The mediocrity of the last few weeks has taken an unfortunate turn for the worse and devolved into the distress of today, as the Rangers limped to the finish line of their three-week marathon with a 1-2 showing in Seattle and the manifestation of a troubling hole (or two?) in their starting rotation. I've been aggressively preaching the virtues of patience with respect to this unsatisfying run of baseball, and I'm still confident that the Rangers will roll into the post-season in four-odd months boasting a high playoff seed and a championship-caliber roster ... but it ain't all peaches and cream right now, and so, with the appropriately shoehorned Outkast reference out of the way, here are a few bullet points:
● I didn't harbor unfairly huge expectations for Scott Feldman yesterday. I was looking for five, maybe six innings of the caliber of pitching you'd expect from a No. 4-5 starter, and I was looking for the Rangers to ding Kevin Millwood for enough runs to put the bullpen in position to carry home the win -- or, failing that, at least enough runs so that Texas would trail by only a run going into the later innings. Not one of those eventualities came to pass yesterday, and so a very winnable game on paper slipped away into the ether of regret. Yeah, it sucks, but this team is likely going to drop another 50 games this year, and all of those losses are going to suck as well, so I don't want to dwell too long on one particular late-May stumble.
In any event, though, Scott Feldman was pitted against a crummy offense in an excellent pitchers' ballpark, and he was terrible. He wasn't terrible in every inning, and he wasn't terrible in a getting-plastered-all-over-Safeco sense, but, holistically speaking, he was terrible. Feldman was quick to acknowledge his erratic command during the post-game pressers, made no excuses for what happened, and pledged to work hard between this start and his next to recapture his formerly high confidence ... but we need to put just how bad he really was into context. Feldman lasted 4.1 innings and allowed five earned runs on three hits and five walks against just one strikeout; the Rangers haven't had to endure an outing where one of their starters went fewer than five innings and amassed five or more walks against one or fewer strikeouts since July 21st, 2007, courtesy of Jamey Wright.
Some of you will note that Feldman's fifth and final walk was of the intentional variety, and consider it unfair to count the manager's perogative against the dutiful pitcher who's merely following orders. Some of you will also note that Feldman made it to the outset of the fifth inning with only one hit and one run recorded against him, and will regard what went awry as more of an end-of-start breakdown, as opposed to totally pervasive badness. And, hell, Ron Washington reduced everything that went wrong to "one bad pitch" to Alex Liddi that, of course, turned into a grand slam. Perhaps those points all have some validity to them, and perhaps this was a blip on the radar that Feldman will erase from memory in his next start, but our expectations were appropriately lowered yesterday, and Feldman still didn't come close to meeting them. I don't mean to dwell on it, but, yeah, it was disappointing.
● The intentional walk? Groan. Delivering free baserunners to the opposing team on a silver platter has a way of biting you in the ass even when done with the best of intentions, and we witnessed a textbook case of BYITA syndrome yesterday when, with runners on second and third base and one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rangers' dugout made the call to intentionally walk a switch-hitting Dustin Ackley so that Feldman could face a right-handed Alex Liddi.
I presume that decision was made was made with the vague hope of salvaging the inning by way of double play and/or force out at the plate, because it sure as hell wasn't done in the name of creating a platoon advantage:
Feldman vs. LHP, 2009-present: 853 PA, .244/.315/.360, 2.2% HR/PA
Feldman vs. RHP, 2009-present: 791 PA, .301/.354/.470, 3.3% HR/PA
Ackley is a quality young player, and, in any given matchup against any generic right-hander, is probably a better bet to deliver good results than Liddi -- except that Feldman is no ordinary right-hander, in that he wields a cut fastball that gives him a leg up on opposite-handed batters, but lacks a similarly effective weapon against same-handed batters. The Rangers assuredly know this, and so again I come back to the double play/force out theory, but even then, the issuance of intentional walks is almost always the incorrect tactical play, and I'm not at all surprised that it came back to burn Texas in this particular spot. Liddi's grand slam wasn't majestic, but it was enough to bury the Rangers.
● A miscellaneous observation: The Mariners ended up with those runners on second and third base as a result of an ugly Ian Kinsler error, where he failed to catch Feldman's check-throw to second and instead deflected it into shallow left-center field, turning a first-and-second, no-out situation into a more dire second-and-third, no-out situation. Brendan Ryan was considerate enough to go ahead and ground out without advancing the runners, but then Ackley stepped in, and, well, I already covered that moment of horror. Evan Grant asserted that Kinsler looked a bit "nonchalant" on the error, and also lit into Kinsler for his poor hitting over the last three weeks, especially with runners on base. I also fielded a few angry tweets along the lines of "Kinsler is lazy now that he got paid," which sounds like a minor variation on the "Kinsler's body language is terrible; ergo, he's overrated" argument. Blegh.
I suppose there's a little merit to the idea of pinning Kinsler's name to the "oh crap why isn't he playing better" bulletin board, but before anyone goes off the rails here, I think it's worth pointing out that Kinsler is still well-positioned to finish this season in the vicinity of 4.5-5.0 wins above replacement, as his typical low-.800s OPS, solid-fielding self. That's been the baseline for quite a while now, and while it would be nice if he would decide to go nuts with a few more seven- to eight-win campaigns like last year's rampage, I'll be pretty damn satisfied if the Kinsler that we've seen over these first 45 games can maintain that clip from June to September and beyond.
● The Rangers were three-hit over six innings by Kevin Millwood yesterday. They didn't score until the eighth inning, and that concentrated burst of three runs wasn't enough to salvage anything. For the season, Nelson Cruz ($6.25 million) is hitting .266/.322/.396, Mike Napoli ($9.4 million) is hitting .235/.327/.439, and Michael Young ($16.2 million, technically) is hitting .273/.299/.375. On a slightly brighter note, though, Mark Teixeira ($23.1 million) is hitting .229/.281/.386, and Michael Young has a much better face than Mark Teixeira, so there's a odd, schadenfreude-esque bright spot at the end of the tunnel, I suppose.
● Has anyone figured out what this was all about yet?