C.J. Wilson

The Rangers’ newly-acquired pitcher Yu Darvish carried a hefty price tag for teams wanting to sign him this offseason.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Spring training has come to a close and the Texas Rangers are taking aim at finishing a job they came within inches of finishing last October.

In 2011, the Rangers roared through the regular season, posting a franchise best 96 wins and winning the American League West by a monstrous 10 games. After a bumpy start to the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rangers turned it around, taking the series in four games. They rolled through the Tigers in the American League Championship Series and returned to the World Series for a second consecutive season. After a titillating series with the Cardinals in the Fall Classic, the Rangers found themselves a single strike away from taking the throne on two separate occasions, before conceding the series in the seventh game in heart-wrenching fashion.

Now, the Rangers open 2012 hoping to finish the job once and for all.

It’s mostly familiar faces returning for the Rangers, but a busy winter has lead to a few changes heading into the new campaign. Texas returns everyone from the most potent lineup in all of baseball a season ago, but there is a new face in the rotation. 2011 opening day starter and All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson went Benedict Arnold on the Rangers in the offseason, inking a five-year deal with the rival Angels and leaving a big void in the pitching staff. In his place steps Japanese phenom Yu Darvish, who at the ripe age of 25 has more accolades to his name than most American pitchers will see in a career.

Darvish did not come cheap, as the Rangers had to post $51 million just for the right to negotiate with the 6-foot-5 right-hander. After a month of negotiating, the Rangers finally signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal in hopes of his past success translating abroad.

Darvish was not the only impactful pitcher the Rangers signed in the offseason. After blowing the save in game six of the World Series, the Rangers decided it was time for closer Neftali Feliz to try his hand in the starting rotation. His replacement is former Twins closer Joe Nathan, who comes to Arlington with a career 89 percent save percentage, good for second all-time in the history of baseball. Nathan was robbed of his 2010 season with Tommy John surgery, and had a lackluster return in the first half of 2011. The second half was more telling as Nathan returned to form, and the Rangers are hoping he can reclaim his perch atop the closing elite.

The Rangers enter the new season as a favorite to return to the World Series again, but the path to the top got a bit murkier since baseball last convened. The Tigers added slugger Prince Fielder to their deep lineup. The Angels added arguably the best hitter in the game in Albert Pujols, along with the aforementioned Wilson to a rotation that was already considered one of the best in baseball.

Everyone in baseball knows the Rangers are going to slug with the best of ’em. If Darvish can fill the void left by Wilson and Derek Holland can continue his emergence as a frontline starter, the Rangers will be in fine shape to make another deep postseason run.

Printed on Thursday, April 5, 2012 as: Rangers reloading, seeking first title

2011 World Series

Adrian Beltre admires his game-tying homerun on one knee in the sixth inning. Two innings later, Mike Napoli broke the 2-2 tie with a bases-loaded double as Texas beat St. Louis, 4-2. The Rangers are now one win away from winning their first-ever World Series championship.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ARLINGTON — Mike Napoli hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning against Marc Rzepczynski, and the Texas Rangers rallied from a two-run deficit to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 on Monday night and take a 3-2 World Series lead.

Solo home runs by Mitch Moreland in the third and Adrian Beltre in the sixth off Chris Carpenter sparked the Texas comeback. Michael Young doubled off loser Octavio Dotel leading off the eighth.

Darren Oliver got the win in relief of C.J. Wilson, and Neftali Feliz finished for his sixth save of the postseason, striking out Albert Pujols as part of a double play when Allen Craig was caught stealing second.

Colby Lewis starts Game 6 for the Rangers on Wednesday in St. Louis, trying to wrap up their first title. Jaime Garcia starts for the Cardinals.

After Young’s double, Beltre struck out and Nelson Cruz was intentionally walked.

Dotel relieved Rzepczynski and David Murphy reached on an infield single to load the bases and Napoli doubled to deep right field, making it 4-2.

Pujols drew three intentional walks, including a pass with two outs and none on in the seventh. The St. Louis slugger then nearly used his legs to put his team ahead.

Pujols was running hard on a 3-2 pitch that Matt Holliday hit for a single to left-center. Pujols chugged around the bags and third base coach Jose Oquendo initially waved him home, only to put up a late stop sign.

Would Pujols have been safe on shortstop Elvis Andrus’ wide throw to the plate? Maybe. But it became moot when Lance Berkman was intentionally walked to load the bases and David Freese flied out against Alexi Ogando.

Beltre and Moreland hit solo home runs off Carpenter, helping Texas come back from an early 2-0 deficit.

Beltre made it 2-all with two outs in the sixth, dropping to one knee after following through on a meaty cut. He connected on a big curve from Carpenter, who had easily handled Josh Hamilton and Young to start the inning.

Beltre’s other homers this October came in a bunch. He hit three in a first-round playoff game at Tampa Bay.

Napoli almost gave Texas a cushion later in the inning. With the crowd standing and chanting his name as “Nap-Oh-Lee” flashed on the scoreboard, the catcher’s bid for a three-run homer was caught on the warning track in right-center field, just shy of the 407-foot mark.

The homer let Wilson avoid becoming the first pitcher to lose four times in a single postseason. The eccentric lefty who alternates red and blue gloves between starts had another uneven outing, working around five walks.

Wilson walked six while losing Game 1 to Carpenter and the Cardinals.

Moreland atoned for some glove woes with a home run in the third, hitting a drive halfway up the second deck in right field.

The Cardinals scored twice in the second, cashing in two leadoff walks sandwiched around a wild pitch.

Yadier Molina notched his fifth RBI of the Series with a single that left fielder David Murphy overran and fumbled for an error. Skip Schumaker followed with an RBI grounder to first that Moreland boxed around, preventing any chance at a double play.

Murphy made a diving catch to end the inning, denying Nick Punto a run-scoring hit. Punto carried his bat all the way to first base and tried to break the wood by bending it over his right thigh.

Already ahead 2-0, the Cards threatened in the third after Wilson slipped coming off the mound trying to field Rafael Furcal’s leadoff bunt and made a poor, backhanded flip that skittered past Moreland. But with runners at the corners, Wilson got Holliday to bounce into a quick double play. Not so surprising, really — Wilson induced the most DP grounders in the majors this year while St. Louis hit into an NL-record 169 double plays.

Holliday flied out with the bases loaded, after an intentional walk to Pujols, to finish the fifth.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 as: Rangers take 3-2 World Series lead

2011 World Series

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington shakes hands with St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa before Game 1 of the World Series.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Both teams’ starters pitched well in the game, with Texas’ C.J. Wilson going 5 2/3 innings while allowing three runs. Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter pitched six innings of two-run baseball. But, as advertised in the pre-series hype, the game really came down to the bullpens. The Cardinals relievers were perfect in their four innings on the mound, with five pitchers navigating four innings, allowing only one hit. The Rangers relievers pitched well too, but not well enough. Alexi Ogando allowed a hit against the very first batter he faced, and that hit scored the game-winning run. While the Rangers pen did not allow another run to score from there, that one hit was enough to seal game one for the Redbirds.

Starters leave game on same play

Wilson and Carpenter were both removed from the game on the same play in the bottom of the sixth inning. Carpenter was pinch hit by Allen Craig, and Wilson was pulled in favor of Ogando, despite already having two outs in the frame. Rangers manager Ron Washington’s decision to pull his starter backfired in two ways. Ogando ended up surrendering a run on a Craig single to right. Then, in the next inning, the Rangers lost Ogando’s services after only two batters, when Ogando was pulled in favor of a pinch hitter, but the Rangers couldn’t convert. So, in the end, questionable managing decisions by Washington hurt the Rangers in the key situation of the game.

Cold weather birds

The chilly weather on the field lived up to October baseball’s billing, reaching 49 degrees with a constant wind gust of 25 miles an hour and an off-and-on drizzle. The Texas players were bundled up and ready for this cool Mid-West weather. Elvis Andrus was wearing long sleeves and a pair of snazzy earmuffs to keep warm. Ogando was sporting long sleeves as well when he entered the game in the sixth inning, while constantly rubbing his hands on the mound to keep warm. The Cardinals, on the other hand, looked a little more acclimated to the colder climate, as most of their roster was wearing their traditional uniforms with short sleeves.

Keys to World Series Game 2

Get more production from the heart of the lineup

The players who occupy the No. 2 through No. 4 spots in the Rangers lineup — Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young — went a combined zero-for-11 in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday. Despite the strong outing by its starting pitcher and a two-run home run from catcher Mike Napoli, Texas couldn’t overcome the poor showing from the heart of its order. The Rangers need Andrus, Hamilton and Young, who are hitting a collective .216 and have just one postseason home run between them, to step up throughout the rest of the Fall Classic.

Trust the starting pitcher

Somehow, Texas got to the World Series without its ace C.J. Wilson picking up a win in three postseason starts. He didn’t get a win his fourth but was cruising through his finest playoff performance before Rangers manager Ron Washington prematurely pulled him in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game. Wilson had just given up a one-out double to Nation League Championship Series MVP David Freese before giving way to All-Star starter-turned-reliever Alexi Ogando, who promptly allowed the go-ahead run to cross the plate. If Washington wants his team to even the series tonight, he needs to trust his starting pitcher more. Colby Lewis, whose regular season home ERA was more than two runs lower than his road ERA, takes the mound at Busch Stadium in Game 2. Lewis has been solid in two road starts so far, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA. Washington didn’t use setup man Mike Adams or closer Neftali Feliz, but he needs to let Lewis go at least six innings tonight.

Don’t pinch-hit for the sake of pinch-hitting

Playing in a National League ballpark means the pitchers hit for themselves. It doesn’t call for excessive pinch-hitting. Washington was badly out-managed by St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa, who’s managing his seventh World Series. Even though David Murphy had six hits in previous 10 at-bats entering Game 1, Washington opted to pinch-hit for him. With runners on first and second, Murphy’s substitute, Craig Gentry, was called out on strikes. The next batter, Esteban German, who had not registered an at-bat since Sept. 25, struck out as well to end the inning. Octavio Dotel and Jason Motte combined to retire the next six Rangers hitters. Meanwhile, LaRussa’s pinch-hitter, Allen Craig, knocked in what proved to be the game-winning run. Washington must maneuver his hitters around much better during the rest of the series for Texas to have a chance at winning it.

2011 World Series

Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz can’t come up with a hit by St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Allen Craig during the sixth inning of Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday in St. Louis.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Nelson Cruz sprinted over to the foul line, desperately trying to run down Allen Craig’s tailing liner. The right fielder came up just short, and so did the Texas Rangers.

Craig’s pinch-hit drive landed an inch or two in front of Cruz’s outstretched glove for a go-ahead single off reliever Alexi Ogando in the sixth inning that carried the St. Louis Cardinals over the Rangers 3-2 Wednesday in a chilly World Series opener.

On a night when all the runs were driven in with opposite-field hits to right, Lance Berkman put St. Louis ahead with a two-run single in the fourth against C.J. Wilson.

Rangers catcher Mike Napoli watched in dejection as Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday scored, but a few minutes later celebrated in the top of the fifth when he tied it 2-all with a two-run homer off Chris Carpenter.

While the Rangers’ bullpen couldn’t hold on, five St. Louis relievers combined for three innings of one-hit relief. Not that Texas didn’t have its chances — the Rangers were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.

Colby Lewis starts for the Rangers on Thursday night, trying to send the Series back to Texas tied at a game apiece.
Game 1 has been an indicator of success in recent decades: The winner has captured seven of the last eight titles, 12 of the last 14 and 19 of the last 23. In addition, the team hosting Game 1 has won 20 of the last 25 World Series.

A year after making their first World Series appearance, a five-game loss to the San Francisco Giants that opened with an 11-7 loss, the Rangers were back.

Taking over as ace after Cliff Lee left to sign with Philadelphia, Wilson dropped to 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in four postseason starts this year, allowing three runs and four hits in 5 2-3 innings with a career-high six walks — two of them intentional.

He prepared for the start by getting in a tank of liquid nitrogen at 295 degrees below zero — the treatment is said to aid recovery — but on a blustery, 49-degree night his walks and a key wild pitch got him into some hot spots.

He fell behind after bouncing a pitch in the fourth that hit three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols on the left foot. That started a streak of three bad pitches in a four-pitch span.

Wilson tried to go inside on Matt Holliday but left the next one over the plate, and Holliday hit an opposite-field double into the right-field corner as Pujols took third.

Then, with the count 1-0 to Berkman, Wilson tried to go inside again but allowed the ball to drift over the plate.

Berkman went the other way and chopped the ball over first base and into right field as the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead. Wilson shook his head back and fourth as he walked back to the mound.

The lead was short-lived.

Adrian Beltre singled leading off the fifth and, one out later, Napoli turned on a high pitch and sent it about 10 rows deep into the right-field seats for his second home run of the postseason. A fired-up Carpenter had escaped a two-on, none-out jam in the second inning when Napoli hit into an inning-ending double play.

Pujols had Cardinals fans cheering in the top of the sixth when he slid to stop Michael Young’s grounder behind first and threw to Carpenter for the out, stranding Ian Kinsler at third.

Then in the bottom half, NLCS MVP David Freese hit an opposite-field double to right with one out and went to third on a wild pitch. Wilson struck out Yadier Molina, then pitched carefully to Nick Punto and walked him on four pitches.

Ogando relieved, and with many of the red-clad Cardinals fans standing and waving white towels, Craig sliced a 1-2 pitch down the right field line. Cruz, the ALCS MVP, came oh-so-close to making the sliding catch, but the ball bounced just in front of his glove as Freese scored. Texas was lucky that the ball struck Cruz on a foot; otherwise, it could have rolled to the fence.

Carpenter became the first St. Louis starter to reach the sixth inning since the division series. He got the win, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings with four strikeouts and one walk. Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte followed, with Motte getting three outs for his fifth postseason save.

With one out in the ninth, Beltre was called out on a grounder to third on a ball that appeared to bounce off his foot and could have been ruled foul. The call didn’t go the Rangers’ way.

It was that kind of night.