NEWS AND NOTES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Pitchers and catchers reported to training camp last week. The position players have all arrived. By the end of next week, spring training will be fully underway, and exhibition games won’t be far behind. Amazingly for so few days in camp, how much news has spewed forth. So in no particular order:

* The team announced that third base coach Tony Beasley has sadly been diagnosed with rectal cancer. There is a strong possibility of a full recovery. He has arrived in Surprise and will begin chemo therapy next Monday. Beasley is optimistic that the chemotherapy will not wipe him out energy-wise, so expects at this point to continue his normal coaching activities.

* Yu Darvish took a giant step forward in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on Monday. He threw off a mound that is 50% of the elevation of a regular mound. The downward motion of throwing from an elevated surface puts pressure on the elbow. That’s why this is an important step. Darvish threw 17 pitches and reported no problems afterward.

* Josh Hamilton’s ailing left knee was examined by team doctor Keith Meister over the weekend. Hamilton has undergone two surgeries on the knee since the end of last season and received a cortisone shot in January. However, the pain has returned. He sought a second opinion and travelled to Birmingham, Alabama to be examined by Dr. Jeff Dugas. This turn of events has the Rangers monitoring outfield free agent and trade possibilities. If Hamilton is ruled out of action, it could open the door for standout prospects Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. There are a number of free agent outfielders still unsigned including former Rangers David Murphy, Drew Stubbs, Will Venable, Jeff Francoeur, Marlon Byrd and Alex Rios. So far though, Hamilton has been able to perform his spring training baseball activities.

* The Rangers are in negotiations to extend Adrian Beltre’s contract past this season. He will be 37 during the upcoming season, and the Rangers’ top minor league prospect, Joey Gallo, is a third baseman. Still the Rangers want to extend the contract, believing that Beltre is still a very good fielder. Last season, the Rangers were 38-22 in the final 60 games which was good enough to catch the Astros for the division championship. Beltre returned from injury and hit .328 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs in those 60 games.

* Reliever Tanner Scheppers will soon undergo knee surgery that will keep him out until around the All-Star break. He was diagnosed with a torn articular cartilage in his left knee. This may not necessarily be all bad news for Scheppers. He was once a cornerstone of the bullpen as Joe Nathan’s setup man, and thought to be a building block for the future. In 2013, he was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances. The Rangers decided to make him a starter in 2014, and he actually started on opening day. He failed miserably as a starter, and quite frankly his career has spiraled downward since. He’s been plagued by injury. Scheppers would have been one of at least six or seven pitchers vying for two bullpen roster spots, as five of the seven slots are taken. The likelihood is that those two roster spots go to a left-hander and right-hander, so Scheppers was really one of four or five pitchers vying for one roster spot. This way he makes a Major League salary while on the disabled list, and hopefully will be able to contribute once he recovers from the surgery.

* The Rangers announced they have picked up the 2018 club option on manager Jeff Banister and have added another club option for 2019. He is in the second year of the three year contract he originally signed. The team won the American League West pennant and he was named American League Manager of the Year in his first year on the job. COMMENTARY: What took the Rangers so long?

* The Baltimore Orioles have come to terms with free agent Yovani Gallardo for a 2016 contract. Since announcing the agreement, questions have arisen in regards to Gallardo’s physical. Assuming the contract is finalized, the significance to the Rangers that they will receive a draft choice in next June’s Amateur Draft between the first and second rounds as compensation. They will also receive an increase in the pool of money they are allowed to spend for players taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Baltimore also forfeits their first round draft pick for signing Gallardo, since the Rangers offered him a qualifying contract after the season, which Gallardo turned down. Texas will now have picks 19 and 30 in next June’s draft, if they receive the compensatory pick.

* Texas signed left-hander Jeremy Guthrie over the weekend to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Guthrie is an experienced starting pitcher that has not fared well of late. He is 36 and a twelve year veteran. He was 8-8 last season with a 5.95 ERA in 24 starts and six relief appearances for Kansas City. He will join Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Phil Klein, Anthony Ranaudo, Cesar Ramos and A. J. Griffin as candidates for the fifth position in the starting rotation.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Christmas is past and the New Year is upon us. Most of the top end free agent pitchers have signed. The outfielders are the remaining position still available. For many teams, so much money has already been committed that there may not be a lot left to fill out the roster.

The Rangers have had a quiet winter so far. They did the big name shopping last summer when they traded for Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson. Those trades were made with a view for the long run, as all three are contractually under control for years. Amazingly, they paid off with the West Division pennant last season.

This off season may seem quiet, but the Rangers have made the team better. By season’s end, the Rangers had four strong bullpen pitchers. Shawn Tolleson was the closer. Diekman and Dyson were the left- and right-handed setup men. Keone Kela was the seventh inning guy. This quartet could take a sixth inning lead and turn it into a win.

So far, GM Jon Daniels has added Tom Wilhelmsen and Tony Barnette, a righty and a lefty. Sam Freeman is another lefty that could complete a very strong bullpen. Daniels made the bullpen better at little cost. The key player traded for Wilhelmsen was disgruntled outfielder Leonys Martin. Barnette was a free agent that signed a two year deal with $3.5 million guaranteed.

