MORE WOES IN ST. PETE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers maintained their grip on last place in the American League West by losing two of three games to the Tampa Bay Rays this week. They completed the road trip at 3-3, but their season record dropped to 7-13. They trail first place Los Angeles by seven games and are three games behind fourth place Oakland in the loss column.

The long time adage in baseball is that a team’s momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. That proved to be true in Monday’s series opening game. The Rangers arrived in St. Petersburg having won two games in a row for the first time this season. Any thoughts of the team having momentum vanished quickly as Monday starter Martin Perez was terrible.

The Rays pushed across a run in the first inning and four more in the second. Perez’s night lasted two more inning and he ended up getting shelled for eight runs on ten hits. He’s 1-2 with a 13.14 ERA after the outing.

The Rangers’ offense continues to struggle. The batsmen mustered just four hits. Two went the distance – Joey Gallo in the fourth inning and Nomar Mazara in the eighth inning. Mazara’s came with two runners on base to make the final score 8-4.

On Tuesday, the Rangers got a good performance from Matt Moore. Moore has struggled the most among starters so far this season, but on Tuesday night he showed what the Rangers were hoping to see. He scattered five hits over seven innings, allowing just one run, which was unearned.

Moore came up to the Majors with the Rays, and perhaps it was the comfort of being on the mound where he had success in the past. In any event, it was a welcome performance. He’s 1-3 with the win, but his ERA still languishes at 6.59.

The Rangers put single runs on the board in the first and second innings on sacrifice flys to stake Moore to an early lead. Tampa Bay touched Moore for the unearned run in the second inning, but the Rangers came back with three more runs in the fifth inning to extend the lead.

Shin-Soo Choo had a interesting stat line. He was 1-2 from the leadoff spot, but he walked twice, scored four runs, hit a mammoth home run and drove in two. It was also another good day for the newest Rangers. Isiah Kiner-Falefa had a four hit game, and Ronald Guzman drove in two runs.

In Wednesday afternoon’s finale, Cole Hamels and Jake Faria tangled in an early pitchers’ duel. The Rangers handed a 1-0 lead to Hamels with Choo’s solo home run in the third inning, his second round tripper of the series and fifth of the season. Hamels held the Rays scoreless through five innings, but they touched him for three runs in the sixth. Runs scored on a double, a single and a sacrifice fly. Hamels retired just one batter in the seventh inning as he surrendered another run.

Texas added a run on two walks and a single in the ninth inning to make the final score 4-2. Hamels drops to 1-3 on the year, and his ERA is 4.76.

The injuries continued for Texas. They lost Jurickson Profar in game one. He took a tumble as he tried to turn a double play. He was in concussion protocal and not medically cleared to play in the final two games of the series.

The Rangers are off Thursday, but open a six game home stand this weekend. Seattle is in town Friday, Saturday and Sunday, followed by Oakland next week. Mike Minor, Bartolo Colon and Perez are the scheduled starting pitchers for Texas.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers are expected to announce the signing Thursday of Cuban refugee, outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez.

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IMPROBABLE!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers won their first series of the season this weekend, taking two of three games from the Houston Astros. It was improbable that the first series win would come on the road. It was improbable that the first series win would come against the reigning World Series champions. It was improbable that both Ranger wins came in extra innings. It was improbable that it would happen with two rookies in the lineup making their first Major League starts. All of that and more happened.

The critical point in the series came Saturday afternoon when the Astros took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning. After losing Friday night’s series opening game, the Rangers’ goose looked all but cooked. At that point, the Rangers had lost five straight games in which they had not even held a lead at any point.

The two rookies – Isaiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman – made their first Major League starts on Friday night, and both nabbed their first Major League hit. On Saturday, Kiner-Falefa sparked the comeback with his first Major League home run in the fifth inning, cutting the Astros’ lead to 5-4. Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo homered in the sixth and eighth innings. Beltre’s was a solo shot, but Gallo’s came with a runner on base to pull Texas within a run at 5-4.

Guzman then followed Gallo with his first Major League home run to tie the game.

Mike Minor was the Rangers’ starting pitcher. He gave up the five runs and completed five innings, allowing five hits and a walk. However, five Ranger relievers followed Minor to the mound and shutout the Astros the rest of the way.

Texas scored in the tenth inning making Keone Kela the winning pitcher. Alex Claudio wrapped up the 10th inning for his first save of the year.

Texas had lost Friday night 3-2. Robinson Chirinos and Gallo homered in the seventh inning to tie the game, but the Astros tagged Kevin Jepson for the winning run in the eighth inning. Jepson is 0-2 with the loss.

Cole Hamels was Friday night’s starting pitcher and he turned in a quality start going six innings and allowing two runs. He struck out seven.

The split in the first two games set up the rubber match in Sunday night’s ESPN national telecast. Bartolo Colon was the starting pitcher taking the turn that would have gone to Doug Fister had he not gone on the disabled list.

Colon was simply magnificent. He was perfect for seven innings. In the eighth, the perfect game went good-bye when he walked the first batter. The no-hit bid went good-bye when Josh Reddick followed with a double. That was it for Colon. A sac fly brought home an Astro run to tie the game at one. Texas had earlier scored on Chirinos’ second home run of the series.

