the Rangers to within a run at 8-7 with no outs. The tying run reached base, but was stranded on third when Carlos Gomez struck out to end the game.

Wednesday’s game got out of hand quickly. Nick Martinez gave up four second inning runs, two of which came on gopher balls off the bats of Carlos Correa and Brian McCann. The Rangers answered with a run in the fifth inning, but the Astros put the game away in the sixth with another four spot. Marwin Gonzalez homered in his third straight game to account for two of the runs. Houston capped off the 10-1 win with two more runs in the eighth inning.

That set the stage for Thursday’s Ranger win to avoid the sweep. The Rangers scored early and often to take charge of this one. They put four on the board in the first, one more in each of the second and fifth innings, and four more in the eighth and ninth. They almost needed them all, as four releivers walked nine batters over the final four innings to provide the Astros scoring opportunities. The Rangers however escaped with a 10-4 win.

This series is about as important as a series can be in May. The Astros were picked by many to win the division and took charge in April. However, they needed to exorcise the demons of the Rangers, who had dominated them over the past two years. The Astros led the West for more than 100 days in 2015, but felt like the division championship was hijacked with a late Texas run. The Rangers went 13-6 against the Astros in 2015, when 11-8 would have given the West Division championship to Houston.

2016 was even worse from Houston’s standpoint. Texas won 15 of 19.

The Rangers came into this series struggling as they had three losing weeks among the first four and had not been .500 since losing on opening day. They started the series five games behind Houston with the chance to exert their usual dominance and be solidly in the race..

Obviously, the Astros triumphed and now lead Texas by eight games. Instead of righting the ship, the Rangers showed the same problems that have kept them from winning all season. The offense is inconsistent and too reliant on home runs. More than 50% of their runs are being driven in with home runs. They’ve scored 134 runs which ranks fourth in the American League and ninth in the Majors, but they come in bunches one day and hardly at all the next.–

Last week’s 2-4 record at home is a perfect example. They scored 28 runs in six games, almost five runs per game. That’s a good number. However, 20 of the runs came in the two wins, leaving just eight runs for the four losses. That’s two runs per game, and teams don’t win often with just two runs.

Another big problem is strikeouts. The Rangers struck out at least 10 times in each of their last five games including a season high 16 Tuesday night. Joey Gallo leads the team with 42. Napoli isn’t far behind at 37. Gomez is also in the 30′s at 31, while Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara are in the 20′s.

On the pitching side, the starters ERA ranks in the top five in the league, but that’s not to say the starting rotation is not a concern. Hamels injury is a major blow. Tyson Ross has had a set back in his rehabilitation and likely won’t be available until late May or June. It’s also noteworthy that the gaudy starting pitcher ERA stats have come against lesser competition. The Rangers have played just seven of 29 games against teams with a winning record – three against Cleveland and four against Houston – and they have a 1-6 record in those games.

The bullpen is still unsettled. Kela is back, and Sam Dyson has rejoined the team after a 10-day DL tint that included a tune-up at AAA. However, the effect of Tuesday’s bullpen game is still being felt. At least three relievers are not available Friday night in Seattle after the workload they put in against Houston.

And in general, the staff is simply walking too many batters. Walks build pitch counts and provide scoring opportunities for opponents.

To top it off, the defense is struggling. Texas has committed 25 errors in 29 games. Only Boston has committed more. That has led to 12 unearned runs, almost one-half run per game.

So the Rangers are in Seattle this weekend and finish this nine game, three city road trip with a pair of games in San Diego on Monday and Tuesday. It’s a team with a lot of troubles right now. On paper, if they get players back from injuries – players that they counted on when they put together this team over the winter – players like Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Tyson Ross and Jake Diekman; this team should be good. The worry though is that with Houston looking like the real deal atop the division, the Rangers could be digging too big of a hole to come back from.

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APRIL ENDS ON A DOWN NOTE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers again failed to have a winning week as they lost two of three to both Minnesota and Los Angeles to go 2-4 for the week. The offense again proved to be the culprit as the Rangers scored just eight runs in the four losing games.

They began the week by scoring three runs in their first two games to lose the series to Minnesota. 3-2 and 8-1 were the scores.

On Monday, the Rangers scratched out runs in the second and fourth innings to take the lead. Martin Perez pitched well in five of six innings, but the other one got him. Three walks loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning, and Byron Buxton followed with a bases clearing double.

That was the game as the Rangers’ offense mustered just three base runners over the final five innings on two hits and a walk. One was erased on a double play, and the other two didn’t advance past first base.

Perez is 1-3 with the loss. Phil Hughes and three relievers polished off Texas. Hughes is 3-1 with the win and Brandon Knitzler earned his fifth save.

On Wednesday, Andrew Cashner had difficulties finding the plate. He somehow managed to keep the Twins off the scoreboard in the first inning, despite needing 29 pitches to get three outs. He ended up walking six batters in four innings. Oddly, none of them scored. He gave up just two runs, both on solo home runs.

Anthony Bass relieved in the fifth inning after Miguel Sano led off with the second home run off Cashner. Bass looked more like a batting practice pitcher than a Major League pitcher. When the fifth inning finally ended, Bass had given up six runs on seven hits, including hits to the first six batters he faced.

Joey Gallo slugged his seventh home run for the only Ranger score of the night making the final score 8-1. Ervin Santana went to 4-0 with the win, while Cashner dropped to 0-2.

