The Monday Night Madness podcast is back!
Luke Jackson, Matt Castello and I bring on Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus to talk about the World Series. We also talk about Week 7 in the NFL and the opening part of the NHL season and how it has been affected by the NBA lockout.
Listen to our interview with Jay right here:
When Cliff Lee left Texas to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies in the winter, the Rangers’ front office knew their quest to defend the American League pennant had become that much more difficult with a weakened starting rotation. This year though, Texas has gotten good production from their starters, ranking sixth in the majors with a 3.50 ERA. Pleasant surprises in the back end of its rotation from Alexei Ogando (20 starts, 10-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 93 strikeouts in 125 innings) and Matt Harrison (20 starts, 9-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.245 WHIP, 80 strikeouts in 125.1 innings) have helped make up for the loss of Lee. However, with the Rangers only two games up on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the AL West, Texas general manager Jon Daniels knew he had to be aggressive to give his team’s pitching a lift heading into the stretch run of the season.
With no frontline starters on the market this year, unlike when the Rangers acquired Cliff Lee last July, Daniels turned his eye on solidifying a bullpen that ranked 26th in baseball with a 4.35 ERA. He came away with the two best set-up men on the market, dealing pitching prospects Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland for the Padres’ Mike Adams, and sending first baseman Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for Koji Uehara. The price was high in both deals, especially Erlin, who was Texas’ fourth-best prospect. However, in return, the Rangers now have two relievers who have combined to throw 96 innings, allowing only 15 earned runs (1.41 ERA) on 51 hits while punching out 113 and walking only 17 batters.
By dealing for Adams and Uehara, respectively, the Rangers effectively make the game into virtually a six-inning affair. If a Texas starter can get through six innings, Rangers manager Ron Washington can turn to a combination of Uehara, Adams, Yoshinori Tateyama (24 games, 1-0, 3.20 ERA, 0.908 WHIP, 27 strikeouts in 25.1 innings) and lefthander Darren Oliver (40 games, 3-5, 2.23 ERA, 1.101 WHIP, 31 strikeouts in 36.1 innings) for the seventh and eighth innings before closer Neftali Feliz (40 games, 0-2, 3.26 ERA, 21 saves, 1.267 WHIP, 27 strikeouts in 38.1 innings) takes over for the ninth.
With no starting pitchers able to go at least seven innings in every single start like Lee was capable of, a struggling bullpen was something Jon Daniels needed to address this trade deadline. The additions of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara instantly provides depth and improves the bullpen to one of the strengths on the team. Their presence should ease the pressure on Texas’ starters, who often had to pitch deeper into games than they would have liked due to an unreliable group of relievers. Combined with Oliver and Tateyama, the Rangers now have one of the deepest and most formidable group of set-up men in baseball to bring the game into Neftali Feliz’s hands in the ninth. The Rangers were not able to acquire a top-of-the-line starting pitcher this July. However, by bringing in Adams and Uehara, Texas will be able to turn out the lights and make games turn into a six-inning affair.
After losing two of three games at home to the punchless Florida Marlins, the Texas Rangers woke up on July 4 in a first place tie with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The defending American League champions had certainly underachieved through the first 85 games of the season, leaving Texas just four games over .500 with a record of 44-41. However, when the Rangers welcomed in the Baltimore Orioles for a three-game series later that night, their season completely changed.
Since that first game against Baltimore, Texas has won 11 straight games, suddenly looking like the well-balanced squad who defeated the New York Yankees with strong pitching and timely hitting in the American League Championship Series last season. During this 11-game stretch, the Rangers have scored 70 runs, averaging 6.4 runs per game, while the their pitching staff has allowed only 24 runs, limiting opponents to 2.2 runs per game.
The Rangers’ bats set the tone early in the streak. Texas scored at least six runs per game in five of the first six games, the exception being a 4-2 win on July 5 against the Orioles. However, the Rangers did not score more than five runs in any of their next five victories. It is their pitching that has kept Texas in the win column during the second part of their streak. At one point during their streak, the Rangers threw shutouts in four of six games. In the past five games, Texas has allowed just two runs.
Texas’ starting rotation has done a terrific job of not letting the Rangers fall behind early in games. The Rangers have trailed only twice, for a total of 10 innings, in the past 11 games. During the win streak, Colby Lewis is 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. Matt Harrison is 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 16 strikeouts and two walks in 21.1 innings. Derek Holland has thrown 18 scoreless innings, going 2-0 while allowing only 12 baserunners and striking out 15. C.J. Wilson is also 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA and 15 punch outs in 14 innings.
The Rangers’ bullpen has also done a phenomenal job of shutting the door on opponents in the late innings. Texas relievers have allowed only three runs in 16 innings (1.69 ERA) with Neftali Feliz racking up four saves in the process.
Offensively, Michael Young has stayed hot during Texas’ winning streak, hitting .390/.419/.610 with four doubles, one triple, one home run and eight runs batted. However, a number of Texas bats have heated up along the way to protect Young in the lineup. Mike Napoli (.423/.464/.923 with four doubles, three homers and nine RBIs during 11-game winning streak), Ian Kinsler (.326/.404/.652, six doubles, three home runs and five RBIs) Josh Hamilton (.293/.313/.512, three doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs), Elvis Andrus (.357/.404/.429, three doubles, four RBIs, two stolen bases) and Endy Chavez (.462/.444/.654, two doubles, one home run, five RBIs, two steals) have helped form the deep and dangerous lineup that Texas had lacked until those players started their own fireworks show on Independence Day, a show that has continued throughout the Rangers’ win streak. Texas’ lineup finally looks like it has in years past, with threats at the plate one-through-nine in the order who constantly make the pitcher work.
Since July 4, the Texas Rangers have suddenly clicked after not playing to their potential through the first half of the season. Strong pitching and an offense that is displaying the firepower it is capable of has led the Rangers to an 11-game winning streak. Texas has spread its lead in the AL West over the Angels to four games. The Rangers now head to Los Angeles for a three-game series with the Angels that starts tonight. If baseball’s hottest team can keep it up, Texas can push the Angels even further into their rearview mirror. They may have underachieved through the first half of the season, but this winning streak has the Texas Rangers firing on all cylinders. Just like that, they look like they will be a serious threat once again in the American League come October.