The Rangers are One Win from the World Series

My little sports heart is going to need a cigarette and three months off (aka the Cowboys’ season) after this Rangers playoff run is over.

Last night’s game was just another episode of the Nelson Cruz show, running concurrent with the Mike Napoli show.

Those two guys both made huge plays that are getting overlooked because of their 11th inning heroics. First, it was a team effort in the eighth, as Cruz fielded a fly ball in right field, with Miguel Cabrera tagging up at third.

Cruz threw a laser-guided, frozen-rope, one hop strike to Napoli at home plate to gun down Cabrera by ten feet.

Then, in the tenth, Austin Jackson reached first base after being hit by a pitch from Scott Feldman. With an 0-1 count to Ryan Raburn, Jackson took off for second, only to have Napoli make an incredible catch (on a pitch high and inside to the batter) and throw (a laser-guided, frozen-rope strike to Kinsler) to gun him down.

Then came the 11th inning.

Josh Hamilton led off with a first pitch double.

I’d like to stop here and mention something. I have heard a lot of bagging on Hamilton in these playoffs for always hacking at the first pitch. To those people I ask, where were you last year when he was the league MVP? He’s been swinging at the first pitch for as long as he has been a Ranger. Shush your faces and let the man play.

Then, after Michael Young struck out the Tigers made a very curious move. They intentionally walked Adrian Beltre. Now, I would understand walking Beltre if he was healthy. If he was at full strength.

But the guy just fouled three consecutive pitches off his legs, one off his kneecap, in the game the day before. He’s hobbling. You have to pitch to him.

Now I understand that Jim Leyland wanted the opportunity for a double play, but if you were watching the broadcast last night, you saw that Mike Napoli only grounded into 10 double plays all season. Furthermore, Tigers closer Jose Valverde had only induced four double plays all year.

Hmmmmmm.

Whatever, I’ll take it.

Napoli was the next guy up, and his single scored Hamilton from second, putting the Rangers up 4-3.

The next hitter was Cruz. He only needed one pitch to put the dagger in Detroit’s face.

He it a 400+ foot bomb to left-center to expand the lead to 7-3, and effectively place the Rangers one win away from the World Series.

Today, they have the opportunity to win their second consecutive AL pennant, and they’ll have to go through Justin Verlander to get it.

As good as Verlander has been all season, the Rangers have beaten him twice, including in the rain affected game 1 of the ALCS.

In their one regular season showdown with Verlander, the Rangers only managed two runs, and Verlander pitched a complete game. Alexi Ogando was on the mound for Texas, and he went seven innings allowing only two hits, before the bullpen came in and cleaned up the rest.

So it’s not like Verlander didn’t pitch well, the Rangers just pitched better.

That will have to be the case again, but the Ranger starters are still looking for their first quality start of the postseason.

It’ll be up to C.J. Wilson to try and get back into his groove, and I suspect he will.

If he does, and the Ranger bats can get a few runs of Justin (especially if they can get to Detroit’s depleted bullpen), then we’ll be celebrating a second consecutive Rangers’ World Series appearance late into the night.

Or at least I will be.

Go Rangers.

Rangers Win in Grand Fashion

I think it’s safe to say Nelson Cruz is out of his slump.

With two home runs in Monday afternoon/night’s game, including the first walk-off grand slam in MLB postseason history, Cruz is now 4 for 7 with three home runs and six RBIs in the ALCS.

This is after he hit just 1 for 15 in the ALDS, and a paltry .190 in the month of September leading up to the playoffs.

Those are history now.

Last night’s game was electric. Both teams were making defensive plays, with Brandon Inge showing he still has something left in the tank, and Elvis Andrus making an incredible, yet perilous, over the shoulder catch to end the top of the 9th.

Derek Holland didn’t look good. He was erratic, and he tried relying too much on a fastball that he couldn’t locate. It cost him in the third inning, when he gave up a three run homer to Ryan Raburn that put the Rangers down 3-2.

Enter Scott Feldman, who was the first of six Ranger relievers to come in an shut the Tigers down. He went 4 and 1/3 innings giving up only one hit and striking out four.