The Rangers avoided a sweep on Wednesday with a rare offensive outburst. The Rangers trailed 2-0 in the fifth inning, but scored twice to tie the game. They took the lead with four more in the sixth, and they solidly sealed the deal with eight runs in the eighth inning. Ryan Rua and Shin-Soo Choo hit home runs in that eighth inning to drive home seven of the runs. Rua’s was the first grand slam of his career. 14-3 was the final score.

Cole Hamels was the beneficiary of the offensive largesse. He gave up three runs on seven hits over 6-2/3rds innings. He’s 2-0 with the win. Hector Santiago kept the score at 2-2 through five, but Taylor Rogers retired just one Ranger and gave up three runs to take the loss. He’s 1-1.

The Rangers took the day off on Thursday, and then traded 6-3 wins on Friday and Saturday. The Angels took the rubber match 5-2 on Sunday afternoon.

Friday’s game was a tight one. Yunel Escobar hit the first pitch of the game out for a home run, but the Rangers came back to tie the game at one in the bottom of the first inning.

The game stayed tied through the fifth inning, but Mike Trout broke it with a two run home run in the sixth. The Rangers again answered with a Delino DeShields single, an Elvis Andrus double, and a Mike Napoli single to tie the game at three.

Nick Martinez again turned in an impressive performance as he allowed the three runs in six innings in his second start of the year. His ERA is 2.77. Jeremy Jeffress relieved and surrendered a three run bomb to Albert Pujols.

6-3 was the final. Jeffress (0-2) took the loss, while Angels reliever Deolis Guerra (1-1) was the winner. Jose Alvarez finished off the Rangers in the ninth inning for his first career save.

On Saturday, the Rangers won by the same score. Yu Darvish was magnificent, striking out 10 batters in six innings. He gave up two runs on three hits to win his third game against two losses.

The bigger news of the day though was Carlos Gomez. He hit for the cycle with a first inning double, a third inning single, a fifth inning triple and a seventh inning home run. The home run was his fourth of the year, and he drove in three runs on the night. It was his second career cycle and the 10th in Ranger history.

Angels’ starting pitcher Jesse Chavez (2-4) took the loss.

On Sunday, Texas took the early lead with Delino Deshields leading off with a walk in the first inning. He then stole second base and scored on Carlos Gomez’s single.

The Angels tied it with a Kole Calhoun home run in the third inning and took a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning when Jefry Marte singled with the bases loaded and two outs.

Texas cut the lead to 3-2 with Shin-Soo Choo’s third home run of the year in the bottom of the fifth inning, but that was as close as the Rangers got. The Angels added single runs in the sixth and ninth innings to make the final score 6-2.

J. C. Ramirez was the Angels’ starting and winning pitcher. He struck out nine batters and allowed the two Ranger runs on four hits over 5-1/3 innings. Bud Norris struck out the final four Ranger batters of the game to bring the Ranger strikeout total to 15 for game and to earn Norris’s fifth save.

Ramirez is 3-2, while Martin Perez went to 1-4 with the loss.

The Rangers are now 11-14 and in fourth place, one-half game (one in the loss column) ahead of Seattle, and five games behind first place Houston. They did however finish the home stand at 6-4 with last weekend’s four game sweep of Kansas City.

First place Houston is the first stop on the upcoming nine-game, three city road trip. The Rangers will miss Astro ace Dallas Keuchel. It will be the first four of 19 meetings between the two Texas teams that are battling for the coveted Silver Boot trophy. The Rangers have dominated the series in recent years. They were 15-4 last season, and 13-6 in 2015 against the Spacemen.

ROSTER MOVES: On Friday, Sam Dyson was activated from the disabled list with Anthony Bass being sent to AAA Round Rock to make room on the roster. On Sunday, the Rangers claimed slick fieldning middle infielder Pete Kozma from the Yankees. He will be added to the active roster once he reports. It is likely that Jurickson Profar will be sent to AAA to make room on the active roster.

NOTABLE:

* Just one Ranger player (Odibbe McDowell in 1985) hit for the cycle in the first 32 seasons of Rangers’ baseball, but Ranger players have hit for nine cycles since 2004. By comparison, six teams have not had a player hit for a cycle since 2004, and the team with the most cycles since 2004 besides the Rangers is Arizona with four. Eight of the 10 Ranger cycles were hit in Arlington, one in Arlington Stadium and seven in Globe Life Ballpark.

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A WINNING WEEK

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers played their first winning week of the season as they finished strong with a four game sweep of Kansas City to go 5-2 and move ahead of Seattle and Los Angeles into third place in the West. At 9-10 for the year, they trail first place Houston (13-6) by four games. Surprising Oakland (10-9) is in second place, one game ahead of the Rangers.

Texas took the Kansas City series with top notch starting pitching. The four starters – Andrew Cashner, Cole Hamels, Nick Martinez and Yu Darvish combined to pitch 25 innings while allowing four runs on 15 hits. That’s an ERA of 1.44.

The Rangers’ offense continues to fizzle, but put enough runs on the board to claim wins in all four games. The Ranger hitters mustered just 14 runs (3.5 per game) winning twice by one run – 1-0 in 13 innings in Thursday’s series opener and 2-1 Saturday – for the first two walk-off wins of the year. 6-2 and 5-2 were the Friday and Sunday scores behind aces Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.

The home run again played prominently in the Rangers’ offense. They didn’t hit one in Thursday’s game, but came back with seven in the final three games. Robinson Chirinos, who was spelling Jonathan Lucroy on Friday and Sunday, and Joey Gallo hit three each, while Mike Napoli hit the seventh. Chirinos and Gallo each hit two Friday night, and one of Gallo’s was astounding. Statcast measured the exit velocity at 116.1 MPH and the distance at 462 feet, both highs in Major League Baseball this season.