Unlike last season, the bullpen should be good from the start. Daniels said he wanted to add a couple of starting pitchers. He finally announced one – a very familiar face. Colby Lewis is set to join the roster on a one year, $6.0 million deal. Lewis led the Rangers last season in wins (17), starts (33) and innings pitched (204.2). He faltered down the stretch and was the odd man out when the starting rotation was cut from five to four in the playoffs.

We now know that he suffered with knee problems late in the season and has undergone surgery to repair since season’s end. He has gotten better and better over the last two years, and there is every reason to believe that at the age of 36, he will be at least as good in 2016 as he was last year.

With Lewis in the fold, the Rangers’ starting rotation looks a lot like the one that finished the season. Hamels is the number one starter followed in some order by Lewis, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. That leaves a host of internal candidates for the fifth spot – Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Anthony Ranaudo for sure.

Texas also recently signed A. J. Griffin, a former All-Star caliber pitcher that underwent Tommy John surgery and was later released by Oakland when his recovery was coming along slowly. It’s a signing that doesn’t cost the Rangers much and could pay off big time. The odds aren’t good, but it’s in the realm of possibility.

The Rangers also took a page from the Dallas Cowboys philosophy when they signed Matt Bush. Bush was the number one pick in the draft in 2004, and was signed shortly after he was released from prison. He has served more than three years for intoxicated hit-and-run. He was originally a shortstop that converted to pitching in his fourth season. He’s strictly a reliever at this point in his career.

The other glaring need was to make the batting order more right-handed. There was talk of moving Mitch Moreland to clear a spot, but those talks did not come to fruition. Moreland, Fielder, Chu and Hamilton remain as a big part of the Rangers’ batting order, with only Adrian Beltre as a right-handed bat in the middle.

Texas has signed Justin Ruggiano, a former player at Texas A&M. Ruggiano has had spectacular numbers against left-handed pitching over the past four years. Ryan Rua and recently obtained Patrick Kivlehan will also contend for a seat on the Ranger bench to play against left-handers.

Daniels appeared with Norm Hitzges on his annual fund raiser marathon (the “Normathon”) to raise money for the Austin Street Homeless Shelter. Daniels said in no uncertain terms that the Rangers were not players for the remaining middle of the batting order free agent outfielders – namely Yoenus Cespedes and Justin Upton, though rumors persist that the Rangers continue to check in on this pair. Perhaps if a multi-year contract for one of these two doesn’t become a reality, the Rangers might be an attractive fall back position to sign for a year and try free agency again next winter.

This week, arbitration took the headlines. Seven Rangers filed. Texas has not had an arbitration case go to a hearing since 2000 when they lost to Lee Stevens. The odds are good it won’t happen this year, as four players have already come to terms. They are infielder Jurickson Profar, relievers Tom WIlhelmsen and Tanner Scheppers, and catcher Robinson Chirinos.

The remaining three are first baseman Mitch Moreland and relievers Jake Diekman and Shawn Tolleson. The club and players exchanged salary figures on Friday, and the difference is more than $1,000,000 for Tolleson and Moreland. The Rangers and Diekman are $575,000 apart.

It’s obvious that the Rangers are squeezed financially with six players that zap up $105 million in payroll. However, they managed to put together a team good enough to win the pennant in 2015. With Darvish coming back most likely in May, and a good bullpen from the start, the Rangers are still the team to beat in the American League West.

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OFF AND RUNNING

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The General Manager meetings were barely over when a spate of trades began. Usually, the meetings get exploratory talks going that lay the ground work for future deals. This year however, the future arrived quickly.

The Rangers jumped in this week with a five player deal. They sent center fielder Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass to the Mariners for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and a player to be named later. GM Jon Daniels says the player to be named later is a significant part of the transaction.

It looks like a good trade for both teams. Certainly, Martin never developed into the player the Rangers envisioned when they signed the Cuban defector to a $15 million contract. He was slow to develop defensively, though he has become a solid defensive center fielder. He has one of the best center field throwing arms in the American League. However offensively, he never showed much consistency. This season, he appeared in 95 games and hit .219 with five home runs, 25 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 19 attempts. He has appeared with the Rangers in five seasons and has a career average of .255 with 20 home runs and 120 RBIs in 429 games.

This season was especially disappointing. He was the starting center fielder when the season began coming off his best season in 2014 when he hit .274 in a career high 155 games. However, he played so poorly that he lost his center field job to Delino DeShields, Jr. DeShields sparked the Rangers offense with his speed and energy. Defensively, DeShields is far inferior with a terrible throwing arm and still much to learn about tracking fly balls.

However, the Rangers’ batting order is too left-handed. The DeShields – Martin swap in center field brought another right handed bat to the batting order. There is also the salary consideration. Martin is arbitration eligible and will likely be awarded a $4 – $5 million contract for next year. DeShields just completed his rookie season, so will be making the Major League minimum or a bit more. That’s at least a $3.5 million payroll saving that can be applied to another area of the team.

