Rangers are putting it all together
September, 21, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
There are loud baseball headlines these days. RED SOX FLIRTING WITH GREATEST SEPTEMBER COLLAPSE EVER. MARIANO RIVERA SETS SAVES RECORD. CLAYTON KERSHAW DOMINATES, AGAIN.
Buried somewhere deep below all of that conversation, there is a team finding a lot of solutions, gaining momentum, with almost everything falling into place as it prepares for the playoffs.
Soon the baseball world will be re-introduced to the Texas Rangers, who have steadily separated themselves from the Angels this month in the AL West, bolstered by the marked improvement of some of their young pitchers. Some of the solutions that are falling into place:
Derek Holland. The left-hander who is best known to casual baseball fans for his inability to throw strikes in a World Series game last year seems to be taking long strides toward dominance in the second half of this season. Over his last five starts, Holland has allowed six earned runs in 34.1 innings, with 34 strikeouts and 11 walks and just three homers -- and the first three of those outings were against the Angels, Red Sox and Rays. "In the minor leagues, Derek had plus fastball command -- he had gotten away from that at times -- but has really improved lately," Texas GM Jon Daniels wrote in an email.
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireDerek Holland has been pitching well as of late.
Holland was in command on Tuesday in shutting down the Athletics.
Matt Harrison. He got a rest earlier this month from manager Ron Washington, then bounced back and had nice outings against the Indians and Mariners. The Rangers have C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando in their rotation, and it's unclear who would make up the Texas rotation in the postseason -- but either way, Harrison would be a weapon in October, a left-hander to throw against the Yankees or the Red Sox. Harrison's "breaking ball has really started to come on," wrote Daniels. "His curveball was at its best this weekend in Seattle."
Adrian Beltre. He's been killing the ball since returning from the disabled list, hitting .357 with 11 extra-base hits in 70 at-bats, for an OPS of 1.116. In 458 at-bats this season, he's racked up 28 homers and 97 RBIs, and he appears to be ready for October.
Michael Young. He's not going to win the MVP Award, but he should be listed somewhere in the top 10 of the ballots after his incredibly consistent season (he has 201 hits, 57 for extra bases).
C.J. Wilson. He has a 2.59 ERA in the second half of the season, holding opposing hitters to a .217 batting average.
Mike Adams. Acquired from the Padres before the trade deadline, he's been good for Texas, posting an 0.92 WHIP, with 22 strikeouts in 20.2 innings in his 20 games for the Rangers.
Neftali Feliz. He had problems before the trade deadline, but the addition of Adams and Koji Uehara seemed to take pressure off him, and he's allowed runs in just one of his last 17 outings.
And Mike Napoli has been one of the best values in the majors this year, thriving with the Rangers, who are tied with Detroit for the second-best record in the American League. It's possible they will host the Red Sox or Rays in the first round of the playoffs.
Nelson Cruz has been struggling at DH, but the Rangers will stick with him.
Brad Penny got hammered, as Tom Gage writes.
The Angels are running out of time, now that they are five games behind the Rangers.
• Clayton Kershaw beat the Giants, again, and became the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since Ramon Martinez in 1990. Tim Lincecum says one of his goals going forward is to beat the Dodgers' left-hander, who has had a second half -- 1.23 ERA, while going 11-1 -- that has you wondering just how high his ceiling is.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Kershaw won:
A) Kershaw relied on his off-speed pitches Tuesday. While he has normally thrown his changeup 5 percent of the time this season, 25 percent of Kershaw's pitches were changeups Tuesday. Furthermore, 11 percent of his pitches were curveballs, compared to normally throwing 7 percent of curveballs in games this season.
B) Kershaw's 42 changeups and curveballs thrown made for his highest total this season, and he was able to be effective with them because he enticed Giants hitters to swing. When throwing the two pitches this season, Kershaw's swing percent has been 41 percent, but on Tuesday the percentage was 52 percent.
C) The change worked on Tuesday as four of his six strikeouts came using the two pitches. In addition, only one of Kershaw's six surrendered hits came off either his curveball or changeup.
