Rangers Take Home Opener


Ian and I discussing the Elvis Andrus‘ deal and stuff

Adrian Beltre hit a clutch two-out home run in the 7th, Ian Kinsler drove in the go-ahead run in the 8th, and the Rangers defeated the division rival Angels 3-2 in their home opener on Friday afternoon.

Both starting pitchers twirled performances worthy of wins, with LAA’s Jason Vargas navigating through 5.2 IP allowing 1 run on 8 hits, and Texas’ Derek Holland working 7 strong innings of his own, allowing 2 runs.

However, like in most evenly-matched games — which going into the season I think the majority would consider the Angels and Rangers evenly-matched — it came down to how well each bullpen performed.

In the bottom of the 7th, Angel manager Mike Scioscia chose to leave in RHP Garrett Richards with a 2-1 lead after attaining the final out the prior inning (when he relieved Jason Vargas). It seemed like the right thing to do, particularly given the unpredictable state of their hapless bullpen. After inducing quiet ground outs from the first two hitters of the frame — Elvis Andrus and Lance Berkman — Richards had Ranger cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre down in the count, 1-2. Texas’s odds of winning didn’t look good: 1-2, two out, no one on base. Not exactly the most desirable offensive scenario to find yourself in.

Then Beltre did what Beltre does, lining a belt-high, center-cut Garrett Richards fastball into the left field seats.

Just like that, the game was tied at 2. With one swing of the bat, the Rangers’ win expectancy spiked from just 29.6% all the way up to 52.2%.

In the top of the 8th, Ron Washington decided to roll with one of his half-dozen or so “show me something, god dammit” bullpen arms, Tanner Scheppers, who has actually looked markedly better in his first couple regular season appearances than he did in Surprise, AZ. Yesterday went: strikeout-groundout-flyout. 10 pitches — 7 for strikes. Inning over.

(One positive you can take out of Scheppers’ first two outings is that he’s throwing boatload of strikes. 16 of his 20 pitches thus far in 2013 have gone for strikes. We’re obviously dealing with an extremely limited sample here, but it shouldn’t take very long to see if he has “it” or not given his highly-talented, frequently erratic skill set.)

In the bottom half of the 8th, Scott Downs came in to pitch for the Angels, naturally, as two of the next three Ranger hitters — A.J. Pierzynski and Mitch Moreland — were left-handed. After AJP was retired, Craig Gentry slapped a base hit to right field, and subsequently stole 2nd base because that’s just how Kitten Face rolls.

Then, Jeff Baker — who pinch-hit for Mitch Moreland — struck out, setting the table for Ian Kinsler to step up and be a hero in the home opener. And in a brief moment of glory, Kinsler came through, lashing an outside fastball into the opposite field where, fittingly, Josh Hamilton fielded it and made an 80-grade throw to the plate, only to be bested by the unstoppable burners of Craig Gentry.

The throw appeared to beat Gentry — who, on 2nd base with two outs, rushed unabated to home plate on contact because the ball was hit beyond the infield — but it short-hopped catcher Chris Iannetta to the backstop, making the point moot.

The Rangers (3-1) went up 3-2, and eventually won by the same score. In the 9th, Joe Nathan came in to seal the win, netting him his 1st save of the season.

The Angels (1-3), conversely, lost the game due to something they’ve grown eerily familiar with in the past few seasons: bullpen woes. We know they have a great offense, maybe the best offense in the league, but can they go out and win a game on the road having scored only 2-3 runs? Yesterday they couldn’t;

I know they are probably one of the best-5 teams in the American League, and they are going to have an offensive field-day with some of baseball’s bottom feeders, but having seen how their pitching staff stacks up, with only one solid starting option (Jered Weaver), a pretty decent #3 in C.J. Wilson, and a couple pretty productive bullpen pieces (Sean Burnett, Ernesto Frieri), it’s not terribly daunting.

The early returns on the 2013 season are nice (since I can’t think of a better word than “nice” to describe it). A 3-1 start is positive, and as we’ve seen a couple times the last few years, it can be crucial to get off to a strong start and put other teams in a hole. The Angels in particular have had early-season troubles in recent seasons, so let’s hope those trends continue.