Thursday, October 8, 2015

Headed north.

So, the Rangers kick off their half of the American League Division Championship Series this afternoon in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Going to be a tough series.

The Rangers have played well on the road all season and have a winning record overall against winning ballclubs. On the other hand, the Blue Jays were the hottest team in the American League since the All-Star break. Also, the Rangers do not have a winning record this season against the Jays.

I really don't know what to expect from this series. Some hard played ball probably. Hopefully a Rangers advance. Could go either way though and things will likely get tight.

To do my part to help the guys out, I am posting this signed 1999 Topps card of Rangers great Rusty Greer. Mr. Greer signed this card for me through the mail in 2014. During his playing career Rusty embodied the never say die style of gritty play Texas is going to need to get past Toronto. This season has shown the team has the grit, now's the time to use it. Best of luck guys, trounce Toronto.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

1979 Topps - Richie Zisk.

As shown on the front of 1978 Topps card 260, Richie Zisk was coming off an All-Star 1978 season as the club reported for Spring Training in 1979. Zisk won the 1978 season opener for Texas with a home run in the ninth inning to beat the Yankees. He ended up missing three weeks with a sprained wrist but still put up good enough numbers to get the All-Star nod. Texas was hoping for more of the same, without the injury, in 1979.

The season started off on a sour note for Zisk as he came down with strep throat after the club played a damp, cold season opener in Detroit. That benched Richie for five games before he hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run. In spite of that, Zisk's season started off slowly and it took time for him to get his bat going.

Over the 144 games Richie appeared in for Texas in 1979, he made 563 plate appearances. He posted a .262 batting average and a .336 on-base percentage. Those were almost identical to the previous season. Known as a slugger, it is not surprising Zisk led the team in strikeouts with 75. However, he also led the club in walks with 57. He knocked 21 doubles, one triple, and 18 home runs (part of a three-way tie for team best) en route to scoring 69 runs and bumping in 64 RBI.

The team's primary right fielder, Richie played in 127 games in right. He committed just five errors over the course of 1020.1 for a fielding percentage of .978. That was just a hair below the .980 league average. Zisk also covered left field for 116 innings over 15 games. He had less success there, tallying a .913 fielding percentage due to his two errors. That was much lower than the average left fielder's .980 fielding percentage. Richie also appeared in three games as the Rangers designated hitter.

On the surface, Richie Zisk almost managed to duplicate his 1978 season in 1979. He didn't get selected to the All-Star team though and there were a couple of worrisome signs. The most concerning was Zisk's home run totals. They were down by four from the previous season and, for the first time since 1974, below 20. Was it a stumble or was the 30-year-old starting a power decline? The Rangers held on to Richie for the 1980 season but would be keeping their eye on his offense.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Made it! (Finally.)

Going into the final three games of the 2015 season the Rangers needed just one win or one Astros loss to clinch the American League West divisional title. They let the Angels slip away in a 2-1 in a squeaker on Friday night. On Saturday they reprised Game 6 of the 2011 World Series with the Halos standing in for the Cardinals. Eventually the stunned Rangers lost 11-10. Meanwhile, Houston decided they would rather have the division than a wild card slot and refused to lose. Suddenly Texas was looking at one game left in the season and the possibility of game 163 to determine the division/wild card spots.

Cole Hamels initially did little to soothe the fears of Rangers fans as he allowed two runs in the first inning yesterday to give the Angels a 2-0 lead. Cole calmed down though and that was it for Anaheim. Hamels cruised through the next eight innings without allowing any more runs. Meanwhile the Rangers offense picked up a run in the bottom of the first. That was it through four and a half. With the Rangers trailing 2-1, Adrian Beltre once again put the club on his shoulders and hammered a two-run shot in the fifth to give Texas a 3-2 lead. Meanwhile the Astros were refusing to die in Arizona. Angels starter Garrett Richards left the game after six with the score still at 3-2. In the bottom of the seventh it all fell apart for the Halos bullpen. Texas exploded for six runs as Anaheim ran five pitchers to the mound before finally stopping the bleeding. It was more than enough though. Final: Texas - 9, Anaheim - 2.

Shortly after the Rangers victory, word came in that the Astros fell to the Diamondbacks 5-3. That mattered only to Houston and the Yankees though. Texas already won the American League West and was headed for the American League Division Championship Series. Most of the players are different, but the celebration was very similar to the one pictured on the front of this 2010 ALDS program. Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Colby Lewis, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, and several of the coaches are still around from that 2010 team and they all have unfinished business in the post-season. The quest to finish that business starts Thursday in Toronto.

I admit it, this team has been a huge, and very pleasant, surprise. After the loss of Yu Darvish in Spring Training, I had them pegged at 81-81 on the season and a third place finish in the West. After the loss of Derek Holland for several months on Opening Day, I figured they would have to really work to meet my prediction. When they traded for Cole Hamels I expected the impact to be first felt only in 2016. Instead they never ever quit and are now back in the play-offs for the first time since a brief wild card appearance in 2012. That exceeds my expectations for the season by several lengths and it's all a joyride now. Do I expect them to get to the World Series? Honestly, not really. Would I be surprised if they do? Pleasantly. Whatever happens, I'm going to enjoy the ride as far as the guys can take it and then be grateful to this group of players and coaches for restoring post-season baseball to Arlington.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Senators Saturday - Ken McMullen, 1970.

