Another series, another series win. This past weekend the Rangers hit the road for the first time in 2012, traveling for a 3-game series in Minnesota to take on a Twins team which was ripe off taking two out of three from the Angels. With a now-healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the lineup, it was an offense that was capable of presenting a challenge to the #3, 4, and 5 starters for the Rangers. And it’s just what they gave them. Well, for the most part. Texas one-upped each series from its initial 5-2 homestand, because unlike the two of those, this opposition failed to claim a single victory.
In Friday night’s series opener, Matt Harrison-worth-considering/”>Matt Harrison absolutely polished off the Twins in 8 innings of pure art on the mound, allowing just one run. He’s flat-out been nails in his first two (winning) starts of the season, and there’s just not much more I can say to help illuminate that point that I haven’t already said in the link attached above. The offense spread out four runs over the course of Harrison’s outing, highlighted by a classic Ian Kinsler-style home run that just shot off his bat and out into the left-field bleachers, for all intents and purposes capping off yet another pitching-driven victory for the Rangers. It really speaks to just how good Matt Harrison is that right now he’s basically the best starting pitcher on the best pitching staff in the American League. Screw it, the best team in the American League.
Saturday was when drama returned to our lives. It was Yu Darvish’s second start, the second game of the series, and the second time we have viewed collectively at the sometimes shaky, sometimes brilliant raw talent that he is. In his 5.2 innings towing the rubber, Darvish allowed 2 runs (only 1 earned) on 9 hits, walking 4 and striking out 4. Combined with his plunking of Jamey Carroll and Michael Young’s extremely costly error in the 2nd (which would have preserved Darvish’s shutout at the time and may have made his pitching line a little more impressive than it actually turned out to be), Darvish allowed 15 runners to reach base before he was lifted from the mound with two outs in bottom of the 6th. Yet — with the bases loaded — Robbie Ross came in and induced Justin Morneau to pop up. Inning over. The game was tied 2-2 at that point; each team still had nine outs left to play with.
And, as the Rangers have shown to do on repeat thus far in the season, the offense responded. Adrian Beltre and Michael Young smacked successive RBI singles in the top of the 7th to make it 4-2, and they tacked on two more in the ninth, making it 6-2 (which is how the game ended). Robbie Ross recorded his first career win, and Joe Nathan got the final three outs against his former team. It was a game where the team that played better probably took the loss, but in baseball that’s just the way it rolls sometimes. The Rangers are good enough that the team they’re playing has to be clicking on mostly all cylinders to put themselves in a position to beat them. The exquisite pitching and timely hitting have just been too daunting for the team from Arlington as of late.
Sunday, Neftali Feliz got his second career start. Unlike his first outing against Seattle where he blanked the opposition for 7 innings, the Twins actually capitalized on some of his mistakes. Although he retired the first ten batters he faced, he didn’t record an out in the 6th, leaving with a 3-1 deficit.
To get the 1, Mike Napoli hit his first home run of the season. Rescuing Neftali Feliz’s tepid finish was Robbie Ross, pitching out of the bullpen for the second day in a row. Over his two shutout innings of work, he struck out three hitters. The decision to keep the younger Ross and ostracize Michael Kirkman back to the minor leagues is clearly paying dividends, as this kid looks mighty impressive to this point.
With Ross keeping the game from slipping away, the Rangers remained trailing 3-1 going into the 8th when Twins lefty Glen Purkins faced off against the top of the Rangers lineup. As mentioned above, it has proven to be apparent that the Rangers offense seems to click on different gears when they can smell a win. Ian Kinsler led off the inning with a walk. The next hitter, Elvis Andrus, then tripled into deep right field, scoring Kinsler and making it a man on third with no one out for maybe the hottest hitter in baseball, Josh Hamilton.
The next pitch, blastoff.
Hamilton scorched a belt-high fastball 449 feet in what was one of his more memorable moonshot-style home runs he’s produced over the years, being that it came in such a high-leverage situation in a game that rounded out a sweep. You know what they say: Walks will kill you. Throwing a first pitch fastball over the heart of the plate to a notorious first pitch dead-red fastball hitter — will kill you.
Neither team scored again, as Joe Nathan locked down the ninth for the second day in a row, netting rookie left-hander Robbie Ross his second relief win in as many days.
There’s no real secret as to why the Rangers were so easily able to contain Minnesota offensively over the course of the series. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, their two best hitters, went a combined 3-22 (all singles) with 4 walks and 6 strikeouts. I would give the cumulative slash line of what those numbers actually mean, but I trust that you know they’re just plain bad.
The Rangers head into Boston toting an 8-2 record, a 4-game winning streak, and the hottest pitching staff in the American League. But now the real tests come. It’s Fenway Park, and it’s Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. I don’t care what month or what season it is, what kinds of media speculation surround both franchises or how good one team is or how overrated the other is, because defeating those two pitchers at home will always be a difficult task.
Here’s to enjoying the fantastic start to the 2012 season, and knowing just how much there still is left in store.