Gallo now leads the team with six home runs. He would not have made the opening day roster had Adrian Beltre been healthy, but it’s a virtual certainty that Gallo stays on the roster when Beltre returns. He has shown patience at the plate, played quality defense at third base, and run the bases well. And of course there is his prodigious power that we all knew was there. His average is only .213, but in this season of struggling offense in the Major Leagues, there are only three regulars with higher batting averages on the Rangers. He’s more than Major League ready – He’s a Major League player.

The week started well with a 7-0 shutout in Oakland. A. J. Griffen pitched his best game as a Ranger throwing six shutout innings while allowing just one hit and one walk. One of the baserunners was thrown out stealing, such that Griffen faced only one more than the mininum number of batters in six innings. He threw a strike on the first pitch to 15 of the 19 batters. Three Ranger relievers finished off the shutout giving up just two more hits and one more walk.

It was an unusual performance by the offense as they scored seven runs without hitting a home run. The Rangers cashed in seven hits for the seven runs with Shin-Soo Choo leading the way with three RBIs.

The road trip didn’t end well though, as Texas lost the final two games to finish the trip with a 3-6 record. Yu Darvish pitched brilliantly Tuesday night for five innings. The Ranger offense finally touched up Oakland for a pair of runs in the sixth driven in by Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara.

Darvish came out in the sixth and deviated from the game plan. One Oakland player said he thought Darvish got “too cute” with his pitch selection. He led off the inning by walking Trevor Plouffe, never a good start especially after just getting the lead. Jurickson Profar made an outstanding catch on Bruce Maxwell’s line drive for what proved to be the last batter Darvish would retire Tuesday night. Adam Rosales next hit a home run to tie the game at two. Darvish gave up a double and a walk to the next two batters to finish his outing.

It was a telling moment. Darvish was visibly upset about being taken out of the game. Pitching coach Doug Brocail and manager Jeff Banister were obviously upset that Darvish strayed from the game plan based on fastballs inside that had worked so well over the first five innings. Banister has since made the point more than once that there is no dissension between Broacail and Darvish. It makes you wonder why Banister feels the need to pass this along.

Tony Barnette and Dario Alvarez finished the inning, but not before allowing the two runners Darvish left on base to score. That made the score Oakland 4 and Texas 2, which was the final. The Rangers were nine up and nine down over the final three innings.

Wednesday afternoon’s finale was a total flop. Martin Perez gave up four first inning runs. Joey Gallo hit his third home run of the season in the fifth inning for the only scoreboard damage the Rangers would do on this day. Mike Huaschild gave up gave up five more runs driven in by three home runs in relief. A day later, he was designated for assignment.

9-1 was the final score.

The Oakland series was the third of a three city road trip. Statistics say that road teams usually do not do well in the third series in three city road trips. It’s not a good trend for the Rangers as they have six more three city road trips this season.

Texas finishes the 10-game hone stand this week with three games against Minnesota on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and three more next weekend against the Angels on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers’ staff ERA is 3.69 which ranks 11th among all 30 Major League teams and eighth in the American League. However, 23 of the 70 earned runs allowed were given up by Sam Dyson and Mike Hauschild, neither of whom is currently on the active roster. The staff ERA sans Dyson and Hauschild is 3.24

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HELLO LAST PLACE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The second week of the season looked a lot like the first – two wins and four losses, including a pair of demoralizing losses after taking a lead to the ninth inning. The two ugly walkoff losses came in the first and last games of the week. In between, the Rangers won two nicely played games against the Angels, and lost twice to the Mariners on dominating pitching performances. At 4-8, the Rangers dropped to last place in the West, four games behind first place Houston.

Texas arrived in Seattle leading the Majors in runs scored per game and with the momentum of having won four of their last five games, but the offense went into hibernation. The Mariners held Texas to just one run in the first two games. They completed the series sweep Sunday coming back twice to win in walkoff fashion.

On Friday night, Felix Hernandez pitched masterfully, holding the Rangers to a run in 7-1/3rd innings. A pair of relievers got the last five outs, including three by strikeout. Martin Perez started for Texas in a start that didn’t look nearly as good as the results. Perez was constantly in trouble as he gave up six hits and four walks to the 23 batters he faced. To his credit though, he didn’t unravel and give up a big inning. He completed five innings allowing just one run.

Jose Leclerc relieved in the sixth with two runners on base and struck out the side to bail out Perez. The Mariners however tagged Leclerc for a run in the seventh which proved to be the game winner. 2-1 was the final score. Hernandez (1-1) was the winning pitcher and Leclerc (0-1) took the loss.

James Paxson was Saturday’s starting pitcher for Seattle, and he was even more dominant than Hernandez. Texas didn’t get a hit until Joey Gallo doubled in the sixth inning. Jonathan Lucroy was the only other Ranger to get a hit as Paxson tossed eight sparkling innings.

Andrew Cashner came off the disabled list to start for Texas. He matched Paxson in keeping the opponent off the scoreboard for five innings. However, with one out in the sixth, Seattle loaded the bases on a single, fielding error, and walk. Kyle Seager then ended Cashner’s night by singling home two runs. Mike Hauschild relieved and promptly put the game out of reach when he served up a home run ball to Taylor Motter.

That was all the scoring in the game. 5-0 was the final score. Paxson (2-0) was the winning pitcher, while Cashner (0-1) took the loss.

On Sunday, the Rangers built a 6-1 lead early with Shin-Soo Choo driving in five of the runs with his first two extra base hits of the season,a home run and a double. Mitch Haniger touched Cole Hamels for a three run home run in the bottom of the third inning to cut the lead to 6-4. The Mariners tied the game with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but the Rangers got within three outs of a win when Nomar Mazara homered in the top of the ninth.

