Archive for Texas Rangers
For years, the Angels were the one team in baseball that gave the Yankees fits. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia’s team just had their number. Now that the Halos are getting older and are heading down baseball’s power rankings, they’ve apparently handed the torch of “AL West team the Yankees can’t beat” to the Rangers. After sweeping Texas in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in April, Joe Girardi‘s team lost four of their five remaining regular season meetings, all of which took place in Arlington. The ALCS was a completely one-sided affair; that the Yanks forced six games is a minor miracle.
But this is a new season. There’s no Cliff Lee looming nor is there an Andy Pettitte to fall back on. Vlad Guerrero has been replaced by Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman has been replaced by Russell Martin, things have changed. The weather looks to be gorgeous but a little chilly this weekend, when the Yankees take on their toughest opponent to date in 2011.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rangers started the season looking like baseball’s best team, and reality they probably are at the moment. They won their first six games and outscored their opponents 42-20 in the process, but they’re just 3-3 since. Prior to Thursday’s off-day, Texas dropped back-to-back games against the Tigers, losing the first on a Miguel Cabrera walk-off single and the second on a Brandon Inge walk-off homer. For whatever reason, Neftali Feliz was nowhere to be found in either game. Their +32 run differential is the best in baseball and nearly two times greater than the second best mark in the AL (Toronto’s +17). If there’s such a thing as momentum, the Yankees would appear to have it. They’ve won their last two while the Rangers lost their last two in demoralizing fashion.
Rangers On Offense
The Yankees caught a very big break this series, both literally and figuratively. By now you’ve heard that Josh Hamilton, last year’s AL MVP, broke his arm sliding head first into home during Tuesday’s game and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. It was a weird play, Hamilton was on third when a pop-fly went into foul territory, but no one covered the plate and he broke for home after the catch. After the game he threw third base coach Dave Anderson under the bus, though he later apologized. Bottom line: The Yankees won’t have to face arguably the best player in the league this weekend.
Of course, Texas’ offense is still extremely good. Designated Yankee killer David Murphy (.418 wOBA in limited action) steps in for Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz’s boomstick is still fully operational (.451 wOBA). Ian Kinsler torched the Red Sox in the first series of the year, but he leadoff guy is hitting just .152/.243/.273 in the nine games since. Adrian Beltre has hit .350/.381/.750 with two doubles and two homers in his last five games after a very slow start to the season, while Michael Young owns a .474/.476/.579 line over the same time. Mitch Moreland is a perpetual pain in the ass near the bottom of the lineup (.389 wOBA), though Elvis Andrus (.291), Julio Borbon (.297) and Yorvit Torrealba (.275) haven’t done much yet this season. I’m willing to bet Andrus gets his fair share if crap infield hits this weekend like he did in the ALCS. Mike Napoli looms on the bench as a lefty-masher, though that should only come into play when CC Sabathia starts on Sunday.
Rangers On The Mound
Game One: Matt Harrison, LHP: Part of the Mark Teixeira trade back in the day, Harrison has been in straight up Beast Mode in the early going this year. He held the Red Sox and Orioles to one run over seven innings in each of his first two starts, allowing just seven hits and three walks total with seven strikeouts and 50% ground balls. He’s not some soft tossing lefty either. Harrison’s four-seamer has averaged 93.7 mph this year and has topped out at 97 while the two-seamer sits about a mile-per-hour or two below that. He uses each about 30% of the time. A low-80′s changeup is his next best offering and he doesn’t have a real knockout breaking ball, but will throw both a slider and curveball and the occasional cutter. If Joe Girardi was ever going to employ Danks Theory, this would be a good game to do it, taking that changeup away. Harrison has gotten smacked around pretty good in five career appearances (two starts) against the Yankees (7.53 ERA, 4.40 FIP in just 14.1 IP), but that was before he showed up to camp this year bumping 97.
