Not every game deserves a post like this, and not every morning do I have the drive and the energy to get up for a post with this many bullet points, but, yeah, sometimes you get that perfect storm and it all sort of comes together from there. On an unrelated note (and especially to those I haven't properly thanked yet), the BBTiA readership's generosity over the last week has far surpassed anything I ever could have hoped for, and if I haven't said it enough yet, I'll say it one more time: thank you. You all keep the machine running. With that decidedly mawkish sentiment out of the way, let's dive into it:
● I mentioned at one point last night that Roy Oswalt seemed to be in the midst of a very Scott Feldman-like start, in that he was excelling from a defense-independent standpoint, but was getting dinged left and right by the hits -- a final total of 13 hits, in fact, which signified a new single-start career high for Oswalt, and, with the addition of two walks to the pile of baserunners, left him fortunate in that he averaged 2.5 baserunners per inning pitched and only allowed five runs. With that fully in mind, though, Oswalt also whiffed six Tigers and induced a whopping 16 swinging strikes over his 107 pitches, so you can't say in good conscience that he wasn't missing bats. I guess I'm really not sure what you're supposed to say about a start like that. Hooray for the win, perhaps?
● As you might expect to be the case with a 13-9 final score, there were some huge offensive nights at the plate, but the two showstoppers of the night were, I think, David Murphy (4-for-5, two homers) and Leonys Martin (2-for-4, double, triple), both of whom made the game feel a lot easier than it actually is last night. Martin hit at Triple-A Round Rock, and he's continuing to hit now and showing a certain two-way refinement that makes you irrationally confident in his chances of becoming a long-term outfield fixture, whereas Murphy is very quietly carving out a borderline All-Star first half campaign for himself: 221 PA, .283/.374/.497, 134 wRC+, and 1.8 fWAR.
This is the side of David Murphy that, at various times over the last few years, has gotten a few beat guys and some fans alike into a tizzy over the possibility of him becoming something more, of him becoming a starting-caliber corner outfielder on a good team ... but one big thing that shouldn't be overlooked is that more than 85 percent of Murphy's plate appearances this season have come against opposite-handed pitchers. With the emergence of Craig Gentry as a reliable bottom-order platoon option, Ron Washington has been able to minimize Murphy's exposure to the great left-handed bugaboo and maximize his chances of success, and he has, to this point, in the season, resoundingly answered the call -- although the fact that he's hitting well above his LHP/RHP career averages hasn't exactly hurt him, either.
● I'm tentatively encouraged by Michael Young's showing at the plate over the last two games (including the legitimately hard-hit triple to left-center field on Tuesday night, and then another two-hit effort on Wednesday night), and it's good that I'm encouraged, because it's fully apparent by now that Young, short of irredeemably hissing off his manager, is simply never going to face any real threat of reduced playing time, and that's the end of that story. With that being the case, and with all of us knowing that Young hitting well makes the Rangers a better team, I'm not going to purposely overlook Young doing something good offensively, because my continued concern is that we're going to need every potential bright spot at the end of that tunnel that we can get.
There was also a quality defensive play earlier in the game where Young launched himself from his post at first base and, in one fluid motion, made a lunging grab on a cross-diamond throw from Adrian Beltre and tagged a charging runner out, and so you had some positive contributions on both sides of the ball ... but then there was this botched seventh-inning rundown where Young, for whatever reason, threw the ball down to second base too quickly (and without even a pump fake, to boot), and a very large, very difficult-to-miss target in Prince Fielder actually escaped the rundown safely:
So, yeah, that was the Rangers' second botched rundown in just a few days, both of which found Young mis-executing on his end of the play, and that's kind of baffling coming from a veteran infielder who's supposed to be all about properly executing the fundamentals. Before I go too far in my criticism here, though, it's worth noting that (a) Robbie Ross seemingly missed his assignment to abandon the mound and cover first base, and (b) Young, despite the botch, actually did tag Fielder out, but the first base umpire had a lousy viewing angle on the tag and clearly didn't see that contact. Still, though, that's something that has got to get better -- and not just on Young's end, either.
● Despite banging a homer in two of his last three games, Josh Hamilton is unquestionably an abject disaster at the plate right now, as he's now mired in a 3-for-24, 14-strikeout run at the plate over the last week, and is reeling from a horrific four-strikeout effort where he failed to get quality wood even on the handful of pitches that found the strike zone. Here's the interesting thing about where Hamilton seems to be right now, though: contrary to Dave Cameron's assertion yesterday that pitchers are throwing Hamilton further and further away as the season progresses, the reality is that pitchers are actually starting to creep back into the strike zone against Hamilton -- and he's still not hitting.
