"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Texas Rangers

Are the Rangers Cursed?

 

Over at Grantland, Bryan Curtis asks: Is Good Luck in the Cards for the Rangers?

An hour before baseball’s trade deadline, I sat in a room on Long Island while a portly, mysterious man studied the ancient object I’d set before him. I didn’t know much about Professor Sánchez. I’d found him in the back pages of a Spanish-language newspaper. He spoke little English. He never gave his first name. Professor Sánchez is a mentalist.

“Profesor,” I said in crummy Spanish, “my favorite team is the Texas Rangers.” I nodded at the object I’d placed before him: a throwback Rangers cap from the era of Geno Petralli. “Do the Rangers,” I asked, meeting his eyes, “have any … curses?”

Early Season Test

It’s raining again in New York this morning and that’s a good thing–boy, do we ever need the rain. The Yanks are in Texas for three games to start the week. The Rangers are the best team in baseball.

Check out this piece by Marc Carig for the Star-Ledger;  this one by Tyler Kepner on the Rangers’ general managerJon Daniels, while over at River Ave Mike Axisa looks at the Yankees rotation for the series.

[Photo Credit: Elevated Encouragement]

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

The Score Truck’s lights … are shining bright … *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* … Deep in the Heart of Texas.

The Score Truck indeed bypassed Detroit and showed up in Texas. The good: In the first two games of the Yankees’ series in Arlington, they nearly doubled their output of the entire four-game set against the Tigers (9-5). The bad: On Saturday night, the Rangers’ Score Truck showed up too.

Rangers light up Bartolo Colón to take a 5-0 lead, Yankees rally to tie, Boone Logan doesn’t do the job against lefties Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis; Texas scores go-ahead run on a suicide squeeze and tacks on another, and the relief combination of Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, who have the combined age of Yoda, kill any hope of another Yankee comeback.

That’s the quick and dirty. Diving into the game a bit more, some observations:

* Colón isn’t the power pitcher he once was. He can still throw 90-plus, but relies more now on movement and changing speeds — on his fastball. Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina were masters at fastball variation. But some nights are better than others. When Mussina had nights like this, Joe him as being “wild in the strike zone.” David Cone hinted as much with Colón, when after David Murphy’s solo home run, he noted that the home run pitch had “too much movement” and ended up too far out over the plate. This allowed Murphy to get his arms extended and pull it into the seats.

* Derek Jeter can hit the ball out of the infield, and hit the ball hard. Small sample size, yes, but nice to know it can still happen.

* The Yankees had another efficient night in terms of run / hit differential. Five runs on six hits, compared to seven runs on 13 hits for the Rangers. For the season, Yankees opponents have outscored their opponents 158-127, but have been out out-hit 265-249.

* If Boone Logan can’t serve the LOOGY function, and Lance Pendleton isn’t an option, then something has to give. His performance in the 10-inning loss to Minnesota at Yankee Stadium on April 6, led ESPN New York’s Rob Parker to include him among the “Bad Yankees.” Left-handed relief was also an issue two years ago, when the Yankees won the World Series, with Phil Coke was a combination LOOGY/Mike Stanton type. Coke yielded 10 home runs, six of them to lefties.

The Logan piece is significant because he couldn’t do what Colón did effectively in the third inning: put up a zero after the offense did him a solid. David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain cleaned up the mess Logan left, but the damage had already been done.

* Courtesy of Wally Matthews: Russell Martin made six outs in his four at-bats.

* Jorge Posada is now hitless in his last 13 at-bats, with 5 strikeouts. Overall, the 7-8-9 hitters were 0-for-9 Saturday with two walks and three strikeouts. The issue: there isn’t a better DH option. Andruw Jones is hitting .226, Jeter isn’t hitting for any power to merit his placement as a DH, even periodically. The Yankees will likely ride this out for as long as it takes and hope their big bats can come out of their funk.

As starting pitching goes, so goes the Yankees. Mr. Ace Man goes tomorrow. A 3-4 record on this road trip looks better than 2-5. It’d be nice to come back home still in first place. No better guy to have on the mound to give it a go.

Panic on the Streets…

The Manhattan Bridge is the closest, and the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t far, but such a cliche — the Verrazano, now that’s fairly convenient, bit more interesting, less overdone…

Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Is it recap time?

That was a hell of a game, and not in the good way. Join me on a journey back through the mists of time to the first inning of Game 4… ah, we were all so young then. A.J. Burnett profoundly surprised me by pitching, under the circumstances, pretty well. Certainly as well as anyone could have expected given that the last time he pitched a good game, pterodactyls soared above the ballpark. The crowd was behind him, but to me it wasn’t heartwarming so much as desperate – c’mon, fella, you can make it! It’s just a flesh wound! You’ll be fine! He was okay, though. He allowed two runs in the second, after walking David Murphy (fatefully, not for the last time), hitting Bengie Molina with a pitch (if only he… no, no, mustn’t think like that); Mitch Moreland bunted and Elvis Andrus grounded out, but then came Michael Young, who hit a softish two-RBI single. Burnett may not have been dominant, but he got out of the inning and held the Rangers there through five innings; going into tonight’s game I would’ve taken that and not complained.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scraped together a few runs: a Robinson Cano homer that just ticked over the right field wall, possibly aided by some fans who made it hard for Nelson Cruz to make a catch – that’s what Cruz argued, anyway. I thought it was out anyhow, but the fans didn’t exactly improve anyone’s image of Yankee supporters. (Although I have to admit they cracked me up). The umpires declined to review it, which seems weird since that’s why instant replay exists, but again: it was out, so no damage done. Later in the inning a Lance Berkman fly to deep right was reviewed and correctly found to be foul. It wasn’t the umpiring tonight… it was just, you know, everything else. Anyway, the Yanks tacked on in the third inning when Derek Jeter tripled (!!!) and Curtis Granderson singled him home, and again in the fourth, when A-Rod was hit by a pitch, singled over by Cano and Berkman, and scored by a Brett Gardner ground out. Paralleling Burnett, this was not exactly Murderer’s Row, but they had a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning.

Which is when the baseball gods started pulling at a loose bit of yarn, and before you knew it, but also in a kind of weird slow motion, the whole sweater unraveled.

