Colby Lewis

No doom and gloom for the Texas Rangers

Professional sports are a business, and fans of the Texas Rangers were reminded of that in December. Longtime face of the franchise Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia. The tip of the Rangers’ offensive spear the last five years, Josh Hamilton, left for enemy territory and signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Fan favorite Mike Napoli changed zip codes and left for Boston.

While the holes left by those defections seem ominous heading into the 2013 season, Rangers fans need not fret. While the Rangers played with a full deck the last three seasons, two of which landed them in the World Series, the Rangers still have more than enough fire power to compete for a division crown and a chance to finally win their first ever World Series.

The Rangers return their top three starters from last year’s 93-win team. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish were both All-Stars in 2012 and both held sub 4.00 ERAs through the end of the season. Jon Daniels and his staff also decided to move flame-throwing righty Alexi Ogando from the bullpen back into the rotation, where he was an All-Star and anchor through the 2011 season. Derek Holland, coming off his 175-inning campaign last season figures to have more in the tank heading into 2013, and an unnamed fifth starter out of a pool of promising prospects figures to round out what should be a rather formidable rotation. And whatever you do, don’t forget that Colby Lewis will return to the rotation at some point in the summer. He’s arguably the best pitcher in the Rangers’ recent run of dominance, and the 2012 season started going sideways almost as soon as Lewis went down with injury. His return should provide a big boost.

The bullpen lost key pieces in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and Alexi Ogando’s move to the starting rotation doesn’t help the cause. Even with all those subtractions, the bullpen still figures to be good enough to get the job done. Left-hander Robbie Ross figures to be ready for a more prominent role in the back end of the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot, and the signing of Joakim Soria will help when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan should continue to be a rock as the closer, and the free agent addition of Jason Frasor should add to the depth. The kids, including Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font and Martin Perez will also beef up the pen and add quality depth.

The pitching looks to be in good shape heading into spring training barring any injuries, but the offense is where the question marks start to seep in. The loss of Hamilton will undoubtedly sting, but Mike Napoli had a rough year at the dish and Michael Young was one of the statistically worst everyday players in all of baseball. Past nostalgic memories of those players don’t contribute to future success, and although their losses will be felt, the Rangers should be just fine. Healthy seasons from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz will go a long way, and a new hitting coach, who can hopefully get Ian Kinsler back to his productive ways, will help as well. The addition of Lance Berkman to the middle of the lineup should help to ease the loss of Hamilton and the Rangers will have a couple of the best prospects in all of baseball, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, waiting in the wings in Round Rock if the offense gets off to a rough start. While the Rangers may not lead the league in runs scored like they did in 2012, they should produce enough to keep them in competition.

Yes, change is always scary, especially when you get away from a couple of players who were such core pieces in the franchise’s first taste of real success. But looking back at the past couple of World Series winners, it’s not always the most talented team that comes out on top. The Giants, twice, and the Cardinals were both anchored by pitching and defense with just enough offense to get the job done, and that looks like what the Rangers have heading into 2013. If the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays have taught us anything, it’s that pitching and defense matter most. Don’t fret the upcoming 2013 season, Rangers fans. Barring anything catastrophic, they will be right in the thick of things come October.

2011 World Series

St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese hits a two-run triple off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz during the ninth inning of Game 6 of baseball's World Series on Thursday in St. Louis.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — David Freese homered to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals forced the World Series to a Game 7 by rallying from two-run deficits against the Texas Rangers in the 9th and 10th on Thursday night.

Freese hit a two-run triple just over a leaping Nelson Cruz to tie the score 7-7 in the ninth inning against Neftali Feliz. Then, after Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with a two-run homer in the 10th off Jason Motte, Ryan Theriot hit an RBI groundout in the bottom half and Lance Berkman tied it 9-9 with a single. Freese’s shot to center came off Mark Lowe.

Game 7 is Friday night.

Texas had built a 7-4 lead in the seventh when Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit consecutive home runs off Lance Lynn, and Ian Kinsler added an RBI single off Octavio Dotel.
Allen Craig’s second homer of the Series cut the gap in the eighth against Derek Holland.

In the ninth, Albert Pujols doubled with one out off Feliz and Berkman walked on four pitches.

Craig took a called third strike, and Freese fell behind in the count 1-2. He sliced an opposite-field drive, and when Cruz jumped, the crowd of 47,315 at Busch Stadium couldn’t tell at first whether he caught it.

Feliz then retired Yadier Molina on a flyout to right, sending the game to extra innings.

With Texas ahead 3-2 in the Series and one win from its first title, the Rangers also wasted 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads. The Cardinals made three errors in a Series game for the first time since 1943, and Rangers first baseman Michael Young made two, with each team allowing two unearned runs.
Matt Holliday was picked off in the sixth at third base by catcher Mike Napoli, thwarting the Cardinals’ attempt to go ahead, and he had to leave the game because of a bruised right pinkie.

