Ian Kinsler

Heartbreak and disappointment have been a theme for the Texas Rangers over the past several years.

After narrowly missing two world championship opportunities, the Rangers have failed to win a playoff game in the past two seasons, despite having one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

The Rangers spent even more cash this off season in hopes of regaining a foothold in the MLB playoff picture.

Texas signed Shin-Soo Choo and traded away Ian Kinsler for power hitter Prince Fielder, who will take over at first base for the Rangers.

Texas will go into 2014 with a strong lineup boasting the likes of Alex Rios, the always dependable Adrian Beltre, and the promising Jurickson Profar starting at second base now that Kinsler is gone.

The Rangers will field a veteran lineup loaded with big hitters, but that is not where the problems reside. Hitting is only part of the game.

Texas has one of the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best, in Yu Darvish. Darvish will be a productive asset for this staff for years to come.

The problem is with the depth of the starting rotation. Darvish is an outstanding pitcher and an ace for any club, but there isn’t much behind him.

Matt Harrison, the opening day starter from last season, has been plagued by injury over the last two years and may not have his same stuff this year.

Alexi Ogando has shown promise at times, but has yet to prove his reliability at the major league level, winning only seven games last season.

The Rangers are hoping that 22 year-old Martin Perez will step up this season as the number two man. Perez carries a career ERA over four, but did manage to win 10 games in 20 starts last season for the Rangers.

The bullpen remains strong with Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria as the set up man and closer, respectively, for the club.

Here’s my preseason prediciton of American League’s west division standings:

  1. Oakland Athletics
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Anaheim Angels
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros

Texas has the strongest starting lineup in the division, but the pitching is what makes the difference between first and second place here.

Oakland just has too much young talent in its starting rotation. For example, 24 year-old sophomore pitcher Sonny Gray who dazzled in last year’s post season against the Detroit Tigers.

The A’s won’t score 760 runs as they did last season on the way to a division title. The difference will come in the months of August and September. The Rangers have too many unpredictable and unhealthy arms in the starting rotation to be certain that all of them can hold up through the lengthy 162-game season.

We may see Texas opt for a midseason acquisition to bolster the rotation if the season is going well through May. But for now, the starting rotation is a sign of weakness and will need to improve for the Rangers to reach the postseason.

The Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers got the Major League Baseball offseason started quickly Wednesday night, springing a blockbuster trade on the baseball world: Prince Fielder to Texas with Ian Kinsler shifting to Detroit. It’s a rare, old-fashioned baseball trade, player for player.

On paper, the trade looks like a win for both sides. First base has plagued the Rangers since 2007, when they dealt Mark Teixeira to the Braves in a trade that helped set up two World Series runs. This trade frees up the middle infield logjam in Arlington, allowing Jurickson Profar to slide into second base and officially start his career as an everyday infielder for the Rangers. It also provides a much needed power bat in the middle of the lineup with Nelson Cruz now a free agent. Plus, it’s a left-handed power bat, something the Rangers desperately needed in 2013. 

The Tigers also addressed needs in the blockbuster. For a team that has been knocked for its defense over the years, the middle infield looks infinitely more athletic now with Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler saddled in over other combinations they have tried. While the Tigers ate $30 million of Fielder’s contract to help offset some of the cost for the Rangers, they still freed up about $60 million in salary. With Cy Young winner Max Scherzer getting ready to hit free agency in a year, and Miguel Cabrera in two years, the Tigers needed some financial flexibility. This trade helps achieve that.

Both the Tigers and the Rangers fancy themselves in the elite class of the American League, and this trade will help keep each firmly planted in that category going forward.

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.

2011 World Series

Texas Rangers' Ian Kinsler is congratulated in the dugout after scoring during Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday (Photo Courtesy of Charlie Riedel)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Josh Hamilton and the Texas hitters looked lost. They chased pitches that bounced, broke their bats and seemed totally overmatched.

Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP seemed to be wearing down with every swing in his first three at-bats.

Hamilton shattered his bat the first time up and slowly jogged to first base. Later, he weakly waved and appeared overmatched as he struck out on three pitches. That left him with an 0-for-16 Series slump dating to last October.

Hamilton’s teammates were equally feeble. Maybe it was because none of the Texas starters had ever faced Garcia, maybe it was carryover from the stress that began in last year’s World Series wipeout against San Francisco.

Until the ninth inning, that is.

Their hardest hit early in the game came in the fourth — rather, it was the hardest a Texas player got hit.

Kinsler was at third base when Adrian Beltre sent a solid, one-hopper down the line. The foul ball nailed a ducking

Kinsler in the right shoulder, and he grinned while playfully rubbing it off. No smiling, though, when Beltre took a poor cut at a low pitch and struck out to strand runners at the corners.

Down to their last three outs, and in danger of dropping into a serious World Series deficit, the Rangers rallied against St. Louis’ vaunted bullpen.

Hamilton and Michael Young lifted sacrifice flies in the ninth and Texas startled the Cardinals 2-1 on Thursday night to even the Series at 1-all.

For the second straight night, Cardinals pinch-hitter Allen Craig greeted reliever Alexi Ogando with a go-ahead single.

This time, Craig did it the seventh. In Game 1, his hit in the sixth sent the Cards to a 3-2 win.

The Rangers, however, were not done quite yet. Now, after a travel day, they will host Game 3 on Saturday night. Matt Harrison is set to start for the Rangers against Kyle Lohse.

“It would have been hard,” Hamilton said of possibly facing being 0-2. “We would have been comfortable going back to our place, having three games. They’re just like we are, never say die, until the last out is made. It makes it fun.”

Texas has not lost two straight games since Aug. 23-25. They sure waited a while to save themselves on this night that began as a duel between starters Colby Lewis and the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Ian Kinsler opened the ninth with a bloop single against closer Jason Motte. Next up was Elvis Andrus, whose tremendous play at shortstop kept the game scoreless much earlier. He singled to center, sending Kinsler to third, and when the relay throw got away for a moment, Andrus scampered to second.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who’s been making all the right moves this October, brought in lefty Arthur Rhodes to face Hamilton. But the slumping slugger, slowed throughout the postseason by a groin injury, hit a solid fly ball that scored Kinsler and moved Andrus to third.

La Russa went to his bullpen again, bringing in Lance Lynn to face Young. The steady Texas veteran did his job, lofting a fly ball that sent Andrus scampering home.

Then it was Rangers manager Ron Washington’s turn. He signaled for closer Neftali Feliz, who worked around a leadoff walk to earn the save. Mike Adams got the win.

Garcia and Lewis dominated at the outset, and no one got a hit until Furcal doubled with two outs in the St. Louis third.

Before that, the closest anyone came was Jon Jay, whose bunt danced along the third base line chalk before trickling foul.

Perhaps both sides could have used some hitting tips from Stan Musial. A month shy of his 91st birthday, Stan the Man was sitting in a Busch suite. The Cardinals Hall of Famer was shown on the video board and drew a big cheer.