Lastly, Martin did not endear himself to management at season’s end. He was sent to AAA in August, but was called back up in September. However, he made just one Ranger appearance as a pinch runner. The Rangers didn’t select him for the Division Series playoff roster, but wanted him to go to continue his workouts in Arizona in case of an injury. He was also a candidate to be added to the playoff roster had the Rangers advanced past the Division Series. Martin was upset over not being included on the playoff roster and refused the assignment. That basically sealed his fate that he would not be returning to the Rangers.

From Seattle’s standpoint, they receive a very good defensive center fielder, a must in spacious Safeco Field. One of the most successful stints in the Majors for Martin was the close of the 2014 season after Tim Bogar took over the Rangers’ managerial helm when Ron Washington resigned. Bogar has resurfaced as the Mariners’ bench coach for next season. Perhaps it was just time for Martin to get a fresh start in a new organization. Seattle hopes he can fulfill the promise so many have seen in him over the years.

Daniels had indicated that he wanted to add an experienced arm to the bullpen. Actually, the back end of the Rangers’ pen was pretty stout by season’s end with Shawn Tolleson as the closer, with right-handers Keone Kela and Sam Dyson, and lefty Jake Diekman as set up men. But a team just can’t have too many good bullpen arms, and Wilhelmsen is one. He has appeared in 267 games over the past five seasons. He started twice and has saved 67 with a 2.97 ERA in his career. This past season, he appeared in 53 games with a 2-2 record, 13 saves and a 3.19 ERA. Daniels said the Rangers scouted Wilhelmsen a number of years ago looking at him as a starting pitcher, but that they are considering him just for the bullpen at this time.

Jones is a speedy outfielder that could figure in the Rangers’ plans next season. There is some thought that the Rangers may upgrade defensively in center field, perhaps moving DeShields to left. Jones could figure in that decision. However, Lewis Brinson is regarded as the long term center fielder on this team. Brinson played at High A, AA, and AAA this past season. He has since participated in the Arizona Fall League before moving on to winter ball in Latin America. Daniels said that Brinson could forge his way onto the Major League roster at some point next season, but that it will not happen by opening day.

The player to be named later is said to be a significant part of the deal. Daniels says this player will contend for an Opening Day roster spot next spring. He will likely be identified after completion of the Rule 5 draft on December 9.

HARDWARE: Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister was named the American League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA this week. The other two finalists were Minnesota’s Paul Molitor and Houston’s A. J. Hinch. All three did outstanding jobs, and any of the three could have won. The 21 game win turnaround by the worst to first Rangers was the second largest in the Majors this season. Interestingly, the Cubs had the biggest improved win total, and their manager, Joe Maddon, was the National League Manager of the Year. The two previous Ranger managers to win the award are Buck Showalter in 2004 and Johnny Oates, who shared the award with the Yankees’ Joe Torre in 1996.

Adrian Beltre finished seventh in the MVP voting. Shawn Tolleson received votes for the Cy Young award and finished 10th in the balloting.

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HOT STOVE KICK OFF

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Hot Stove League has kicked off over the past week. Most teams, including the Rangers, have filled their manager, general manager and coaching positions. The deadline for making qualifying offers passed last Friday. The deadline for those to be accepted is this Friday. There has already been a significant trade that involved six players. The General Manager meetings opened this week in Boca Raton, Florida. In other words, the off season is well under way for baseball fans.

The Rangers offered a qualifying offer to Yovani Gallardo. Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels said after the deadline that the team never really considered not extending the offer. It is likely that Gallardo will reject the offer (one year at $15.8 million). This is the fourth year of the current system, and over the first three, no player given a qualifying offer has accepted it. Gallardo is a second or third tier pitcher in this year’s free agent class, but he should be able to attract a multi-year offer for more than $20 million guaranteed at a minimum. There are even predictions of a deal in the neighborhood of four years for $56 million.

This is regarded as an exceptionally good free agent class. David Price and Zack Greinke are the leading starting pitchers available. Price is expected to land a $200 million plus contract. The Cubs are a likely landing spot, which makes sense. The Cubs have money and the desire for a high end starting pitcher. They are managed by Joe Maddon, who was Price’s manager when he played in Tampa Bay. The Dodgers are certainly strong players to re-sign Greinke, but there is speculation that the Giants will show strong interest too. From their viewpoint, signing Greinke has a two fold benefit. Not only do they reel in a top starting pitcher for their rotation, but they weaken the Dodgers.

One indication of the strength of the free agent class is the qualifying offers. In the first three years of the system, a TOTAL of 34 players were given qualifying offers. This year’s total is 20.

The Rangers still say they are looking to add at least one starting pitcher, but they are not players for the upper end of the free agent market. They have four rotation spots set at this point with Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. However, the speculation is that Darvish may not be ready until late May or even June, so the Rangers could well be looking for two starting pitchers. They have a host of internal candidates: Alex Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Nick Tepesch, Anthony Ranaudo, and Phil Klein, but expect to acquire at least one significant pitcher through trade or free agency.

