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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NEXT YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers’ season ended much earlier than anticipated as they bowed out of the playoffs in just three games. It was a disappointing meltdown from the team that had the best regular season record in the American League and looked poised to play deep into October. As one fan said, “Anything short of getting to the World Series will be a disappointment.” It was and is.

The biggest culprit was the starting pitching. Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis combined to pitch 10-1/3 innings, while allowing 17 runs, 16 of which were earned. They allowed seven home runs, while striking out just seven batters. The Rangers only twice even held a lead in a game, both in game three, and never held the lead at the end of an inning. It’s hard to win when your team is constantly behind on the scoreboard.

Make no mistake about it though, the Rangers were deficient in every aspect of the game, except the bullpen. The fielding was shoddy. It was fitting that the winning run in the deciding game three scored on an error. Offensively, Texas was outscored 22-10, and quite frankly, everyone on the team not named Elvis had a poor offensive series. The team went 3-23 with runners in scoring position.

So the question now is where does this team go for next year? Four of the Ranger hitters in Sunday night’s lineup, including the first three in the batting order are eligible for free agency. They are Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland. In the post-season wrap-up press conference, General Manager Jon Daniels said that all of the free agents to be have expressed an interest in returning, and he said that he could envision circumstances for each one of them to return. It’s only a guess, but it’s doubtful that more than one is with the team next year.

Daniels said starting pitching is a high priority, as are first base and center field.

In regard to the starting pitching, Hamels and Darvish will return along with Martin Perez. The Rangers hold a team option on Derek Holland for $11 million with a $1.5 million buyout. That’s a decision that could go either way, though the guess here is that the Rangers will exercise the option. The net cost is $9.5 million, and sadly even pedestrian starting pitchers command $9.5 million in this day and time. It would probably benefit Holland if the Rangers do not exercise the option. It’s a week free agent starting pitching class, and he would likely command at least a three year contract at the same per year salary figure.

Colby Lewis is the Rangers fifth free agent. He always manages to find his way back to the Rangers, so there is a good chance he returns. A. J. Griffin? He’s eligible for arbitration.

The bullpen is actually in pretty good shape. Matt Bush was clearly the best pitcher in the pen at season’s end. Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Alex Claudio, Keone Kela, and Jeremy Jeffress are still under control.

There is also the question of Jurickson Profar. He was a valuable member of the team as a utility player, but he undoubtedly wants to be a starter at a middle infield position, preferably shortstop. The Rangers have those positions filled with Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. Profar is arbitration eligible, and Daniels said he envisions Profar returning next year in the same super-sub role he played this year.

The club also holds an option for 2017 on catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Exercising that one is a no brainer.

There is no question that top prospect Joey Gallo regressed this season. His strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances was particularly disturbing late in the season. Daniels preached patience with Gallo. He will play winter ball in Venezuela and will play at first base. It sounds like he’ll get every opportunity to start at first base next year if Moreland does not return. Interestingly, it was mentioned that the team will look at Josh Hamilton at first base.

Desmond did a fine job as the primary centerfielder this season. It was his first as an outfielder, and he played extremely well overall. He was clearly the team’s MVP until the All-Star break. His offensive production waned in the second half, particularly the power numbers, but his overall season was very good. This winter’s free agent outfield class is weak, so Desmond should command a healthy contract.

Carlos Gomez has been primarily a center fielder in the past, so could be the center field solution if he returns. He did well offensively with Texas after being terrible with Houston to start the season. He has a reputation of being a bad guy in the clubhouse, a factor that could reduce other team’s interest in him as a free agent and reduce his cost for the Rangers to retain him.

Delino Deshields, Jr. is the internal option. He has plus-plus speed, and certainly sparked the offense hitting leadoff in the latter half of 2015. He lost his position early this year and spent most of the year in AAA. Defensively, his arm is terrible, and despite his speed, he isn’t that good at tracking down fly balls. The Rangers are almost certain to find a center fielder elsewhere.