The Rangers bullpen in this series so far has gone 12.2 innings pitched, allowing only five hits and no earned runs (or unearned runs) while striking out 16 to only three walks.

The one concern is that it’s only been two games, and the bullpen is already in double digits for innings pitched. In the ALDS against the Rays, the Rangers ‘pen pitched a total of 15 innings in four games.

Here’s to hoping Colby Lewis can give those backup boys the night off. Rangers starters (C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland) in the first two games of this series have combined for 7.1 innings pitched, 10 hits, five earned runs, six strikeouts (all by Wilson) and nine walks.

Now, C.J. has the excuse of having to sit for a 45 minute rain delay. Before that, minus a shaky first inning, he was cruising, despite throwing a ton of pitches.

Holland was shaky from the start, walking four and striking out none, and failing to last through the third inning.

But the story of the night was no doubt Cruz, who, after hitting the game-tying home run in the 7th inning, followed by getting nailed in the arm with a Jose Valverde fastball in the 9th, came back to absolutely destroy a hanging slider from Ryan Perry for the game winning grand slam.

What was even more impressive though, was the foul ball he hit right before he homered. It was another hanging slider, and Cruz it it past the left field foul pole into the upper deck in foul territory. It drew a lot of oohs and ahhs from the crowd, who had no idea that two pitches later their calls of “CRUUUUUUZZZZZZZZZ” would be answered with a historic bomb.

Now Texas heads to Detroit in an attempt to put the Tigers down 3-0 in the series.

Colby Lewis is on the mound, and he’ll match up against Doug Fister. Fister, of course, won game 5 of the Tigers’ ALDS series against the Yankees in New York.

It should be a good game, and I can’t wait to see what Nelson does next.

Go Rangers.

Rangers, Beltre, Deliver Knockout Blow to Rays

It’s only been done  six (now seven) times in the history of baseball, twice by Babe Ruth (1946, 1948. Both times in game 4 of the World Series).

The others: Bob Robertson (Game 2, NLCS, 1971), Reggie Jackson (Game 6, World Series, 1977), George Brett (Game 3, ALCS, 1978), Adam Kennedy (Game 5, ALCS, 2002).

Now, we add Adrian Beltre to that list.

With his three solo shots on Tuesday afternoon in Florida, Beltre launched himself into the record books while propelling the Rangers to the next round.

All three homers were needed, along with a leadoff shot by Ian Kinsler on the second pitch of the game, to give the Rangers the 4-3 win over Tampa Bay.

Beltre’s three home runs were things of beauty and power. They looked so easy, so simple, yet they did so much damage to the morale of the Rays and the few fans that showed up for the game.

Also damaging to the Rays morale was the performance of Rangers starter Matt Harrison. Harrison only went five innings, but he recorded nine strikeouts, while allowing two runs on five hits. He got deep in some counts, but seemingly always came out with a K. He also got into a few jams, in the second and fourth innings, but quickly recovered to get out of the innings with minimal damage.

The Rangers bullpen did the rest, with a combination of Derek Holland, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando setting the stage for Neftali Feliz to come get his third save of the series.

Feliz made it interesting, allowing one run in the ninth, but got Desmond Jennings to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game and the series.

Now, the Rangers wait.

They’ll play either New York or Detroit, with the winner of that Game 5 on Thursday advancing to play Texas on Saturday. If the Yankees win, the Rangers will head to the Bronx for Game 1. If the Tigers win, they bring Justin Verlander to the Ballpark, to square off with C. J. Wilson.

Either way, I’m excited. The Rangers are back in the ALCS for the second consecutive year. As some friends of mine told me last night, I’m getting spoiled with all the success of (a few) Dallas sports teams.

But hey, after how long I’ve been waiting, it’s about time.

Go Rangers.

Texas Rangers Playoff Preview: ALDS vs. Tampa Bay Rays

If Wednesday night didn’t make you a baseball fan, you’re probably a lost cause.

It was, without a doubt, the most incredible night in baseball history. Going into the day, both the American and National Leagues had ties atop the Wild Card Race. Boston and Tampa Bay in the American League, and Atlanta and St. Louis in the National League.