Kershaw has a very good chance to win the Cy Young Award. Over the last 40 years, there have been eight National League pitchers to finish the season in the top two in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Seven of them went on to win the Cy Young, the exception being Curt Schilling in 2001. The Cy Young went to teammate Randy Johnson, who topped the NL in strikeouts and ERA while finishing third in wins (one behind Schilling and Matt Morris).
On Tuesday, Kershaw became just the fifth NL lefty over the last 100 years to record 20 wins and 240 strikeouts in the same season. The others to do it are Johnson, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax.
From Elias: Lowest ERA vs. an opponent among active pitchers (min. 70 IP):
Mariano Rivera vs. White Sox -- 1.21
Clayton Kershaw vs. Giants -- 1.25
Chris Carpenter vs. Dodgers -- 1.52
Adam Wainwright vs. Astros -- 1.56
Imagine how different the Giants' season might have been if not for Kershaw's success against them. Arizona has full control of the NL West, with the D-backs' magic number down to three, as Nick Piecoro writes. The Cy Young trophy for Kershaw could have an engraving of Kershaw with his foot on the neck of the Giants, writes Henry Schulman.
Top seed in AL: With an impressive win from Ivan Nova, the Yankees have all but clinched this spot. From ESPN Stats and Info, how Nova won:
A) Nova threw his fastball less often than he normally does. Fifty-three of his 103 pitches (51.5 percent) were fastballs, below his season average of 61.3 percent. Rays hitters were 3-for-14 in at-bats ending with Nova's fastball. Overall, hitters are hitting .196 in at-bats ending with Nova's fastball in September; they hit .297 against it before that.
B) Left-handed hitters were 2-for-11 against Nova, and he had success keeping the ball away from those hitters. Thirty-one of his 52 pitches to lefties (59.6 percent) were outside, above his season average of 50.9 percent entering Tuesday. Rays lefties were 0-for-5 in at-bats ending with an outside pitch from Nova.
C) Rays hitters were 1-for-15 against Nova with men on base, including two double plays.
D) Nova stayed out of hitters' counts. Fourteen of his 103 pitches (13.6 percent) came when he was behind in the count, his second-lowest percentage in a start this season.
Nova's win Tuesday was his 12th straight and all have come as a starter. That is the longest winning streak by a rookie starter since Larry Jansen of the 1947 Giants won 12 straight decisions.
Joe Girardi won't guarantee anything for A.J. Burnett.
AL wild card: The Red Sox suffered another wrenching loss, after trying to get three innings from Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, but their magic number was reduced because of Tampa Bay's loss. Wade Davis and the Rays suffered a disappointing defeat. David Price is sore but will start on Friday as scheduled.
Erik Bedard may get shifted in the rotation after his ugly performance on Tuesday, which taxed an already exhausted Red Sox bullpen.
From Elias: Bedard's 51 pitches in the third inning tied the MLB season high for pitches in an inning. On April 22, Casey Coleman had 51 against the Dodgers in the third inning, and on May 29 John Danks had 51 against the Blue Jays in the first inning.
Papelbon blew his second save this season Tuesday. Before that, he'd converted 25 straight save chances. Before Robert Andino's bases-clearing double, opponents were 0-for-7 against Papelbon with the bases loaded this season, 4-for-47 against him for his career.
From Elias: The Red Sox used seven pitchers Tuesday. Since rosters expanded on Sept. 1, the Red Sox have used at least five pitchers in a game nine times. So they have used at least five pitchers in 45 percent of their 20 games this month.
Clay Buchholz took another step in his comeback, throwing a simulated game, as Tim Britton writes.
NL wild card: The Braves bounced back from their wrenching loss, behind rookie Randall Delgado, and they were able to get a rest for their three primary relievers. Delgado's win was his first in the big leagues, as David O'Brien writes. Tommy Hanson is making progress, but time is working against him.
The Cardinals continue to roll, rallying to crush the Mets, as Andrew Keh writes. St. Louis got a big pinch-hit.
Matt Holliday isn't talking about his injury, which is keeping him out of the lineup.