On the left, we have Hamilton's pitch frequency heat map for the month of May; in the center, we have that same heat map for the period spanning June 1st-8th (which is taken from this June 9th post on Hamilton's worsening plate discipline -- yes, it's an arbitrary endpoint stemming from the date that I posted about Hamilton, get over it); and on the right, we have that same heat map for the period spanning June 9th-present:
05/01-05/31: .344/.405/.781, 57.7% swing rate, 32.1% zone rate, 45.3% chase rate
06/01-06/08: .176/.243/.353, 57.4% swing rate, 33.6% zone rate, 45.7% chase rate
06/09-06/27: .200/.298/.420, 58.5% swing rate, 36.3% zone rate, 41.6% chase rate
To put this in the simplest of terms, pitchers have actually resumed throwing in the strike zone around 36-37 percent of the time over the last three weeks, and Hamilton's out-of-zone chase rate has actually dropped off a bit; these are both good things, because, as the rightmost heat map illustrates, he's seeing more pitches in an area of the strike zone where he can do some damage. The problem, though, is that in spite of seeing more pitches in the zone and swinging less at pitches outside of the zone, he's swinging and missing a lot more on the whole -- 43.1 percent of his total swings came up empty during that June 9th-27th window, compared to 41.4 percent from June 1st-8th and a miss rate of "only" 33.3 percent during the month of May. Yeah, he's completely lost right now.
The game of adjustments rolls on, and, at some point, you have to figure that Hamilton will capitalize upon the increase of pitches in the zone and start doing consistent damage again, at which point the league will presumably retreat from the zone again and we'll start this cycle anew. Until he gets himself straightened out, though, pitchers have some new incentive to creep back towards the zone and challenge Hamilton, and it's on him to send the ball screaming back into his opponents' court.
● With the Rangers' lead sitting at a fairly comfortable 11-5 margin in the eighth inning, Martin Perez was summoned from the bullpen for his first major league appearance and into a nice, low-leverage, get-your-feet-wet kind of situation ... and, as you kind of expected might be the case, it was a mixed bag. He pumped 92-96 mph heat into the plate freely and easily (and often, as 16 of his 20 pitches were fastballs), and did whiff a same-handed Quintin Berry with a perfectly spotted 94 mph heater on the inside corner, but he left a couple of fastballs up that were rapped for singles, and a walk/"error" one-two combo -- mind you, a very, very dubious error on Ian Kinsler -- signaled an end to his night after just 0.2 innings; four runs (one earned) were ultimately charged against him.
At around the same time, Justin Grimm was spotted throwing out in the Texas bullpen as part of his customary between-starts work, and you can probably view Perez's effort in a similar light, in that going 20 pitches doesn't preclude him from starting on Saturday against Oakland if the Rangers are inclined to go in that direction. There's supposed to be a decision coming down on the Perez/Grimm question sometime later today; I kind of assume Grimm is still in the driver's seat in that regard, seeing as how he actually has a successful big league start notched in his belt, but you can probably make a decent case for either name. In any event, though, the Martin Perez era has begun -- not with a whole lot of fanfare, mind you, but the service time clock is ticking now.
● This bullet point sort of comes flying out of the "Apropos of Strangeness" division, as it really had very little to do with the game's outcome, but was nevertheless one of those odd points of curiosity that added to the texture of this ballgame. With runners on first and second base and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Adrian Beltre stood in the box and watched the first pitch go by on what ended up being a half-aborted double steal, as Elvis Andrus successfully swiped third base while Hamilton tripped over himself for no apparent reason between first and second base, and then, despite being closer to second base at that point, abruptly scampered back to first base. Beltre watched the second pitch as well, and then, at first glance, appeared to successfully check his swing on the third-pitch slider.
At that exact moment, the FOX Sports Southwest pitch tracker displayed a 2-1 count, whereas Pitch f/x indicated a 1-2 count ... but Beltre was rung up on strikes, and despite the rousing course of "what the hell?" remarks, Beltre was, in retrospect, actually out. Home plate umpire Paul Emmel actually called each of the first two pitches strikes, complete with corresponding hand signals (FSNSW deemed the first pitch a ball, presumably because Emmel's call was lost in the ephemeral excitement of the double steal, whereas Pitch f/x erroneously classified the second pitch as a ball), and on the third pitch, the down-and-in slider where Beltre seemed to have checked his swing ...
... yeah, Beltre didn't check his swing. Sometimes, the "human element" is responsible for inattentive follies on the ball-and-strike end of the spectrum (such as ringing batters up on only two strikes or not awarding a base on balls on a four-ball count), but that wasn't the case on this particular at-bat. I'm sure I'll end up eating this paragraph tonight when Feldman walks somebody on a 3-3 count and then drive-by murders the home plate umpire with the same look that he tried to kill Joe Nathan with.
● Ian Kinsler made it to second base on an uncaught popup behind second base in the bottom of the eighth inning last night. He then proceeded to make it home from second base on an Elvis Andrus bunt. Remember that sequence the next time the impulse strikes you to question Kinsler's level of effort or caring or #want.