I don’t think you can say that Mark Teixeira is underrated or underappreciated – he is an extremely well paid star on a popular team; he’s not under any radars. But I was a little unprepared for what a gut-punch it was to watch him cringe while running hard to first, fall into an awkward slide, and stay down until the Yankee trainers could help him off the field. It was a grade 2 hamstring strain, and the last we’ll see of Mark Teixeira until spring. And while he didn’t have his best year at the plate, I’d sure rather see him up there than Marcus Thames; and you know you’d rather see him manning first base than Nick Swisher. He’s not A-Rod, and these days he’s not Cano, and he’s not one of the remaining 90s Yanks, and hell, he’s probably the blandest star athlete in recent memory… but the Yankees are going to miss him quite a bit, even if they only have one game left in which to do so. It sucked all the air out of the Stadium.

That came during an aborted rally in the bottom of the fifth, after a somewhat shaky Burnett got himself through the top of the inning. Many people were surprised to see Joe Girardi turn to Burnett again in the sixth, and although I didn’t think it was such a clear-cut choice, in retrospect it was clearly not wise: Vladimir Guerrero singled, moved to second on a force out, and then — this, I did have a problem with — Burnett intentionally walked David Murphy, in order to face Bengie Molina.

What did I say about Molinas before this series? Huh? WHAT DID I SAY, A.J.?! JOE? Goddammit, no one ever listens to me.

Molina homered, the Rangers took a 5-3 lead, and while that’s hardly insurmountable, this began the “slow-motion unraveling” portion of the evening. Burnett got out of the 6th, but Josh Hamilton homered off Boone Logan in the 7th, and the Rangers tacked on another run off of Joba Chamberlain. Ron Washington’s love of the bullpen shuffle worked out well for him this time around; the Yankees had chances — they even got the tying run to the plate in the 8th inning — but couldn’t break through. In the ninth Sergio Mitre came in and everything went south (HR Hamilton, HR Cruz), but by then it was all over but the crying, anyway. 10-3 Rangers is your final.

Joe Girardi made a number of questionable moves tonight. I can’t get too worked up about them since I think, ultimately, the Rangers have flat out-hit and out-pitched the Yanks, and different managerial moves probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference. But there’s no way to know that for sure, and it’s still plenty frustrating, which may be part of why tonight’s game got under my skin in an unpleasant way. Tomorrow, the Yankees have to win or go home — and if they win, they need to do it twice more. I’m not optimistic, frankly. But every day in late October that you still have a game to watch is a good day, so here’s hoping C.C. Sabathia pitches like C.C. Sabathia tomorrow, and the Yankees live to see Game 6.

Molinas… why’s it always have to be Molinas?

Home, Home on the @#&$*%(#!

AP photo of Cliff Lee in the 8th inning

So, I’d say my pre-series prediction of “Yankees 3, Rangers 3, Cliff Lee ascends to a higher inter-dimensional plane midway through the fourth inning of Game 7″ is looking pretty good.

Tonight’s game ended up a 8-0 drubbing, but it was a tight pitchers’ duel most of the way through. Only it didn’t really feel like a pitchers’ duel, because Andy Pettitte was merely excellent, whereas Cliff Lee was, as a friend of mine has put it, the T-1000.

Allow me to sum up the Yankee offense for you:

  • In the 4th, Mark Teixeira walked.
  • In the 5th, Jorge Posada singled (it’s kind of embarrassing how relieved I was, at this point, that New York would at least not get no-hit).
  • In the 6th, Brett Gardner singled and stole second.

That didn’t take long, did it?

Andy Pettitte was very, very good himself: seven innings and just two runs, which you’d sign up for any time. Those two runs came in the first inning, on an almost-accidental Josh Hamilton home run — he stuck his bat out awkwardly, the ball flew off it and into the stands, which is the kind of thing that only happens when your arms look like Josh Hamiltons’ — but given the Cliff Lee situation, that was enough. Pettitte was followed by Kerry Wood, who pitched a drama-free eighth, and since two runs ain’t much for the Yankees, I still held out hope going into the ninth.

At which point: Josh Hamilton doubled off Boone Logan; Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz singled off David Robertson, making it 3-0; after David Murphy was intentionally walked, Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland joined the party with singles of their own off of Robertson; Elvis Andrus of all people decided to shake things up by, instead, doubling off of Robertson. Sergio Mitre (!) came in and put out the fire, but seeing as how it was 8-0 at that point, the building had already burned down.

So the Yanks are down 2-1 in the series, which is hardly insurmountable, but they do kinda need a win tomorrow – and A.J. Burnett is the one who’ll be asked to provide it, or at least facilitate it. Joe Girardi has said all week, when asked if he isn’t tempted to just pitch C.C. Sabathia on three days’ rest instead: “I believe in A.J.” Well. I believe in him too… in the sense that I am certain he exists, and indeed is a pitcher with the New York Yankees. Whether he can pitch more than four innings while giving up less than five runs is another question entirely.

Cliff Lee… I don’t know whether to shiver in terror or drool. I’d do both at once but I’ve been told it’s not attractive.

I Can’t Believe I Eighth The Whole Thing

My new screen saver, courtesy @KRADeC

On paper, you have to like the Yankees odds in a C.C. Sabathia – C.J. Wilson matchup. Off paper, well, it didn’t go quite the way you might have expected… but it came out all right in the end.

Sabathia was off tonight, because of the long layoff or who knows why; he got off to an inauspicious start in the first, with a walk, a single, and a prompt three-run home run to Josh Hamilton before I’d even had time to crack a beer. He got out of this inning with a diving play at the plate – and watching C.C. Sabathia dive is a thing to behold – and kept it together after that, more or less, but was never close to his dominant self; as he said after the game, he couldn’t execute a game plan because he couldn’t get the ball over the plate consistently. In the fourth inning he gave up two more – singles to Matt Treanor and Elvis Andrus, and a double to Michael Young. It was 5-0, the Yankees had barely touched C.J. Wilson, Sabathia was out of the game, and it didn’t look good for the Bombers.

Joba Chamberlain took over and threw a solid inning, with just a walk and no further drama. He was was followed by Dustin Moseley, who much to my surprise became one of the night’s heroes: he went two innings, struck out four, and allowed exactly no baserunners. (He was also adorably thrilled after the game, eyes bright and wide and talking about how tonight was a dream come true). New York didn’t get on the scoreboard until the seventh inning, when Robinson Cano hit an arcing home run that landed just on the good side of the right field foul pole. At the time, it seemed like a moral victory – hey, at least they won’t be shut out.

