Cliff Lee's drive-by appearance in the All-Star Game last night (one-pitch Martin Prado groundout, three-pitch Albert Pujols strikeout, two-pitch Ryan Howard groundout) didn't even really count as side work, but the way Texas has the rotation set up coming out of the Break, Lee will have a second opportunity to get some between-starts bullpen work in anyway. Rather than keep their new ace on regular rest by starting him in Boston on Thursday, the Rangers will have Tommy Hunter open the series and send Lee out against John Lackey on Saturday.
The starting five, accordingly, will go to work this way over the next 31 games (home games in all-caps):
Hunter: bos det LAA laa oak BOS tb
Lewis: bos det OAK laa oak BOS
Lee: bos LAA OAK sea oak BOS
Wilson: bos LAA OAK sea NYY tb
Feldman: det LAA laa sea NYY tb
Clearly, Texas wanted Lee to kick off the home series against the Angels, who are hitting .136 against him since 2008.
Incidentally, a couple sources out of Boston last night reported that Clay Buchholz (strained hamstring) won't come off the disabled list to make Friday's start against Texas, but will instead make a minor league rehab start that night. Facing Lewis rather than Buchholz could be lefthander Felix Doubront. Tim Wakefield gets tomorrow's start against Hunter, and Jon Lester will go Sunday.
Buchholz has lots of company on the Red Sox disabled list: fellow All-Stars Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez, plus Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Manny Delcarmen, Jed Lowrie, Jeremy Hermida, and Junichi Tazawa. Adrian Beltre is day to day, and Mike Cameron is being used cautiously.
And yet Boston is 51-37, five games back in the AL East (behind the Yankees) and three out in the Wild Card hunt (behind the Rays). While I'm no Sox fan, that's the team that, year in and year out, I admire more than any in baseball.
I'm not trying to avoid feeling lousy about how Texas finished the first half, losing 7 of 10 against the White Sox, Indians, and Orioles, but imagine if you were the Angels. Before that 10-game stretch, you'd just taken two of three from the Rangers to carve the division gap down to 3.5 games. Stay close over those next 10, and coming out of the Break, when Texas would stare down the toughest part of its schedule, you'd make your move.
In fact, with the Royals, White Sox, and A's on your slate in that same 10-day stretch leading into the Break, maybe you could knock another game or two off that 3.5-game deficit before the first half ended.
If you knew then that the Rangers would drop those 7 of 10, you'd probably feel good about getting seriously close to catching them by time the league shut down for these three days.
Then what happens? You manage to win 2 of 10 yourselves, taking one of three from Kansas City and one of three from Oakland, sandwiched around a four-game sweep at Chicago's hands.
It's easy to say Texas could, and maybe should, be sitting with a lead of 6.5 or 8.5 games right now.
But the Angels probably feel like they should be a half-game out, if not a half-game up.
Last comment on that disgusting Orioles series: Texas came into it with the third-best runs-per-game average in baseball (5.25, behind only Boston and the Yankees), and Baltimore had the second-worst ERA in baseball (5.14, better only than Arizona).
The Rangers had baseball's ninth-best ERA (3.90). Baltimore was 27th in runs per game (3.58).
How did that happen?
STATS, Inc. doesn't quantify flatness.
One other thing about the All-Star Game:
Elvis? Come on, now.
(So the National League won its first All-Star Game since 1996. Think about what else last happened in 1996, about three months later.)
I would have lost this bet: Despite leading the American League in walks, C.J. Wilson has allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight straight starts. Doesn't seem like it.
Peter Gammons notes that Texas actually has three of the top 10 AL pitchers in "RSAA" (Runs Saved Above Average, a Lee Sinins creation that measures a pitcher's effectiveness by comparing runs allowed per nine innings to the league average and giving weight to total innings pitched): Lee is fifth, Wilson is eighth, and Colby Lewis is 10th.
Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated issued his mid-season awards, naming Jon Daniels AL GM of the (Half) Year, Josh Hamilton runner-up for AL MVP, Lee runner-up for AL Cy Young, Neftali Feliz runner-up for AL Rookie of the (Half) Year, and Ron Washington third in AL Manager of the (Half) Year.
Would Lee be a Ranger today if the Indians had given him a no-trade clause back in 2006, when they signed him to the deal that, once his 2010 option was exercised (by Philadelphia), was worth $23 million over five years?
Having been traded three times in less than a year, Lee is going to make sure the mega-contract he lands this winter contains no-trade protection.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Texas checked in on Cleveland righthander Fausto Carmona before trading for Lee.
We talked a few days ago about how Seattle targeted Justin Smoak as one of (and evidently atop the list of) several young hitters around the league they wanted in a Lee deal. In addition to Jesus Montero (Yankees), Ike Davis (Mets), and Desmond Jennings (Rays), who we discussed, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Domonic Brown (Phillies), Gordon Beckham (White Sox), and Brett Lawrie (Brewers) were Mariners targets.
Daniels acknowledged in a radio interview that the Rangers-Mariners deal changed between Thursday night and Friday morning, and was then tweaked some on Friday once Jack Zduriencik made a concrete proposal. It's pretty clear that Smoak was off the table until Friday, and that once he was in the deal, it didn't take long for Texas and Seattle to get things done.