The Ranger roster that went to battle in the playoffs was significantly different from the one that the Rangers envisioned when spring training began. The roster that the Rangers will envision when spring training begins next February will undoubtedly differ markedly from the one that went to the playoffs. With Darvish and Hamels to anchor the rotation, the catcher and three-fourths of the infield largely intact and a solid bullpen; next year’s team should be competitive, if not the favorite to win the West for a third straight year.

NOTABLE:

* Jeff Banister said that the team expects Tony Beasley to be back as the third base coach next year. Beasley has been fighting rectal cancer. Spike Owen, who coached third base in Beasley’s stead this season, will be reassigned within the organization.

* All of the other coaches have been asked to return next year.

* Nick Martinez is also playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, while top minor league pitcher Ariel Jurado is playing winter ball in the Venezuelan League.

* The World Baseball Classic will be played next year, and Adrian Beltre is contemplating playing for the Dominican Republic.

* The Rangers’ payroll ended at around $170 million, and Daniels said he expects the total to be about the same next season.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers found out last night that their opponent in the American League Division Series will be Toronto. The Blue Jays’ Juan Encarnacion ended the Wild Card play-in game with a three run walk-off home run in the 11th inning to beat Baltimore 5-2. It was a game of big flies as six of the seven runs were driven in by three home runs. Toronto took the early lead with a Jose Bautista solo home run in the second inning. Mark Trumbo hit one in the fourth inning with a runner on base to put Baltimore ahead, 2-1. The Jays pushed across a run in the fifth to tie the game. Encarnacion’s extra inning blast decided it.

Toronto and Baltimore had tied with 89-53 records. The game was played in Toronto by virtue of the Jays holding a 10-9 edge in regular season head-to-head play between the two.

The win sets up a rematch of last year’s Division Series show down in which Texas won the first two games on the road, lost the next two at home, and saw Toronto prevail in game five. The final game was noted for a defensive melt down by Texas in which the Rangers committed errors on three consecutive plays, and a game winning home run by Bautista and his infamous and arrogant bat flip.

The bat flip wasn’t forgotten by Texas this season; and in the final regular season game between the two, Bautista was hit by a pitch and followed with an aggressive slide into second base on the ensuing ground ball. The Rangers’ Rougned Odor took exception to the slide, and bedlam followed. Odor clocked Bautista with a hard right. Both benches emptied. Play was stopped for 15 minutes, and 14 suspensions and/or fines of players and coaches resulted – seven from each team. Odor received the most significant suspension – seven games.

TBS is televising this series in the U. S. and Sportsnet Canada is televising in Canada. They surely are thirsting over the prospect of a rematch from last season’s division series. Bautista’s bat flip last year and this season’s bench clearing brawl makes for an intriguing story line to the series.

The game times were announced late Monday afternoon, and it would be an understatement to say that the Rangers and their fans were disappointed. Thursday’s game starts at 3:38 PM (Central), and Friday’s start time is 12:08 PM (Central).

It’s for sure an injustice that so many Ranger fans committed to support the team by buying season tickets and attending so many regular season games, and then they are not be able to attend these two playoff games because they can’t take off from work. It was reported Monday night after the game times were announced that more than 20,000 tickets were listed for sale on StubHub for the first two games.

Toronto won the season series against the Rangers four games to three. The Jays won three of four in Toronto, while the Rangers won two of three in Texas. Those games were played in May, such that the Ranger offense the Blue Jays will face is considerably different. Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez have been added late in the season.

The Blue Jays started Marcus Stroman against Baltimore. He pitched six innings and likely will not be available until game three next Sunday in Toronto. Neither team has named their starting pitcher for game one of the series. For Toronto, Aaron Sanchez (15-2) and J. A. Happ (20-5) are the leading candidates to start games in Arlington this week. For Texas, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels will be the starters in the first two games, but Ranger manager Jeff Banister has not announced which will pitch which game.