Then came the eighth inning.

Ahhh… the eighth inning.

The Rangers went through five pitchers in the eighth before they recorded a single out — and bafflingly, none of them were Neftali Feliz. A gassed C.J. Wilson started it off, Brett Gardner singled, and the old-school version of Derek Jeter doubled him all the way home (Brett Gardner, incidentally, will henceforth be known as “Zippy” in my household). Ron Washington turned to his bullpen, and came up with Darren Oliver – who although I’ve seen him pitch many times this season, my initial reaction is always “wow, he’s still playing?!” He is, and he proved it by walking the only two batters he faced, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. Next up was Darren O’Day, who came into the unenviable situation of bases loaded, zero outs, A-Rod at the plate. The result was a sharp single and two Yankee runs that made it 5-4… and another pitching change. Clay Rapada, come on down! (The Rangers bullpen is just Chock Full O’Lefties, not that it helped them tonight). His luck, or stuff, was no better, and Robinson Cano’s single tied the game. The Yankees had come all the way back, and were rewarded with yet another reliever: Derek Holland, who promptly allowed a single to Marcus Thames. A-Rod scored, clapped and pumped a fist, and the Yankees took the lead, 6-5.

Holland settled in and stopped the arterial bleeding after that, but it was too late – and where was Neftali Feliz? (As The Joker would say: “he’s at home, washing his tights!”) Joe Girardi is a fairly by-the-book guy, but he’s shown time and again that when things get tight in the eighth, he’ll go to Mariano Rivera, at home or on the road. Ron Washington has yet to reach similar conclusions, apparently.

Mariano Rivera came in for the ninth, of course, and outside of a Mitch Moreland single he was just fine. Fittingly, given the way the game started, it was Josh Hamilton who made the final out. It would’ve been a tough loss for the Yankees, but it turned into a tougher on for the Rangers – and it was only the fifth time in all of postseason history that a team came back from a deficit of four or more runs in the eight inning or later. Since it was only Game 1, I don’t know that this ranks at the top of great Yankees October comebacks, but it was still a hell of a win and a great start to the ALCS. Tune in tomorrow for the Phil Hughes Show.

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Get Your Texas Puns and References Ready

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I’ve already called dibs on “One Riot, One Ranger” for if Cliff Lee pitches a complete game win against the Yankees.
The Texas Rangers have the reputation of being a pleasant and likeable clubhouse, which is not particularly helpful when going into a Championship Series – where, generally speaking, searing hatred and blind loathing add a bit of spice to the proceedings. But I’m sure once the games get going and the Rangers commit unspeakable acts like scoring against C.C. Sabathia, we’ll come up with some good material. In the meantime, I’ll continue to eye Texas warily as I try to size them up.
 
*First of all, I have to say I kind of like the whole claw-and-antler schtick; it’s fun, and endearing, although I suspect I might come to find it irritating sooner rather than later. (After all the Rally Monkey seemed kind of charming at first too, before the vicious flea-ridden miscreation showed its true face).
 
*I’m just a little wary of the Josh Hamilton Redemption Story, only because – through no fault of his own – it has been turned into the kind of too-neat media narrative that’s hard to take at face value. That said, the footage of his teammates giving him a ginger ale shower (link via HardballTalk) is decidedly heartwarming.
*There are some very good baseball names on these Rangers:
Esteban German
Elvis Andrus
Neftali Feliz
…and my favorite,
Dustin Nippert.
“Win one for the Nippert!,” I would often say, if I were a Rangers fan.
*They do, of course, come equipped with a Molina. Remember what we told you last week? BEWARE OF MOLINAS! I can almost guarantee that Bengie will hurt the Yankees in some unexpected way this series. Last night against Tampa, he stole a damn base. Brace yourselves.
*My feelings towards Vlad Guerrerro have always been, and continue to be, a mixture of admiration and terror.
*Jeff Francoeur! I cannot even think about Jeff Francoeur anymore without laughing, although since I pull for the Mets when they’re not playing the Yankees, it’s sort of a brittle little laugh. Jeff Francoeur is an extremely personable player and a fantastic quote, and is therefore beloved by beat writers… at least when he first arrives in town; eventually, the fact that he is just a terrible, terrible hitter overwhelms the affability. I wish Frenchy a long and happy life, full of joy, but preferably that life can take place far away from the lineups of my favorite teams.
So Francoeur has now outlasted his original team, the Braves, in the playoffs, and gets to play in NY in the postseason, just like he hoped while he was flailing at balls several feet off the plate for the Mets this past summer. (When Mariano Rivera uncharacteristically hit him with a pitch to force in a run towards the end of the season, many of my Mets fan friends marveled at the fact that Francouer had somehow managed not to swing at the ball that hit him.) Now that I’ve written this Frenchy may well end up with the key hit of the Series - but it won’t be my fault. It’ll be the fault of any Yankees pitcher that throws him a fastball within arm’s reach of the strike zone.
What do you guys like, or dislike, about the Rangers so far?

Texas Terror

The Yankees won last night’s game 7-6, but that’s kind of like saying the plot of The Sun Also Rises is “a guy watches some bullfights.” I really don’t know where to start with this particular thrill ride, which, around 10 PM, I thought the Yankees had absolutely no shot at winning. (I wasn’t far wrong). In fact, I didn’t really think they had a shot until they actually took the lead and put Mariano Rivera on the mound, and then right away the first batter he faced hit a triple and I still wasn’t so sure. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. They say when you don’t know where to start, you should start at the beginning.

The Yankees were facing Cliff Lee, who, in case you’d forgotten, is mind-bogglingly awesome. Since arriving in Texas he’s walked three batters – two of those intentionally. (Though why the hell Cliff Lee was intentionally walking anybody I can’t imagine). He’s allowed nine walks all season, which makes me think of Joe DiMaggio and that crazy 1941 season where he only struck out 13 times. I’ve had a platonic baseball-crush on Lee ever since he made that sick behind-the-back catch in Game 1 of last fall’s World Series and then shrugged it off with Steve-McQueen cool; I’ve also been looking at him as a bit superhuman, and so I didn’t expect much from the Yankees last night. Especially since Marcus Thames was batting third*.

