Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cycling to victory.

Well, the last couple of days have been great ones for Rangers fans. After all, a win a day keeps the blues away.

Texas saw the Giants off on Sunday with a 2-1 win. Pitching was the story as Martin Perez turned in his best start since returning from the Disabled List. Perez went 8.1 innings and gave up just one run while allowing only two hits. The bullpen fooled around and loaded the bases in the ninth but got a double play to end the game. Josh Hamilton provided the margin of victory with a two run home run to give Perez all the support he needed.

As beautifully pitched as Sunday's game was, yesterday's was not. Rangers starter Colby Lewis battled through six innings but didn't have it as he gave up seven runs. Four of those were thanks to a grand slam. That was better than Houston starter Lance McCullers who gave up six earned runs in just a third of an inning of work and left for Triple A after the game. There were other pitchers involved but that gives you an idea of how things went.

On the other side of the ball, both teams had pretty big days. Shin-Soo Choo had a home run for Texas. He, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, and Roughned Odor all had two RBI. The spotlight was reserved for Adrian Beltre though. Beltre, shown here on card 23 of the 2013 Allen and Ginter set, had a phenomenal night at the plate. He went 4-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored to lead the Rangers charge. Adrian got a triple in the first to start his night. His second at bat resulted in a double. Next came a single and, in the fifth inning he hammered a home right to left field. It was the third cycle of Beltre's career, the second in his time with Texas. Coupled with Choo's cycle a couple of weeks ago, it was the second of the year for the Rangers.

Thanks to some late-inning zeros put up by the Rangers revamped bullpen, and the offensive onslaught led by Beltre, the Rangers welcomed the Astros to Arlington with a 12-9 win. Nice way to open the series.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Finally winning at home.

So glad to have a reason to post a Rangers card on a Saturday. Not that I dislike posting Senators cards, I actually really enjoy the exercise. No, a post of a Rangers card on a Saturday means there's good news in the Rangers Republic.

Texas won their third straight last night as they topped the Giants 6-3. What's remarkable is not that they beat San Francisco, the first two wins came against the Yankees, or the length of the win streak. What's remarkable is that they won three in a row at home. The team with the worst home record in baseball might be waking up.

All of the Ranger runs scored in the first two innings as Texas jumped all over Giants' starter Madison Bumgarner (more on him later). Adrian Beltre, shown here on card 132 of the 2013 Bowman set, and Elvis Andrus both had two run homers to provide the bulk of the Rangers offense. Roughned Odor also went 3-for-3 in the game and scored a run. Meanwhile on the mound, Nick Martinez returned to his June form as he went 6.1 innings while striking out four and allowing just two runs. Newbie Jake Diekman took over from Martinez and made his Ranger debut with 1.2 innings of scoreless work. Jake handed off to Shawn Tolleson who allowed a Brandon Crawford home run before getting the game closed out. Very nice to see they club firing on all cylinders.

Tonight the team debuts new hurler Cole Hamels. A win to start off his time in Texas would be very nice indeed.

*** Do not read below this point if you are a Giants fan.***

By now my antipathy towards the Giants should be pretty well known to all. They rate right around the Yankees in my book and are doing their dead-level best to oust New York from the cellar. My dislike has little to nothing to do with the 2010 World Series (the Cards are still my NL team, even after 2011) and much to do with the behaviour of their management and players. Yesterday was another strike. I don't like to talk down on other teams but I have to say something here.

Starter Madison Bumgarner had a rough first couple of innings before settling down and shutting Texas down. That seemed to put him in a foul mood and he took further umbrage at a hard slide into second by Roughned Odor in the fourth inning. Why he would take personal offense at that is beyond me. Delino DeShields popped up to end the fourth. As DeShields trotted down the first base line waiting for the ball to be caught, he flipped his bat. No looks at Bumgarner, no lip, just a bat flip. Probably frustrated he popped out. Bumgarner didn't think so and began barking at him. Adrian Beltre popped out of the Texas dugout to defend the rookie from the unwarranted tongue lashing. Bumgarner and Beltre exchanged words and the benches cleared. There was no brawl and no ejections but the tension was high. There was no need for it.

One might chalk this up to Bumgarner having a bad day. Except he did the same thing against the Dodgers a few weeks back for the same reason. That seems to indicate there's a problem. When asked about his tantrum yesterday Bumgarner said, "I think it's pretty self-explanatory, don't you?" Yes, it is. The guy needs to get off his high horse and play ball. He's going to incite a serious brawl if he keep it up and guys could get hurt. Bumgarner's a phenomenal pitcher. He also appears to be a prima donna. Unfortunately, judging by other cases, that attitude is unlikely to be shed in San Francisco.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blockbuster!