Daniels has also indicated that other priorities are another quality reliever and a right-handed bat. Bringing Mike Napoli back would add a right-handed power bat, but he would join Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder as primarily first base/DH types. It leads to speculation that Fielder, Moreland or Sin-Shoo Choo could get moved this winter to make room for the needed right-handed bat.

There are not likely to be much in the way of trades this week. The GM meetings are usually where the groundwork is laid for trades that happen over the final six weeks of the year.

OTHER RANGER NOTES:

* Texas filled out the coaching staff by adding Doug Brocail (pitching coach), Brad Holman (bullpen coach), Anthony Iapoce (hitting coach), Justin Mashore (assistant hitting coach) and Bobby Jones (video coordinator). Jones had previously been assistant hitting coach and will continue to have on-field duties prior to games. The pitching coach position surprisingly opened up when the Rangers changed their mind on Mike Maddux. Maddux didn’t immediately agree to the two year offer the Rangers extended, and when he wanted to re-engage contract talks a few days later, Daniels had decided to go another direction. It was certainly surprising that the Rangers effectively canned Maddux. He’s recognized as one of the top pitching coaches in the game, and the performance of Ranger pitchers since his arrival in 2009 has proved that out. Maddux was quickly signed to be the Washington National’s pitching coach at a salary that makes him the highest paid pitching coach in the game.

* Prince Fielder won the Players’ Choice Award as the American League Comeback Player of the Year on Monday night. Fielder, who was also named as the club’s 2015 MVP by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, hit .306 with 23 home runs and 98 RBIs. It was the third A. L. Comeback Player of the Year Award for Fielder, who had earlier been given the award by MLB and The Sporting News.

* The Rangers announced Tuesday that Shawn Tolleson has been named the Rangers’ 2015 Pitcher of the Year. It’s the first time that a reliever has won the award since 2007.

* Jurickson Profar is resurrecting his career in the Arizona Fall League. He had two singles and two walks in five plate appearances in the AFL All-Star game. The middle infielder was once considered to be the top prospect in minor league baseball, but has missed the last two seasons with a torn muscle in his right (throwing) shoulder and is still not throwing yet. He was exclusively a designated hitter in the AFL. He wanted to move on to winter ball in a Latin American country, but the Rangers don’t want to put the strain on his shoulder yet. At this point, he looks blocked at the Major League level with Elvis Andrus at short and Rougned Odor at second base. Profar would logically need the better part of at least one minor league season to get back to Major League readiness. By that time, the Ranger situation may have changed, but in any event, teams are already showing interest in Profar.

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MADDUX OUT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Late this morning, the news broke that the Rangers and pitching coach Mike Maddux were parting ways. It was just two weeks ago that the Rangers held their post-season press conference and announced that hitting coach Dave Magadan and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins were leaving the organization, but that all the other coaches were invited back and expected to return.

Perhaps we’ll never know what really happened over the last fortnight, but Maddux was said to be soliciting offers from other teams after receiving a contract offer to continue with the Rangers. Apparently the Rangers re-thought the situation with Maddux seeking offers rather than working to negotiate with the Rangers. Thus, the decision announced this morning was the Rangers’, not Maddux’s.

GM Jon Daniels said as much telling local media, “We made an offer to to our coaches and at that point, Mike was looking around. We took the opportunity to do so , too. We did an internal review and decided that we felt like it was an opportunity for us to get better.”

Maddux’s brother Greg has been a special assistant to the team, and he announced that with his brother out as pitching coach, he would not be returning.

Maddux for sure is the most successful pitching coach in Ranger history. The team had the worst ERA in the American League from 2000-2008, but Maddux took over in 2009, and the Rangers’ have had the sixth best staff ERA since. During Maddux’ tenure as pitching coach, six Ranger pitchers made an American League All-Star team.

With the announcement of Hawkins’ departure as bullpen coach, the Rangers started the interview process with internal candidates Brad Holman (pitching coach at AAA Round Rock), Danny Clark (minor league pitching coordinator) and Jeff Andrews (pitching coach at AA Frisco). They are now candidates for the pitching coach job too. Also at the time that Hawkins’ departure was announced, the situation was couched as Hawkins wanting to be free to pursue a pitching coach job. However, he is said not to be a candidate for the Texas job, which makes his departure look more like a firing than a mutual agreement.

Magadan, Hawkins and now Maddux were all holdover coaches from Washington’s 2014 coaching staff. Ranger fans may be seeing the growth of manager Jeff Banister’s influence in the organization. At a minimum, he will be actively involved in choosing replacements, and he may be behind the departures of all three.

As for Maddux, he should have little problem landing another job in baseball. He did well at Milwaukee before he joined the Rangers and he did well here. There are still a number of unsettled pitching coach situations around the Majors.

He told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “My time in Texas was great. I’ll miss it. I made a lot of good friends and helped develop a winning culture.”

Ranger starter Derek Holland told Sullivan, “Maddux taught me a lot about pitching. I loved working with him. To lose him will have a huge impact.. I guess (the Rangers made the decision) for a reason and have something else in mind, but it caught me by surprise.”