And, against Cliff Lee, they indeed didn’t do much… except they had some good at-bats, and made him work (though of course not actually walk anybody), which is often really the only thing you can do when facing someone like Lee. The Rangers didn’t beat around the bush, starting their scoring in the 1st with a Michael Young homer, as Javier Vazquez continued to struggle with both his velocity and his location. The Yankees evened things up in the 4th, when Marcus Thames singled and A-Rod doubled him home and I thought, not for the first nor last time over a four-hour span, okay maybe I’ve been a little hard on Marcus Thames; but it didn’t take. The Rangers scored two more in the bottom of the inning (two-run Mitch Moreland single, off the glove of Lance “not Mark Teixeira” Berkman at first), and three more in the fifth (single, single, botched run-down, double, fielder’s choice, single), and when Javy slumped off the mound to make way for Sergio Mitre it was 6-1 and I was thinking about how I should frame the loss in the recap.

But Sergio Mitre was just fine, actually – 1.2 hitless, scoreless innings – and it turned out the Yankees were only mostly dead (“mostly dead is slightly alive!”). In the same way they used to have some success against aces like Pedro Martinez back in the day, they took a bunch of pitches, fouled others off, kept scuffling, and got Lee out of the game after 6.1 innings – which is, by Cliff Lee standards, quite early; as Michael Kay pointed out, Lee had pitched 8 innings or more in ten straight starts. The comeback trail began in the sixth, when Derek Jeter tripled -  seems like it’s been a long time since I wrote that – and scored on a rare Cliff Lee wild pitch, but I don’t think the Rangers were exactly quaking in their boots at that point. The next inning, though, things started to get a little interesting: Robinson Cano doubled, and Austin Kearns singled, hard, and when Austin Kearns creams one like that it’s a pretty good sign that Cliff Lee is probably starting to get a little tired. (It was 100 degrees in Texas last night, which couldn’t have helped any). Lance Berkman hit a ground-rule double, and then Brett Gardner singled, and suddenly it was a decently close 6-4 game. The Texas bullpen is very good, though, and the Yankees were relying on Kerry Wood for two innings, so I remained unimpressed except in a vague, it’s-nice-they’re-showing-some-fight-however-futile sort of way.

Like Sergio Mitre before him, Kerry Wood exceeded my expectations, although he did add a little spice, in the form of two straight singles in the seventh before he induced a Nelson Cruz double play. But he kept things from getting any worse, and so when Marcus Thames led off the 8th inning with a sonic boom of a home run off Frank Francisco – huh, perhaps I really was a little hard on that guy – it was suddenly a one-run affair. Cano and Posada walked… but then Austin Kearns, who giveth and taketh away, ground into a DP of his own and you had to figure that was probably that.

In the top of the ninth inning, Lance Berkman walked and, being rather less swift than a puma these days, Curtis Granderson came on to run for him. And he drew a lot of attention from the hard-throwing Rangers reliever of the moment, Neftali Feliz, but he still hadn’t gotten anywhere when Brett Gardner singled him over. Derek Jeter was getting ready to bunt (grrrrr), but Feliz — perhaps overcome with admiration for Jeter’s selflessness in being willing to sacrifice himself for his team! — threw a wild pitch and both Granderson and Gardner advanced, no bunt necessary. Jeter then bent over, picked a four-leaf clover, and hit a sneaky seeing-eye hopper of a single that came within an inch of being caught by both the pitcher and the second baseman before trickling into the outfield. Tie game. Nick Swisher struck out, but that brought up Marcus Thames, who singled off of Alexi Ogando, scoring Gardner and giving the Yankees their first lead of the game.

You know, it’s possible I’ve been a little hard on Marcus Thames.

Anyway, the one-run lead meant Mariano Rivera for the bottom of the ninth. I’d say he was looking for redemption after the previous night’s rare blown save but, really, Mariano Rivera doesn’t need any redemption; he’s got redemption coming out of his ears. He did, however, give everyone a bit of a start by immediately giving up a whopping triple to Elvis Andrus.

Michael Young flew out, just not quiiiiite far enough to score the run.

Josh Hamilton grounded directly into Rivera’s glove.

Vlad Guerrero took one whole pitch before swinging from his heels and sending the ball to Alex Rodriguez, who made a nice play and tossed him out by several entire feet.

If the Yanks and Rangers meet down the road in October, it could be quite a series. In the interests of being prepared, I recommend you start discussing blood pressure medication with your doctor sooner rather than later.

*There’s no doubt that the Yankees miss Mark Teixeira – that lineup hasn’t been looking all that awe-inspiring the last few days. (Still, to the people who are actually upset that Teixeira is taking several days off to be with his newborn child and wife, I can only say: you’ll feel differently about this down the road, once you’ve matured a bit, and passed puberty.) Ken Singleton made the extremely good point that, as with the Bereavement List, when players leave for the birth of a child, their team should be able to call up a replacement. Teams would therefore feel less of a squeeze when a player like Teixeira does the right thing and spends a couple of days with his family, and there would be less pressure on the player himself to rush back immediately. Paternity leave: get on it, MLBPA.

Texas Rangers II: Small Sample

Only three teams in baseball have a better record than the American League West-leading Texas Rangers. The Yankees, who have the game’s best record, are of course one of them, which makes this week’s two game set in Arlington both very compelling and simultaneously disappointingly brief. That’s now further complicated by the fact that Mark Teixeira is currently on paternity leave from the team in anticipation of the birth of his third child. So as much as we might like to build up this series, I don’t think we can consider it a true playoff preview.

Still, the Yankees haven’t played the Rangers since the second week of the season, so this will be a chance for Yankee fans–not to mention their players, coaches and scouts–to get a good look at a potential playoff rival. That the Yankees will get, as they’ll be facing the Rangers’ top two starters, July addition Cliff Lee and converted reliever C.J. Wilson, both left-handers. So much for the Yankees “avoiding” Lee when he was traded prior to his scheduled start against them in Seattle just before the All-Star break.

Lee, who starts against Javier Vazquez tomorrow, has made six starts for the Rangers, four of which were dominating (minimum eight innings pitched, maximum two runs allowed, and a total of one walk and one home run allowed against 31 strikeouts). In his other two he also went deep (he’s completed at least eight innings in all six of his Rangers starts), but gave up a few too many runs along the way, taking the loss each time. Surprisingly, Lee has received just 2.5 runs of support on average since joining the Rangers, that after leaving the worst run scoring team in the majors for one of the top four.