Well, I was saving card 83 from the 2013 Topps Heritage Minor League set for the day Jorge Alfaro earned his spot as the Rangers starting catcher. That's not going to happen now it seems. The Rangers have pulled off their biggest trade since bringing in Cliff Lee in 2010.

MLB.com and the sports radio shows are aflame with the news that the Rangers and Phillies have agreed to a huge trade. Texas will be sending Alfaro, minor league outfielder Nick Williams, minor league pitchers Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff, and current Major League starter Matt Harrison to Philadelphia. In return the Phils are sending pitchers Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman, and some cash, to Texas.

This is a big trade for both teams. The Rangers are giving up some of their top prospects and the Phillies are handing over their ace who is still under contract for at least three more seasons. There are some options that might give Hamels' contract another year. Apparently the Phils are going into full rebuilding mode while the Rangers have served notice that they will be a contender starting in 2016.

What to think? The Rangers gave up a lot from the minor league system. Alfaro was supposed to be the backstop of the future and Williams is projected to be a decent center fielder. Thompson came over in the Soria trade with Detroit and has a high ceiling. I don't know a lot about Asher and Eickhoff but I think both were regarded as potential Major Leaguers. Matt Harrison is a known quantity, a gritty competitor with an inspiring comeback story. Hamels is a 32-year-old National League pitcher. NL pitchers generally struggle in the American League. Diekman is a middle reliever carrying a 5.15 ERA this year. Not pretty.

On the other hand, General Manager Jon Daniels has drafted well and the farm is pretty deep. Prospects are always a gamble (see: Profar, Jurickson) and there is no guarantee any of the minor-leaguers involved in the trade with make the Majors. Matt Harrison has battled back from his spinal fusion surgery but has yet to regain his pre-injury form and might not have a lot left in the tank. Cole Hamels is an established ace, used to carrying the title. He is left-handed and lefties tend to pitch later than right-handers. A 2016 rotation consisting of Hamels, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Nick Martinez, Martin Perez, and possibly Colby Lewis or Chi-Chi Gonzalez looks very promising. Diekman is also left-handed and might be someone pitching coach Mike Maddux can work with.

There are also two more days left before the trade deadline and Texas is shopping Yovani Gallardo. He is a free agent at the end of the season and so won't bring in the prospects Hamels took out but the Rangers could get one or two for him. They could also hold on to him until the end of the season, make a qualifying offer, and take the extra draft pick when he goes somewhere else.

All in all I think this deal makes sense. Not for this year but for 2016 and beyond. As things stand, the Rangers have their rotation set for the immediate future. If they can get the offense solidified, they will be a force in the American League West for several years. As with the Cliff Lee trade, if Cole Hamels helps the club get to one World Series, the trade will be an overwhelming success.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

1979 Topps - Jim Sundberg.

Jim Sundberg, shown here on card 120 of the 1979 Topps set, had firmly established himself as the Rangers starting catcher by the start of the 1979 season. 1978 had been another excellent year for Sunny and Texas was expecting more of the same. They would not be disappointed.

Jim's offensive numbers took a slight dip as his batting average fell to .275 over 561 plate appearances. He lowered his strikeout total to 51 and, strangely, also worked 51 walks. Both were drops from the previous season and he watched his on-base percentage lower to .345. Some of Sunny's offensive drops could be attributed to a slow first part of the season. After the first 42 games he was carrying a .194 batting average. He warmed up through the last two thirds of the season and hit .308 after May 26th. Sundberg's power specialty was doubles, he hit 23 of them to go with his four triples and five home runs. Amazingly, he tied for first in triples on the club, the second year in a row he led the team in that offensive category.

Of course, Sunny was best known for his defensive capabilities. He did not disappoint either. Jim caught in all 150 games he appeared in for Texas. That led the league in games played at catcher. He might have had even more games played had he not missed four games after being beaned by the Angels Don Aase on June 26th. Jim wasn't just an iron man though. Over the 1271 innings he caught, Sundberg posted a league best .995 fielding percentage. That was 13 points higher than the league average for receivers. He also led the league in put outs at catcher with 754. As always, opposing runners found it hazardous to run on Texas. Sunny gunned down 41% of would-be base thieves, well above the league average 36%.

The Rangers had to be happy with Jim Sundberg's 1979 season. He could use some improvement on the offensive side of things but his numbers were not in the red zone. He had established himself as perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game and was extremely durable. 1979 would see him win his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. As John Ellis well knew, being a backup catcher in Texas was a tough gig. The Rangers had no worries behind the plate for the immediate future.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Minor League Monday - Ron Washington, 1990 CMC.

The thing about flipping through old minor league cards is you never know when you'll come across a familiar face. Ron Washington, shown here on card 165 of the 1990 CMC set, is well-known to Rangers fans as the manager who finally got the team into the World Series.