Banister added three coaches to this year’s staff that were hired within the organization. He is likely to make hires for the hitting, bullpen and now pitching coaches from within the organization too.

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TORONTO ENDS RANGERS’ HOPES

RANGERS DOOMED BY 7TH INNING MELTDOWN

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Toronto eliminated Texas Wednesday afternoon with a 6-3 win in game five of the American League Division Series. Texas jumped out to a series 2-0 lead, but the Jays came back to win the final three games. This game was decided by an unusual and controversial seventh inning that took 54 minutes to play.

The Rangers took the lead early with a first inning run. Delino Deshields, Jr. doubled to open the game. Two ground outs scored him, the second one coming from Prince Fielder. Two innings later, Sin-Shoo Choo extended the lead to 2-0 with a home run. Toronto came back with single runs in the third and sixth innings to tie the game. The tying run came on a Juan Encarnacion home run.

That set the stage for the fateful seventh inning. Rougned Odor started the inning with a single and moved to third base on Chris Gimenez’s sacrifice bunt and DeShields’ ground out. Choo was the next batter. During his at bat, Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin carelessly returned a throw to the mound. The toss hit Choo’s bat and dribbled away. The ever alert Odor broke for home and easily crossed the plate.

At that point confusion broke out. The question was whether the ball was in play. The umpires huddled and consulted with the review umpires in New York. The rules check took almost 15 minutes, but in the end the run counted, and the Rangers were nine outs away from advancing.

In the bottom of the inning, the Rangers’ unraveled defensively. The first three Jays’ batters reached base on errors. Elvis Andrus committed two and Mitch Moreland the third. The Fourth batter of the inning forced the runner at home to set up an inning ending double play, but Josh Donaldson hit a bloop just over the head of Odor at second base. That scored the runner from third to tie the game, though Odor got the second out of the inning with a force out at second base.

Jose Bautista was the next batter, and he crushed the Rangers’ hopes with a home run. That gave the Jays their first lead of the game at 6-3, which turned out to be the final score. All four runs in the inning were unearned.

Cole Hamels pitched great for Texas and deserved a better fate than a loss. Jays reliever, Aaron Sanchez was the winning pitcher. Toronto’s closer Roberto Osuna recorded the final five outs of the game to earn the save. He was dominant. Four of the five were strikeouts.

From the Rangers’ standpoint, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise terrific season. Texas had committed just two errors total in the first four games, so committing three on consecutive plays was totally out of character.

The Rangers weren’t given much chance to make the playoffs, much less win the division when the season began. The pre-season favorites, Angels and Mariners, fizzled to open the door for Texas to win.

In the end, Texas took the division with just 88 wins, the fewest in the six years the Rangers have won the West. This is not to cast stones at the so called experts that didn’t pick Texas. This Ranger team was almost totally revamped over the course of the season. Newcomers such as Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli had a major impact on the team. None were Rangers when the season began, and neither were Chris Gimenez, Bobby Wilson, Drew Stubbs, and Will Venable. Others, such as Chi Chi Gonzalez, started the season in the minor leagues, while Martin Perez began the year on the 60-day disabled list.

Hats off to GM Jon Daniels for making key acquisitions, and hats off to Ranger ownership for opening the pocket book to take on salaries such as Hamels.

Manager Jeff Banister has proved to be an exceptional choice. This team could easily have gone south after the terrible April showing, and again around the All-Star break when they appeared to be sinking to oblivion. Banister kept the team focused, such that when the reinforcements arrived, the Rangers were able to capitalize in August and September.

This season may have come to a disappointing end, but the outlook for the future is much brighter now than it was a year ago. In season acquisition Cole Hamels is signed through 2018. Yu Darvish will be back from Tommy John surgery to give Texas a top one-two punch in the rotation. Martin Perez and Derek Holland are expected to fill out the rotation.

On the offensive side, DeShields and Odor have established themselves as solid contributors. Beltre, Choo, Fielder and Andrus are signed to long term contracts. Josh Hamilton still has two years remaining on his highly subsidized contract. It’s a team that should be even better in 2016.

NOTABLE:

* Monday was a record breaking day in playoff baseball. There were 21 home runs hit and 61 runs scored in the four playoff games, clearly the most ever. Derek Holland allowed three of the round trippers, but the Rangers’ batters failed to contribute to the home run total.

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TORONTO EVENS SERIES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays are set to play a winner take all game five on Wednesday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Jays came back from a 2-0 deficit in the series to take both games in Arlington and even the series at two games each. Marco Estrada held the Rangers to one run on five hits Sunday night as the Jays won 5-1. On Monday, the powerful Toronto offense jumped on Derek Holland early with three home runs in the first two innings and took a 8-4 win.

The results of this series mirror the trend in the playoffs this year. The home team has lost every game in this series, a trend the Rangers hope will hold for one more game. For the first 14 playoff games this fall, the home team is just 4-10.

