Excellent starting pitching? Check.
Dominant bullpen effort? Check.
Offense coming through in key situations? Check.
The Texas Rangers were absolutely brilliant on Tuesday, sweeping a day-night doubleheader from the second-place Seattle Mariners on the backs of starters John Rheinecker and Kameron Loe.
Rheinecker in particular was superb, giving up just one unearned run on six hits and a walk. He needed just 94 pitches to get through seven innings of work, while striking out four. Ron Washington seems quite impressed with Rheinecker's outing, as he should be:
"He did an excellent job," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "To shut down that lineup and hold them to one unearned run, he did an exceptional job. He changed speeds, kept the ball down and threw strikes."
T.R. Sullivan notes in his game story that the Rangers were considering optioning Rheinecker back to AAA after Game 1, and adding left-hander A.J. Murray before the start of Game 2, but that his strong performance quickly put an end to that idea. Rheinecker credits his success on Tuesday to his ability to control his emotions, which prevented him from overthrowing and allowed him to locate his pitches better.
Rheinecker seems to have won a spot on the team for now; he will apparently be available out of the bullpen this weekend in Kansas City, and is likely the lead candidate to start on August 4th against Toronto, which is the next time the Rangers will need a fifth starter.
In the meantime, the offense managed to squeeze just enough run support for Rheinecker out of Seattle starter Ryan Feierabend, as Marlon Byrd hit a game-tying RBI triple in the 4th inning, and Michael Young hit the eventual game-winning RBI single in the 5th inning. Byrd also made a brilliant sliding catch in center field; he appears to be turning into a more and more viable center field option every day, as far as 2008 is concerned.
Joaquin Benoit pitched through a somewhat dicey 8th inning, but he struck out Richie Sexson with a man on second base to end the inning. Eric Gagne gave up a leadoff single to begin the 9th inning, but a great defensive play by Michael Young triggered a fielder's choice force out at second base, and a pair of strikeouts ended Game 1 with a 2-1 Rangers victory.
Kameron Loe took the mound for Game 2 of the doubleheader, and followed up Rheinecker's effort with a strong outing of his own. He allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks in 6.2 innings, while striking out five; however, his performance was gutsier than the box score reveals.
With Texas and Seattle deadlocked at 1-1 with two outs in the 5th inning, Kameron Loe struck out Raul Ibanez swinging to escape a jam that would have left runners on first and third - or so he thought. Home plate umpire Jim Reynolds ruled that Ibanez had foul tipped the ball and was still at bat; Ron Washington and Kameron Loe loudly protested, but to no avail. TV replays conclusively showed that Ibanez did not make contact with the ball; in other words, Reynolds badly blew the call.
Ibanez stepped back into the batter's box, and laced a two run double to center field, summoning a loud chorus of boos from the home crowd upon Reynolds and infuriating Loe, who should have been out of the inning. Kameron managed to channel his anger productively, as he retired the next six batters he faced. There's no doubt he wanted to stay out there and keep going, but with 117 pitches on his ledger for the night, Washington wisely lifted him from the game.
Texas tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the 5th inning with a Mark Teixeira RBI single and a wild pitch that scored Michael Young; the game would remain tied until the 8th inning, when Travis Metcalf delivered the eventual game-winning RBI double off the left field wall, scoring Gerald Laird. Metcalf finished 4 for 4 in the nightcap with that 8th inning double and a 3rd inning triple; it sure seems like he's been hitting better than his .697 OPS would indicate.
C.J. Wilson came on in relief of his roommate, and logged 1.1 scoreless innings, bringing the Rangers to the 9th inning with a 4-3 lead. After throwing 17 pitches in Game 1, Gagne came on once again for the save, and finished the job yet again to complete the sweep of the doubleheader.
What a great day of baseball.
With the July 31st deadline now less than a week away, both the local and national media are beginning to go into a frenzy over the Mark Teixeira trade rumors. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal touched extensively on the possibility of a Teixeira-to-Atlanta deal earlier today, saying that Braves GM John Schuerholz will likely have to part with top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia to get a deal done.
Rosenthal also says the Angels are in deep on Teixeira, and that the Rangers believe there's a "50-50" chance he'll be dealt before the deadline. SI.com's Jon Heyman has a very good rundown of the teams interested in Teixeira, with GM Jon Daniels saying that the offers on Teixeira are "improving." That's in stark contrast to Buster Olney's piece on ESPN.com, who quotes rival executives that believe the Rangers' asking price on Teixeira is coming down.
Finally, MLB.com's Jim Molony published an article earlier today, which stated that according to multiple major league sources, trade talks involving Teixeira have "intensified" in the last 24 hours. Personally, I believe the chances of Teixeira being dealt are rapidly ballooning; this will probably go down to the wire, but I wouldn't be real surprised if we saw a deal commence in the next 48 to 72 hours.
1:40 AM Update: According to an article released in the last couple of hours by MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Atlanta Braves have emerged as the favorites to land Teixeira. A Major League scout confirmed that a deal was in the works, and that Saltalamacchia would "almost definitely" be included, as well as possibly pitching prospect Jo-Jo Reyes and phenom shortstop prospect, Elvis Andrus. The fireworks are about to begin, folks.
The DMN's Evan Grant has the latest edition of his "Inside the Rangers" newsletter out, which is always worth checking out. He provides a brief rundown of who he thinks will get dealt before the deadline (a list which includes Teixeira, Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, and Joaquin Benoit), as well as his usual excellent Q&A segment. There's also a great question concerning Eric Gagne, which I may touch on further tomorrow.
Ian Kinsler's rehab assignment schedule has been set, with the plan being for him to report to Triple-A Oklahoma on Friday, and begin playing a string of four rehab games for the Redhawks. If everything goes as planned, the Rangers hope to activate him on July 31st in Cleveland.
Vicente Padilla's rehab start for Double-A Frisco went well on Tuesday, as he retired five out of the six batters he faced during his 30 pitches of work. His fastball topped out at 95 MPH, which is certainly an encouraging sign. He'll likely throw again on Friday.
Jon Daniels said on Tuesday that Aki Otsuka will likely not be activated from the disabled list before the 3:00 PM trade deadline next Tuesday, which is a fairly significant development. Like I've said before though, this is probably for the best.
Triple-A Oklahoma right-hander Edinson Volquez pitched six strong innings tonight in a 6-1 win over Portland, allowing just one run on two hits and three walks while striking out eight. Oh, and some guy named Nelson Cruz went 2 for 4 with a HR, bringing his batting line in AAA this year to .340/.420/.653 in 150 AB.
The Rangers will look to finish off a four game sweep of the Mariners on Wednesday night, with Miguel Batista and Brandon McCarthy squaring off.
Let's keep those good times rollin', boys.
Wednesday, July 25th Game Preview
Seattle Mariners (54-44) at Texas Rangers (45-56)
Miguel Batista (10-7, 4.32 ERA) vs. Brandon McCarthy (4-7, 5.53 ERA)
7:35 PM CST in Arlington, Texas (Rangers Ballpark in Arlington)
TV: FSNSW | Radio: KRLD 1080 AM