All signs pointed towards a 163rd game for each team, with Boston and closer Jonathan Papelbon leading going into the 9th against lowly Baltimore, and the Rays coming charging back from down seven against the Yankees to force extra innings. In the span of three minutes, however, Papelbon blew the save for Boston, and the Red Sox lost 4-3. Before the teams could even get back to the clubhouse, Evan Longoria hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the 12th to send the Rays to the ALDS.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals lit up the Astros 8-0, potentially forcing a tiebreaker game if the Braves could hold on to a 3-1 lead over Philadelphia. Turns out they couldn’t, instead losing in the 13th to put the cap on their own epic collapse. The Braves led the Wild Card race by 10.5 games on August 25th, and now they’ll be going home.

All of this overshadowed the race for home field advantage between Texas and Detroit. The Tigers won earlier in the day meaning that a Rangers loss would send the red-shoes to New York for the first round. But a two-run homer by Mike Napoli broke a 1-1 tie and led the Rangers to victory and home-field in the first round.

Now, the first round matchups look like this:

American League

New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

National League

Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals

MIlwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

I’ll talk more about the other series in later, but for now let’s focus on the one that matters most to us: Rangers vs. Rays.

Last year the Rangers beat Tampa Bay in five games on their way to the franchise’s first World Series appearance. This was, in large part, thanks to the stellar pitching performances of Cliff Lee.

Lee is gone, but his affects are still lingering. Just look at how C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland finished the season. The two lefties will be the Rangers’ one-two punch going into this series, and it’s key that they pitch well.  It’s also key that the Ranger bats stay hot. With three 30 home run guys, and two more in the high 20s, the Rangers have the ability to hit it out at any point.

Of course, Tampa Bay’s offense isn’t very intimidating, despite the run they went on at the end of the season.

However, as bad as Tampa’s offense may be, their pitching is another story. They have one of the most powerful rotations in the playoffs, and they’ll definitely be able to challenge the big Ranger bats.

James Shields, the Rays game 2 pitcher, has owned the Rangers this year. In his two starts against the Rangers, Shields is 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA to go along with 13 strikeouts and only three walks. The Rangers batting average against him? A humbling .140.

In fact, the highest batting average the Rangers have against any of the Rays starters is .250, against Jeremy Hellickson.

Hellickson is projected as the game 3 starter, while David Price will go in game 4 (if necessary).

The game 1 matchup is rookie left-hander Matt Moore, who was called up after dominating in the minors for the majority of the season, against C.J. Wilson. Moore has thrown less than 10 innings in the bigs, but the Rays are really high on this guy, and they know good pitching when they see it.

It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of pitching on the road in the playoffs. I expect the Rangers to be really aggressive on the bases in an attempt to get in his head.

I think the Rangers will win game 1, mainly because I am good luck and I’m going to the game.

Overall, I think the Rangers will win the series, but it all starts by winning the first one.

Go Rangers.

 

Rangers Expand lead to 3.5 Games, Magic Number is 10

With 13 days left in the regular season, the Rangers’ lead over the Angels in the West is three and a half games.

A sweep over the Cleveland Indians, coupled with an Angels off day and a loss has helped the Rangers create a little separation in what’s been an intense race for the last several weeks.

There are several things that stood out to me in the Rangers sweep over the Indians.

First things first, both Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando got back on track, recording their 12th and 13th wins, respectively. While one good game from them doesn’t do a lot in terms of solidifying them in the playoff rotation, it has to provide Texas’ management with a little relief.

After all, the only two pitchers who have been consistently strong down the stretch are C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland. The two lefties have combined for 54 strikeouts in 55.1 innings pitched, with a 2.12 ERA since August 26th. And with the way the Rangers have been hitting, that’s pretty much a death sentence for opposing teams.

That’s another thing that’s been impressive. The Rangers bats.

In that same time period (since August 26th, 19 games) the Rangers as a team have been hitting .320, scoring 129 runs and hitting 34 home runs. Ridiculous.

So why haven’t they pulled away from the Angels? Because outside of Holland and Wilson, their pitching staff has been suspect. Until this week.

With wins by Harrison and Ogando, the Rangers have extended their lead, and I fully expect them to continue to do so. With solid pitching and hot bats, not to mention a weak remaining schedule, there’s very little standing in between Texas an a second straight division title.

