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The Rangers Are 16-8

Derek Holland didn’t pitch poorly, but the defense let him down and the offense didn’t do anything until it was much too late, and the Rangers lost for just the 2nd time in their last 9 games.

I prefer the objectivity of numbers and graphs, so let’s look at the one from yesterday afternoon:

 


Source: FanGraphs

As you can see on the left from the small recession in the third inning — after the Ian Kinsler ground-rule double — that was really the best (and only) chance the Rangers had in the game to seize an advantage on the Twins.

Before the extra-base hit from Kinsler, backup shortstop Leury Garcia laced a rope single to Josh Willingham in left field, so we know we were dealing with plus-plus speed at 1st base. There was one out at the time. Ian’s double happened to land in the perfect spot at just the right angle on the warning track — a small twist of luck in Minnesota’s favor — which to their credit they capitalized on. With men on 2nd and 3rd with one out, Twins’ LHP Pedro Hernandez retired Craig Gentry on a flimsy line drive to SS, and Adrian Beltre on a towering pop up to medium-left. Quick, someone start talking about how we need to fire our hitting coach because the team isn’t executing with runners in scoring position. Yeah, right.

In the bottom half of the inning, Twins’ prospect Aaron Hicks hit a swift three-hopper that Mitch Moreland misplayed a few steps to his glove-side, and Hicks eventually came around to score what was to be the only run of the game until the 6th, which is when Minnesota posted 2 runs, 1 run, and 3 runs in successive innings. Their lead was 7-0 heading into the 9th, ultimately defeating the Rangers 7-2.

Conflated with the drop-ball error in Anaheim, Mitch Moreland has effectively cost the pitching staff 3 runs during this road trip. Although it might be a bit harsh to single out Mitch in what was, in reality, just an ugly overall day of baseball for the Rangers, but starter Derek Holland seriously appeared to be rolling on the mound yesterday, and you never really know how different the outcome might have been had Moreland not set such a foul tone to begin the 3rd inning.

All biases aside, I don’t think it’s deniable that Mitch Moreland is the one regular we expect the least from when encompassing every aspect of the game. Because he’s so average offensively — frankly, to the level of a platoon player — I would argue it’s more essential that he pick throws in the dirt from Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus, than it is for him to be even a top-20 offensive first baseman. (And for the record, of the 30 qualifying Major League 1st basemen Moreland ranks tied for 25th in fWAR [-0.2], 23rd in wRC+ [76] and 22nd in UZR [-0.5].)

An obvious candidate to replace Mitch Moreland at 1st base at some point in 2013 is Texas’s #2 prospect Mike Olt, though at Round Rock Olt is hitting a putrid .139/.235/.236 line with 32 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. So we might have to wait on that a bit.

At least for the time being, I don’t really see any reason why Jeff Baker isn’t the first baseman each and every possible chance he gets to face a lefty starter. If that means Moreland pinch hits late in games, or comes in to be a defensive replacement in the latter innings, that’s fine, but at this point Mitch looks like another classic case of why we should never extract even the slightest fragment of credibility from spring training statistics. They are just dumb. Spring training is just dumb.

Right now the Rangers are 16-8, and because Oakland and Anaheim each lost their games as well, Texas maintains 3.5- and 6.5-game cushions over the two teams, respectively.

Sunday is the final game in Minnesota, which also concludes a brief 12-out-of-15 road stretch with Texas finishing 10-5, including a better than .500 (7-5) record on the road. After tomorrow the Rangers go home for 6 against the White Sox and Red Sox before hitting the road for the Cubs (for 1 game), Brewers (2) and Astros (3).

 

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