Game Two: Derek Holland, LHP: You probably remember Holland from his stellar relief work in the ALCS (5.2 scoreless innings), but now he’s back where he belongs in the rotation. He allowed three runs in six innings to the Mariners in the first start before shutting the O’s down for six frames last time out. He’s very much like Harrison in that he’s fastball-changeup heavy, sitting 93.2 with the former and the mid-80′s with the latter. Holland’s slider is a quality third offering though, a pitch he can use to get swings and misses. He’s another guy the Yankees have crushed in the past (9.49 ERA, 8.07 FIP in 12.1 IP) but again, that’s no guarantee of future success. Holland’s a dynamite young pitcher.
Game Three: Alexi Ogando, RHP: In the rotation only because Tommy Hunter strained some fat at the end of Spring Training, Ogando was never a full-time starter until the Rangers stuck him in that role in Spring Training. Sure enough, he fired six shutout innings against the Mariners two weeks ago and followed that up with seven shutout innings against the Tigers earlier this week. Ogando has allowed just four hits and three walks in those 13 IP, striking out eight. It doesn’t make sense, but for whatever reason it just worked. The right-hander sits 93-94 with the fastball and mixes in a few 95′s and 96′s, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher. If you don’t get the heat, your getting the slider, that’s it. His changeup is an afterthought. Ogando made just six relief appearances against the Yankees last year (four regular season and two playoffs), throwing a total of 4.2 IP. For all intents and purposes, they’ve never really seen him before.
Bullpen: Well, at least Feliz is well rested. He hasn’t pitched in four games, but at we also know that Washington won’t use him in a tie game on the road. Score one for the good guys. Yankee favorite Arthur Rhodes joins Darren Oliver to give the Rangers not one, but two lefties that are a handful of outings away from a forced retirement. Darren O’Day is a sidearm/submarining righty specialist, and Mark Lowe (a throw-in in the Lee trade) throws hard and that’s about it. Rule 5 guy Mason Tobin is unspectacular, and Pedro Strop is essentially another Lowe. It’s not exactly a bullpen that strikes fear into opponents, but you’ve got to get to them before the ninth inning. Otherwise you’re probably out of luck.
Ben Shpigel doesn’t think we should remember the eight games the Yankees and Rangers played against each other this season. Because three of them were in April and three were in September when the Yanks’ regulars weren’t playing, the games, he said in The Times earlier this week, don’t tell us much about the impending ALCS match-up.
As Shpigel notes of the September series, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes did not make a start while Nick Swisher had a bum knee, Jorge Posada a concussion and Brett Gardner a sore hand. The Yankees were left short-handed, and Joe Girardi kept giving the ball, infuriatingly enough, to Chad Gaudin. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera managed to blow a game by hitting Jeff Francoeur with a pitch. It was Bizarro Baseball down in Arlington.
Yet, here we are on the precipice of the ALCS, and these two teams did indeed face each other eight times this year. The Yankees won four out of the first five match-ups before the Rangers subjected the Bombers to the club’s first three-game sweep on the road this year. The clubs played four consecutive one-run games in August and September, and although the players don’t want to read too much into the season series, we’ll take a look at it anyway.
The season series started out with a whimper as the Yankees rolled over the Rangers in a rain-shortened game. The best part about this game was a gem Mike penned in our recap: “It’s so easy to like Cervelli with his big doofy helmet and all out hustle and infectious energy, so it was fun to see him single in a run after Granderson’s fielder’s choice.” Fun note: At the time, Nelson Cruz was the AL leader in HR, RBI, slugging and OPS, and little did we realize that these two pitchers would eventually match up against each other in the first game of the American League Championship Series.
The second game saw the Yanks behind a solid A.J. Burnett leap out to a quick 5-0 lead they would never give up. After a few weeks of futility, Alex Rodriguez launched his first home run of the season against his former team, and the only bad part of this game was Alfredo Aceves‘ 0.1-inning, three-earned run appearance. The Yankees were rolling.
Entering this game, Mark Teixeira was batting .100 with an OPS barely above .400, but he took advantage of an ineffective Rich Harden in the third inning. His solo shot was also his first of the season, and it took came against his former teammates. Andy Pettitte went eight strong for his second win of the season as the Yanks wrapped up a tidy three-game sweep of the Rangers in the Bronx. Texas would, of course, return the favor in Arlington a few months later, but these two teams would go nearly four months between meetings.