The Rangers’ roster is due at the league office Thursday morning. GM Jon Daniels said it would likely not be made public until the time it was turned in. The main questions apparently revolve around Shin-Soo Choo and whether to carry seven or eight relievers.

As for position players, the usual starting nine plus Robinson Chirinos as the back-up catcher and Jurickson Profar are the 11 positon player givens. If the verdict is eight relievers, that leaves two open spots. If Choo is deemed healthy enough to play, he gets one of those roster spots, leaving just one for Ryan Rua, Delino Deshields, Jr. and Jared Hoying. If the decision is made to carry seven relievers, then two of those three likely make the roster.

Colby Lewis and Martin Perez will be the other two starting pitchers on the roster, though Banister has not decided which will start game three.

As for the relievers, Sam Dyson, Matt Bush, Keone Kela, all righties; and lefties Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio are surely on the roster. Over the past week, Jeremy Jeffress and Tony Barnette rejoined the team and pitched well. They may have locked up two more bullpen spots. Those seven may be the bullpen. If the decision is made to carry eight relievers, the final spot could come down to Derek Holland, Nick Martinez and Tanner Scheppers. A. J. Griffin could also be a consideration as a long man in the bullpen.

The conjecture as to which team the Rangers wanted to play is over. The reality is that the opponent is Toronto. Game on!

NOTABLE:

* Highland Park graduate Bo Schultz is on the Blue Jays. He is a relief pitcher that appeared in 16 games this season, including five in September. He was not on the roster though for the Wild Card play-in game against Baltimore.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SEPTEMBER BASEBALL

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The calendar flipped from August to September with a couple of American League teams having essentially wrapped up the division championship, but the East Division and the two Wild Card playoff spots are still wide open. While Cleveland and Texas are all but mathematically in the playoffs, they have meaningful games to decide seeding and home field advantage. There is exciting and meaningful baseball to be played until the regular season ends October 2.

The rosters expand in September. Teams can add players up to their 40-man roster. The Rangers are up to 34. Teams in pennant races usually like to add players to shore up areas like:

PITCHING: Teams routinely add to their staffs, particularly the bullpen. Texas immediately added Nick Martinez and Yohander Mendez when the rosters first expanded. Jose Leclerc and Tanner Scheppers have been added since. Colby Lewis came off the 60-day disabled list last Sunday, so the Rangers have 17 pitchers on the active roster.

CATCHER: In the 21st century with teams routinely carrying 12 pitchers, there is room for just two catchers. Catcher is one position where teams go for defense first. Often late in games, the defense first catcher comes to bat in a critical situation, and managers are reluctant to pinch hit because they don’t want to later be exposed with no backup catcher on the bench if an injury occurs. A third catcher in September solves the problem. The Rangers added Brett Nicholas in the first wave of call-ups to join Jonathan Lucroy and Robinson Chirinos.

SPEED OFF THE BENCH. Every manager wants a player or two with plus speed for pinch running situations. Outfielder Delino Deshields, Jr. was already on the roster, and Jered Hoying was also added.

Infielders Hanser Alberto and Joey Gallo have also joined the team. Alberto gives manager Jeff Banister flexibility in his infield substitutions and Gallo provides power off the bench.

The expansion of the rosters benefits teams across the spectrum. Obviously, the teams in pennant races like the flexibility to have pinch hitters, pinch runners, and a deep bullpen. However, teams that are totally out of the races have the opportunity to look at their prospects in a Major League setting and to get their prospects acclimated to the Major Leagues. As Buck Showalter used to tell the local media, “You put that third deck on the stadium, and it’s a different ballgame.”

In recent years, there has been a growing sentiment to change the roster situation in September. Many conceptually see playing by one set of rules for five months (a 25 man roster), and then playing by another set of rules in September (30 or more on the active roster) when the races get decided. Eric Nadel even predicted last year that there would be a change to the rules this year. That obviously didn’t happen, but there is at least some chance that changes will be made for next year.