Go Rangers.

Rangers extend lead over Angels, Must Keep Winning

After a 5-1 loss on Monday to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rangers division lead dropped to 2.5 games over the Angels.

However they extended that lead back to 3.5 Tuesday night, thanks in part to C.J. Wilson’s first ever complete game shutout.

The lefty did his best Cliff Lee impression, allowing only five hits and striking out six. Wilson improved  to 15-6 on the season, and his ERA dropped to 3.13. In my eyes, he’s a Cy Young dark horse candidate.

Obviously Justin Verlander will win the Cy Young award, the guy has been lights out. But people should stop and watch when C.J. is on the mound, because he’s lights out too.

David Murphy continued his hot streak, going 4-4 with a home run, two doubles and four RBI. Ian Kinsler homered to lead off the game, and Mike Napoli drove in a run on his 100th career double.

The Rangers did all this, but they couldn’t have extended their lead without a little help from the Seattle Mariners. Felix Hernandez dominated the Angels, while LA shot themselves in the foot with four errors, allowing two unearned runs.

Texas’ magic number is now 17. A magic number is any combination of Rangers wins and Angels losses that would result in the Rangers clinching the division. The Rangers have one more game against Tampa Bay before heading home to play six games against Oakland and Cleveland. Meanwhile the Angels play the Yankees. This is a golden opportunity for the Rangers to extend their lead to an almost insurmountable point.

So, while Texas is moving in the right direction, they aren’t safe quite yet.

Today, Derek Holland faces off against David Price in the rubber match of the series. If the right Holland shows up, the Rangers should have no problem leaving Tampa bay with a series win.

Either way, they’ll be watching the Angels game to see how their division rivals fare.

Go Rangers.

 

 

Rangers Win Series Over Angels, Maintain Control of the West

It was a big, big weekend for Rangers’ baseball. After dropping three out of four games to the Boston Red Sox, the Rangers’ lead over the Angels dropped to two games. With the Angels coming to town for a three game series, rediscovering winning ways was imperative for Texas.

They did just that, winning two out of three, adding insult to injury by roughing up LA’s ace Jered Weaver on three days rest.

The Rangers extended their lead to three games with 21 to play, and three more remaining against the Angels in Los Angeles.

This series did more than just give the Rangers an extra game lead, however. It showed them how well Weaver, and Ervin Santana, could pitch on three days rest. It also showed them that their bullpen still has room to improve.

In an effort to bolster that part of the team, pitcher Mark Hamburger has been called up from Triple A Round Rock. Also called up is Cuban defector Leyonis Martin, as Nelson Cruz was placed on the disabled list with a grade 1 strained left hamstring.

This is the fourth hamstring injury for Cruz in the past two seasons, and the third on his left hammy. It’s being said he could be out up to three weeks, and if that’s the case, the Rangers will need someone to step up in the lineup.

While seeing Cruz go to the DL is never a good sight, the timing for Adrian Beltre’s return could not be much better. Beltre completed a one game rehab assignment on Monday, and is expected to return to the lineup Thursday. Beltre, who is recovering from his own strained left hamstring, could have been back several weeks ago had he not re-aggravated his hamstring while running.

Regardless of who is in the starting lineup, the Texas bats will need to continue to put up runs.

Josh Hamilton seems like he’s on the verge of his first big streak of the season, and he’ll have to lead the charge to help a fading starting rotation that’s gone 2-4 in the last seven games.

As difficult as it can be for a team to lose a three game lead in the last month of the season, the Rangers aren’t out of the woods yet. They still face off against Tampa Bay and Boston, before facing Oakland, Seattle, Cleveland and LA in a sprint to the end of the season.

So as the season rapidly comes to a close, I’m looking forward to seeing how hard the Angels come charging. It’s possible that the three game rest for Santana and Weaver could have lasting negative effects, and if that’s the case, kiss them goodbye.

Go Rangers.

 

Rangers Control Their Destiny

A 4-0 win tonight over the Boston Red Sox has given the Rangers control of their season.

It looked like Texas would run away with the division in this last week or so when the Rangers took a seven game lead over the Angels, but losing the series finale along with two out of three to the Chicago White Sox allowed the Angels to creep back into the race.