Wilson, who faces A.J. Burnett tonight, has been very impressive in his transition to the rotation. He posted a 1.48 ERA in his first seven starts before experiencing a four-start slump (possibly a dead-arm period). After pulling out of that, he posted a 2.54 ERA over his next starts before turning in a three-inning stinker his last time out. Wilson has been hit-lucky (.255 BABIP), but his low line-drive rate suggests that has been a bit more than luck. Still, he leads the AL in walks and is close to doubling his innings total from last year. Wilson wasn’t moved to the bullpen until arriving in the majors in 2005, but entering the year, his career high in innings was the 136 he threw as a 21-year-old minor leaguer in 2002. He enters tonight’s start having thrown 136 1/3 innings this season and one wonders when and if he’s going to hit a wall and what effect that will have on the Rangers’ postseason rotation and postseason chances.

As for Burnett, he was scratched from his start on Sunday due to back spasms, which is a new item in his career-long list of minor aches and pains. Prior to that he had been lit up by the Blue Jays, coughing up seven runs in a disastrous fifth inning on August 2. Since opening the season 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA after six starts, Burnett hasn’t gone more than two starts without a disaster outing and has posted a 6.33 ERA over his last 16 starts, but at least he’s only 33 and signed for three more years. Oy.

With Teixeira away and Robinson Cano out with a cold, Joe Girardi is running out this lineup against the lefty Wilson:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
R – Marcus Thames (DH)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
R – Austin Kearns (LF)
S – Lance Berkman (1B)
R – Francisco Cervelli (C)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)
S – Ramiro Peña (2B)

Let’s just say I’m not too optimistic about this game. The bright side is that this is so far from what the Yankees will likely look like in a potential playoff series as to be meaningless beyond tonight.

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2010 Texas Rangers

As long as I can remember, the line on the Rangers was always that they’d be dangerous if they could ever find some pitching. Scoring runs in the Texas heat was no major challenge (though scoring runs on the road often was), it was preventing them that was the trick. Well, last year the Rangers were the fourth stingiest team in the junior circut, but it wasn’t so much that they found some pitchers (though they have several talented young arms in development) but that they found some fielders.

The Rangers were dead last in the majors in defensive efficiency in 2008, but climbed all the way to third in the AL (seventh overall) in 2009 thanks in large part to the arrival of defense-first shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus and late-blooming all-around right-field talent Nelson Cruz, and massive improvement in the field by star second baseman Ian Kinsler (who currently on the DL with a sprained ankle). This year, they’re mixing in speedy center fielder Julio Borbon, which has the added advantage of pushing Josh Hamilton to left field, thus giving the Rangers an above-average defender in all three pastures. Chris Davis, a repurposed third baseman, is also capable of athletic play at first base and could soon be pushed by top prospect Justin Smoak, who is considered even better afield, and though Michael Young has long been a liability in the field (his 2008 Gold Glove was completely undeserved), his having a year of experience at third base under his belt can only help his play at the hot corner. They’ve done it quietly, but the Rangers have added their names to the rapidly expanding list of American League teams that have greatly improved themselves by using the rising tide of their defense to lift their pitching boats.

That’s good, because for all of the pitching talent the Rangers have in their system, they’re still a season or two away from reaping their fruits. Top prospects Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz reached the majors last year, but lefty Holland has opened 2010 back in Triple-A, and fireballing Feliz, a starting prospect, is still biding his time in the bullpen (though two early blown saves by Frank Francisco have already moved him into the closer’s job). The next arm on the list, Venezuelan lefty Martin Perez, is a 19-year-old trying to find his feet in Double-A.

In the meantime, with Holland back in the minors, Feliz in the pen, and middling home grown arms such as Tommy Hunter and Eric Hurley on the disabled list, the major league rotation continues to be patchwork. Scott Feldman and Matt Harrision (the latter of whom came over from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira trade along with Feliz, Andrus, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is also on the DL) are in their proper spots, but the Rangers had to turn to free agency, Japan, and their own bullpen to fill the other three.

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Texas Rangers III: 2 Legit 2 Quit

When the Yankees first played the Rangers in late May, I took a look at Texas and saw Toronto, at hot team with a strong defense that had yet to be tested by its schedule and thus seemed headed for a fall. The Blue Jays fulfilled that prophecy by going 10-24 (.294) against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays and playing at a .429 overall clip after going 15-9 in April. The Rangers, however, have proven me wrong.

Against the Red Sox, Angels, Rays, and White Sox this season, the Rangers have gone 24-9 (.727), and they nearly matched their 20-9 May with a 17-8 July. As a result, Texas enters this week’s three-game series in the Bronx just 1.5 games behind Boston in the Wild Card race, and 11.5 games ahead of the seventh-place Blue Jays.

How have they done it? That great defense, led by rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus and break-out right-field slugger Nelson Cruz, has played a large part, as it has helped the Texas pitching staff (brace yourself) allow the fewest runs per game in the American League. Yes, the Texas Rangers‘ pitching staff.

The Rangers have needed pitching since they arrived from Washington. Even two of their three playoff entries allowed more than the league average of runs per game. This year, however, that’s all changed. Leading the charge has been veteran Kevin Millwood, who starts tonight. Millwood has benefited tremendously from the improved defense behind him. In his first three seasons as a Ranger, Millwood’s BABIPs were .310, .340, and .358. This year, opposing batters are hitting just .274 on balls in play, and Millwood’s ERA has dropped a full run and a half as a result.

Behind Millwood, 26-year-old sophomore starter Scott Feldman has paired a similarly low BABIP with improved peripherals to shave a run and a half off of his own ERA. Toss aside his three ugly relief outings in April and he has gone 13-4 with a 3.46 ERA in his 23 starts. More recently, 22-year-old rookie Tommy Hunter has gone 6-2 with a 2.66 ERA in ten starts since joining the rotation at the end of June, thanks in part to a still-lower BABIP.

One Ranger starter who is not just a product of his team’s defense is 22-year-old rookie Derek Holland. Holland, who starts tomorrow night, has thrived since his mid-July return to the rotation, going 4-2 with a 2.95 ERA over seven starts and 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 3.5 K/BB over his last five. He’s a legitimate prospect who could pair with recently promoted 21-year-old Neftali Feliz (part of the Mark Teixeira booty) to give the Rangers a legitimate rotation in the years to come. Feliz is working out of the major league pen for now and has struck out 19 men in 14 2/3 innings against just one walk and four hits. Be afraid.