Sam Dyson was again called upon to earn the save, and it unravelled quickly. Jarrod Dyson, perhaps the fastest player in the American League, grounded up the middle to start the inning. Sam Dyson stabbed the soft grounder with his bare hand and deflected the ball toward shortstop. Jarrod Dyson was easily safe at first with the infield single and just as easily stole second. Leonys Martin then put down a bunt to move Dyson to third, but the Rangers were confused defensively. They made no throw after fielding the bunt putting runners at first and third with no outs.

Martin at first represented the winning run, and he promptly moved into scoring position by stealing second base. That led to an intentional walk to load the bases and set up the force. Dyson then walked Haniger forcing in the tying run. Robinson Cano grounded to second, and the Rangers kept the game alive by getting the force out at home plate. However, Nelson Cruz followed with a ground ball to short that Elvis Andrus couldn’t play. It was scored a single that drove home the winning run.

Dyson was charged with his third blown save and is 0-3 with the loss. Edwin Diaz 1-1 was Seattle’s winning pitcher. 8-7 was the final score.

The road trip began Tuesday night in Anaheim with the other ugly loss. The Rangers scratched out a first inning run to take the lead before Cole Hamels even took the mound. In the third inning, a pair of Ranger home runs drove in four more runs to push the lead to 5-0. Hamels turned in six shutout innings, before surrendering a home run to open the Angels’ seventh inning. He finished off the night without further damage to have a final line of one run allowed on four hits. He walked four and struck out five.

Tony Barnette gave up a run on two hits in the eighth, as the Angels cut the lead to 5-2 going to the bottom of the ninth. Sam Dyson was called upon to get the save. He again didn’t makeit happen. He coughed up the three run lead for his second blown save of the year. Texas lost the game in the 10th 6-5. A game that looked like a win in hand turned into a loss, and the Rangers fell to 2-5. Dyson’s body language clearly was not good. He looked unsure. He constantly nodded “no” to Jonathan Lucroy’s signs. He’s a mental mess.

Ranger manager Jeff Banister talked about Dyson’s situation after the game, “There’s definitely concern there. We’ll consider our options. We can’t continue to lose games in this manner when we have the lead.”

On Wednesday in the aftermath of Tuesday’s demoralizing loss, the injury news got worse. Matt Bush we were told was not available Tuesday night and on Wednesday, he returned to Arlington for treatment for his right shoulder. The Rangers also announced that Adrian Beltre and Tyson Ross had suffered setbacks in their rehabilitations. Beltre’s return had thought to be imminent, but with the injury worsening, he is now thought to be weeks instead of days away from returning. Ross’s setback is thought to delay his return an extra week.

On top of that Wednesday’s starting pitcher was A. J. Griffin, the weakest link in the Rangers’ four man rotation. Not to worry. Griffin turned in six innings of four hit ball, allowing three runs for a quality start. The Rangers hit three home runs, and added on to a late lead with two ninth inning runs. Jose LeClerc retired the final five batters to earn the first Ranger save of the season. Texas won 8-3, their first road win of the season, to end the Angels’ four game winning streak.

On Thursday, the Rangers won the series with an 8-3 relatively easy win over the Angels. Carlos Gomez led off the game with a home run, and Texas never trailed. Yu Darvish was at the top of his game. He threw seven shutout innings, striking out a season high (for him and the Rangers) 10 batters. The lead had grown to 8-0 by the the eighth inning, as the Rangers scored two more runs in the second and third innings, and three in the sixth.

Mike Huaschild pitched the last two innings. He looked good in the eighth inning, but gave up a three run homer in the ninth to Danny Espinosa, which broke the shutout.

As for the division race, Houston has moved into first place. They have won four games in a row and six of their last 10. They are 2.5 games ahead of second place Los Angeles.

The Rangers’ three city, nine game road trip continues Monday in Oakland.

NOTABLE:

* Yu Darvish has seen his offense score five or more runs in 32 of his starts. He has a 29-0 record in those games.

* The Rangers were 36-11 in one run games last season, which was a major reason they finished with the best record in the American League while posting just a plus eight run differential. This year the Rangers are 0-4 in one run games, but have a plus two run differential despite their 4-8 record.

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DISAPPOINTING START

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers beat the Oakland Athletics Sunday 8-1 to win their second game and first series of the season. The win capped what was definitely a disappointing start. The Rangers won their first series of the season over the A’s two games to one, but posted a disappointing 2-4 record for the week after getting swept by Cleveland in a three game set to start the year.

The series with the Tribe was extremely disappointing, as all three games were winnable. The Rangers coughed up late inning leads in two of the games and lost the third by one run. One takeaway from the series though is that Cleveland is good. The Indians lost last year’s World Series, four games to three, and there is a reason they were the second best team in baseball. They can play baseball, and they may be even better this year.

Certainly a week is too small of a sample to draw hard and fast conclusions. However, the pitching is always a major concern with the Rangers and the pitchers simply threw too many balls. Ranger pitchers walked 24 batters in the six games. The team ERA is 5.00, which comes in at number 24 among all Major League teams. The rotation aces are Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and the team went 0-3 in the games they started. There were three quality starts among the six, but only one ended up in the win column.

The largest concern though is the bullpen, or more to the point, closer Sam Dyson. He twice entered games in the ninth inning, once with the game tied and once with the Rangers holding a two run lead. Both times, he couldn’t finish the inning. He retired two batters in his first outing, and just one the second time, while getting torched for eight earned runs. His performance is mystifying. He was absolutely dominant in the World Baseball Classic this spring. Those were meaningful games in which he faced quality hitters.