No. 2 seed in NL: Shaun Marcum had another strong outing to tame the Cubs, and Milwaukee's magic number is down to three. Francisco Rodriguez did his job again, as Todd Rosiak writes.
No. 1 seed in NL: The Phillies have wrapped up a playoff spot, but they continue to deal with nagging injuries, the latest to Hunter Pence, who is dealing with some patellar tendinitis.
• Ozzie Guillen wants a decision soon on whether he'll get a contract extension. He seems to be working to create leverage when he really doesn't have any, given the fact he's under contract with the White Sox for another year. If Jerry Reinsdorf simply declines to give him an extension and refuses to allow Guillen to leave for the Marlins or some other team, then Ozzie would have two choices he could make on his own:
1. Return to manage another season.
2. Quit and leave baseball for a year.
There are only two gods that the manager knows, Guillen says: Jerry Reinsdorf, and God.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Bob Melvin got a three-year extension.
2. Dan O'Dowd is disappointed by how the Rockies have fared this season, but he is hoping to give Jim Tracy an extension. It's time for O'Dowd to take responsibility, writes Mark Kiszla.
3. Pedro Alvarez will not play at the outset of winter ball, Neal Huntington says.
4. Aramis Ramirez says he's ready to move on from the Cubs, as Paul Sullivan writes.
5. Every year is harder for Mariano Rivera to stay active as a player, as Tyler Kepner writes. One note about Rivera's talk of retirement: He's been musing about walking away for more than a decade, declaring a couple of times that his next contract would be his last. So, we'll see.
6. Gary Hughes is leaving the Cubs, and within the industry, there is an expectation he could resurface with the Marlins.
7. Jonathan Broxton's career with the Dodgers might be coming to an end, writes Elliott Teaford.
8. Javier Vazquez continues to indicate that he will retire and take the Mike Mussina route.
9. It appears that Stephen Strasburg will make one more start, writes Adam Kilgore.
10. Lorenzo Cain was called up by the Royals.
11. The Mariners could open next season in Japan, writes Larry Stone.
12. Mike Hegan is leaving the broadcast booth.
Dings and dents
1. Pablo Sandoval might need surgery after the season.
2. Denard Span could be back in the Twins' lineup today.
1. Eric Hosmer did what he's been doing.
2. Anibal Sanchez got very little run support.
3. The Athletics were beaten up again, as Joe Stiglich writes.
4. The Rockies lost again and are falling toward last place, writes Jim Armstrong.
5. The Nationals shut down the Phillies, twice.
6. Mat Latos was terrific.
7. Robert Andino was The Man for the Orioles, as Dan Connolly writes.
8. The Twins blew a lead, and their losing streak continues, as Joe Christensen writes.
9. The Pirates rode an early lead, as Michael Sanserino writes.
10. That's 101 losses and counting for the Astros.
11. The Indians split a doubleheader.
The Patience Index
• There are baseball statues all over the place, writes Mike Tierney.
• Jose Bautista has regained his patience, as Bob Elliott writes.
• Bronson Arroyo isn't bothered by the home runs he's allowed, but he is bothered by his ERA.
• Detroit could have a postseason advantage with its rotation, writes John Lowe.
• The Angels have done more than expected, says Torii Hunter. Totally agree with him; the Angels have a chance to take a big stride forward next year, with the addition of a solid everyday third baseman (David Wright?).
• Adam Dunn has been a little tardy at the plate, as Daryl Van Schouwen writes.
• A Braves' top pick is adjusting to a new position, as Carroll Rogers writes.
• Matt Kemp was voted most inspirational by his teammates. They have loved the way he's gone about his business this year.
• Paul DePodesta talked with Bill Plaschke about "Moneyball." Monday was a Moneyball day in Oakland.
Ron Washington liked the movie.
• Vanderbilt's coach is going to learn what it means to be part of the SEC, writes David Climer.
• A homeless Giants fan has resurfaced, much to the relief of some Giants.
• The D-backs' Derrick Hall has prostate cancer and says he will beat it.
And today will be better than yesterday.