Daniels also said he wouldn't be surprised if Josh Lueke is in Seattle's bullpen by the end of the season.
Lueke could be a younger version of Mark Lowe, actually. (Though, interestingly, he's only a year younger than the three-year veteran, who will be a factor here in 2011 and 2012, if not this September.)
Tanner Scheppers sat 99 in his two-thirds of an inning at the Futures Game on Sunday, hitting 101 on the stadium gun once. I'm not sure it's the last time he'll pitch in Angel Stadium this month.
I'm betting on two more significant moves this month: a trade for a right-handed bat, and the promotion of Scheppers to give the bullpen a boost. (Of course, the returns of Derek Holland and Rich Harden will also impact the available bullpen options. Harden gave up one hit and one walk in 2.2 scoreless rehab innings for Oklahoma City on Sunday, fanning two; he threw 48 pitches, an uninspiring 28 for strikes, but it is the first time he'd competed in a month.) Daniels's July work isn't finished.
(To that point, there's less pressure now from a baseball operations standpoint for the bankruptcy process to play out before July 31. The Rangers didn't need payroll freedom to make the Lee trade - and really, if they didn't need Seattle to throw in $2.25 million, how much less do we think they would have had to put in the deal in terms of prospects . . . if Blake Beavan, Lueke, and Matt Lawson were downgraded significantly, would the Texas offer still have come out on top? - and they reportedly still have some budget room to add the bench bat they clearly still need.)
Baseball America ranked Scheppers's fastball as the best featured on Sunday.
Scheppers starts for Oklahoma City tomorrow. RedHawks pitching coach Terry Clark told the Daily Oklahoman a month ago that he'll be held to five innings per start. This gives Scheppers continued opportunities to work out of the stretch and refine his changeup.
Mitch Moreland remains in right field for the RedHawks (no move back in to first base yet), and is torching baseballs right now. After a solid .309/.412/.468 June (17 walks and 18 strikeouts in 94 at-bats), he sits at .349/.429/.721 in 43 July at-bats (six walks and five strikeouts).
After four games in Frisco (one at each outfield spot plus one at DH), Endy Chavez has been moved up to Oklahoma City.
In his first two starts for AA Richmond, Michael Main has allowed 10 runs (six earned) on seven hits and five walks in six innings, fanning two.
Beavan, Lueke, and Lawson have yet to debut for AA West Tenn in the Seattle system.
Chris Ray has pitched six times for the Giants, permitting one run on two hits and two walks in 6.2 innings, striking out five.
Matt Nevarez has a 4.79 ERA in 21 middle relief appearances for Houston's AA affiliate at Corpus Christi. Jose Vallejo is back from his off-season hand injury, and has a .162 average in his first 37 at-bats for the same club.
Jason Botts is hitting .471/.526/.824 in 34 July at-bats for AAA Syracuse in the Washington system. The Nationals have him splitting time between right field and first base. If Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham gets traded this month, could Botts get another big league shot?
Fox Sports Southwest produced a really good feature called "Spotlight: The Rangers' Minor League Gold Mine." I can't recommend it enough. Dana Larson interviews Jon Daniels, A.J. Preller, Josh Boyd, Don Welke, and others in the Rangers' scouting and player development departments, and it's as good a look into the inner workings of one of the real key aspects of the organization as I've seen. The 30-minute special re-airs on Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Monday at 10:00 p.m., and Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. Set your DVR's now.
Since being designated for assignment by Tampa Bay at the end of June, Hank Blalock hasn't surfaced anywhere else, as far as I can tell.
Gary Matthews Jr. is hitting .324/.352/.515 for Cincinnati's AAA squad in Louisville.
After Houston released infielder Drew Meyer from his AAA contract at the end of June (coinciding roughly with the arrival of Ramon Vazquez), the Angels added Meyer to their AAA roster.
Milwaukee released lefthander A.J. Murray. Boston designated lefthander Fabio Castro for assignment.
Matt Purke is Baseball America's 2010 Freshman of the Year. Florida International outfielder Jabari Henry made BA's All-Freshman second team.
The Kalamazoo Kings of the independent Frontier League released righthander Justin Miller. The Pittsfield Colonials of the independent Can-Am League released lefthander Matt White.
Does anyone have their kid playing fall baseball in the SVAA this year? Let me know.
Buck Showalter is reportedly about to be offered the Baltimore managerial job, and Bo Porter (whose one year in the Texas outfield preceded Showalter's arrival by two years) is a strong candidate to land the Marlins job this winter.
My MLB.com this week: The Rangers' top 10 July trades of the last 10 years. Goes live tomorrow.
I know I'm supposed to care a little about last night's result, not so much because It Counts but because it could conceivably Count for the Rangers, but I just can't get worked up about it. I didn't need the momentary frustration of seeing Elvis give away an out right before Hamilton singled in what was then a one-run game, but overall I was just happy that Feliz didn't pitch and that no Rangers got dinged up.
And that Cliff Lee did what Cliff Lee do(es).
I'm ready for real games again, and while I'm not looking past Hunter-Wakefield or Lewis-Doubront, I stinkin' can't wait for Lee-Lackey on Saturday.
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(c) Jamey Newberg