Despite A-Rod's contract, Rangers close to contention
Posted: Friday August 08, 2003 10:22 AM
Odds are that A-Rod's Rangers won't be down and out for too much longer. AP
Kevin Youkilis' streak of reaching base safely, which ended Tuesday against Syracuse. Youkilis, who was just promoted to Boston's Class AAA affiliate, Pawtucket, tied Kevin Millar's modern-day minor league record.
Players the Yankees will pick up next.
By Jacob Luft, SI.com
The Clash once asked the immortal question, "Should I stay or should I go?"
That's what Alex Rodriguez has been wondering while suffering through a third consecutive last-place finish with Texas. There have been times when the Rangers couldn't see third place on the clearest of days. That's why he went public with his discontent by telling USA Today that he wouldn't mind being traded ... sort of, maybe, if it would help the ballclub.
Instead of lampooning him as a manipulative, obscenely rich crybaby, let's try a different approach. Let's point out that the Rangers aren't nearly as far away from contention as people think, why a couple of years from now it is entirely possible that A-Rod will regret ever bringing up the trade issue in the first place.
As we all know, Texas' problem is pitching. Boy, is it a problem. The Rangers are dead last in the AL in ERA (5.95) by a huge margin, 0.79 runs worse than the 13th-place Devil Rays. In terms of runs allowed, the Rangers have given up 715; the next closest team Tampa Bay at 625.
So, the pitching isn't just bad. It's terrible. A look at recent history shows why "bad" and "terrible" are a significant distinction.
The Rangers have made the playoffs three times since moving into the pinball machine known as the The Ballpark in Arlington in 1994. In 1999, the Rangers went 95-67 despite giving up 5.30 runs per game. Only three AL teams gave up more runs. But since they had a potent offense, ranking second in runs scored, the "bad" pitching didn't ruin them.
The statistics were similar in 1998, when Texas won the division at 88-74 while ranking second in offense and 13th in pitching. In 1996, their first AL West title came with a more balanced team -- fifth in offense, sixth in pitching.
The division has changed quite a bit since those glory years, however. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, Texas plays most of its games against two perennial juggernauts in Seattle and Oakland with the defending world champion Angels mixed in just for fun. As this year's Baseball Prospectus pointed out, the raw numbers last year showed the Rangers had just as good a season as the AL Central champion Twins. But since they played vastly different schedules, the Twins ended up looking golden while the Rangers looked rotten.
If the Rangers to have any hopes of competing anytime soon, the A's and Mariners have to come down a notch, or at least have an off-year here or there. If they keep winning 100 games a year, many of those wins will come at the expense of Texas.
Offensively, the Rangers have the core of what could be a young, lethal and (with the exception of the $25 Million Man) inexpensive lineup. Rookie Hank Blalock will have a Hall of Fame career at third base. Write it down. Rookie Mark Teixeira will be a first baseman or outfielder, depending on what hotshot prospect Adrian Gonzalez can do. At second base, 26-year-old Michael Young is a rising star. We're just now starting to see what prospects Roman Nivar and Laynce Nix can do, but suffice it to say that this organization is loaded with young hitting talent.
With that kind of offense, Texas won't need a pitching staff that compares to Oakland's Big Three to compete for a playoff spot. It just needs to find a handful of guys who won't get their heads kicked in every night. That isn't as hard to do as it seems. Just look at the win totals Rick Helling and Aaron Sele piled up as Rangers despite ERAs near 5.00.
When they do put it all together, A-Rod will be glad he stayed.
This week's topic: Remember when The Onion joked that the Yankees had ensured the pennant by signing every player in baseball? That doesn't look quite so far-fetched after the Bombers' latest flurry of moves. But here are three problems that may haunt the Yankees down the stretch regardless of how many trades they make.
1. Mariano Rivera is human. The days of Rivera plowing through the eighth and ninth innings appear to be over. You can even argue that he hasn't been the same since Game 7 against the Diamondbacks. Sure, the overall stats still look good, but he has been ordinary in blowing four saves since July 25. His dreaded cutter is leveling off, giving left-handers a fighting chance.
2. Alfonso Soriano's defense. He looks like a little leaguer trying to turn the double play sometimes. And his middle infield partner, Derek Jeter, is no great shakes with the leather anymore.
3. Pressure. What do you think will happen if a team with a payroll pushing $200 million doesn't make the playoffs? Well, these guys don't want to find out. Joe Torre already is managing every game like it's a playoff clincher, bringing in Rivera at the first sign of trouble and burying guys on the bench the first time they let him down.
Welcome to the world of alternate photo captions:
In your face! Todd Pratt sinks his claws into this unsuspecting fan's mug. AP
Paul McCartney puts in a Hard Day's Night at Yankee Stadium. AP
Meathead throws a meatball. AP
Now catching: The Invisible Man. AP
Run, don't walk, to PNC Park on Aug. 16 for Jack Wilson Bobblehead Night. That's right, the .241 career hitting shortstop gets his own bobblehead. What's next, Cesar Izturis Bobblehead Night? ... It was a big night for the Free Brandon Larson fan club Thursday as he broke out of his slump with a home run off Hideo Nomo. Larson, the longtime Reds farmhand who has made mincemeat of minor league pitching for years but never given a real chance in the big leagues, struck out four times Wednesday to drop his average to .097 in 62 at-bats. ... Welcome to Pac Bell Park, Sidney Ponson. He lost his debut with the Giants, 2-0 to the Pirates on Wednesday, but he got a taste of how great a pitcher's park it is when Brian Giles launched a 420-foot triple off the right-center field wall in the third inning. Giles ended up being stranded on third, saving Ponson the first of many runs in the NL's premier pitcher's haven.