Hamilton’s RBI single had put the Rangers ahead in the first off Jaime Garcia, Berkman’s two-run homer gave the Cardinals the lead in the bottom half and Kinsler’s run-scoring double tied it 2-all in the third.

Cruz reached when Holliday dropped a flyball leading off the fourth and came home when Napoli singled for his 10th RBI of the Series. Berkman then got to first on a throwing error by Young starting the bottom half and scored on Molina’s grounder.

Freese dropped Hamilton’s popup to third leading off the fifth, and Young lined a pitch from Fernando Salas to the gap in left-center. An error by Young on Holliday’s sixth-inning grounder was followed by three straight walks, including two by Alexi Ogando.

Colby Lewis allowed four runs — two earned — and three hits in 5 1-3 innings.

Texas got far better swings against Garcia than it did in Game 2, when he allowed three hits in six shutout innings. This time, he gave up five hits and two walks, throwing 59 pitches, and seven of the first 13 Texas batters reached base.

Just 24 of the 61 previous teams with 3-2 leads won Game 6, but 41 of those 61 teams went on to win the title. Eighteen teams trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven format bounced back for championships, including 12 that swept the last two games at home.

In an effort to provide more production behind Pujols, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa moved Berkman to cleanup and dropped slumping Holliday down to fifth.
Rangers manager Ron Washington moved the hot-hitting Napoli up one spot to seventh and had Craig Gentry hitting eighth, as he did in Game 2.

Four Cardinals Hall of Famers, wearing cardinal red sports jackets, stood at home plate before the game. Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith. And then the greatest Cardinals player, 90-year-old Stan Musial, was driven from the right-field corner to the plate in a golf cart. Wearing a red sweater and Cardinals warmup jacket, he greeted his fellow Hall of Famers and watched 2006 Series MVP David Eckstein throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Texas went ahead 10 pitches in. After starting with a called strike, Garcia walked Kinsler on four straight pitches, and Elvis Andrus’ hit-and-run single put runners at the corners. Hamilton pulled the next pitch into right field for a single and his third RBI of the Series.

Garcia recovered to strike out Young and Beltre, then got Cruz to hit into an inning-ending forceout on his 23rd pitch.
Lewis quickly gave back the lead. Skip Schumaker, moved up from eighth in the batting order to second, singled with one out in the bottom half. Pujols flied out on the next pitch. Berkman also swung at the first pitch, sending an 89 mph offering over the center-field wall.

Napoli walked leading off the second and Gentry singled him to second. Lewis bunted directly at Freese, who started a rare 5-6-4 double play. Shortstop Rafael Furcal took the throw at third for the force, then threw to second baseman Nick Punto covering first.

Kinsler followed with a ground-rule double that hopped over the left-field fence, tying the score 2-all. La Russa then had Mitchell Boggs start warming up after Garcia had thrown just 42 pitches to 10 batters,

Andrus hit an inning-ending lineout to right that Berkman slightly misjudged and caught with a jump.

Schumaker and Pujols flied out just in front of the warning track in the third. Other than his 5-for-6, three-homer, six-RBI performance in Game 3, Pujols is 1 for 17.

St. Louis, tied for fourth in the majors in errors during the regular season, started to get sloppy in the fourth. Cruz led off with a fly to short left, where Holliday called for Furcal to take it, only for the shortstop to back off. The ball then bounced off Holliday’s glove for a two-base error.

Napoli sliced a single down the right-field line, kicking up chalk from the foul line, to put Texas ahead 3-2. After Gentry struck out, Lewis bunted to Pujols, who threw to second in time for a forceout, but first base umpire Jerry Layne called the ball foul. Lewis bunted the next pitch to Salas, who threw the ball into center field. Not sure whether to slide, Napoli went in awkwardly and turned his left ankle. He stayed in, but the base was later replaced.

Salas escaped further trouble by throwing a called third strike past Kinsler and retiring Andrus on a fly to left that turned Holliday around in the wind.

Berkman led off with a grounder to Young, who bobbled it and made a throw that pulled Lewis off the base for an error on the first baseman. Holliday walked for the second time, and Furcal bounced into a forceout to second, with Andrus’ throw to first for a double play way high and bouncing off a screen near the dugout. Molina followed with a grounder to third that drove in his sixth run of the Series.

After Young’s double, Napoli was intentionally walked with two outs, and pinch-hitter David Murphy walked to load the bases. While Yorvit Torrealba was in the on-deck circle to hit, Washington left Lewis in the game, and he struck out in three pitches.

Berkman reached on an infield hit. Young then picked up Holliday’s grounder, thought about throwing to second and allowed the ball to pop free. Berkman then just beat him to the bag.

Walks to Freese and Molina forced in a run, and Napoli picked off Holliday at third, with Holliday bruising his right pinkie and leaving the game. After a wild pitch, Punto walked and Holland retired Jon Jay on a comebacker.

1. At least five innings from Colby Lewis - In order for the Rangers to continue their World Series roll, and win the team’s first ever championship, they will need a strong performance from their starting pitcher. Lewis has been the Rangers most consistent starter in October baseball, with a 2.95 ERA. If Lewis can navigate the team through five innings while allowing minimal damage, he can give the ball to the Rangers bullpen, which has been almost perfect all postseason.

2. Don’t pitch to the Machine - Albert Pujols is the best player in the game and in Game 3 he showed why with a three-homer and six RBI performance in game three. But in the last two games the Rangers have pitched around Pujols, and the strategy has paid off. The Rangers would like to finish the deal, they need to continue to tread carefully around Pujols and take the game out of his hands.

3. Solid Defense - The Rangers have won and lost games in this series on defensive plays. In Game 3, Mike Napoli’s errant throw from first allowed two runs to score and blew the game open for the Redbirds. But in Game Four, spectacular plays behind Derek Holland kept his shutout alive, and in Game 5 a key strike-em-out throw-em-out put the nail in the coffin for the Cardinals. If the Rangers get another strong game from the gloves, they will most likely be raising the trophy Wednesday evening.

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.

Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli admires his seventh-inning homerun off Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price. The Rangers are a win away from going to its second straight ALCS.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG — Back on the road in the playoffs, the Texas Rangers won again.

Colby Lewis outpitched All-Star David Price, Mike Napoli hit a go-ahead two-run homer and the defending AL champions survived a shaky night from the bullpen to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 Monday night in Game 3 of their postseason series.

The Rangers’ fourth straight division series road win matches the third-longest streak in major league history and gives Texas a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Texas won three ALDS games here a year ago, when it eliminated Tampa Bay in five games.

Rookie Desmond Jennings hit a pair of solo homers for the Rays, who kept it interesting by scoring twice off Rangers relievers before Neftali Feliz got four outs for his second save of the series.

Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, playing deep and guarding the line to prevent a double in the ninth, started an around-the-horn double play on Kelly Shoppach’s grounder to end it.

Price was the losing pitcher in two of Tampa Bay’s playoff losses in 2010 and welcomed the opportunity to try to redeem himself against the only AL opponent he’s yet to beat in his career.

The left-hander shrugged off a poor outing in his last regular season start to take a 1-0 lead into the seventh, thanks to Desmond Jennings’ fourth-inning homer off Lewis.

Beltre singled leading off the seventh against Price and took second a wild pitch. A crowd of 32,828 — the first sellout at Tropicana Field since opening day — fell silent when Napoli lifted a 2-2 pitch into the seats in left-center for a 2-1 advantage. Josh Hamilton extended the lead with a two-run single off reliever J.P. Howell.

As good as Price was early, Lewis was better in limiting the Rays to one hit over six innings. Jennings’ first homer was the only hit off the right-hander, who had worked 16 consecutive scoreless innings against the Rays up to that point — a stretch that began with a five-inning stint in last year’s ALDS and continued with an eight-inning performance to beat Price and the Rays on June 1.

But the Rangers bullpen nearly let a three-run lead slip away.

Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman singled to load the bases against reliever Darren Oliver in the seventh. Damon scored when pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez grounded out, and the Rangers escaped further damage when the second pitcher of the inning, Alexi Ogando, induced pinch-hitter Sam Fuld to hit a roller to second base.

The Rays weren’t finished. Jennings led off eighth with his second homer, trimming Texas’ lead to 4-3. Mike Adams walked B.J. Upton, who was caught stealing, and then walked Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce to get himself into trouble again.

The Rangers wiggled off the hook when Michael Gonzales struck out Damon. Feliz came on to fan Zobrist with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

Price lost at home to Cliff Lee and the Rangers twice in last year’s ALDS and was coming off a disappointing outing against the Yankees in which he allowed six runs in four innings of a game that the Rays needed to win to ensure they stayed alive for the wild-card berth on the final night.

Tampa Bay rallied from a seven-run deficit to grab the playoff spot on Longoria’s homer, but that didn’t stop questions about whether the Rays could count on him in a big game.

The 26-year-old lefty was 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA in eight career starts against Texas before Monday, yet insisted he didn’t lack confidence to get the job done in Game 3.

The Rangers had chances against him early, stranding runners in scoring position in the first, second and sixth innings. Michael Young lined to first baseman Kotchman, who made a diving catch to end the first. Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland grounded out after Napoli singled and stole second base in the second. Price escaped the sixth by retiring Hamilton and Young on groundballs.

With Lewis pitching, Rays manager Joe Maddon tinkered with the bottom of his batting order, stacking six consecutive left-handers behind righty-hitting Jennings, Upton and Longoria, who went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against the Rangers starter — once with Upton in scoring position after walking and stealing second in the fourth.