BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas garnered a win this past weekend against the Angels. It was as important a series as a series can be in July. The Rangers arrived Friday leading by six games, seven in the loss column. Winning the series would have been nice, but realistically, avoiding a sweep is a good weekend. So far this year, the Rangers and Angels have played three three-game series, and each time the home team has won two of the three games. The saga continues next Monday in Arlington.
It was Yu Darvish that turned in the game winning starting pitching performance last Saturday, his eleventh win in 18 starts. He has six losses, one no decision, and the Rangers are 12-6 in the games he has started.
There is no question that the Rangers took a huge risk in watching C. J. Wilson leave in free agency for $77.5 million for the CHANCE to get the negotiating rights to Darvish. Wilson is currently 9-6 with a 2.82 ERA for the Angels, which ranks sixth in the American League, and he won 31 regular season games for Texas over the past two seasons as a starting pitcher. That’s a lot to give up for the opportunity to procure an ace. In the end the Rangers committed more than $100 million in posting fee and contract to procure Darvish, and at this point in the season, you’d have to say that he has far exceeded expectations.
He’s not Justin Verlander, though he has shown the talent that he may be some day. There are critics that look at him as a failure because he isn’t Justin Verlander right now, but that was an unreasonable expectation. No matter how much talent a pitcher has, and Darvish’s is enormous, there is still a learning curve. T. R. Sullivan of MLB.com said before the season began that a reasonable expectation would be around 13 wins and a 3.50 ERA. He’s almost there with more than a third of the season remaining.
One problem for Darvish has been the first inning. Prior to last Saturday’s game, his first inning ERA was around 6.50, while his ERA for the rest of the innings was less than 3.50. That was one thing he particularly wanted to improve upon last Saturday, and he did. He looked dominant as he set the Angels down one two three (fly out, strikeout and groundout) to start the game. The Rangers’ offense responded. They took control of the game in the second, hitting three home runs and scoring five runs.
Darvish completed seven innings, touched for two runs on three hits. He did walk four, another area of his game he needs to work on, but he struck out 11, making Saturday’s game the sixth this year in which he has rung up a double digit strikout total.
Certainly, the pitching matchup with Ervin Santana going for Los Angeles was the most favorable of the weekend for Texas, and the Ranger hitters took full advantage by clubbing five home runs in the 9-2 rout. However, it was Darvish that took charge on the mound early to set the tone in a very important Ranger win.
Two things that stand out so far beyond the huge upside potential is his competitiveness, and his willingness to work to improve on problems that arise. This game for example, he made a concerted effort to have a good first inning. He’s gotten to the point that the entire team seems more upbeat and optimistic on days that he pitches. They know he’s going to give them a great effort and that there is a good chance they’ll win. The offense has often supported him with big scoring games like this past Saturday, which was the biggest scoring game of July for the Rangers and just the second game of the month in which they scored more than four runs.
Manager Ron Washington said over the weekend that if the playoffs began now, his top two pitchers would be Matt Harrison and Darvish. They are two good ones to lead a team into the playoff battles.