Just when it seemed like the Texas Rangers were dead in the water, they came springing back to life.
Texas pulled off a very impressive sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend, with their most dazzling sustained performance over three consecutive games that we've seen yet. Everything that seemed to plague this team through 28 games vanished in this series. But have the Rangers actually turned the corner, or is this yet another tantalizing mirage?
One thing is for sure: the starting pitching delivered, and in a big way. Here's a quick rundown of the weekend's pitching performances:
Brandon McCarthy (6 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 HR) - After not going deeper than three innings in his last three starts, McCarthy came through with a huge performance in Friday night's 7-1 win. By his own admission, Brandon was a "one-pitch pitcher," throwing mostly fastballs. He struggled with the command on his changeup and curveball, but his fastball velocity looked better than it has recently, ranging from 90-93 MPH. He threw more "mistake" pitches up in the strike zone than you'd like to see, though, and he came dangerously close to imploding in the 4th inning with two leadoff walks. Still, it's a step in the right direction for the guy who was starting to become known as "the guy we traded John Danks for."
Vicente Padilla (7 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 0 HR) - Padilla picked up his first win of the season in Saturday night's 11-4 win. Things didn't begin well, as he gave up a first inning run on a Frank Thomas RBI double. However, Padilla settled down to have a fine start, recording 12 consecutive outs at one point. Vicente's command was excellent and his velocity looked good - hopefully, we can expect Padilla's ERA to keep dropping after his best start of the season.
Kameron Loe (6.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) - After giving up 13 ER in his last 9.1 IP, the "Snake" turned in a brilliant start in Sunday's 3-2 win. His sinker was devastating, allowing him to record a new career high of six strikeouts. Perhaps the most memorable moment from his start came in the 7th inning with two on and nobody out, and Texas up by just one run. Ron Washington came out to the mound with, but ended up leaving Kameron in the game. Ron's bid of confidence paid off, as Loe induced a classic ground ball double play from Lyle Overbay. Frankie Francisco came in to record the final out of the inning.
Unfortunately, Joaquin Benoit picked up the win after blowing the 2-1 lead in the 8th inning, but I doubt Kameron's too upset. With Jamey Wright still lurking in the shadows, Loe needs more starts like this one if he wants to lock in his rotation spot for good.
Just as big of a story as the great pitching was the Rangers' offensive success this weekend, which was mostly fueled by two of the team's worst underachievers thus far, Michael Young and Mark Teixeira. Tex went 6 for 12 with three doubles, one HR, three runs scored and five RBI, while Young went 8 for 13 with one double, two HR, six runs scored and six RBI. Very encouraging signs, and we can only hope this means they're back to stay.
Texas roughed up Tomo Ohka and Roy Halladay badly, with Halladay's downfall coming during a six run 3rd inning in Saturday night's game. It would end up being one of the worst starts of Halladay's career, with his final pitching line showing 9 ER in just 5.1 IP. His career ERA in Arlington now sits at an even 7.00 in 54 IP; between this and Kevin Mench's line drive that ended his season in 2005, I don't think Doc Halladay likes coming to Texas very much.
A.J. Burnett was solid on Sunday, striking out nine and allowing just 3 ER in 7.2 IP. But Kameron Loe kept the Rangers in the game, and Michael Young landed the death blow on Burnett with one out in the 8th inning, as he launched an opposite field solo HR that would prove to be the eventual game-winner. Clutch? I'd say so.
What was the inspiration for this huge sweep? It may be the players-only team meeting before Friday night's batting practice, which lasted about 20 minutes. Few details have been released about what was discussed, but one of the main topics was focusing on not pressing too hard. Toronto's announcers said that the two leaders of the meeting were Sammy Sosa and Michael Young.
Per Jamey Newberg, the Rangers have named Eric Hurley (3-0, 1.50 ERA, .219 BAA, 23 to 4 K/BB) and Johnny Whittleman (.343/.447/.586, 3 HR, 12 RBI) as the organization's minor league pitcher and player of the month for April.
Roger Clemens announced that he was returning to the New York Yankees during Sunday afternoon's game at Yankee Stadium. Remember when he was flirting with Tom Hicks and the Rangers?
Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News is disgusted with the small crowds at the Ballpark this weekend, as the announced attendance on Sunday was just 19,103. You can't really blame the fans, either: if or when the Rangers climb over the .500 plateau and show that they're ready to make a run at the AL West, attendance figures will climb. The organization can rebrand their stadium, use different marketing campaigns and introduce more attractive ticket packages, but the only thing that will bring a long-term increase in attendance is winning. It's that simple.
Even though the Rangers have looked incredibly sharp over the last three games, only time will tell if this rebirth is for real. If it is, we're going to have an exciting summer of baseball after all. But if it's not...well, I don't even want to think about that.