On Sunday night, Martin Perez limped through five innings getting assistance from four double plays. One of those DPs came with runners on first and third and no outs in the third inning, driving home Toronto’s first score of the night. An inning later, Perez struggled with his command. He gave up three straight walks after a leadoff double and fly ball put Josh Donaldson at third. Troy Tulowitzki was the batter that walked with the bases loaded to push the Jays’ lead to 2-0.

Perez was in trouble again in the fifth inning, but a ground ball double play got him out of a jam. It was obvious that Perez was running out of gas at that point, but Ranger manager Jeff Banister sent Perez out to start the sixth. Donaldson led off the inning with a single and went to third on Jose Bautista’s single. That ended Perez’s night.

Alex Gonzalez relieved and looked like he could get out of the jam. He intentionally walked the first batter to load the bases, then coaxed a ground ball to first that turned into a 3-2-3 double play that cut down the runner trying to score from third. However, Tulowitzki was the next batter that Gonzalez needed to retire to end the inning. He didn’t. Tulowitzki homered instead to push the lead to 5-0.

Rougned Odor grounded out to short to drive home Elvis Andrus in the seventh inning with the Rangers’ lone run of the night. 5-1 was the final. Estrada was the winning pitcher, giving up the Ranger run on five hits in 6-1/3 innings. Four relievers shut out the Rangers the rest of the way. Perez took the loss.

On Monday afternoon, Derek Holland was hit hard. He gave up the three home runs, three of the five hits he allowed in two innings. He faced 12 batters retiring six, and watching the other six score. Colby Lewis was the first of five relievers that finished the game. Lewis and Jake Diekman each surrendered a run. The Rangers scored a third inning run on a wild pitch, and Robinson Chirinos drove home another in the seventh inning. In the eighth inning, the Rangers plated two more with Mitch Moreland and Andrus driving home the runs.

That was it for Ranger scoring. 8-4 was the final score. Holland took the loss. R. A. Dickey made his first post-season start ever, but couldn’t finish the fifth inning even with a 7-1 lead. Game one starter David Price replaced him and was credited with the win after going three innings.

Cole Hamels will start game five for Texas. Toronto has not announced their game five starting pitcher, but with Price surprisingly appearing in relief in game four with a big lead, the Jays obvious choice is Marcus Stroman. The game time is shortly after 3:00 PM (central), and the game will be televised on FS1. The winner will play either Houston or Kansas City in the next round of the playoffs. The Astros and Royals series is also tied at 2-2.

NOTABLE:

* The 14 inning game the Rangers played in game two of the series was the longest in Ranger post game history. The previous high was 12 innings in game two of the 1996 ALDS in New York.

* The four double plays that the Rangers turned in game three set a new team post-season record.

* When Derek Holland started and Colby Lewis relieved in game four, all 25 players on the Rangers’ post season roster had appeared in the series.

* Adrian Beltre (back stiffness) did not play in game three and was not in the original starting lineup in game four. After batting practice, he talked his way into the lineup and went 2-4 in the game.

* The Blue Jays’ three home runs in game four set a new team record for post-season play.

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23 GREAT INNINGS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The heavy underdog Texas Rangers return to Arlington with an improbable 2-0 lead in the American League Division series against Toronto. Texas knocked out Cy Young contender David Price in game one to win 5-3, and scored late to tie game two at four runs apiece en route to a 14 inning 6-4 victory. Las Vegas odds makers made Toronto the favorite to win the World Series, while Texas had better odds than just one team. The Rangers, however, took away the home field advantage with the game one win and really put the Jays in a hole with Friday’s overtime victory.

On Friday, Cole Hamels wasn’t great, but he was good enough. He gave up four runs on six hits over seven innings, though two were unearned runs. Texas had taken early leads of 2-0 in the first inning and 3-1 in the second, but Toronto tied it in their half of the second and moved in front with another run in the fifth, in what proved to be their last score of the day. Hamels and five relievers shut out the Jays over the last nine innings.

Texas tied the game at four in the eighth inning with Mike Napoli singling in the run in a pinch hitting appearance. Little used Hanser Alberto, playing third base in place of the injured Adrian Beltre, drove home the go ahead run in the 14th inning with a line single to center field. Delino DeShields, Jr. followed with an infield hit to drive in an insurance run.

Keone Kela pitched the 13th inning to qualify for the win. Ross Ohlendorf pitched the 14th for the save. 42 year-old LaTroy Hawkins, the oldest active player in the Major Leagues this season, took the loss.

Game one was noteworthy for injuries. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, the heart of Toronto’s batting order both came out of the game, though both were back in the lineup on Friday. The Rangers suffered the more damaging injury. Beltre injured his back sliding in the first inning. He stayed in the game and actually singled to drive in a run in the third inning; but he ran so gingerly to first base that it was obvious he needed to be replaced. An MRI indicated no structural damage, but he was not in Friday’s lineup, and the Rangers actually flew Joey Gallo to Toronto to perhaps replace Beltre on the roster.