The Rangers’ bullpen has been a large part of their success this year. First-year closer Frank Francisco has been on and off the DL, but has struck out 41 in 35 innings against just 8 walks (10.5 K/9, 5.13 K/BB). Deposed closer and current lefty set-up man C.J. Wilson has done admirably both setting up and closing for Francisco, striking out 61 in 56 innings and allowing just three home runs. Righty Darren O’Day, a mid-season waiver claim from the Mets, has posted a 1.87 ERA with similarly sharp peripherals in 50 games since arriving in Texas and leads the team in the win-expectancy-based WXRL.

The Rangers have pitched so well, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they’re not hitting as much as they used to. Josh Hamilton has been hurt and only recently found his stroke (.373/.425/.513 since August 3, .657 OPS before that). Chris Davis struck out 114 times in 77 games and was demoted in early July. Hank Blalock has taken Davis’s place by getting on base at a .274 clip and doing little other than hitting homers. Andrus is hitting (and running) just enough to make his glove valuable, but no more. Prior to his current arm injury, fellow Teixeira-trade product Jarrod Saltalamacchia wasn’t doing that. Ian Kinsler is not repeating his production from last year and was hurt for a while himself. All of that has counteracted Cruz’s breakout, Andruw Jones ultimately half-hearted comeback, and Michael Young’s MVP-quality performance (if not for his stone glove and that Joe Mauer guy, of course). As a result the Rangers are actually a tick below league average in runs scored per game at 4.85. As usual, that gets worse on the road, where they’ve scored just 4.2 runs per game on the season.

Could this Yankees-Rangers series in the hitting-friendly Yankee Stadium yield a series of pitchers’ duels? Don’t be surprised if it does.

Joba Chamberlain goes against Millwood tonight on eight-day’s rest. He had nine days off around the All-Star break and came back looking like and ace, allowing two runs on eight hits over his next three starts. He then had seven days off before facing the Red Sox at the beginning of the month and came back looking like the nibbler we saw in the first half of the season, walking seven in five innings. Which Joba takes the mound tonight is anyone’s guess. It was the nibbler who faced Texas in Arlington back in late May (4 IP, 4 BB).

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Texas Rangers II: Who’s Better, Who’s Best?

The Yankees and Rangers enter this week’s three game series in the Bronx separated by a half game for the best record in the American League. Since the Yankees took two of three from the Rangers in Arlington last week, both teams won three games of a four-game series against a lesser opponent. Beating up on losing teams has been the Rangers’ m.o. thus far this season, but they’re just 5-10 against teams currently over .500, including last week’s series loss to the Yankees.

The Yanks, meanwhile, are flat-out rollin’, beating all comers. Dating back to May 8, they’re 16-6 (.727) and 6-1 in series. Their one series loss came at home against the NL East-leading Phillies, but their current run also includes series wins against the then-AL best Blue Jays and still-AL best Rangers. Since May 13, the Yankees are 14-4 (.778) and have not made a single error, setting a major league record with 18-straight errorless games. Just three American League teams have turned balls in play into outs at a higher rate than the Yankees (Texas is one of them), and no team in the majors is scoring runs more often than the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees current run began after they were swept at home in consecutive two-game series by the Red Sox and Rays. After this week’s three-game set against Texas, the Rays return to the Bronx for four games after which the Yankees travel to Boston for three. That will be the real test, of course, but by taking two of three from the Rangers now, they could enter that gauntlet with the league’s best record.

As for the Rangers, they haven’t changed much since we last saw them save for tonight’s starter, Vicente Padilla, who returns from the disabled list to reclaim his rotation spot from the now-injured Matt Harrison (sore shoulder). Padilla ran off three impressive starts (23 IP, 4 ER) before landing on the DL with a strained shoulder two weeks ago, but had a 7.42 ERA entering that stretch, so who knows what to expect from him tonight. Last year, he faced the Yankees just once, allowing four runs in six innings in Arlington in early August.

Padilla will be opposed by A.J. Burnett, who ten starts into his Yankee career looks an awful lot like the same old A.J. Burnett. He’s struck out 21 men in 18 2/3 innings across his last three starts, but also walked 12 in that span and allowed three home runs in a loss to the Phillies two starts ago. Last time out, he held Texas scoreless on three hits (and four walks) over six innings to earn the win. Here’s hoping for a repeat of that tonight.

Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers

2009 Record: 26-17 (.605)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 24-19 (.558)

2008 Record: 79-83 (.488)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 76-86 (.469)

Manager: Ron Washington
General Manager: Jon Daniels

Home Ballpark: Rangers Ballpark (100/101)

Who’s Replaced Whom:

  • Chris Davis and Hank Blalock split up Milton Bradley’s at-bats
  • Elvis Andrus replaces Ramon Vazquez
  • Omar Vizquel replaces German Duran (minors)
  • Nelson Cruz inherits the playing time of Brandon Boggs (minors)
  • Andruw Jones replaces Frank Catalanotto
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia inherits Gerald Laird’s playing time
  • Taylor Teagarden replaces Saltalamacchia as the backup catcher
  • Derek Holland is filling in for Vicente Padilla (DL)
  • Matt Harrison takes over Kason Gabbard’s starts
  • Brandon McCarthy takes over the starts of Sidney Ponson and Luis Mendoza (minors)
  • Darren O’Day replaces Josh Rupe
  • Jason Jennings takes over Jamey Wright’s innings
  • Kris Benson is filling in for Dustin Nippert (DL)
  • Warner Madrigal is filling in for Joaquin Benoit (DL)

25-man Roster:

1B – Chris Davis (L)
2B – Ian Kinsler (R)
SS – Elvis Andrus (R)
3B – Michael Young (R)
C – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
RF – Nelson Cruz (R)
CF – Josh Hamilton (L)
LF – David Murphy (L)
DH – Hank Blalock (L)

Bench:

R – Andruw Jones (OF)
R – Marlon Byrd (OF)
R – Taylor Teagarden (C)
S – Omar Vizquel (SS)

Rotation:

R – Kevin Millwood
L – Derek Holland
R – Scott Feldman
R – Brandon McCarthy
L – Matt Harrison

Bullpen:

R – Frank Francisco
L – C.J. Wilson
L – Eddie Guardado
R – Darren O’Day
R – Jason Jennings
R – Kris Benson
R – Warner Madrigal

