Perhaps the single most poignant moment of the darkest baseball night of the 2009 regular season occurred sometime during the bottom of the eighth inning, when a newly elected "Progressive Fan of the Game" rallied his nearby seat-dwellers into a racuous cheering frenzy, trying to somehow will the Texas Rangers to a late-inning victory that would have amounted to a 24-hour stay of execution, if not longer.
One inning later, 34,420 fans summoned the energy to incite one more "Let's Go Rangers!" chant that resonated throughout the ballpark as Texas attempted to muster some semblance of a promising rally against Angels closer Brian Fuentes. Not terribly long afterwards, the Rangers' season had officially flatlined, triggered by a game-ending Julio Borbon swinging strikeout that audibly punched the entire stadium in the gut. And after that? Virtual silence.
I don't feel half as sorry for myself, for the players or for management so much as I do the thousands upon thousands of people who emotionally invested themselves to the brink of exhaustion on Friday evening and received yet another sickening display of offensive ineptitude for their troubles. It makes me sick. It makes me angry. I can stomach missing the playoffs or even losing to the Angels. What I literally cannot stomach is ... that.
One run in 46 innings. No runs in their last 23 innings. The first major league team in 45 years to score just one run in a span of five or more games. This unprecedented slump will end sooner or later and the runs will resume flowing, but there's something fundamentally askew with this team's offensive approach and there has been all season long. It's both visually and statistically evident.
Whether hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will be forced to fall on the proverbial sword during the fallout of this mercurial 2009 season remains enormously debatable, but the one assurance we do have is that somebody is going to be held accountable at the end of the day. The ensuing round of finger-pointing may or may not culminate in the hiring of a batting instructor more attuned with the organization's gradually shifting offensive philosophy, but you can bet that a good, hard look at that particular component of manager Ron Washington's coaching staff is forthcoming.
● The Rangers are strongly considering re-signing catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez as a free agent in the off-season (T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com)
[It doesn't really make sense at first glance, but then it kinda does -- both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden have underwhelmed in 2009 and consequently left the front door wide open for new entrants into the Texas catching competition, and in the case of the former, it's probably fair to wonder how greatly corrective surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome will affect his throwing shoulder. Injuries and ineffectiveness have pushed a soon-to-be 25-year-old Max Ramirez to the backburner for now, and there's a considerable amount of thought that he's not a long-term solution behind the plate anyway; unless he begins to step it up, he may not be a long-term solution at any position.
Pudge isn't a game-changing catcher at this late stage in his career, but he's proving his serviceability more and more with each passing start (not to mention his marketability in the form of enhanced ticket sales), and given the considerable number of questions encircling the Saltalamacchia/Teagarden/Ramirez troika, retaining Pudge through the 2010 season is hardly a terrible idea. Now, re-signing Hank Blalock to a guaranteed major league deal? That would be another matter altogether.]
● Texas signed 2009 supplemental-round right-hander Tanner Scheppers to a $1.25 million minor league deal on Thursday, roughly $475,000 above baseball's recommended $776,700 bonus for the 44th overall pick (Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
[Not a whole lot to say about this most welcome development (although I'm certain I can come up with something more substantive), other than that it helps alleviate the gradually fading sting from the Matt Purke fiasco and assimilates a potential top-100 prospect into the organizational fold. Do check out the exhaustive BBTiA Day One Draft Recap if you require a refresher on Scheppers' scouting report and/or fascinating journey from the collegiate ranks to the indy circuit to, finally, professional baseball.
Two things which aren't really new but probably merit notation nevertheless: first, Scheppers submitted to a pre-draft physical, then submitted to a second physical prior to his official signing to ensure that the integrity of his prized right arm remained intact. Second, Scheppers will report immediately to the Fall Instructional League, after which he will participate in the Arizona Fall League and likely slot into the Surprise Rafters' bullpen. Great developments all around.]
● The Rangers are sending a 56-player contingent to the 2009 Fall Instructional League, comprising 10 players who signed 2010 contracts and have yet to log a professional inning and six more players who sharpened their skills in the Dominican Summer League this past summer (Jason Cole, Scout.com)
[A star-studded cast to be certain, albeit one with a notable omission: Miguel De Los Santos, the 21-year-old southpaw with the game-changing curveball and otherworldly peripherals. De Los Santos amassed 70 strikeouts over 32 relief innings while snagging 2009 DSL All-Star honors, but failed to make it stateside in spring training after encountering some ill-timed visa issues; given that De Los Santos was summoned to the 2008 iteration of the Fall Instructional League, it's probably safe to surmise that the visa issues are still a factor, which is a real shame.]
● "While the Rangers' two chief playoff rivals — the Angels and Red Sox — were adding key pieces for the stretch run, the Rangers were counting nickels and allowing Kazmir to slip through waivers" (Jim Reeves, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
[So, is the implication here that the Rangers should have submitted a claim and attempted to trade for a pitcher whom many still perceive to be damaged goods? If not, why suggest such a thing? Yeah, Kazmir's dimming velocity went back on the upswing after his widely publicized meeting with former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, and he's been a lights-out cog in the Angels starting rotation since the beginning of September, but what sort of howling would have ensued around these parts if the Rangers had swung a cheap deal for Kazmir, watched his arm break down and then ended up on the hook for $22.5 million in guaranteed money payable to an injured pitcher?
Knowing what Reeves had known about Kazmir at the end of August, would he have attempted to make a claim and swing a deal for him if he had been in a position of managerial power? If not, then he has no business chastising the Rangers for not doing so themselves, and the whole thing has a rather nauseating revisionist history tilt to it, anyway.]
Post-Season Odds Update: Boston, 87-59 -- 99.6 percent (+0.8 percent); Los Angeles, 88-59 -- 94.6 percent (+2.1 percent); Texas, 80-66 -- 1.8 percent (-2.9 percent)
Injury News: Third baseman Michael Young (strained left hamstring) took batting practice and ran some pre-game outfield sprints on Friday, but shut down his latest comeback attempt after experiencing more pain; manager Ron Washington believes he may not be ready until Sunday or Monday ... Outfielder Josh Hamilton (pinched nerve, lower back; tight right gluteus muscle) has yet to resume baseball activities and remains out indefinitely ... Left-hander Matt Harrison (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome) threw live batting practice on Friday, signifying the first time he had done so since undergoing season-ending surgery on July 27th; Harrison "felt good" afterwards, and could reportedly log a few Arizona Fall League innings down the line ...
Quick Hits: Right-hander Kevin Millwood threw 50 pitches during a simulated game on Friday and remains likely to pitch next Monday evening in Oakland; pitching coach Mike Maddux believes Millwood is "arcing his back too far" during his delivery, disrupting his balance.