Once again, the game went into extra innings. Once again, Chirinos plated runs, this time two runs with a double. Jake Diekman gave up a hit, but struck out two in the bottom of the 10th to close out Houston. Kela was the winning pitcher again making his record 2-0. Diekman earned his first save of the season.

The Rangers for sure miss Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor after they joined the disabled list last week. However, they looked energized from their replacements – Guzman and Kiner-Falefa. The road trip continues with games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Martin Perez, Matt Moore and Hamels are the scheduled starting pitchers for Texas.

NOTABLE:

* Tim Lincecum’s Ranger debut has been delayed to at least late May. He was moved from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster for Renato Nunez, a utility infielder claimed on waivers from the Oakland Athletics. On Monday, Renato was added to the acxtive roster, and Ryan Rua was optioned to AAA Round Rock to make room.

* Houston’s Justin Verlander was named the American League Player of the Week. He made two starts, and won the award even though the Astros lost one of those games. He struck out 20 batters and allowed one run in 15 innings for the week.

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DISAPPOINTING HOME STAND

LOSSES AND INJURIES MOUNT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

UPDATE – 8:30 PM (Central) – The Rangers announced this afternoon that Elvis Andrus will not need surgery for his right elbow injured Wednesday night. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

The Rangers also announced that Ronald Guzman will be called up to take Andrus’s place on the active roster. Guzman is a left-handed hitting first baseman. When he plays, Joey Gallo will shift to left field. Ryan Rua will then likely move to center field with Drew Robinson moving to second base. Rua may also see playing time at second base, and Carlos Tocci can play center field to give the Rangers further lineup options.

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers got their first off day of the season Thursday, and they look like a team that desperately needs a day off. They closed out their second home stand Wednesday night with a loss to the Los Angeles Angels to go 1-5 on the home stand and 4-10 for the season.

The bigger story of the home stand though was injuries. They had already lost center fielder Delino DeShields when the home stand began. By the time it was over, they had also shelved starting pitcher Doug Fister, second baseman Rougned Odor and worst of all, shortstop Elvis Andrus.

The old adage in baseball is for a team to be good, they need to be strong up the middle – catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second base and center field. Injuries have hit four of the five positions, with Fister being one of their top three starters, if not the best.

The home stand began with three games against Toronto. Texas lost the rubber game of that series last Sunday afternoon. The first two games of the series were split behind strong and almost identical starting pitching performances – one run allowed on a home run over six innings.

On Friday, it was Toronto’s Marco Estrada with the strong start. He was supported by two early three run innings, and back-to-back Toronto home runs in the sixth inning that ran the lead to 8-0 and virtually sealed the win. Texas did rally for four runs off the Jays’ bullpen in the seventh to get within striking distance. However, double plays in the eighth and ninth innings snuffed out any further Ranger scoring opportunity.

On Saturday, it was the Rangers’ Mike Minor with the strong start. He allowed just two hits while the Rangers supported him with five runs. Jake Diekman and Keone Kela finished off the final one-third of the game allowing no more hits, much less a run for the 5-1 win.

Sunday’s series finale unraveled quickly for Texas. Steve Pearce homered on the first pitch of the game. Eleven pitches later, Kendrys Morales hit a three run home run to balloon the lead to 4-0 before the Rangers came up to bat. The Rangers answered with one run in the first, but never got closer than three runs. 7-4 was the final score, with Cole Hamels taking the loss.

The injuries began Monday night when the Angels came to town. Odor clutched his hamstring in the first inning as he scrambled back to first base after a flyout. He left the game immediately and was placed on the disabled list a day later. He’s expected to miss three to four weeks with a hamstring strain.

Fister was the Rangers’ starting pitcher. He allowed three earned runs in five innings, departing after throwing 81 pitches. The Rangers trailed 3-1 when he left, but Alex Claudio relieved and immediately surrendered two more. He was unable to finish the sixth inning.

Diekman started the eighth inning and failed to retire a batter, as the Angels added three more runs. 8-3 was the final score. Fister is 1-2 with the loss. However, he was added to the disabled list on Tuesday with a strained muscle in his right hip. He’s expected to miss two weeks at least.

On Tuesday, reliever Tony Barnette was activated from the disabled list and utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa was called up from AAA Round Rock to replace Fister and Odor.

Tuesday’s game deteriorated rapidly. Martin Perez got the first two batters of the game out, and then it turned south. A walk and four singles followed to plate three runs. Mike Trout homered in the second inning, and the Angels added two more runs in the third and three more in the fourth to take a 9-1 lead. They later added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings for the final 11-1 score.

Texas loaded the bases in both the first and second innings, but managed to score just one run. Perez is 1-1 with the loss, while the Angels’ Tyler Skaggs is 2-0 with the win.

In the series finale, the Angels’ Jaime Barria made his Major League debut, and threw five strong innings to earn the win. The Angels scored two runs in the second to take the lead, which they never surrendered. The Rangers managed just one hit off Barria – Ryan Rua’s first home run of the year – and just five hits total in the game.

Matt Moore started for Texas and went to 0-3 with the loss. 7-2 was the final score, as the Rangers really weren’t in this game after six innings.

The injury to Andrus came with two outs in the ninth inning. He got plunked on the elbow with a 97 MPH fastball. He was scheduled for an MRI on Thursday to fully assess the damage, but with broken bones, he’ll miss a minimum of six to eight weeks. This will be the first time in his career that he’s been placed on the disabled list.

There is no love lost between these two teams. Andrus was the fourth hit batsman of the game. The first two were the catchers for each team, so that looked like a tit for a tat. The third one was Mike Trout, the best player on the Angels. There are good arguments that the pitch that hit Andrus was a mistake, but Andrus is the Rangers’ best player, so it could well be retaliation.

Bartolo Colon made two relief appearances in the home stand allowing a run in five innings. His ERA is down to 1.64. He’ll get the starting assignment Sunday in what would have been Fister’s start.

Jurickson Profar took over at second base for the rest of the series after Odor left Monday’s game. He now moves to shortstop. The Rangers will likely make a roster move to add a second baseman. Hanser Alberto at AAA Round Rock is the most experienced internal option, though adding Alberto would involve making room for him on the 40-man roster as well as the active roster. Another option is to call up an outfielder and move either Rua or Drew Robinson to second base. The Rangers undoubtedly will be scrutinizing the waiver wire and exploring trades.

Unfortunately, the team looks pretty much like the one Ranger fans saw over the first week. The defense is not good. The offense is inconsistent. They are very poor at situational hitting. On the home stand they went 11-49 with runners in scoring position. The starting pitching after Minor’s Saturday night gem was not good. It’s simply difficult to win games when a team is so often behind early in the game and playing “catch-up”. The bullpen has been inconsistent.

The Rangers now go on the road for six games starting with three in Houston this weekend. That’s followed by three more against the Rays in St. Petersburg next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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A SPLIT LOOKS GOOD

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers are back in town for a six game home stand after their first road trip of the season – four games in Oakland. The Rangers won Thursday afternoon’s matinee finale 6-3 to gain a split in the series. Oakland hasn’t been a very good team in recent years, but the Oakland Coliseum has been a house of horrors for Texas. The Rangers had lost 10 straight games in Oakland before Tuesday’s win, and even with Thursday’s win, they have lost 11 of the last 13 played on the north side of the bay.

The bottom line is that a split in this series looks good. Thankfully for Texas, the next three series between the A’s and Rangers will be played in Arlington. Texas doesn’t return to Oakland until late August.

For the series, the Rangers activated two starting pitchers onto the roster. Bartolo Colon started the opener and threw one of the better pitched games of the young season for Texas. He scattered seven hits over six innings, one of which was a home run for the only score he allowed. The crafty veteran threw mostly fastballs, none of which cracked the 90 MPH mark. Somehow, it worked.

Unfortunately, the Ranger offense didn’t do much against Oakland starter Andrew Triggs and three relievers. They managed to plate just one run as they went 1-15 with runners in scoring position.

Kevin Jepsen followed Colon in the seventh. He retired two batters, but allowed a hit and a walk to the other two hitters he faced. They both scored to tag Jepson with the loss in the 3-1 game.

Cole Hamels ended the 10 game losing streak in the Coliseum with an unusally pitched game on Tuesday. He lasted only five innings, but struck out 11 of the 15 batters he retired. He gave up a run on four hits and three walks.

The Rangers struck for four runs in the early innings to stake Hamels to a 4-1 lead after four innings. That was the final score. Keone Kela pitched the ninth inning to record the Rangers’ first save of the season.

The Athletics dominated Wednesday’s game, winning 6-2. Ranger starter Doug Fister was knocked out in the fourth inning. He allowed five runs, but only two were earned. The Rangers mustered just four hits in the game.

Martin Perez came off the disabled list to start Thursday. He pitched into the sixth inning and was rocked for 10 hits; but he didn’t walk a batter and avoided the one big inning that has plagued his starts in recent years.

The Rangers put four runs on the board in the second inning to hand a lead to Perez. It is the most runs Texas has scored in an inning so far this season. The key play of the inning came with two men aboard. Ryan Rua successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt. Oakland pitcher Daniel Mengden fielded it and overthrew first base. Both runners scored and Rua ended up on third base, as small ball produced big results.

Perez was charged with three runs. The score stayed 4-3 going into the ninth inning, when Shin-Soo Choo homered for the second straight day. His round tripper came with a runner on base to extend the lead to 6-3. Kela again pitched the ninth for the save.

Certainly, the A’s aren’t the Astros as far as competition goes. Texas and Oakland share the bottom two spots in the division with 3-5 records after splitting the series. A split on the road is always a good result, but especially so for this year’s Rangers playing in the Oakland Coliseum.

Toronto and the Los Angeles Angels are in town for three game series before the Rangers get their first off day of the season next Thursday. Matt Moore, Mike Minor and Hamels are the starting pitchers this weekend against the Blue Jays.

NOTABLE:

* Adrian Beltre had two hits on Thursday to bring his career total to 3,055. That put him ahead of Rod Carew for the most hits by a player born in Latin America.

* Elvis Andrus struck out Thursday, his first of the season in 33 plate appearances.

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WEEKEND IMPRESSIONS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers started the season by losing three of four to Houston. It’s undoubtedly too early to draw any rock solid conclusions. It’s only four games. But there are some ideas as to what this Ranger team is.

First, it is safe to say that there is a huge gulf between the Astros and Rangers. Jon Daniels has even publicly acknowledged that with the Astros in the division, the Rangers only path to the playoffs is the Wild Card. For example, Astro pitchers Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh would be one of the top three pitchers in the Rangers starting rotation if they were Rangers. They aren’t. On the Astros, they aren’t able to crack the starting rotation and have been shuttled to the bullpen.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Astros have at least three players that are better than anyone on the Rangers – reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. Alex Bregman isn’t far behind.

It’s understandable then that the Rangers did so little this winter in the trade and free agent markets to get players that could help this year’s team. There was no sense getting tied down to significant contracts if the odds of making the playoffs are so slim.

A couple of problems with the position players last season was too many strikeouts on offense and a porous defense. Both of those issues still look the be problems. Ranger batters struck out 40 times in the series with four different players recording a hat trick – three K’s in a game. (Robinson Chirinos actually struck out four times in one of the games.)

The defense still looks porous. It’s not so much the errors – Texas committed just two in the series both of which occurred in the game the Rangers won – but it’s the plays not made that should be made. `

Texas avoided the injury bug in spring training. However, Friday Delino DeShields injured his hand. It was not thought to be serious at the time – he stayed in the game. On Saturday morning though, he woke up with the hand seriously swollen, and he landed on the disabled list Saturday afternoon. It is a broken hamate bone which likely will require surgery and will keep him out for four to six weeks.

Center field is one position where there is little depth. Carlos Tocci, the Rule 5 draft pick is a good defender with speed, but he is not a Major League hitter at this point. He started Saturday, but is not viewed as a solution. Drew Robinson played center on Sunday. He and Ryan Rua appear to be the standins for DeShields at this point.

DeShields with his plus speed has been a catalyst for the offense. On Sunday in his absence, the Rangers managed just four hits. They scored just 11 runs in the series. Putting fewer than three runs on the socreboard in a game isn’t going to win many games.

As for the pitching, three of the four starters pitched a decent game. Hamels, Fister and Minor were between okay and good. The problem is innings. None of them completed six innings, and Moore and Minor didn’t complete five. They totalled 19-1/3rd innings allowing 10 earned runs for a 4.66 ERA.

That left 16-2/3rds innings for the bullpen, obviously more than four per game. There are some good arms in the pen, but if they are repeatedly called upon to throw three, four or more innings in games; it won’t look good in June.

Tonight Bartolo Colon takes the hill for Texas against the A’s. He effectively takes DeShield’s roster spot on the active roster, and Ricardo Rodriguez was placed on the 60-day Disabled List to make room for Colon on the 40-man roster. More moves are coming as Martin Perez is scheduled to start Thursday in Oakland.

It will be a telling series for the Rangers. Oakland has also started the season 1-3. The A’s and Rangers could well be fighting each other to stay out of last place.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Arizona and Arlington exhibition games are complete. The roster has been set. The 2018 season opening game is on tap for Thursday afternoon. Happy New Year!

As the roster was finalized over the past few days, there were no notable injuries that created opportunities for a relative unknown to make the roster, much like Joey Gallo did last year when Adrian Beltre was injured. There are usually a surprise or two, and this spring there is one name that was not even prominently mentioned as grabbing an opening day roster spot when spring training began – outfielder Carlos Tocci.

The position player portion of the roster was pretty well set from the beginning, barring injury. Eight players were fixed – catcher Robinson Chirinos, first baseman Joey Gallo, second baseman Rougned Odor, shortstop Elvis Andrus, third baseman Adrian Beltre, center fielder Delino DeShields, right fielder Nomar Mazara and designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo.

Jurickson Profar was also pretty well set as the back-up infielder. He was out of minor league options and undoubtedly would get claimed on waivers, which the Rangers had to do to shuttle him to the minors. It was either use him or lose him.

So that left the following questions. Who would play left field? Who would be the back-up catcher? Would the Rangers have a three or four man bench?

The leading left field candidates were Ryan Rua, Drew Robinson and Willie Calhoun. Calhoun was the best prospect the Rangers received last summer in the Yu Darvish trade. He is a very good hitter – Major League ready right now. With the Dodgers, he was primarily a second baseman, and he wasn’t very good.

Second base didn’t hold much promise in Texas with at least Odor and Profar in front of him. The Rangers have moved him to left field. He worked hard in spring training to improve. He hit well early, but then tailed off at the plate. Texas sent him to AAA midway through training camp. It was speculated that the Rangers were sending him to the minor leagues to start the season to buy an extra year of control before free agency, but there is no doubt that he needs work defensively in left field, where he has played fewer than 50 games professionally.

The general thought is that he will arrive in Arlington for good by June.

In the mean time, the Rangers announced that Rua would get the nod as the regular left fielder. He has been a platoon player in the past, but since he is a right-handed batter, he got the short end of playing time. This year, he gets the shot as the full time left fielder. For his sake, he hopes he can play well enough to keep the position when Calhoun is deemed ready defensively.

The back-up catcher was thought to be Brett Nicholas when spring training began. Surprisingly, the Rangers waived him midway through training camp. He cleared waivers and re-signed a minor league contract, so he’s still in the system.

Juan Centeno became the heir apparent. It was no secret the Rangers were scouring the waiver wire and talking trade with other clubs to find a better back-up catcher. It didn’t happen, so Centeno is the man.

That leaves Tocci and Greg Robinson to finalize the bench. Tocci is a speedster that is very good defensively, but not very good at the plate. He is a Rule 5 draft pick, so the Rangers must keep him on the active roster this season or offer him back to Philadelphia if he clears waivers. He likely will be a pinch runner and see late inning action as a defensive replacement.

It’s a good offensive club. DeShields has claimed the lead-off spot in the batting order and has had a very good spring. He continues to improve defensively as far as tracking down fly balls. His defensive drawback is his weak throwing arm. Since joining the Rangers, he has often sparked the offense with his speed.

Joey Gallo looks to be even more selective at the plate and is showing a better two-strike approach at the plate. He looks poised to improve on last season when he hit 41 home runs and clocked in with an .869 OPS. Bannister has looked at Gallo at the number two spot in the batting order. On the surface it looks like a waste of his power, as a position lower in the batting order likely would bring him to the plate more often with runners on base; but he likely gets better pitches to hit at two with the heart of the Rangers’ batting order following him to the plate. He’s also a very good base runner and walks enough to have a good on base percentage.

One area that might be worth watching is second base. Unquestionably, Rougned Odor’s play declined in all aspects last year. He is below average defensively, and hit just .204. He still reached the 30 home run plateau.

After one particular bad game this spring, a local beat writer asked Jeff Banister if Odor and Profar might switch roles, with Odor becoming the untility infielder and Profar taking over at second base. Banister said no, but admitted it was a fair question. I.E., if Odor’s 2018 looks like 2017, the switch might come a month or so down the line.

The question when spring training began was whether the Rangers would have an eight man bullpen or a four man bench. For opening day, they have both! The wizardry comes because the team will begin with just four starters – Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, Matt Moore and Mike Minor.

Bartolo Colon was with the team in the spring, was released and re-signed to a minor league contract. He’s slated to start game five, precipitating a roster move by Monday both on the 25 man active roster and the 40 man roster.

It is unclear what Colon’s status will be after Monday. It may be just a one start stint as a Ranger or he may be part of the rotation going forward.

There was talk of a six man rotation of some sort when spring training began. Hamels especially was vocal in his opposition of getting off the schedule of pitching every fifth day. It appears at this point that the goal is to pitch Minor every sixth day to limit his innings pitched as he transitions from the bullpen to the rotation after surgery. It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Hamels is not the ace he once was, but he is still a very good pitcher. He gets the nod for opening day. Fister looked sharp last Monday in his final tune-up against the Reds. He works fast, so fans will enjoy the game pace when he starts. Moore, quite frankly hasn’t been good.

Martin Perez starts the season on the disabled list after breaking a bone in his right (non-throwing) arm this winter. The plan is for him to make a minor league rehab start this Friday and join the team next week starting game eight.

The pen surely must be better this year than last. The law of averages says so doesn’t it? The signing during spring training that caused the biggest stir was Tim Lincecum. The two time Cy Young Award winner was thought to be a contender for the closer job, but he simply isn’t ready. He conveniently has developed a blister, so will start the season on the disabled list, as will Tony Barnette.

The eight man pen that will begin the season then include Keone Kela, Jesse Chavez, Chris Martin, Matt Bush, Kevin Jepson and Jose Leclerc as the righties. Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio are the lefties.

Bannister has said that he will not name a closer. He will be looking at matchups. Kela, Diekman and Bush appear to be the leading candidates. Claudio finished last season as the closer with 11 saves, but Banister prefers to have him available earlier in games because he has the ability to go multiple innings. Lincecum might figure into the mix when he is ready to join the team; but at this point, Kela is the favorite.

After last season, GM Jon Daniels said he expected the team to contend for the playoffs this year. However, it’s become obvious that the team is in rebuild mode. Just recently free agent starter Lance Lynn finally signed a one-year team friendly deal. He would have been an upgrade to the starting rotation. Daniels passed on Lynn as well as other free agents that would have been upgrades after their prices became reasonable in the slow moving market this winter.

The Astros are the biggest reason to rebuild. They are the reigning World Series champions and look better on paper now. Catching Houston seems out of the question, so sneaking into a Wild Card berth is the Rangers only realistic chance of reaching the playoffs.

In any event, it’s a roster that will be in flux. The announced starters for games five and eight – Colon and Perez – will cause two roster moves. Relievers Lincecum and Barnette are expected to be ready in April causing two more moves. With the team rebuilding, it promises to be a roster that will be in flux all season.

As for the races in general, there are six super teams on paper that are projected to win the divisions – Houston, New York and Cleveland in the American League; Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles in the National League. If those projections hold, the other 24 teams will be scrambling for the four Wild Card spots.

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RANGER ROUNDUP

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The calendar has moved into February and there is still little movement with the big name free agents available this winter. It was generally thought that once the signings began, it would be a flood gate opening. Lorenzo Cain became the first big name star to sign a deal – five years with Milwaukee. That didn’t set off signings of big name players, but this weekend, Yu Darvish, perhaps the top free agent pitcher signed with the Cubs. Hopefully that will set in motion more pitching signings.

Darvish endeed up getting $126 million guaranteed for six years. There are incentives that are not likely to be accomplished that could bring the total over the $150 million mark. He also has the right to opt out after two years. Apparently, the Rangers kept in touch with the Darvish camp, but were never serious contenders to re-sign him.

There has been some saber rattling in the last two weeks by players and agents in response to the slow moving free agent market. Boycots have been threatened. Colusion has been charged. Free agents are angry over not getting the contract offers they feel they deserve. The bottom line is that the market place has likely changed. The statistics that have been so beneficial in putting forth the players’ accomplishments may now be working against them There are stats now that indicate long term deals with free agents older than 31 have not been beneficial to teams.

So for now, the impasse stays, but there is hope that signings start moving. There are so many unsigned free agents that the players association has set up a spring training camp in Florida so that the free agents can get in shape for the season. It’s even thought that some may not be signed by the time the season begins.

Many teams have chosen to make trades instead of chase free agents. The Astros for one made such a trade for starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. It’s still somewhat surprising that the Rangers have not made an impactful trade. They have a surplus of left-handed hitters with power. Coming back from last year’s team are Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo. Willie Calhoun was the best prospect the team received when they traded Darvish to the Dodgers. One of their top minor league prospects is Ronald Guzman. All are left-handed batters with power. Undoubtredly, Texas tried to move Choo, but his contract with $63 million left for three years proved to be an impediment.

Spring training camps open this week. The Rangers are ready. The equipment truck loaded with equipment for spring training has arrived in Arizona. The Rangers’ Surprise, Arizona faciltiy is ready for players to report.

Ranger Notes:

Texas has apparently signed reliever Seung Hwan Oh to a one year contract with a club option for a second year. Oh is from South Korea and is 35. He has pitched 13 seasons of professional baseall in three countries. His MLB experience has been with St. Louis over the past two seasons. He has a 7-9 record with 39 saves in the Major Leagues. He likely is the leading candidate to be the Rangers’ closer this season.

His signing has not officially been announced by the club. It is expected to be announced shortly after the date that teams are first allowed to place players on the 60-day disabled list and create openings on the 40-man roster.

Jeff Banister indicated to reporters this week that Joey Gallo would be the team’s first baseman. Gallo saw action at first, third and the outfield last year. He has indicated he prefers first base, and it is believed that he will play better both offensively and defensively if he sticks to one position.

Baseball America published their list of the top 100 minor league prospects. The Rangers landed two – Of Willie Calhoun at 36 and OF Leody Taveras at 51.

There is some thought being given to artificial grass at the new ball park. Nothing’s been decided, but it is a consideration. HMMMMM!

The Rangers signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Colon has pitched for 11 Major League teams with a career record of 244-176. He will turn 45 next May.

The Rangers also signed Trevor Plouffe this week. The 31 year-old infielder is signed to a minor league contract and will make $1.7 million if he makes the team. He was the MInnesota Twins first round draft pick in 2004. He has played eight seasons in the Majors with a career .242 batting average, 105 home runs and 376 RBIs.

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2018 RANGERS TAKING SHAPE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON. Texas – This off season has been a slow moving free agent market. incredibly, with training camps set to open in less than 30 days, Lorenzo Cain is the only free agent that has signed a contract for more than three years in length, and that just happened. That means all the big names are still out there available for one and all to sign.

There have been a plethora of reasons why the market has been so sluggish. (A). This is perceived as a weak class of free agents. (B) Next year’s class could be perhaps the best free agent class of all time with players such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and maybe even Clayton Kershaw coming available; so teams are hanging on to the purse strings to be able to take advantage next year. (C) The big spending Yankees and Dodgers have put together their teams with a total payroll near the luxury tax level, which they don’t want to exceed. (D) A number of the big name free agents in this class are represented by Scott Boras, and he often strings out the process attempting to wring the last dollar out of teams.

There are other reasons thought to be at work here too, but it’s still mystifying that the market has so many top names still available – still more than 100.. It is getting close to the time that the players involved start considering “pillow deals”. Pillow deals are one year contracts that get a player signed and gives him a chance to come back and try free agency again next year.

It is obvious that there will still be a large number of unsigned free agents when training camps open. That has led to speculation that agents may sponsor spring training camps for the unsigned to get them ready for the regular season.

The 2018 Rangers are taking shape. GM Jon Daniels said from the beginning of the off season that pitching was his priority. He began the off season with just two rotation spots secured – Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. The team indicated they would look at Matt Bush as a starter and gave Bush an off season plan to prepare. They have also signed Doug Fister and Mike Minor and traded for Matt Moore.

The picture is clouded by an off season injury to Perez, who broke a bone in his non-throwing hand. He vows to be ready by opening day, but the likelihood is that he misses at least the first month.

The team definitely made a Herculean effort to sign Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. He projects to some day be a top of the rotation starting pitcher akin to Yu Darvish. He also can hit and wants to the opportunitly. The Rangers have had their eye on Ohtani since he was in high school. Adding him would have been a big splash, but it was not to be. Worse, he signed with the Angels; so will be seen often with a divisional opponent.

There are some reclamation projects signed to minor league contracts that could crack the rotation, but at this point, there appears there will not be any big splash names added to the starting rotation. If there is a big splash, it will be Darvish, still unsigned. There are rumors of offers such as one from the Brewers that came to light last weekend, and perhaps some serious discussions with the Yankees. He has most recently been linked to the Cubs and Twins. There is speculation that he may have to settle for a contract with a total value of $60 – $80 million. If that becomes a reality, the Rangers could be in the picture, but it’s doubtful.

There are no major additions to the bullpen. Jake Diekman is expected to be healthy from day one. Keone Kela is back. Bush or Minor could be part of the pen if they don’t crack the rotation. Tony Barnette was re-signed. Alex Claudio waa the most dependable reliever last year, and he returns, probably getting first shot at being the closer. Jose LeClerc is alsoo in the mix.

As for the rest of the team, very little has happened. Texas has not clarified which direction it will go at first base. Joey Gallo, the author of 41 home runs last year and the team leader in OPS, looks promising defensively. Certainly, he would likely prosper if he settled in at one position. Ronald Guzman was very good at AAA last year and is apparently Major League ready. He too is a first baseman.

There has been no center field addition and no trade of Jurickson Profar. Both were rumored to be on the Rangers’ radar.

So that leaves the rest of the position player roster pretty much the same as last year. Robinson Chirinos is catching with Brett Nicholas as his backup. Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre fill out the infield at second, short and third. Willie Calhoun, the most highly regarded prospect received in the Darvish trade to the Dodgers will get a long look in left field. Delino DeShields gets the first look in center field. Nomar Mazara is slotted for right field and Shin-Soo Choo will be the main designated hitter.

As last season wound to a close, Daniels said he expected the Rangers to contend in 2018. That looks less likely now. The Astros are the reigning World Series champions. They have their core four offensive players back – Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman. They added Justin Verlander to the rotation last August and Gerritt Cole this winter. It was a pretty good rotation before those additions. They look hard to catch.

But then again a year ago, the World Series champion Cubs looked to be hard to catch, and they ended up scrambling to even make the playoffs in 2017. They play the games on the field and not on paper.

The Angels may have the best chance to challenge Houston in the West. They are relieved of paying salaries to Josh Hamilton and C. J. Wilson, so found themselves with payroll flexibility. They have traded for Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart to fill out a very good looking infield. They already had Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Trout is considered to be the best player in the Majors by many. Pujols is not the super star he once was, but he still drove in 100 runs last year.

Los Angeles has added Ohtani to the rotation and will give him a chance to hit. The Angels are considereing a six-man rotation

The Angels on paper look to be the best bet to overtake Houston for the West Division championship.

Seattle has made some nice moves to beef up their offense. They haven’t done anything of note to beef up the pitching staff, but they look better than the Rangers on paper.

The bottom line is that the Rangers may be fighting it out with an improving Oakland team to stay out of last place.

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IT’S OVER!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The 2017 season mercifully came to a close last Sunday for the Texas Rangers. They split four games with Oakland to finish 78-84, good enough for a third place tie with Seattle in the American League West.

Oakland took the first game of the series by a 4-1 score, which extended the Rangers’ season high losing streak to seven games. Oakland’s Sean Manaea was masterful, allowing just one unearned run on three hits over 6-2/3rds innings. He finished the season with a 12-10 record. A trio of relievers blanked the Rangers on one hit to close out the win. Blake Treinen earned his 15th save, and Miguel Gonzalez (8-13) took the loss for Texas.

On Friday night, Texas came back with a 5-3 win to end the losing streak and assure a finish above last place in the division. Martin Perez gave up all three runs on five hits over the first six innings to earn the win. He finished the year at 13-12. Keone Kela, Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio each pitched a scoreless inning to complete the game. Claudio earned his 11th save.

Texas came back with another win on Saturday night, 8-4. The Rangers pushed across four runs in the second inning to jump out front early. Nomar Mazara singled and Joey Gallo homered to start the inning. Two outs later, Rougned Odor and Jared Hoying doubled to bring home the third run. Delino DeShields capped off the scoring with an RBI single. Gallo followed an inning later with a second home run to extend the lead to 5-0.

Andrew Cashner was the starting pitcher for Texas, and he shut down the A’s over the first five innings. Oakland touched him for two runs in the sixth to finish his night. His final ERA was 3.40 for the season, ninth best in the American League. Cashner’s record evened at 11-11 with the win.

Willie Calhoun doubled home a run in the bottom of the sixth and then scored himself on Elvis Andrus’s double to return the lead to five runs at 7-2. The Rangers tallied again in the seventh, while Oakland pushed across single runs in the eighth and ninth innings for the 8-4 final score.

Oakland got the win Sunday 5-2. Cole Hamels started and was scheduled to throw no more than five innings. He didn’t last that long though, getting knocked out after three He gave up three runs on five hits.

Yohander Mendez relieved and completed 4-2/3rds innings. He allowed two runs on five hits.

Nomar Mazara finally put the Rangers on the scoreboard with a two run single in the eighth inning.

Adrian Beltre was taken out of the lineup once the Rangers were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. However, Manager Jeff Banister started him at designated hitter Sunday. He led off the fifth inning with the Rangers’ first hit of the game and was removed for a pinch runner to a rousing standing ovation.

MILESTONES: Nomar Mazara drove in four runs in the series to push his RBI total into triple digits. He led the Rangers with 101 for the season. Joey Gallo’s two home runs on Saturday put his total into the 40′s. He finished with 41 and is just the sixth Ranger player to hit 40 in a season. Juan Gonzalez (four times), Alex Rodriguez (three times), Rafael Palmeiro (three times), Josh Hamilton and Mark Teixeira (one year each) are the other five. Rougned Odor appeared in all 162 games becoming the eighth Ranger to do so. Michael Young in 2006 was the last Ranger to play all games in a season. Elvis Andrus batted first in Sunday’s batting order to become the first Ranger since 1983 to bat in all nine batting order spots during the course of the season. (Billy Samples was the Ranger that did so in 1983.)

NOTABLE:

* The final attendance figure for the season was 2,507,760, an average of 30,960 per game. That’s about 200,000 fewer than 2016, roughly a 7.5% drop. However, the Rangers still out-drew the Houston Astros by a few more than 100,000 fans despite the Astros playing in an air conditioned stadium with a retractable roof and having a pennant winning team.

* Alex Claudio was named the Rangers’ Player of the Month for September. He had a 1-1 record with four saves and a 1.59 ERA in 11-1/3rd innings pitched.

* The Rangers have informed Martin Perez that they intend to pick up the option in his contract for the 2018 season.

* Texas will have the 15th pick in next June’s amateur draft by virtue of their finish. Seattle gets the 14th pick with the same record because their 2016 record was worse that the Rangers.

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ASTROS ROMP AND STOMP

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Houston Astros romped and stomped on the Rangers in this week’s three game series, outscoring Texas 37-7. The scores were 11-2, 14-3 and 12-2, marking the first time in Ranger history that the team has allowed 11 or more runs in three consecutive games. The first two Astro wins eliminated the Rangers from playoff contention.

The three game sweep sends the Silver Boot trophy back to Houston for the first time since 2007, as Houston finished the season series leading the Rangers 12-7. The game three loss was the season high sixth in a row and the 82nd of the year, assuring the Rangers of a losing season for the first time since 2014 and for only the second time since 2009.

Make no mistake about it, this is a beat up Ranger team at season’s end. Adrian Beltre has been playing through a hamstring issue, while Mike Napoli has been unable to play through a stress reaction in his lower right leg. Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos are among the others that have also been dealing with injuries.

And on top of that, the pitching hasn’t been very good. Nick Martinez was the only starter to go five innings in the series. The starters combined to throw 11-2/3rds innings allowing 18 earned runs, a 13.89 ERA. But then again, the relievers were charged with 19 runs in the series.

Making the playoffs was essentially out of the question after the Rangers went 2-5 on their last home stand. They deserve credit though for playing hard all the way until they were mathematically eliminated.

The series sweep brought the Astros win total to 98, tying their second best win total ever. They have four games this weekend against Boston and still have a chance to catch Cleveland for the best record in the A. L. Cleveland is one game ahead.

Texas has four games remaining in the season, all with Oakland starting Thursday. With the playoffs out the window, Ranger manager Jeff Banister indicated Adrian Beltre will be shut down for the season. Willie Calhoun, the best prospect the Rangers received in the Yu Darvish trade was in Wednesday’s starting lineup and went 2-3. Included was his first Major League home run. He likely will start all four remaining games.

The Rangers need to win one game in the series to save the embarassment of finishing in last place. On the other hand, that might not be all bad. If they lose all four this weekend, they could be drafting as high as ninth in next June’s amateur draft.

As for the playoffs, there is little drama left. Nine teams have claimed a playoff spot. In the American League those five are Houston, Cleveland, Boston, New York and Minnesota. The Yankees trail the Red Sox by three games with four to play, so they have the possibility of overtaking the Red Sox for the East Division championship. Houston and Cleveland are set as division champions, while Minnesota is the second Wild Card and will be the visiting team in either New York or Boston for the play-in game next Tuesday.

In the National League, the division champions are Los Angeles in the West, Chicago in the Central and Washington in the East. Arizona has wrapped up the number one Wild Card berth and will host the play-in game next Wednesday. Colorado is their likely opponent, but Milwaukee and St. Louis have not mathematically been eliminated from overtaking the Rockies.

NOTABLE:

* The fan that caught Willie Calhoun’s home run ball received an autographed bat and cap from Adrian Beltre in exchange for the ball. Calhoun said he would give the ball to his father.

* Delino DeShields hit his first career inside the park home run in Wednesday’s game. It was the third inside the parker this season at Globe Life Park. It is the first season in which more than one inside the park home run has been hit at Globe Life Park.

* Possible Milestones: Elvis Andrus needs to score one run to reach 100 for the season for the first time in his career. He goes into the weekend with a .299 average after going 2-4 Thursday, so could easily finish at .300 for the second straight year. Nomar Mazara needs three RBIs to get to 100.

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