Assuredly May 11th had to be, to this point, the most highly-anticipated game of the season, pinning Rangers’ phenom Yu Darvish against the former head of the Texas pitching staff, CJ Wilson. Without any real surprise, Wilson was greeted to a loud chorus of boos echoing throughout the ballpark, jeers for a pitcher who did nothing but compete over his six years with the Rangers organization — the last two being the de facto “ace” of the rotation (minus the acquisition of Cliff Lee in 2010).
The Angels came into the night with the American League West’s worst record at 14-18, trailing Texas by a robust 7 games in the early-season standings. The offense, led by Albert Pujols and Torii Hunter and Kendrys Morales and rookie titan Mike Trout — the one acclaimed by some media members to be about as good or better than Texas’s — has hit at a triple slash line of .249/.298/.376 (BA/OBP%/SLG%), which is good for only the second largest problem with their current roster.
Outside of the Angels top-4 starters, they have absolutely no pitching, particularly when their only bullpen arm with any semblance of effectiveness, Scott Downs, went down with a knee contusion last week, though he picked up his 3rd save in Saturday’s contest. It’s so far been apparent that the Angels’ strategy to shell out $77.5M to bring in CJ Wilson to hold down another slice of a commanding rotation, conflated with the $240M for Albert Pujols to patch up the team’s offensive holes, has been a failure in totality. Yes, Wilson has pitched well (for the most part), and Albert Pujols has played miserably out of character on the field, but what’s more important is that the Angels’ concept has failed. Two players, one solid left-handed pitcher and one legendary first baseman, do not make up a team.
It’s where the Angels fail that the Rangers thrive, possessing a true juggernaut of a lineup, and a bullpen that doesn’t leak when the starter does his job. There’s odd discontent in Anaheim, starting with Albert Pujols and the billboard fiasco before the season began, Mark Trumbo and his playing time, Bobby Abreau and his fallout with the organization … and it goes on. The point is, we just haven’t come to expect these types of issues with the Rangers. For the most part, unless Michael Young is complaining about being relegated to third base and again to designated hitter, “issues” are something the Rangers just don’t seem to have. I don’t know if it’s just me, because I’ve only been following the franchise now for about 15 years, but this current group simply seems to love playing the game of baseball together. Aside from the fact that the Rangers still have yet to win a World Series, the ultimate tragedy and heartbreak of the losses rest in peace much more soundly knowing that the team was truly one, playing more like brothers through the summertime than highly-paid entities brought to the same place for public consumption.
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Last night’s game actually wasn’t all that pretty to watch. CJ Wilson threw less than one inning before a huge storm rushed in and ended his night prematurely. He’d already allowed a run, and exited with the bases loaded.
When the game resumed an hour and a half later, the Rangers turned the remainder of their first inning into an offensive onslaught which was too much for the power-starved Angels to overcome. It was 6-0 before Yu Darvish threw his first pitch of the second inning. Now, for the numbers.
Texas won 10-3. Yu Darvish pitched 5.1 innings, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits, walking 3 and striking out 7. Though it wasn’t his best of work, he still stuck it out and saved the bullpen from over-usage, and looked mostly impressive away from the few free passes he allowed. Following Darvish was Mark Lowe (for 1.2 innings), Koji Uehara (for an inning), and Robbie Ross (also for an inning), and the Angels did not put up another run.
The first inning, where Texas essentially won the game, was sparked by a couple weak grounders from Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton that turned into infield singles. By the time Nelson Cruz came up after the hour-and-a-half or so wait, the bases were loaded and the Rangers were already ahead, 1-0. The Angels chose not to jeopardize CJ Wilson’s arm by bringing him back after the delay (yet, strangely, decided to pitch him the following afternoon), and instead brought in 5th starter (and projected Saturday starter) Jerome Williams to bite the bullet for a game that was soon to be out of hand. Cruz singled in two to make it 3-0, and Gentry later tripled in a couple more to make it 6-0.
I concede that the real story people care about is Josh Hamilton. Because, well, baseball fans are rarely treated to the kind of gargantuan production he’s been pumping out lately. After hitting two more home runs last night, along with the one he hit in Saturday’s 4-2 afternoon loss, he’s sitting at a league-leading 18 for the season. The next highest total in all of baseball is 12. In back-to-back at-bats on Friday night, Josh Hamilton doubled the home run output of the Angels’ $240M man whom he passed while rounding first base.
In his last 6 games, Hamilton sits at a .480/.640/1.60 clip, with 9 of his 12 hits being of the home run variety. He currently leads the American League in all three of the triple crown categories, leading in average by 26 points, in home runs by 7, and in RBI by 12. It’s one of the more impressive streaks of hitting a baseball of this generation, and Josh Hamilton is still in it.
With the Rangers now 22-12, they hold a 7 game lead on the Angels, meaning Sunday night’s rubber match between Angels’ ace Jered Weaver and Rangers’ Neftali Feliz will either stretch the division lead further to 8, or shrink it a little more to 6, before the two teams part ways.
Two things are fairly certain: Josh Hamilton probably will not be able to sustain this historic production for too much longer, and the Angels probably will not play to a .440 winning percentage over the course of the rest of this year. Josh Hamilton being a triple crown frontrunner will likely dissipate, as will the Rangers’ cushion between themselves and the last place team in their division.
But baseball is more a game of what can’t be defined, even though the numerous statistics we all live and breathe are at the end of the day what run our collective conscious for the game. Perhaps all these “probably’s” and “likely’s” are just an ambiguous way of saying the season is still young, and there’s still a long way to go before any one team or player is crowned the winner of anything.