How the magic vanished when the season began is inexplicable. But the fact of the matter is that his sinker isn’t sinking, and batters are hitting pitches up in the strike zone hard. There is a question as to how to handle Dyson going forward. He saved 38 games last year, so it is illogical to relieve him of the closer role so quickly. On the other hand, nothing demoralizes a team as much as seeing wins evaporate in the late innings through a bullpen failure.

Ranger manager Jeff Banister did bring him in for the ninth inning Sunday. It was a low pressure situation with the Rangers holding an 8-1 lead. He gave up a hit, but retired the side with a strikeout, reducing his ERA to a still obscene 36.00. Hopefully, it’s step one to a recovery to being the Sam Dyson Ranger fans knew in 2016.

On the offensive side, there was good news and bad news. The bad news is that the team scored very few runs that weren’t driven in by a home run. The good news is that the Rangers hit a lot of home runs – 11 to be exact to tie the Astros for the Major League lead. The surprising note about the home runs is the source – they have largely come from young players. Rougned Odor has hit three, while Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo have hit two. Gallo and Odor are 23, while Mazara is just 21; yet this trio has accounted for seven of the team’s 11 home runs, and they drove in 22 of the 33 runs the team scored last week.

Gallo of course is playing because Adrian Beltre is on the disabled list. Beltre was eligible to be activated Sunday, but the Rangers chose not to do so. Failing to activate him on Sunday really bought two more rehab days, as Monday is an off day. The likelihood is though that he will be activated soon – probably during this week’s series against the Angels in Anaheim.

Gallo is making a decision interesting. Banister said before the season began that he was impressed with Gallo’s approach at the plate. His swing is for sure shorter and more compact. He also has helped in other ways. Last Wednesday against Cleveland, he hustled hard from first base on what looked like a routine ground ball force out at second base to end the inning. His hustle though beat the shortstop to the base, and when the shortstop then threw errantly to first base, two runs scored on the play. It’s entirely possible that Gallo stays when Belte returns.

Defensively, the team has been disappointing. Two poorly played balls turned Saturday’s tight game with Oakland into a runaway. The A’s broke a 1-1 tie with Mike Napoli threw to second for a force out and the ball skipped past Elvis Andrus into left center field. Later, the A’s sealed the game when a very catchable fly ball to right field didn’t get caught to end an inning. It was not scored an error, and it led to three more Oakland runs when a home run ensued. Banister mentioned in his post game presser that it should have been caught. He added about the defense, “We need to get better.”

As for the race in the West, the Angels lead the division at 5-2. Los Angeles did not garner much pre-season attention to be a contender, but they have quietly put together a solid ball club. There are no ace quality pitchers, but manager Mike Scioscia has a solid starting rotation that can give his team a chance to win almost every night. An offense anchored by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols can’t be too shabby. The Angels may or may not be in contention when Labor Day rolls around, but they are going to cause a lot of trouble.

Houston is the popular pick to win the division, and they did nothing this week to dispell the notion. Dallas Keuchel returning to his 2015 Cy Young performance is a must for the Astros; and so far, he has been devastating. He went seven innings in each of his two starts last week, giving up one unearned run total for an ERA of 0.64. Offense has been a problem for the Spacemen, but with the veterans they added to their core of young players, the runs should come. They are still the favorite. They finished the week at 4-3 a game behind the Angels.

Oakland looks better this year. Kendall Graveman held the Rangers to one hit over seven innings Saturday to win his second game this year. The Athletics will win more games, and have a chance to crawl out of the basement. Not a good chance, but a chance. They finished the week in third place at 3-4, followed by Texas and Seattle, which went 1-6.

If the A’s do get out of the basement, Seattle is the team that they’ll likely pass. The Mariners’ pitching gets overrated because of their pitcher friendly ballpark. They slipped into second place behind the Rangers last season, but that was because the A’s were awful, the Angels were injured, and the Astros pitching fell apart. It should be a delightful race though with the likelihood that no team in the division wins 90 games.

NOTABLE:

* Nomar Mazara was named American League Player of the Week. He hit .417 with 10 hits. His nine RBIs lead both Major Leagues, and he hit two home runs, one of which was a grand slam.

* The Rangers had 14 foreign born players on their opening day roster, most of any team in the Majors.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The 46th edition of the Texas Rangers will begin their season tonight. Texas faces the defending American League champions – Cleveland Indians at 6:05 PM, part of ESPN’s quadruple game opening day coverage. For many Ranger fans, this is a bigger date on the calendar than January 1! Happy New Year!

Spring training this year was elongated for the World Baseball Classic. The WBC is modeled after the FIFA World Cup in soccer. It was created after baseball was removed as an olympic sport. Team Japan won the first two in 2006 and 2009, while the Dominican Republic won the third one in 2013.

For sure this was the most successful one. Attendance had already set a WBC record before the tournament boiled down to the final four. Team USA won, which undoubtedly had a big hand in the attendance success. Two Rangers figured prominently in the team’s accomplishments – catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Sam Dyson.

For Major League teams, the WBC poses problems and opportunities. Spring training was surely disjointed with players reporting to camp and then departing to play for their countries soon thereafter. Players were coming and going throughout spring training. There is always the risk of injury too.