Tonight, however, the Rangers, behind the arm of C.J. Wilson, gained a half game on the Angels to extend their lead to 4.5 games.

At this point, all the Rangers need to do is keep winning. They play the Angels six more times, and if they win three of those, they’ll win the division, I’m almost certain. While the importance of those games cannot be stressed enough, the Rangers can relieve the pressure on themselves by beating the other teams they play.

It’s simple. Keep winning, and you don’t give Los Angeles the chance to make a run.

As for the near future, that looks to be no easy task. They play three more games against Boston and a three game series against Tampa Bay to finish this homestand, separated by a three game series against the Angels. After that, they hit the road to face…

The Red Sox and Tampa Bay. Yikes.

Things do get easier after that though, with 12 of their next 15 coming against sub .500 teams.They wrap up the season with three games in LA. Let’s hope that those games don’t matter much by then.

So all Texas has to do is win. Seems simple enough. Now they just have to go do it.

Go Rangers.

 

 

Rangers Making Comebacks a Habit

This was supposed to be a pitchers duel between young talents Alexi Ogando and Michael Pineda, who are a combined 20-12 on the year.

Instead, the Rangers won a hitters game 7-6. The win, Texas’ third in a row,  gives them their longest winning streak since the 12-game streak that spanned from July 4th to the 19th.

And again, they did it in come from behind fashion.

Down 6-3 in the 7th inning, with Mitch Moreland on first, Ian Kinsler hit his 17th home run of the season to bring Texas to within one.

The 8th inning saw Yorvit Torrealba hit a double over Ichiro’s head to score Nelson Cruz and tie the game.

And in the 9th inning Josh Hamilton came through. After Kinsler worked a leadoff walk, Endy Chavez attempted to bunt him to second. It was such a good bunt that Chavez was safe at first without a throw.

Hamilton was up next, and with a 1-0 count drilled a ball into left-center to score Kinsler and win the game.

Not only did the win give the Rangers a 10-2 season series lead on Seattle (with nine games to play), but it marked the 16th comeback win of the season.

That’s right. 16th.

16 times the Rangers have been losing in a game, and have rallied to win. This game marked the seventh time the Rangers came back after being behind in the sixth inning or later.That means that 24% of the Rangers 66 wins this year have been come from behind victories.

Neftali Feliz got back on track tonight as well, shutting down the Mariners in the ninth to get the win.

Mike Adams struck out the side in the eighth, as he continues to make his case to be the full time closer.

With the win, the Rangers held onto their game and a half lead over the Angels in the West.

The Rangers have one more game against Seattle before they head off on a ten game road trip to Oakland, Los Angeles (Angels) and Chicago.

The Angels series will be pivotal, as the Rangers try to pull away within the division. Hopefully they’ll just win those games outright, instead of spotting the Angels a lead.

Go Rangers.

 

Should Mike Adams be the Rangers’ Closer?

Last night, the Rangers needed a closer.

Neftali Feliz was unavailable after making an appearance on each of the three previous nights. Convenient, as the night before Feliz had his sixth blown save of the season.

Enter Mike Adams.

It took the newest Ranger only seven pitches to get out of the inning and record his first save as a Ranger.

It begs the question. Should Mike Adams be the closer?

I know, I know, it’s only one game. But despite this being the first save opportunity for Adams as a Ranger, there’s no question who the better pitcher has been this year.

Adams ERA (for the season, not just with the Rangers) is 2.44 points lower than Feliz (1.20 vs. 3.64). He has 22 more strikeouts, and 9 fewer walks than Feliz in 10.1 more innings pitched.

Something has been wrong with Feliz since the season started. It may have even started in spring training, when it looked like he would be in the starting rotation, and then was moved back to the bullpen.

Ron Washington nailed it last week when he said Feliz looked indifferent about the situations he was in.

Regardless of what’s going on in Feliz’s mind, he’s been a far cry from the pitcher that won 2010 AL Rookie of the Year so far this season.

With about 7 weeks left in the season and the Angels hanging around, the Rangers need to close out every game when the opportunity presents itself. Right now, I’d feel more comfortable with Adams than Feliz.

But maybe that’s just me.

Go Rangers.