I wouldn't say that this game was overly entertaining or satisfying or even reassuring, because two runs scored over the course of a full game is simply not going to be enough to win most games ... but last night, it was enough, and the division lead is back up to 4½ games, and, for whatever it's worth, you feel just a little better about this week's enormous four-game tilt against the Angels:
● The season began with the (not entirely misplaced) belief that the Rangers would end up needing Scott Feldman to play an important role for them at some point down the line, and that sentiment was seemingly blown all to hell as Feldman got his rotation shot in mid-to-late May, proceeded to struggle for an extended period of time, and went so far as to complain to the press about his fluctuating role ... but now, as the calendar is on the verge of flipping from July to August, the payoff is finally beginning to take shape, as Feldman spun eight excellent scoreless frames in last night's series finale against Chicago, and has now yielded just one run in his last 21 innings dating all the way back to July 4th.
I've been critical of Feldman at several points in time over the last couple of months, but he deserves ample plaudits for last night's body of work, as he attacked the White Sox with a sharp, well-blended fastball/cutter/curveball mix and never allowed his command or composure to abandon him. For what it's worth, Feldman primarily credits his success to improving his attitude and outlook and not worrying about when he's going to pitch again, which should placate those who still hold a grudge against him for his vocalized discontent last month. I don't know how much longer he'll retain this hold on his back-rotation spot, but he's giving the Rangers something to think about.
Incidentally, Feldman is just the seventh Rangers starting pitcher in the pitch count era -- dating back to the late-80s -- to toss eight-plus shutout innings while requiring an average of 11 or fewer pitches per inning to do it, which says something pretty significant about the kind of efficiency he displayed on the bump last night:
|Scott Feldman||2012-07-29||TEX||CHW||W 2-0||GS-8 ,W||8.0||7||0||0||0||5||0||88||63||73|
|Derek Holland||2011-07-30||TEX||TOR||W 3-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||4||0||0||1||5||0||95||69||83|
|Derek Holland||2009-08-09||TEX||LAA||W 7-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||3||0||0||1||8||0||96||73||88|
|Rick Helling||2001-07-29||TEX||TBD||W 2-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||4||0||0||0||4||0||99||70||83|
|Bob Tewksbury||1995-07-07||TEX||NYY||W 10-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||6||0||0||0||5||0||95||67||80|
|Kenny Rogers||1994-07-28||TEX||CAL||W 4-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||0||0||0||0||8||0||98||64||95|
|Kevin Brown||1990-06-20||TEX||MIN||W 8-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||4||0||0||0||4||0||79||60||83|
And from the "Wait, What?" department, we have this nugget: since June 9th, Feldman has amassed a strikeout-to-walk total of 35-to-3 over a span of 44.1 innings (seven starts, one relief appearance). Among the 100 pitchers who have accumulated a qualifying number of innings since that date, Feldman's strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.7 K/BB) ranks No. 1 overall. He's had his assortment of struggles with his command and being too hittable and such over these last seven weeks, but that is simply absurd.
● The Rangers' offense went 0-for-23 with runners in scoring position over the final two games of their set against the White Sox, and 1-for-31 for the series, with the first of two runs last night being plated on a third-inning error, and the second being scored in the bottom of the fifth inning when Nelson Cruz dramatically bolted for home on a Michael Young dinker back to the pitcher. Young, of course, was dead in the water from that moment of poor contact, but Cruz had a sizable lead off third base and intentions of scoring in his heart, and the instant that Gavin Floyd committed to his throw to first base, Cruz initiated his sprint for home. The throw was off line, and the lead was doubled.
I can see how one might perceive that third-to-home attempt as an undue risk, but, from a probability standpoint, the question that needed to be answered was whether Cruz stood a better chance of scoring by taking his chances and splitting for home on Young's grounder, or by remaining at third base and hoping that someone else could pick him up. Per Tom Tango's run frequency matrix, a man-on-third, two-out situation results in that runner getting home less than 30 percent of the time on average; if you assume that Cruz's chances of scoring there were something more along the lines of, say, 50-60 percent, then that's a no-brainer, and a great example of intelligent baserunning on Cruz's part, in that he took a calculated risk that was justified by the situation at hand, and put in the effort to make it pay off.
● And finally, because there's not a whole lot else to talk about from this game, here's Elvis Andrus bailing out Joe Nathan in the ninth inning with a beautiful, airborne, lunging snare:
There's a line of thought buzzing around right now which proposes that the Rangers kill two of their upcoming problems -- that is, Josh Hamilton likely leaving in the winter, and the absence of a full-time vacancy in the Rangers' middle infield to accommodate Jurickson Profar -- with one stone by waving farewell to Hamilton, trading Andrus for a power bat during the winter, and plugging Profar in at shortstop next spring. And from a dispassionate, roster-building standpoint, there's serious merit to that idea ... but baseball fandom is driven by emotion, and if the day ever does arrive where Elvis is traded and this era of defensive dominance at shortstop comes to an end, that truly will be a bittersweet day. I could watch Elvis do this for the rest of my life.