However, with so many players gone, teams got to look at players farther down the line in their systems. The Rangers ended up using more than 100 players in spring games this year. The WBC also presented opportunities for players. Rougned Odor played for team Venezuela, as did Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve. Venezuela needed both bats in the lineup, but only one could play second base. Odor got playing time at third base. Hmm! This might be a good idea for the Rangers long run. Jurickson Profar is regarded as a middle infielder, but with Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor, he is not in the middle infield Ranger picture other than as a back-up. He played in the outfield for Team Netherlands, and mostly in center field. Great preparation for this Ranger season.

The WBC was expecially beneficial for relievers. Finding meaningful innings for late inning relievers is always a problem in spring training, especially in the early games. The regulars start the exhibition games by playing four or five innings with just two and perhaps three at bats. Teams that bring in their late inning relievers in the late innings find them facing reserves at the low end of the sytem, players that likely won’t see the light of day in the Majors. Teams can insert relievers early in games to face real Major League hitters, but those inniings don’t have the pressure of late inning situations.

The WBC solved the problem for Sam Dyson. He was magnificent for Team USA facing quality hitters in late game situations that really mattered. He made five appearances, pitching six perfect innings. He was the winning pitcher in the semi-final game with Japan, and recorded five key outs in a win or go home game against the Dominican Republic that put Team USA in the final four. It was great preparation for the season.

THE ROSTER

One of the givens of spring training is that there will be at least one roster surprise. Some player inevitably comes out of nowhere to claim a job. Robbie Ross in 2012 was one. He was a starter that wasn’t even scheduled for AAA, but he won a job as a lefty in the Rangers’ bullpen. He went on to post a 6-0 record with a 2.22 ERA in 2012.

So this year’s surprise is that there are really no surprises. The roster shook out largely as expected. With off days in each of the first two weeks, the Rangers will not need a fifth starter until April 14 in Seattle; so the team opens with four starters, eight relievers and 13 position players.

POSITION PLAYERS

The position players are pretty much as projected, except for a calf injury to Adrian Beltre. He starts the year on the disabled list, and Joey Gallo starts Monday night at third base. The rest of the position players are catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Robinson Chirinos, first baseman Mike Napoli, second baseman Rougned Odor, shortstop Elvis Andrus, Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar platooning in left field, center fielder Carlos Gomez, right fielder Nomar Mazara, designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo, and backups Delino DeShields, Jr. and Drew Robinson.

Beltre misses his first opening day since 2001. He was placed on the disabled list retroactive to last Thursday such that he will be eiligible to be activated on April 9. (The minimum disabled list stay has been shortened from 15 to 10 days this year.) He actually reported to Ranger camp with a hamstring issue in one leg, and now has a calf injury to the other.

He played for Team Dominican Republic in the WBC going 1-15 and was hitless in 12 at-bats after returning to the Rangers. Back-up infielder Hanser Alberto also goes on the disabled list, which limited the Rangers’ options at third base.

Gallo was the choice to start the season at third base. He hit four home runs this spring, but hit for just a .208 average in 53 at-bats. However Ranger manager Jeff Banister has been impressed with an improved approach at the plate. Gallo and the coaches have put in a lot of extra work to prepare him for the opportunity.

STARTING ROTATION

The two significant starting pitcher acquisitions this winter – Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross – start the season on the disabled list as expected. The first three spots in the rotation are Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. Perez will actually start game two in order to keep Hamels on his normal throwing schedule. A. J. Griffin claimed the fourth starter spot.

There is a faint hope that Cashner will start on April 14 when the fifth starter is needed. He threw three impressive innings in Friday night’s exhibition game agains the Royals, but he has seen very limited action this spring. That start likely goes to Nick Martinez, who was optioned to AAA Round Rock. He will be on a schedule to start that night, and he hopes he’ll be wearing a Rangers uniform instead of the Express when April 14 arrives.

Veteran starting pitcher Dillon Gee came to camp as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He had an opt-out if he wasn’t added to the roster in late March, which he exercised. However, he worked out a deal with the Rangers, was added to the 40-man roster, and starts the season in Round Rock as “depth” for the starting rotation.

BULLPEN

If there was a surprise, it was in the bullpen where Keone Kela is NOT on the opening day roster. He has been a top late inning reliever for the Rangers for the past two seasons and was very good in spring training. He pitched five innings in A games, giving up three hits and no runs, while recording a save. He is going to the minor leagues for behavioral issues. There are indications that he will be back soon.

Closer Sam Dyson recorded 38 saves last year, despite being a set-up man for the first seven weeks of the season. Matt Bush will be the top late inning set-up man. He’ll be joined by Jeremy Jeffress, who joined the team with Jonathan Lucroy in last July’s trade with Milwaukee. Tony Barnette and Alex Claudio also return. Claudio pitched extremely well in the WBC, pitching 3-1/3rd innings and giving up zero runs on four hits for Team Puerto Rico. Jake Diekman and Tanner Scheppers start the season on the disabled list, so two bullpen spots went to right-hander Jose LeClerc and lefty Dario Alvarez.

Rule 5 pick Mike Hauschild is the final pitcher. The Rangers must keep him on the active roster this year, or offer him back to Houston from where he was selected before sending him to the minors. Hauschild’s role is undefined, but he showed enough in spring training that the Rangers put him on the roster to keep him, at least for now.

The Rangers thus start the season with nine players on the disabled list. They include pitchers Diekman, Ross, Cashner, Scheppers, and Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Diekman and Gonzalez are on the 60-day disabled list. Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, catcher Brett Nicholas and infielder Hanser Alberto are the four position players on the DL. Fielder is on the 60-day disabled list, as he must be kept on the roster in order for the Rangers to receive disability insurance proceeds.

CONTRACTS

Off the field, there were three contract extensions of interest. This week, the Rangers announced they had signed Rougned Odor to a six year extension valued at $49.5 million. Texas has a team option for a seventh year, which could bring the total over $60 million. Odor is only 23 years old, but hit 33 home runs last year, an astounding total for a middle infielder.

The immediate reaction was that Odor had sold out too cheap. It is likely if he continues to put up numbers akin to 2016 that he would have done much better financially in arbitration and free agency in the next six years. Then again, almost $50 million guaranteed is nothing to dismiss lightly. There are many tales of players turning down lucrative contracts for hopes of even bigger bucks through the ensuing process, bigger bucks that never materialized because of injuries and other circumstances.

The other two contracts of interest are contracts that didn’t materialize. Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy are in the “walk year” of their current contract. I. E., they both can become free agents after this season. Darvish indicated early that he was interested in discussing an extension. Apparently very little has happened on that front. It is thought that Darvish will command a contract of at least five years with an average annual value of around $30 million per year. It would seem doubtful that the Rangers will be players in that salary range.

Lucroy announced late in spring training that contract talks with the Rangers had been tabled. He was apparently waiting for the Cardinals to reach agreement with Yadier Molina, considered one of the top two catchers in baseball. Molina and the Cardinals finally agreed on a deal this week. He signed a three year extension at $60 million. That $20 million average annual value is a record for a catcher, eclipsing Buster Posey’s deal with the Giants at an $18.5 million average annual value. The extension will go into effect next year, so the 34 year-old backstop is signed through the 2020 season.

That comp is not good news for Texas. Lucroy is three years younger than Molina. Undoubtedly, Molina’s contract is somewhat inflated for his past contributions to the team, but still, this comparable computes to at least a $15 million average annual value for perhaps four or even five years for Lucroy. Again it’s questionable as to whether the Rangers will be players in that economic range.

Opening day in the Major Leagues took place yesterday as ESPN televised three games. The Yankees, Giants and Cubs all took over last place in their respective divisions as they lost to division foes Tampa Bay, Arizona and St. Louis. The other 24 teams open today.

The Rangers’ defense of the American League West starts tonight. Yu Darvish starts for the Rangers, their ninth opening day starting pitcher in the last nine years. Cleveland opposes with Corey Kluber, a Coppell High School grad. Carlos Carrasco faces Martin Perez on Tuesday night, and Danny Salazar goes against Cole Hamels Wednesday night in the series finale.

The Rangers will host Oakland this weekend to finish the six game home stand that opens the decision. A. J. Griffin, Darvish and Perez will be the starting pitchers Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Happy New Year!

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NEXT YEAR IS ALMOST HERE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The start of Spring Training is just a couple of weeks away. The counting down of days until “pitchers and catchers report” has begun. It’s been almost four months since the Rangers last took the field in Toronto. Four months for the Ranger front office to re-formulate the roster for the 2017 season. Quite frankly, the two time American League West champions have been disappointing so far.

The initial goals were to upgrade the starting rotation, and find players for center field and first base. National writers expected the Rangers to be one of the most active teams in the off season. They have a good farm system with lots to offer in trades. They had as much as $40 million in payroll wiped off the books from free agents and disability insurance payments to offset Prince Fielder’s remaining salaries. It looked like a perfect storm for the Rangers to make a big off season splash.

However very little has happened. The big name pitcher available for trade – Chris Sale – has changed uniforms, but his new one doesn’t say “Texas” on the front. The Rangers were strongly linked to Juan Encarnacion for first base/designated hitter, who was generally considered the second best hitter on the free agent market. In the end, the Rangers never came close to landing either one of them or anyone of their ilk.

The truth of the matter is the Ranger farm system is no longer one of the top five in the game. Or even the top 10. So many prospects have been moved to land talent that could help the Rangers win the last two A. L. West pennants – players like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, just to mention three. The trades have taken a toll. At least two other prospects – Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar – have graduated to the Major leagues with the big club. The bottom line is the farm system is not what it once was.

Texas has had a good record in drafting and developing players. The farm system will be back, but at this point, the best prospects are at the lower levels of the system.

On the other front – the money, the Rangers have acted like they are strapped for cash. Jon Daniels assures the Rangers’ 2017 payroll will be the highest ever, but the Rangers were never close on the money for Encarnacion. Here’s a look at the roster in the areas Daniels identified last fall:

STARTING ROTATION: Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez return as the top three in the rotation. Derek Holland’s 2017 team option was not exercised, and he has signed with the White Sox. Keeping Holland would have cost the Rangers a net of about $9.5 million, as the option called for an $11 million salary this year, but cost $1.5 million to buy out. Even after the Rangers failed to exercise the option, Holland let it be known that he wanted to stay. He ended up with a salary of $6.5 million with the White Sox and probably would have accepted the same deal with Texas.

Instead, the Rangers signed free agent Andrew Cashner for $10 million this year. Cashner was 5-11 last year with a 5.25 ERA. Holland was recovering from Tommy John surgery last year. His velocity improved as the season wore on and he finished at 7-9, 4.95. He’s left-handed while Cashner is right. The bottom line is that the Rangers simply did not want Holland back.

Cashner is penciled in as the fourth starter at this point, but he is iffy to earn the spot. He was once highly regarded, but arm troubles have set him back.

The Rangers also signed Tyson Ross. Ross was also highly regarded once, but his career has been sidetracked by injuries. Included was an operation for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which he underwent in October. He won’t be ready when the season starts though.

The projected rotation then is Darvish, Hamels, Perez, Cashmer and Ross. However, with Ross’s situation, at least one rotation spot is up for grabs. The candidates at this point are A. J. Griffin, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Dillon Gee, who recently signed a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, and Rule 5 draftee Mike Hauschild.

BULLPEN: The returning bullpen looked solid with Matt Bush, Sam Dyson, and Jeremy Jeffress, Tony Barnette, Keone Kela and Tanner Scheppers coming back. However, the pen took a shot when Jake Diekman underwent surgery to remove his colon. He’s out until at least mid-season and may not play at all this year. Alex Claudio is the leading bullpen lefty after Diekman. The injury could open the door for Andrew Faulkner or Dario Alvarez. The bottom line is that the pen looks real good from the right side, but not so much from the left.

OFFENSE: The gold plated offense that finished the season had four free agents. Carlos Gonzalez was the only one resigned. Gone are Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland, who collectively hit 65 home runs last year. That’s a hole! The hopeful return of Shin-Soo Choo for more than 48 games will take one of those spots. One of or perhaps a combination of Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua and Joey Gallo will take up one spot.

That leaves one opening preferably for a veteran. The rumor mill around Christmas time had fan favorite Mike Napoli coming back; but February is here, and it hasn’t happened yet. The hang up is thought to be the term of the contract. The Rangers only want to go one year, while Napoli wants more. There are many though that think the Napoli deal will still happen, though there have been rumors that the Rangers have checked into Chris Carter, who led the National League with 41 home runs last season. Carter strikes out often, so amazingly is having difficulty finding a contract. He may even play in Japan.

Veteran first baseman James Loney was recently signed to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. So was Josh Hamilton, who is campaigning for a look at first base. One of those two could be the bat the Rangers are looking for. However, the Rangers really prefer a right handed bat and both Loney and Hamilton bat left.

THE DIVISION: While the Rangers have seemingly done little to improve their team, the division has gotten better. MLB.com’s Richard Justice wrote recently about the six most improved teams this off season. West Division foes Seattle and Houston are on the list. The L. A. Angels look better too. The A. L. West could be the most competitive division in baseball this season.

Another article in Bleacher Report gave an off season letter grade for each team. The Rangers’ was “C”. However, there is still time to make moves. Ian Desmond was the Rangers’ MVP for the first half of the season last year, and he didn’t sign until late February after spring training was well under way. Jon Daniels definitely needs to pull some rabbits from the hat for the Rangers to win the West for the third straight year.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers have announced that they will retire Ivan Rodriguez’s uniform number seven. He’ll be in Cooperstown, New York to be inducted into the Hall of Fame over the final weekend in July. The Rangers will then schedule a ceremony to retire his number in August. The team has not announced a date yet, but the two Saturday home games are on August 12 against Houston and August 19 against the White Sox.

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THE HALL CALLED

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The baseball Hall of Fame announced their 2017 player selections Wednesday evening. Former Commissioner Bud Selig and former front office executive John Scheurholz were already in this year’s class of inductees. They will be joined by three players, which includes most notably for Ranger fans, catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. Former Astros’ first baseman Jeff Bagwell and outfielder Tim Raines, who spent the best part of his career with the Montreal Expos will also be inducted in July.

There were 442 ballots cast by BBWAA members, and Rodriguez was named on 336 ballots, just four more than the 332 (75%) that are required. He becomes just the second catcher to earn the honor in his first year of eligibility, with Johnny Bench being the other. Bench tweeted “Congratulations to my brother in gold, Ivan Rodriguez, on his election.” Bench won the Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence 10 times in his career.

The amazing thing is that the vote was close at all. Rodriguez played 21 seasons, and won the Gold Glove Award 13 times. He made the All-Star team 14 times. The first 12 years of his career were with the Rangers – 1991-2002. He was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, and was one of the backbone players of the Ranger teams in the late 90′s that won the West Division in three out of four years for the Rangers’ first post-season appearances ever.

In 2003, Rodriguez played for the Florida Marlins. They won the 2003 World Series, and he was named the MVP of the National League Championship series. He followed with five years in a Detroit Tigers’ uniform and played in the 2006 World Series. He finished his career with the Astros, Yankees, a second short stint with the Rangers and Washington Nationals. 2011 was the final season of his 21 year career. He hit 311 home runs and his career batting average was .296.

He was known for his deadly throwing arm. It was perhaps the best of all time. What gets overlooked about his throwing ability is his quick feet. He was able to get into a solid throwing position quickly which facilitated a lightning quick release to go with the arm strength.

Rodriguez becomes the fourth Puerto Rican born player to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The others are Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, and Roberto Alomar.

Joe Torre, a catcher himself, called Rodriguez “the greatest catcher I ever saw.” With the Gold Glove Awards, All-Star appearances, and offensive prowess; there should have been no doubt that he would be elected this year. It should have been a “no-brainer”. Had he not earned the honor this year, there would have been voters that had some “splaining” to do. He was accused of being a steroid user by Jose Canseco, and that was the only reason that voters could have withheld their vote. However, the biggest vote getter this year was Jeff Bagwell, who clearly was a steroid user. The 90% of the voters that voted for Bagwell should not have let possible performance enhancing drug use be a reason not to vote for Rodriguez.

A year ago, Mike Piazza was named to the Hall of Fame. Piazza was not in Rodriguez’s class as a catcher and was definitely linked to steroids. Inexplicably, 27 voters that voted for Piazza last year did not vote for Rodriguez this year.

In the end though, 336 ballots did name Rodriguez, and that was good enough to get him elected. He clearly would have been elected some day had he missed this year, but missing out on the honor of being a first ballot Hall of Famer would have been an injustice. He may well be the best catcher in the history of baseball.

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