Ken McMullen, shown here on card 420 of the 1970 Topps set, had anchored the Senators at third base since he arrived in the Frank Howard/Claude Osteen trade during the winter of 1964-1965. Well known for his golden glove, Ken's bat had been steadily declining over the past few seasons leading into 1970. The Senators really needed for him to get it going again.

In the first 15 games of 1970, McMullen continued to demonstrate his excellence in the field. He played all 15 games at third and committed just two errors over 143 innings. His .971 fielding percentage was head and shoulders above the league average .949.

The problem was Ken's bat. Once an integral part of the Washington attack, it just didn't have the same sting anymore. In 64 plate appearances McMullen posted a .203 batting average and a .266 on-base fielding percentage. He struck out ten times while working five walks. If Ken's bat still had power, those numbers might have been tolerable. It didn't though. He hit just two doubles and no other extra base hits.

The Senators had a problem. Ken McMullen's offensive skills appeared to have suddenly declined and opened a gaping hole in the already weak Washington lineup. The front office decided to move him while his glove still had value and the early stage of the season didn't rule out a turn around. On April 27, 1970 Ken McMullen was shipped off to the California Angels in exchange for Rick Reichardt and young Aurelio Rodriguez. The Senators hoped to use Rodriguez to replace McMullen at third. Reichardt could play all three outfield positions and looked to be a decent backup. After six full seasons, the longest serving Senators third baseman was no longer with the club.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Almost back.

Ok, last pre-scheduled post for awhile. I am planning on being back to regular posting after today.

Posting this 2002 EX Behind the Numbers game-used card of Ivan Rodriguez in hopes of keeping the Rangers luck running. Even though the card only shows a very small piece of Pudge's jersey, it's still a nice card.

Would love to see Pudge throwing out the first pitch again in another post-season series in Texas. In spite of my pre-season predictions, this might be the year. This team definitely didn't play the .500 ball I was expecting and that is a nice surprise.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

1979 Topps - Bump Wills.

Bump Wills, shown here on card 369 of the 1979 Topps set, was looking to recover from the sophomore slump he encountered in 1978. The Rangers certainly expected a rebound.

Wills still had the starting second baseman's job nailed down. He played 144 games at second, down ten games from the previous season. He also pinch-hit in two games to bring his season total of games played to 146. Bump logged 1269 innings at second and committed 20 errors. His resulting .976 fielding percentage was two points lower than the league average. That was understandable in light of Wills' range being significantly greater than other American League second basemen.

Bump made 617 trips to the plate for the Rangers in 1979 and posted a .273 batting average. That was a 23 point improvement from the previous season. His .340 on-base percentage was also an improvement, just nine points though. While Wills struck out 58 times, he also walked 53 times. He continued to be have a little power but his 21 doubles were probably more a result of his speed. The three triples and five home runs he tallied proved he was not a slugger. He was a table setter though and scored a team high 90 runs for the Rangers while bumping in 46 RBI. Once again he proved himself to be a stolen base threat as he swiped 35 bags. That was down from the 52 of the previous season but still the most on the club. The eleven times he got caught were a cause for concern however.

All in all, 1979 was an acceptable return season for Bump Wills. He brought his batting average up significantly and his speed was still well above the average player. He needed to watch the caught stealing numbers and it would be nice if his on-base percentage were a tad higher. Still, the Rangers had little to complain about with their second baseman. If he could keep turning in similar numbers he would be able to stave off any challenges for his job.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Minor League Monday - Mark Petkovsek, 1990 CMC.

The Rangers drafted pitcher Mark Petkovsek in the first round of the June, 1987 draft. He started his pro career the same year with the Gulf Coast Rangers in Rookie ball.

Petkovsek, shown here on card 155 of the 1990 CMC set, finished the 1987 season with the Single A Charlotte Rangers. He would spend all of 1988 there as well. In 1989 the Rangers jumped Mark to Double A Tulsa. By the end of the season he was with Triple A Oklahoma City.

Based on Petkovsek's rapid rise, you might think he was a fire-balling lights out type of pitcher. That would be a misconception. In his first three seasons Mark had seen his ERA dip below three just once, during his 1988 season in Charlotte. His time in Tulsa in 1989 was the only stretch he had where he posted a winning record. Just why Texas kept moving him up is somewhat of a mystery to me.

Petkovsek would spend the entire 1990 season at Triple A with the Oklahoma City 89ers. He appeared in 28 games for them, all starts. Over the 151 innings Mark pitched, he posted a 5.25 ERA and a 1.517 WHIP. That ERA looks a bit rougher when you consider one he did toss a complete game shutout during the season. On the other hand, that indicated he had some potential to be very good. Petkovsek could strike out opposing batters - he did it 81 times in 1990. Of course, he also issued 42 walks as well. Mark saw his record dip back below .500 as he ended the season at 7-14.

None of Mark Petkovsek's 1990 numbers were anything to write home about, even at the beginning of the steroid era. Texas was not pitching-rich but Petkovsek needed to see his ERA drop some if he wanted to make that last step from Triple A to the Majors. Being a first round pick, he probably had a few more chances left but sooner or later Texas was going to decide he wasn't working out and either trade or cut him.