The common theme in the proposed rule changes has teams still being allowed to expand their rosters, but with a per game or per series limit of the usual 25-man active roster.

Quite frankly, I don’t see the need for such change. First, it would hurt teams out of the race by limiting their ability to play the young players they have summoned from the minor leagues. One of the unwritten rules of the game is that a team that is out of the pennant race puts the best team on the field in games against teams contending for the playoffs. If such roster limits were in place and the game turned into a blowout, they could miss the opportunity to use September call-ups that aren’t designated for that game.

For the contenders though, it makes even less sense. Under the present system, teams with a productive farm system get a talent shot in the arm in September. Teams with less productive farm systems don’t get the same jolt. Why penalize teams that are building through their farm system?

The other thing to consider is that in the second decade of the 21st century, Major League General Managers have become very creative at roster management. There are restricted list and paternity leave designations that effectively inflate the 25 man roster during the season.

The one complaint that has some merit is that with the large number of pitchers, game times can expand because of numerous pitching changes. Former Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz ranted earlier this week on the MLB Network about a game in which 19 pitchers were used. That is excessive, but it’s the exception to the rule.

The success of a season is ultimately decided by the success in the playoffs. The playoffs are really played by different rules than the regular season. There are off days for travel, such that most teams shorten their pitching rotation to four or even three starters. That enables teams to drop back to 10 or 11 pitchers and add one or two position players. There is thus more flexibility for defensive replacements, pinch hitters and pinch runners. There’s no reason that the different rules of September baseball shouldn’t be part of the game that decides which teams participate in the playoffs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

RANGER ROUND UP

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers finished August with a 17-10 record for the month and an 80-54 record for the season. 26 games over .500 is the season high, and they go into September with an 8.5 game lead over Houston and a magic number of just 21. They go into the month with a five game winning streak. The last three of were victories over Seattle that all but mathematically eliminated the Mariners from the division championship. The magic number to eliminate Seattle is 18.

The 80-54 record is the best in the American League, so with the A. L. winning this year’s All-Star game; the Rangers are poised to have home field advantage in all three post-season series. The team looks to be rounding into good form in all areas. They scored 28 runs in the three game Seattle series. The Mariners left town 11.5 games out of first place with 29 left to play. They are toast as far as winning the division and almost toast for getting a Wild Card berth.

Texas now has six players that have hit at least 20 home runs this year. They also scored a run against the Mariners without a hit on a walk, stolen base, sacrifice bunt and ground out. It’s a formidable attack that can score in a variety of ways.

The starting rotation has gotten a boost from the return of Derek Holland. Holland has thrown two outstanding games since getting activated from the disabled list, going six innings and giving up one run each time. He is making a strong bid to part of the playoff rotation, which will most likely be just four pitchers as well as a case for the Rangers to exercise their team option on Holland for 2017.

Martin Perez has struggled since June, but he came back with six shutout innings this week against the Mariners. He has been outstanding at home. He has made 15 starts at Globe Life Park, with an 8-2 record and a 2.65 ERA.

A. J. Griffin has been better of late. Colby Lewis made a minor league rehab start last Tuesday and could get activated soon with the expanded rosters. The rotation appears to be coming together as the team is down to their final 28 games. There are smoke signals from Arlington that the team is strongly considering going to a six-man rotation for September. That would allow extra rest for Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and keep Perez, Griffin, Holland and Lewis engaged.

The bullpen looks sharp at this point. For sure, Sam Dyson can scare the bejeebers out of Ranger fans in save opportunities. In the end, the results are usually there. He has 30 saves, and just four blown saves. Matt Bush is up to six wins, and may be the most consistent late inning reliever on the staff. Jake Diekman has scrambled of late, but he’s still the main left-hander in the pen. Keone Kela had a fine outing this week, so hopefully is regaining his 2015 form. Tony Barnette continues to be quietly consistent.