This game marked a string of five games against the Rangers that were, by and large, not very much fun. A.J. Burnett, mired in a terrible slump, threw seven innings of three-run ball, but C.J. Wilson held his own. The Yanks rallied off of Frank Francisco to tie the game on an a-bomb from A-Rod, but Mariano Rivera gave up the game in the 10th. The Yanks went just 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on.
The Bombers rebounding from their extra-inning loss with a thrilling game against Cliff Lee. While the southpaw struck out 11, the Yanks touched him up for four runs in just 6.1 innings. Staked to a 6-1 lead, Lee and the Rangers bullpen coughed it up. The Yanks scored twice in the seventh, once in the eight and twice in the ninth against closer Neftali Feliz to grab the game. Rivera made it exciting when Elvis Andrus tripled to lead off the inning, but Mo retired Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vlad to escape that jam.
It’s quite possible that no two games over the course of the Yankee season were as irksome as this pair. The Yanks went 25 for 87 with 18 walks over 21 innings. That’s the equivalent of a .287 batting average and a whopping .421 on-base percentage. But just five of their 25 hits went for extra bases, and the Bombers left a whopping 32 men on base. On Friday night, the Yanks went 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position and left 18 men on base. On Saturday, the team went 3 for 13 with 14 runners on base. Somehow, Chad Gaudin managed to pitch poorly in both games. No one wants to see that happen again.
Cliff Lee faced Dustin Moseley, and the Yanks managed just two hits. No one was surprised.
Yesterday’s game helped me put the value of defense in a better perspective. When you have a pitch-to-contact guy on the mound, you’re going to need some solid performances by the guys behind him in order to get through it. Most of the time — even though they aren’t the best fielders in the league — the defense is solid in support of Wang. Unfortunately, guys are going to have bad games; some guys are just bad.
Not that Wang did himself many favors. He didn’t look his sharpest, leaving that sinker higher in the zone than he normally does (and a consequence of leaving that baby up is that it doesn’t have nearly the bite as a lower version). Flat and waist high is no way to go through life.
If you saw the game, you know which plays I’m talking about. If you didn’t see the game, you surely heard from a friend who is as frustrated as me. It was one of two games this season I clicked off in the middle — and I’m sure you can guess which the other was.
Let’s start with my boy Bobby. On the first pitch in the fifth inning, Gerald Laird (.209/.284/.297) hit a deep fly ball to right. Melky makes that play. Damon makes that play. Matsui makes that play. Hell, fuckin’ Bernie makes that play. But Bobby has all sorts of trouble when he has to run backwards, can’t get under the ball, and it falls. Now, thankfully it’s the fifth inning, and it’s a 1-1 game, so even if the run scores it’s not a fatal deficit.
On the heels of a victory stolen, the Yanks fired back against the always vulnerable Texas Rangers, beating up on Mike Wood en route to a 8-2 win. It was a great game to watch — we got solid starting pitching and some life out of the bats. Combining those will lead to wins nine times out of 10, making me a bit more optimistic about the rest of the season. Unfortunately, we have precious few games left against the Rangers.
Before I jump into the main points of the game, let it be said that the scorers screwed Matsui. Third inning, runners on first and second, two out, Matsui up with the score tied at one. After being issued two balls, he laid into one and drove it to right-center. Jerry Hairston (who, in addition to being named in the most recent HGH scandal, cannot play center field) raced over to make a play, but wasn’t able to get there in time. Instead of giving Matsui a triple, they scored it an error on Hairston. I really don’t know what the scorers were thinking. The play was basically right in front of me, and I just assumed it was a triple. The box score says differently. I think they’re wrong. Am I?
Finally, Dougie-do-nothing is doing something! He continued his hot streak — obviously caused by this image — knocking two singles and driving in Jorge with a sac fly. He’s hurdled the Mendoza line (though, to be fair, he did that Monday with his two doubles), and maybe, just maybe he can reach the levels at which he hit last year. However, since he’s done so well while we’ve been bashing him, my official statement is, “Doug, you suck. You have no place on this team. Go back to the Red Sox.”