Eighty games down, eighty-two left to go, and after a sweetheart June schedule that was appropriately capitalized upon (even with a large chunk of the Opening Day pitching staff shelved on the disabled list), the Rangers find themselves boasting baseball's best record (50-30), best run differential (427 runs scored to 327 runs allowed), and second-largest division lead (5.5 games). Now that I've dispensed with that overwhelmingly good news, here's your obligatory Monday morning post that spends entirely too much time talking about a 3-1 series finale loss to the Athletics:
● I was wondering the other day if there is ever going to be a time when we find watching Yu Darvish on the bump to be a largely ordinary and mundane activity along the lines, of, say, watching Kevin Millwood on the bump -- not because of any clearly identifiable similarities in their respective games, but because it's human nature to eventually take a good thing for granted. Those idle contemplations were put out of mind pretty quickly last night as Darvish rattled off six strikeouts over his first 12 outs and looked as though he might be able to make an early 1-0 lead stand up for the duration without any additional run support ... but then things began to go wrong. Not all at once, mind you, but things did begin to go wrong.
Despite yielding just five hits, three walks, and a hit-by-pitch over his seven innings of work (which included 11 strikeouts, tying his best mark of the season), Darvish found himself dinged for three runs, as the distribution of those negative events was such that he allowed seven baserunners over his final three innings of work; there was a hard-hit double-single sequence in the fifth inning, a 3-2 walk to Coco Crisp to lead off the sixth inning that eventually came around to score after a Yoenis Cespedes double and a wild pitch with two outs, and then a no-doubt Brandon Moss solo shot to lead off the seventh inning. He certainly wasn't 'bad' in the way that we're conditioned to think of bad; I think 'frustrating' is the more apt descriptor, even though the lack of offense was the primary reason why Texas lost this game.
And so, despite collecting an entire bushel full of swinging strikes (18, to be exact), and despite Darvish pitching exceptionally well at various times last night, he's the hard-luck loser -- and in a slightly disconcerting way, too, because this was a start where he started strong and finished on a somewhat weak note with flagging control and slumping velocity, as opposed to his recent efforts where he struggled early but finished strong. It's only the first week of July, and there are a lot of innings yet to be pitched and a lot of refinement yet to be undertaken, but you can't stop yourself from looking ahead a few months, and wondering how we'll respond to these same inconsistencies in Darvish's performance if they manifest on a grander post-season stage.
● I hesitate to spend too much time ragging on a lineup that averaged six runs per game en route to winning the first three games of the series, but, yeah, that wasn't an especially great look Texas was throwing down out there last night, with the lineup striking out only three times but failing to earn a single free pass, and with the 3-4-5 hitters (Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Michael Young) going a combined 0-for-12. Throw in the complete and glaring lack of performance in a couple of different key high-leverage spots, and you've got a prime recipe for offensive disappointment. Hamilton, in particular, remains but a few poor days away from watching his season OPS dip below 1.000 for the first time since early April, and Young continues to fight what may prove to be a losing battle to move his fWAR total (still -0.6) back into positive territory.
● This may be the sort of thing that only strikes me as being a tad unusual, but here goes anyway: Michael Young has now played third base in place of Adrian Beltre in three of the Rangers' last 14 games, with one of those occasions coming immediately after the off day on June 21st. Now, unless your level of trust in Ron Washington's judgment is somewhere between wavering and non-existent, you have to think that there's some good reason for this being the case; there is, after all, another year's worth of tread missing from Beltre's tires, and I imagine Ron Washington is primarily concerned right now with keeping an age-33 Beltre in proper working order for the stretch run, even if that means swapping him out in the field for Michael Young more often than he would prefer to.
But, unfortunately, the additional rest does come at a cost, and though I long ago achieved a certain state of peace with the weaknesses in Young's defensive game, you've still got the instances where the Rangers are discernibly hurt by Young's inability to make plays that Beltre very likely would make ... such as that fifth-inning smash to third base which scored the aforementioned lead-off double when Young effectively matadored the ball by whiffing on the backhand attempt:
I don't know. Maybe the ball took a funny hop on Young, as it clearly didn't bounce as high off the first hop as he anticipated that it would. Maybe Beltre, given the same positioning and the exact same batted ball velocity/placement/trajectory, doesn't make that play either. It's a judgment call, and you certainly won't hurt my feelings by disagreeing with me; that said, I doubt Beltre completely whiffs on that ball, and if he doesn't whiff on it, maybe Darvish gets out of the inning unscathed, and the rest of the game unfolds in a completely different manner. Yeah, I'm at peace with it, and if Beltre is DHing for rest-related purposes, I get it -- but that doesn't make it any prettier to watch.
Although, as I write that, I find myself becoming deeply and inescapably entranced ...
● This is a bit of non sequitur, but I've read a few reports this morning stating that Derek Holland could rejoin the Rangers' rotation as early as this coming Saturday (provided that his rehab start at Triple-A Round Rock on Monday goes well), which would likely have the effect of pushing Darvish up to Friday and having him pitch on four days' rest as opposed to five. I was out of town for Martin Perez's rotation debut on Saturday, but the reviews seemed positive enough on that front that you probably don't need to kill yourself pushing for Holland to return on Saturday, because with Holland on a 75-pitch limit tonight, he probably wouldn't be good for more than 85-90 pitches on Saturday, anyway. I really don't have a dog in this hunt one way or another, though. I'm just glad Holland is okay.
● Both Elvis Andrus and Yorvit Torrealba were picked off of first base by Travis Blackley and his killer pickoff move during the early frames of last night's game, and when the media queried Ron Washington about those miscues and a few other recent baserunning issues, things apparently got a bit tense in the press room:
One reporter asked Ron Washington if he thought the Rangers had been sloppy on the base paths.
"Do you think we were sloppy?" Washington said.
"I'm asking you," the reporter said.
"Well, I'm asking you back," Washington responded.
"Uncharacteristic?" the reporter asked.
"No, it wasn't. That's the end of that question," Washington said.
● As if we required any further confirmation that this game has the potential to throw something new and never-before-seen at you at any given moment, Craig Gentry became the unwilling victim of random circumstance when his hard-hit ball to center field to lead off the sixth inning banged off the center field wall, took a funny richochet off of Yoenis Cespedes's right foot as he spun around in place frantically searching for the ball, and squeaked over the wall for what was deemed a ground-rule double on the field:
If that ball doesn't carom off Cespedes, or even if it does still carom off Cespedes but doesn't carry over the wall, Gentry easily makes it to third base with nobody out in a one-run game -- and, depending on Cespedes's degree of disorientation and the proximity of the nearest outfielder to back up the play, he may have had an outside shot at an inside-the-park home run. Instead, Gentry never makes it any further along than third base as Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Josh Hamilton all pop/fly out in one direction or another, and the Rangers come away with nothing to show for their efforts. At least it makes for an amusing highlight, though. Sort of. Well, maybe. Or maybe not.