That’s basically the back end of the bullpen at this point. Jeremy Jeffress was expected to be part of the mix, but he was arrested for DWI last week and was immediately placed on the restricted list. This week, he entered a rehab facility in the Houston area. He is expected to be out around 30 days as he deals with those issues.

Alex Caudio has been fantastic as the long man. Since his last recall from Round Rock on July 8, he has a 1.54 ERA in 15 outings. This week he relieved Cole Hamels in the fifth inning and threw 2-1/3rd scoreless innings of middle relief. Not only did he keep the game within the Rangers’ reach for a win, which they did; but he saved the rest of the bullpen. Amazingly, only three pitchers saw action in the game despite Hamels’ short start.

Reinforcements are coming with the rosters expanding in September. Two relievers from the minor leagues will be in uniform for this weekend’s series against the Astros (see below). Tanner Scheppers is also expected to join the team. More pitchers are likely to be added next week when the minor league seasons are complete.

The Rangers’ bullpen numbers don’t rank highly in the American League, but most of the pitchers responsible for the bad numbers are gone – Tom Wilhelmsen and Shawn Tolleson to name two. The ERAs of the current group of relievers is quite good.

As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approached, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels decided the price for starting pitching was prohibitively high. He made the decision to forego the acquisition of a significant starter, which was his stated preference, and try to make the team better in other areas. Jonathan Lucroy, Jeffress and Carlos Beltran were the three big acquisitions he made. So far, it’s working out great!

Lucroy has probably had more impact than any player traded at the end of July. His offense has been invaluable. In 24 games, he has hit .293 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His home run total for the season is 20, a new career high.

As valuable as those numbers sound, he’s been even better behind the plate. Derek Holland has thrown his two best starts of the season with Lucroy calling the pitches. Martin Perez has made three very good starts in his last four outings. Lucroy caught two of the three. Yu Darvish has been better with Darvish behind the plate. Add to that his pitch blocking ability and his acumen at throwing out would be base stealers, and he is clearly a HUGE part of the 17-10 record in August.

Carlos Beltran is also making his presence known too. He is hitting .253 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Those are not astounding, but this team is much better with a veteran such as Beltran.

After the trade deadline, the Rangers signed Carlos Gomez. He was activated for the current home stand and has played six games, but has had a significant impact in three of them. He hit a three run home run in his first Ranger at bat. He hit a grand slam this week to break open Wednesday’s game against Seattle. He made two tremendous catches that kept Tuesday’s game against Seattle in range, a game the Rangers won in the ninth inning.

Gomez was known as a bad act in the clubhouse in Houston this year before his release. With Texas, he’s been anything but. He has mainly been a center fielder, but has willingly played left and right fields and is pleased to be in the batting order even if it’s toward the bottom. He’s playing well and he’s with a strong contending team. That may be the difference, but so far, the Rangers have not seen the problematic Carlos Gomez that hit only .205 in 89 games for Houston. There is no question about his talent. He’s got the physical tools to be a top end player.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers announced four call-ups from the minor leagues as the rosters expand in September. They are left-handed pitcher Yohander Mendez called up from AA Frisco, and right-handed pitcher Nick Martinez, infielder Hanser Alberto, and catcher Bret Nicholas from AAA Round Rock. All four are expected to be in uniform for the Houston series this weekend.

* Reliever Tanner Scheppers is also expected to be activated from the 60-day disabled list and join the team this weekend.

* The 14-1 rout of Seattle on Wednesday put the Rangers run differential well into the positive numbers. They have scored 635 runs while allowing 613, a differential of plus 22. It was only plus five when the Seattle series began.

* After the Rangers play a three game series with Houston this weekend, they move on to Seattle for four games. The other remaining series with the two main West Division contenders is a three game set on September 12, 13 and 14 in Houston.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment