Some thoughts on the opening series

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There’s an old adage in baseball is that if you win 50% of your road games and take two out of every three at home, then you should make the playoffs. It’s not yet evident if that sentiment will prove to be true this year, but it’s exactly what the Texas Rangers have done to start the 2012 season.

Colby Lewis set the tone in the season opener, logging six innings of mostly uneventful and nondramatic baseball, giving up two runs striking out nine. To start the scoring, Ian Kinsler led off the first inning by flicking a double down the left field line, eventually getting driven in on a Josh Hamilton sac fly. In the third, Kinsler hit a solo home run to left, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead. That score held up until the sixth when the White Sox tied it, paving the way for the third and decisive run, an RBI single from Michael Young in the bottom half of the sixth.

Follow Lewis’s six innings was the continued excellence of Alexi Ogando striking out the side in the 7th, Mike Adams facing four White Sox hitters the 8th, and a perfect 9th from closer Joe Nathan.

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Saturday night marked Derek Holland’s first start since his historic 8.1 innings of nearly flawless baseball in Game 4 of last years World Series, and his first start since his recent extension for 5 years and $28.5M.

It didn’t take long to see that his command was shaky. He pumped his fastball between 92 and 95 and had an effectively wild curveball for most of the night, so the stuff was there; he just couldn’t locate. He started behind in too many counts which led to a few walks, most notably Adam Dunn in the third, though — unlike last year — Holland couldn’t rely on an abundance of run support from his offense to get the win. He finished with a no decision.

I mean, that’s probably a mildly exaggerated breakdown for what was 6 innings and 3 runs from Derek Holland. That is, after all, the definition of a quality start in the major leagues. He had five strikeouts and three walks.

After Holland, Ron Washington again called on Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams to lock down the 7th and 8th innings, and they again executed in their roles.

In the 9th with the game tied 3-3, Ron Washington looked to complete the bullpen trifecta for the second night in a row by using closer Joe Nathan. The first hitter he faced, Alexis Rios, hit a towering home run a couple feet beyond the glove of Josh Hamilton in center field. 4-3 White Sox.

And that was that.

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On Sunday night’s rubber match, Matt Harrison didn’t look like he missed any steps from last year’s do-or-die breakout campaign in which he provided over 4 wins above replacement (WAR), outstanding for a middle of the rotation pitcher. He went six shutout innings and allowed four hits, striking out three and walking two.

Though Harrison’s gem was the underlying theme of the night, Sunday marked the first game Texas’s offense made any sort of raucous noise versus the opposing pitcher, as each David Murphy, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton hit their first home runs of the season — all of the no-doubt variety. To travel even deeper into last night’s box score, you’d see of the six total hits the Rangers amassed, those three players accounted for all of them.

Because Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Joe Nathan each pitched in relatively high-leverage (even this early on in the season) situations in games 1 and 2, it made a fair amount of sense to see where Ron Washington was coming from by not burning them on a third night. The Rangers led throughout, starting with David Murphy’s blast to right in the third inning, but it wasn’t a wide enough margin at any point to keep Harrison from being anything but his sharpest on the hill.

After Harrison’s departure in the 6th inning, Ron Washington proceeded to deploy his B and C bullpen options (whom are talented enough to go 7-8-9 in several National League bullpens). Starting the action was Mark Lowe in 7th, who then gave way to Robbie Ross’s Major League debut in the 8th, who then gave way to Koji Uehara’s fresh 2012 start in the 9th.

They each allowed a baserunner. They each recorded a strikeout. Texas won the rubber match, shutting out the White Sox 5-0. The season has officially begun. The Rangers are 2-1.

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A few observations from the Opening Weekend:

(a) Despite Elvis Andrus coming out of the gates shooting blanks at the plate (1-12), he’s still a safe bet to be the Rangers breakout player in 2012. I hate to delve into too much assumption, especially in a sport like baseball that is so statistics-driven, but his at bats have been of a quality veteran, and has thus far had the unfortunate luck of making his most solid contact on balls that weren’t put in play between the foul lines.

(b) I’m going to be clear about this: I like David Murphy. He’s a gamer in every sense of the concept, and has come up with some big hits and timely defensive plays in his now 5+ -year tenure in Texas. But in the opener last Friday, on a lazy single to left, he appeared dazed and confused in left field, a play that led to Alexis Rios scoring all the way from first. I’m not big on overreactions, but I’ve been fairly transparent in what I think the optimal outfield setup would be. Conflate his average glove with his slick bat; he leads the team in batting average through three games.

(c) I’ve been anxious to see Yu Darvish pitch.

 

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