Yovani Gallardo started the game for the Rangers. He had faced the Jays twice during the regular season, completing 13-2/3rds innings of scoreless baseball to win the only two games Texas won against Toronto. He made it win number three by allowing two runs in six innings. The Rangers scored two runs in the third inning on run scoring singles by Beltre and DeShields. Toronto cut the lead in half in the fourth, but Texas added two more runs in the fifth for a 4-1 lead. Toronto closed to within a run with singletons in the fifth and sixth innings, but the Rangers’ bullpen did the job, shutting down the Jays over the final third of the game. Texas added a run on a Rougned Odor home run in the seventh inning to make it a 5-3 final.

Manager Jeff Banister made a daring pitching decision in the ninth inning as he passed over closer Shawn Tolleson in favor of Sam Dyson. Bannister explained later that he preferred the sinker balling Dyson with his penchant for coaxing ground balls. It worked. Dyson gave up a lead-off single on a ground ball up the middle, but struck out Troy Tulowitski and got two groundouts to end the game.

Offensively, Odor and Robinson Chirinos were the stars. Odor scored three runs, while Chirinos hit a two run home run in the fifth.

Texas has the opportunity to close out the series at home Sunday night. They send Martin Perez to the mound instead of veterans Colby Lewis or Derek Holland. Perez has eight quality starts since August 1, the most on the staff in that span. Toronto counters with Marco Estrada. If the Blue Jays win, they’ll start former Ranger R. A. Dickey on Monday in a game that will start at 3:00 PM. Either Holland or Lewis will start for Texas.

The Jays were 3-1 favorites to win the World Series when the 10 playoff teams were set. Texas was listed at 12-1, better than just the Astros at 14-1. The Jays were heavy favorites in game one with David Price starting, and were still the favorites on the betting line at home for game two, even with Cole Hamels starting for Texas. But they play the games on the field, not in Las Vegas betting parlors. Two games into the series, Toronto is one loss from ending their season, while the Rangers are just five wins away from going to the World Series.

NOTABLE:

* Rougned Odor’s three runs scored in game one matched the Ranger post-season record. The other Ranger to score three times in a post-season game was Adrian Beltre, who hit three home runs in 2011 against Tampa Bay.

* Sam Dyson and Ross Ohlendorf became just the third and fourth Ranger pitchers to earn a save in a post season game. The other two are Darren Oliver (one save) and Neftali Feliz (six saves).

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PLAYOFF ROSTER SET

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Thursday morning, the Rangers set their playoff roster for the ALDS that begins in Toronto Thursday afternoon. The roster is:

Pitchers (11): Five starters – Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez. Six relievers – Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Alex Gonzalez, Keone Kela and Ross Ohlendorf.

Catchers (2): Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez.

Infielders (7): Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Prince Fielder, and Hanser Alberto.

Outfielders (5): Josh Hamilton, Delino Deshields, Jr., Sin-Shoo Choo, Drew Stubbs and Will Venable.

During the regular season, the Rangers routinely carried 12 pitchers. Most teams drop their staff to 11 for the playoffs as four starters are all that is needed with travel days. Many even drop the staff to 10, as with the off days, a reliever can be dropped too. The Rangers chose to carry all five starters, but at least one will appear in relief if all five pitch in the series. The Rangers will use only four starting pitchers if the series goes five games with game two starter Cole Hamels pitching game five on normal rest.

The relievers include just one lefty – Jake Diekman. Sam Freeman and Andrew Faulkner, the other two lefties in the bullpen at season’s end, were left off the roster. Toronto has a very right-handed oriented lineup, and Martin Perez may become a second left-handed relief option.

Keone Kela is perhaps a surprise. He was held out for five days during the last week of the season, when situations certainly presented opportunity for Kela. The club and Kela finally fessed up that there was soreness in his elbow. When he did pitch last Saturday, he retired a batter to end the seventh inning, but reported that the soreness was there and that he could not continue. Certainly, he was a valuable part of the bullpen during the season, and if healthy, the Rangers definitely want him available. Health is the issue here.

The position players were pretty much as expected. It’s a shame for Bobby Wilson to be omitted. He was invaluable to the Rangers in August and September when Chirinos and Carlos Corporan both went of the disabled list. Chirinos obviously showed that he is healthy in the past couple of weeks, and Gimenez has become Hamels’ personal catcher. Wilson only makes the roster if the club went with three catchers.

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WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The late Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It’s not over til it’s over.” That proved to be all too true for the Texas Rangers this weekend as they went all the way to regular season game number 162 to win the West Division championship. They appeared to have the division title in hand on Saturday when they took a 10-6 lead into the ninth inning, but the depleted bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and the drama extended to Sunday, when they finally finished off the Angels 9-2. They are now set to open the American League Division series in Toronto on Thursday and will have a home game next Sunday against the Blue Jays.

Sunday afternoon, the Angels struck early for a pair of runs with two outs in the first. Mike Trout doubled and Albert Pujols knocked his 40th home run of the season to push the Angels to a 2-0 lead. Texas answered with a run in their half of the first inning. The Rangers’ starting pitcher – Cole Hamels – was lights out from there. He pitched a complete game, shutting out Los Angeles over the final eight innings while allowing just one more hit.

The Angels’ Garrett Richards, pitching on short rest, posted zeroes on the board for the next three innings. The Rangers took the lead in the fifth inning when Richards surrendered Adrian Beltre’s 18th home run of the season into the lower level of the right field porch with a runner on base. That made the score 3-2, which lasted until the seventh inning, when Texas put the game away. They batted around sending 10 men to the plate. Six scored to run the lead to 9-2.

That was the final score. Hamels (13-8 overall and 7-1 for the Rangers) was the winning pitcher. Richards, pitching on short rest, fought command issues and certainly deserved a better fate in the end. He threw a quality start giving up three runs on six hits while completing six innings to take the loss and fall to 15-12.

To win the division, the Angels needed to sweep the series, but Texas quickly dispelled that idea in Thursday’s series opening game. The Angels had taken a 1-0 lead with a second inning sacrifice fly, but the Rangers erupted for four runs in the fifth inning en route to a 5-3 win. Delino Deshields, Jr. hit what appeared to be a routine single to center field that he hustled into a double. That drove in the Rangers’ first run to tie the game. Sin-Soo Choo followed with a walk to load the bases, and then Adrian Beltre unloaded the bases with a line drive double down the left field line.

The Angels came back with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to get within a run at 4-3. Derek Holland was reeling from three consecutive poor starts, but pitched well in this one. He went 6-1/3 innings and was charged with three runs. Four Ranger relievers shut down the Angels over the balance of the game, and the Rangers added an insurance run in the seventh inning.

The win not only eliminated the Angels from winning the division, but also assured Texas of at least making the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Holland (4-3) was the winning pitcher, while Angels’ starter Andrew Heaney (6-4) took the loss. Shawn Tolleson earned his 35th save by shutting down the Angels in the ninth inning, throwing 19 pitches to retire the Angels in order.

47,219 showed up Friday night expecting to see a ball game, fireworks and a party. Unfortunately, the third largest crowd of the season saw a great game and marvelous fireworks, but the party was put on hold. Los Angeles scratched out a run in the ninth inning off Ranger closer Shawn Tolleson to break a 1-1 tie. When the Rangers didn’t score in their half of the ninth inning, the celebration for clinching the division championship was put off for at least a day as the Astros scored three touchdowns to paste the Diamondbacks 21-5.

Martin Perez made his final regular season start of the year and pitched well. He blew through seven innings allowing a run on four hits. The Angels scored their run in the first inning when Ranger nemesis C. J. Cron singled home Erick Aybar with two outs. The outing was Perez’s eighth quality start since August 1, most on the staff in that span, and makes a strong case for Perez to be on the post-season roster as a starting pitcher.

Sin-Shoo Choo supplied the Rangers’ scoreboard damage with his 22nd home run leading off the fourth inning. Unfortunately, that was all the Rangers could muster, as they were held to three hits by Angels’ starter Jered Weaver and four relievers. Tolleson (6-4) was tagged with the 2-1 loss. Mike Morin (4-2) finished the eighth inning to qualify for the win. Joe Smith needed just 11 pitches to retire the Rangers in the ninth inning to earn his fourth save.

The party didn’t happen on Saturday either as the Rangers suffered undoubtedly their most disappointing loss of the season. The post-game celebration was set as the Rangers took a 10-6 lead into the ninth inning. The bullpen that had been so good in September when they led the Majors with the lowest ERA and opponents’ batting average, couldn’t get the job done. Tolleson, working for the fifth consecutive day, gave up home runs to the first two batters of the inning. Banister lifted him then, but the inning completely unraveled.

When the dust settled, Los Angeles held an 11-10 lead, and they promptly retired the Rangers in the bottom of the inning for the win which kept their thin playoff hopes alive until Sunday when the Rangers finally settled the division championship.

The Rangers will play in Toronto on Thursday and Friday, and after Saturday’s off day, will be at home on Sunday and Monday if needed. Pitching matchups have not been announced, but Hamels likely starts game two on Friday on regular rest, especially after throwing 108 pitches on Sunday. The most likely game one starter is either Yovani Gallardo or Derek Holland. Interestingly, the Rangers went just 2-5 against the Jays this season, and Gallardo was the winning pitcher in both Ranger wins. Davis Price, the leading candidate to win the A. L. Cy Young Award along with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is the probable game one starter for Toronto.

Houston finished one game ahead of the Angels to claim the second Wild Card berth. They will play the Yankees in the Bronx on Tuesday night with the winner moving on to play Kansas City, and loser being eliminated.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers became the fifth team in Major League history and the second in the American League to have the most losses in the league one year and make the playoffs the next.

* Sin-Shoo Choo matched his career high with 22 home runs this season.

* Final home attendance for the Rangers was 2,491,875 an average of 30,764 per game and a drop of 226,858 (-8.3%) from last year.

* Colby Lewis finished the season with 206 innings pitched, a new career high. It was the third time in his career to reach the 200 innings mark, and in the other two years, the Rangers went to the World Series.

* The Rangers finished the season with a 7-12 record against Los Angeles.

* On Saturday, the two teams combined to use 18 pitchers (nine for each team) to tie a Major League record.

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