15-day DL: RHP – Vicente Padilla (strained shoulder); RHP – Willie Eyre (groin); RHP – Dustin Nippert (strained back/side)

60-day DL: RHP – Joaquin Benoit (torn rotator cuff); RHP – Eric Hurley (torn rotator cuff)

Typical Lineup:

R – Ian Kinsler (2B)
R – Michael Young (3B)
L – Josh Hamilton (CF)
L – Hank Blalock (3B)
R – Nelson Cruz (RF)
L – David Murphy (LF)
L – Chris Davis (1B)
S – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C)
R – Elvis Andrus (SS)

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Yankee Panky: Q&A with Kat O’Brien

One of the hottest stories this year has been the continuing decline of the newspaper industry. I’ve written about it in this space, and with the shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle P-I going to a completely online format, and more papers reducing coverage of their hometown teams, the current trend is not likely to change any time soon.

What does this mean for baseball coverage? Russell Adams and Tim Marchman presented a telling look at the industry in an April 7 Wall Street Journal article. Being a baseball reporter for a newspaper used to be a job people would kill for. Now it’s likely a job that will be killed.

With that in mind, I’ve begun asking numerous questions of veteran baseball writers and columnists to get their respective takes on the industry. This series of Q&As will run periodically throughout the season and beyond, as trends develop. The first is with Newsday’s Kat O’Brien, a Yankees beat writer since 2007. Prior to moving to New York, O’Brien covered the Texas Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from 2003-06.

In her short time on the beat, O’Brien has witnessed the sweeping changes and cutbacks in the industry firsthand, and has decided to leave the beat to go to graduate school. The following exchange was conducted over a series of e-mails last week.

Will Weiss: What made you want to be a sportswriter? Even more specifically, what made you want to be on a beat?

Kat O’Brien: I never really set out to be a sportswriter. I was interested in writing and journalism, and sort of wound up in sports. I went to Notre Dame, and initially worked on both sports and news on the daily (Mon-Fri) student newspaper. That was too time-consuming, so I focused on sports, as it was a lot more fun and more-read among the students. For a long time, I thought I would switch back to newswriting, but I kept having great opportunities on the sports side and I enjoyed it. Doing a beat was kind of the natural progression. Baseball made sense as it was one of my favorite sports, and I also speak Spanish, which is useful in covering baseball.

WW: When and how did you use your Spanish? I’m curious, because I speak the language also and have written several anecdotes through the years about my adventures in the Dominican Republic, and with various Latino players in the Yankee clubhouse.

KOB: I double majored in Spanish in college after studying abroad. I’ve gone to the Dominican Republic a few times to do some baseball stories. I use it more on a day-to-day basis, both in interviewing players whose English skills are minimal (i.e. Melky Cabrera) and in talking to players who are comfortable in both languages (i.e. Mariano Rivera and Bobby Abreu). Even with the latter, I often find it helps build a rapport with players when they know you speak their language. It was huge with Alfonso Soriano when he got traded over to the Rangers, who I was covering at the time.

WW: Did anything specific happen to make you thinking about changing your career path?

KOB: It wasn’t any one thing but a combination of things. The writing jobs I had aspired to long-term, like writing takeout features and so on, barely exist anymore. I feel that there are other jobs I would enjoy doing and would be good at, and that this would be a good time to move in that direction. I’ll miss a lot about writing and covering baseball, particularly the relationships you form on the job. But this is the best move for me long-term.

WW: What changes in the industry have you witnessed in your time on the beat?

KOB: Wow, so many, and that is in just a few years. The Internet was not even a shadow of what it is now when I began. Now the Internet is priority No. 1, and it should be. The blogs have become extremely important, and most of those did not even exist when I started.

I also think there is a tendency towards more negativity and sensationalism, not necessarily on the beat, but in the media in general. This may be at least in part due to trying to compete with Internet sites, some of which are more gossip than news, but it’s not a good change in my opinion.

WW: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said recently that newspapers should give up trying to compete (with Internet sites). In your opinion, are newspapers dead? If not, what would you do to try to revive them?

KOB: I really hope that newspapers are not dead or on life support. That said, things don’t look good for most papers at the moment. One thing that is crucial is finding a way to get revenue from the internet. One idea I like is that of getting as many papers as possible to join a consortium. Then a person could pay a subscription fee — say $10-20 per month — and get access to all those papers. Because it’s not realistic to think people are going to pay to read every paper they ever look at online, but papers need revenue.

But papers have to stop cutting costs so much that their best and brightest are either forced out or leave because they don’t think the quality of the product is worth sticking around and being a part of.

WW: You told me offline that given the current state of affairs, leaving the beat is the best decision for you and your future. Why?

KOB: Unfortunately, I am not at all confident about the future of newspapers. I’m sure there will always be some sort of journalism by which people get their news and information. But it’s been devastating to watch newspapers get torn apart in the last couple years, due partly to the failure of the industry to get on-board with the internet early and adapt, and partly to economic conditions.

I see so many colleagues who have been forced from their jobs, or who want to try something else but are constricted due to family considerations, children and mortgages. I am young enough that I can go back to school, so I am doing that while I can.

WW: While it may not be the case with the major New York papers, numerous papers around the country have cut costs by not sending writers to road games, etc., and in some cases local teams receive no hometown coverage at all. Is this a disservice?

KOB: It is a disservice, but unfortunately an unavoidable one right now. Many papers are barely surviving — slashing jobs and costs wherever they can. Local team coverage is one of those costs being cut.

WW: Is the philosophical divide between print and online generational?

KOB: I think there is somewhat of a generational divide between print and online. I see a bigger generational divide over blogging, though. That seems by and large to be more accepted among younger people.

WW: I remember that some of the beat writers who are staunch traditionalists resisted to the blog movement; not only that they were being required to post to blogs, but to the group of writers that has made a name through the blogosphere. What was your reaction to this, and what’s your opinion of baseball writing on the web? Who do you read now and how do you see baseball reporting growing?

KOB: I think there is a place for all sorts of baseball coverage, both traditional and of the blog variety. I think the web permits a much broader amount of coverage. There’s a long list of blogs that I follow. But an example of the different types of writing would be in three of the Yankees blogs I read most often: RiverAveBlues, BronxBanter and WasWatching. All three do a great job of keeping up with Yankees stuff, but each has a different slant/angle. Each site has its favorites and its least favorites on the team, and each provides a different writing style.