The Rangers in the World Series was still 20 years distant in 1990 and Ron Washington had been granted free agency after a cup of coffee with the Houston Astros in 1989. The Rangers signed him to a minor league contract, probably with the idea he could mentor younger players. Wash's career as a middle infielder with the Twins was in the rear view mirror and he was not impressive in 1989 with Houston.

Ron played in 101 games total for Oklahoma City in 1990 and made 364 trips to the plate. His bat was failing him as he walked just five times and struck out 60 times en route to a .238 batting average and a .248 on-base percentage. He did hit 15 doubles, six triples, and a home run.

The designation of infield on the front of Washington's card is very appropriate. During the course of the season he made 50 appearances at short stop, 19 at second base, 13 at third base, ten at first base, two as catcher, and even pitched in three games. It was Ron's first experience pitching in his pro career. Over the three innings he pitched Washington tallied a 6.00 ERA and a 2.667 WHIP. He didn't get a decision but did manage to strike out one batter.

1990 was about what was to be expected at the tail end of Ron Washington's career. He had never been a star player but he was a smart one. Smart enough to know this was the end of the line on the field. Wash hung up the spikes after the end of the 1990 season. By the start of the 1991 campaign he was embarked on the second half of his career, joining the coaching staff for the Tidewater Tides in the Mets farm system.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Are they or aren't they?

The Rangers are currently riding a three game win streak and knocked off the Angels last night in Anaheim. That helps Texas keep the best road record in baseball. Can't say I was upset to see the guys ride into the Big A and beat the Halos.

Josh Hamilton led the offensive charge in his first return to Anaheim since rejoining the Rangers. Hamilton served as the rally sparker, going 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. That accounted for half the Rangers scoring. One Hamilton run was on an excellent squeeze bunt laid down by Robinson Chirinos. The other was on a Shin-Soo Choo double.

Meanwhile Keone Kela struck out Albert Pujols to end the eighth inning with the tying run on base. Shawn Tolleson tossed a scoreless ninth to finish up the game.

The true star of the night though was starting pitcher Colby Lewis, shown here on card 87 of the 2011 Allen and Ginter set. Colby has been the Rangers big game guy in the past and he brought his A game to the Big A. Over 7.2 innings Lewis allowed just five hits and one walk while striking out nine. The Angels scored just two runs on him as the win moves Lewis' record to 10-4. It was a head-turning performance to be sure. That leads to the dilemma.

The Rangers win drops the Halos into a tie with the Astros for first place but only brings Texas to 7.5 games back. Of course, they're ahead of Seattle and Oakland and could conceivably still make a run. The chances of such a run seem to be very hard to gauge with this team. Jon Daniels is to the point in the season of deciding if he is going to buy or sell. If the guys take this series from the Angels will that mean they could stay in the mix? If so, are they strong enough to go all in? Colby Lewis thinks they are still a contender. He said so when asked if his performance last night might get other teams to call about him. Of course, he's going to be optimistic, players always are. It appears Colby Lewis might have just won another big game for Texas. What that game means remains to be seen.

If the decision is to sell then the question becomes, how much? With the young guys the Rangers have, and if Darvish, Holland, and Harrison are healthy next year, contention in 2016 is a real possibility. If JD decides to sell, he might also be buying for next year. With his age and contract status, Lewis could well be on the block if the Rangers decide they won't be needing him for any big games.

The Texas front office has some tough decisions to be making in the next few days and it's impossible to predict the course they will choose. You can read and hear pundits on both sides of the issue and all of them seem to be absolutely certain they are right. The fans are equally divided. I don't expect a full-blown fire sale but anything beyond that is possible. One thing's for certain, no matter what decision is made, somebody's going to be unhappy about it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Harrison's back.

Well, it's been a couple of good days for the Rangers as they won the last two games they played in Colorado.

On Tuesday Shin-Soo Choo hit for the cycle and Delino DeShields got his first four hit game as Texas hammered the Rockies 9-0. Choo completed his cycle with a triple in his last at-bat. Hopefully that feat will help him get his confidence back and get back in stride offensively.

The star of the night though was undoubtedly starting pitcher Matt Harrison. Harrison, shown here on a signed 2012 Panini Prizm card, pitched six scoreless innings to get the win. It was his first win since May of 2014. It also marked the first time a Major League pitcher has won a game following spinal fusion surgery. Very good news and encouraging to the Rangers and Matt. By all indications he should be able to continue his comeback.

Yesterday the guys had a little more trouble but won a see-saw battle with a 10-8 final score. Rougned Odor finished a double shy of the cycle but walked to lead off the ninth. That helped set up Elvis Andrus' two run single to win the game. Good to see both of those guys contributing offensively.

The second win gets Texas to 45-49 on the season, nine games behind the Angels. Going into a series in Anaheim the team has a chance to make up some ground. This could be a crucial series.