Still, there can be a danger in losing sight of the fact that the blogs don’t necessarily provide the same information as the traditional newspapers/sites since many are giving opinion or compiling information instead of doing reporting themselves. I am not saying this in any “anti-blog” fashion, just that I think both are necessary.

WW: Thanks for the compliments and for following us here at BB. What, if anything, could both the blog sites and the newspapers do better to coexist?

KOB: Probably give each other a little more credit where credit is due. Not in all cases, but there are definitely some snarky comments from one side to the other, and vice versa.

WW: What will you miss most about the beat? The least?

KOB: Most: A number of things. Being there to get the story firsthand, the story that people are talking about and reading about and you are giving it to them. Writing for a large and passionate audience. And I’ll especially miss the people — the other writers and the people I am writing about such as players, coaches, managers, GMs, and behind-the-scenes folks.

Least: Witnessing and worrying about the constant decline in the newspaper industry. And it might be nice to have a somewhat more normal schedule, with less travel and more nights and weekends off.

WW: What’s next for you? Do you see yourself eventually getting back into sport media, or editorial?

KOB: I’m going back to school. I start a dual degree program at the University of Pennsylvania next month, getting a Wharton MBA and a Masters of Arts in International Studies from the Lauder Institute. I don’t envision myself getting back into sports media or editorial on a full-time basis. I would love to keep my hand in by doing free-lance writing. After I graduate I might get involved in the business side of sports, but that’s yet to be determined. I’ll miss sportswriting and all my friends in the biz, though.

Texas Rangers Redux: The Kids Stay Out Of The Picture Edition

Coming out of the All-Star break, it wasn’t really clear where the Yankees stood in the American League’s big picture. After they reeled off eight-straight wins, passing the A’s and Twins and closing in on Boston in the Wild Card standings, it became clear; the Yankees were in the playoff hunt, something confirmed by Brian Cashman’s acquisition of reinforcements for the outfield, bullpen, and catcher positions.

That winning streak was snapped in the final game of the Yankees’ series in Boston and was followed by a 1-2 series loss at home against the Orioles, a let down that one could see coming a mile away. However, when the Yankees’ record on that homestand fell to 1-4 after they dropped their next two games to the Angels, one began to wonder just how much fight this team had in it after all. The answer was a lot.

Given the fact that the Angels have the best record in baseball and are much better on the road than they are at home, the fact that the Yankees were able to pull out a split against them says a lot. Even more encouraging is the fact that they achieved that split with the help of a late-game comeback in the series finale that was keyed by one of Cashman’s reinforcements, Xavier Nady, who hit a two-RBI double in the sixth with the Yanks trailing 5-1 and a three run homer in the seventh with the Yanks trailing 5-4. Nady has since been named AL co-player of the week (with Kansas City’s Mike Aviles).

Tossing out that let-down series against the O’s, the Yankees are 10-2 since the All-Star break against two division leaders (the Angels and Twins) the Wild Card leader (Boston), and a fourth team that was ahead of them in the standings entering their series (Oakland).

Now things get hard. Tonight in Texas, where temperatures are in the triple-digits, the Yankees begin a ten-game road trip against those same two division leaders and the Rangers, who trail the Yankees by four games in the Wild Card standings. The length of this series in Texas? Four games.

At the end of June, the Rangers arrived in the Bronx with the majors’ best offense and worst pitching and won the first two games of a three-game set by a total score of 5-3. We’re unlikely to see those sorts of low-scoring affairs this week. The Rangers, who still have the best offense and worst pitching in the majors, score more than a run per game more at home than on the road and allow more than a half a run more in the Texas heat than elsewhere. The average score of a game at the Ballpark In Arlington this year has been 6.25-6.23 Rangers.

This should be an interesting test for tonight’s starter Joba Chamberlain, who has never allowed more than three runs in any of his 50 major league appearances as a starter or reliever. Joba’s worst start since shedding his artificial pitch limits came against the Rangers on July 1 at the Stadium. In that game, Joba lasted just four innings, threw 91 pitches, and walked four (though he also struck out six and only allowed two runs).

That was the game that Ian Kinsler won in the ninth inning by leading off that frame with a double off Mariano Rivera with the score tied 2-2, stealing third, and scoring on a subsequent single. The return of injured catcher Gerald Laird (.314/.367/.467) and the emergence of first baseman Chris Davis (.295/.333/.656 with 11 homers in 33 games) have made the Rangers’ offense more dangerous since then, but a recent quad strain has put Milton Bradley on the bench and could force him to the DL for the first time this season, thus undermining those gains.

The Rangers’ pitching staff is only dangerous to the Rangers. Sidney Ponson still has the best ERA of any pitcher to make nine or more starts for the Rangers this year, even with his Yankee stats included. Of the 13 pitchers to start for the Rangers this year, six are currently on the DL, and that doesn’t include Brandon McCarthy or John Rheinecker, both of whom started for the team last year but haven’t thrown a regular season pitch in 2008. Given all of that, it’s the faintest of praise to call Vicente Padilla, who opposes Chamberlain tonight, the Rangers’ ace, but that’s what he’s been this year. His one DL stint (for a sore neck) coincided with the All-Star break. He leads the team in starts, innings, strikeouts, wins, starters ERA (non-Ponson division), and is the only Rangers starter to have thrown a shutout this year. Still, he has a below-average 4.52 ERA and an ugly 1.44 WHIP to go with a similarly unattractive 1.71 K/BB and 1.34 HR/9. Padilla pitched a good game against the Yankees the last time he faced them, but that was back in May 2006.

Robinson Cano, who has been nursing a sore left hand, returns to the lineup tonight, though there’s been no definitive word on the availability of Mariano Rivera, who experienced some back spasms up around his shoulder blades. Yesterday’s hero, Nady, switches spots in the lineup with Cano. Justin Christian, who also had a big impact in yesterday’s comeback win, starts in center over Melky Cabrera (.250/.273/.313 since the break and .201/.255/.274 since June 8); Christian is 6 for 20 (.300) with a pair of doubles and a pair of walks in his six previous major league starts. Also, Jason Giambi, having hit .182/.329/.273 since July 3, has shaved off his mustache. Given the temperature in Arlington, I’d say that’s good timing.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver