Every Monday, we look back at the weekend's series and then preview the next week's series.
The great thing about baseball is, in most circumstances, it doesn't lead itself to a grand narrative. Sometimes a series is just two teams meeting, and the better team wins more games.
The previous sentence could apply to either the baseball series that ended yesterday or the basketball series.
When Yu came in, the air went out
Friday's game was absolutely not a must-win game. Must-win games don't really exist in May. But it certainly felt like it, after the previous series' punishment at the hands of the Oakland A's. Luckily, the team has Colby Lewis for situations such as these.
My affection for Colby should come across with no uncertainty. I don't harbor any thoughts that he's anything more than a back-of-the-rotation quality pitcher, or that he's going to do anything throughout this season other than fight, bulldog, scrap, and claw his way through innings. But, all the same, he's one of my favorite pitchers in the game, simply because he does all of the above and he's done it in some very, very big spots for this franchise. Friday's effort was one out away from a Quality Start; in general, a fairly meaningless stat but after Rangers' starters combined for 11.1 innings in the previous three games, it would have been welcomed in terms of bullpen relief.
Still, allowing two runs in five-plus was welcome, and after Shin-Soo Choo and Alex Rios each offered a homer (a rare sight from the Rangers this year), Friday marked a 5-2 win that stopped the team's four-game slide.
Saturday's game produced a struggle from Matt Harrison to match Lewis's effort. Harrison pitched only 4.1 innings, allowing 13 baserunners. Somehow, despite allowing a baserunner per out, he left with only 3 runs allowed and a tied game. The bullpen, gassed from taking over before the sixth in its sixth straight game, allowed the deciding two runs (one each from Shawn Tolleson and Alexi Ogando) for a 5-3 loss.
Sunday's capstone matched Yu Darvish against Tyler Skaggs. Situations like this are what the team invested over a hundred million dollars in Darvish for; matching up against another high-end pitcher in a game that needed him to eat innings to save the bullpen. Any time Darvish has stepped on a mound, he's known he has to be pretty much perfect to earn a win; in his 31.3 innings pitched this season, the team has given him a total of five runs worth of support. By the time he took the ball in the bottom of the second, the Rangers had doubled that number, and by the time he handed the ball over to Nick Martinez with one out in the seventh, they had tacked on an additional four.
This overshadows the poor start to the game Darvish gave them, surrendering a home run each to Erik Aybar and Albert Pujols in the first, and loading the bases in the second. However, from the third until the seventh inning, Darvish allowed only three baserunners, none of whom would advance past second. His total line - 6.1 IP, 7 hits, 3 ER, 9:1 K:BB - isn't the most beautiful he's put up, but it's a reminder of the value of having an ace on your roster (and, you know, actually scoring runs while he's pitching).
But, we all knew Darvish would be fine, long term, and we knew the team couldn't keep scoring nothing while he was pitching. The bigger news is the sleeping giant - and I use the term fairly literally - at first base might be waking up. After hitting only .206 through the season's first month-plus, Fielder has started May with a .417 batting average and a 1.083 OPS. The importance of adding the real Prince Fielder to the middle of this lineup can't be overstated (well, it could, but the terminology would likely make both of us uncomfortable).
Spend the next week Rocky Mountain way, and I think it's safe to say, time to open fire
The Rangers head to Colorado for their first series of the season using National League rules, which place strong restrictions on fun, offense, and scoring, but enable managerial trick plays that everyone - yes, literally everyone - who enjoys baseball hates. Simply put, who would you rather see bat - Michael Choice or Jason Frasor? Luckily, the teams come back to their senses on Wednesday, and travel back to Arlington to complete the last two games with American League rules.
If you said Jason Frasor, please reconsider. Please reconsider everything.
Monday's game will feature Martin Perez squaring off against the Rockie's Jordan Lyles. Lyles and Perez have a lot in common - Perez is 23, where Lyles is 24, Perez strikes out 5.48 per nine IP while Lyles strikes out 4.66, Prez walks 2.53 per nine while Lyles walks 2.21. Lyles is one of the few young pitchers who can match Perez's batted ball rates - Perez allows 56.3 percent groundballs to Lyles' 55.4 percent, flyballs are 24.4 percent for Perez and 20.5 percent for Lyles, and line drives are 19.1 percent for Perez and 24.1 percent for Lyles. Familiarity is not in Lyles' favor, however; the Rangers have a triple slash line of .347/.397/.542 against the former Astro.
Tuesday's game sees Robbie Ross against Juan Nicasio. Nicasio, a righthander, has allowed a 4.19 ERA this season. He's given up 5 home runs in only 34.1 innings, and doesn't do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (44.9 percent groundball rate). For the season, he's given up .394 wOBA against lefthanders - this plus the no-DH rule means we could be seeing more Mitch Moreland in the outfield. Try to contain your excitement.
If a Rangers pitcher must bat in this series, let's hope it's Nick Martinez. As a junior second baseman at Fordham University, Martinez lead the team with a .404 OBP and held a .292 BA.
Wednesday's home game will see Colby Lewis on the mound opposite Jorge De La Rosa. De La Rosa's 5.11 ERA slightly exaggerates what have been more solid peripherals; he's striking out 19.6 percent of opposing batters but walking 9.8 percent, and while he's allowed 5 homers his 16.7 percent HR/FB rate suggests that's partly due to bad luck, or a product of pitching at high elevation at Coors Field.
Finally in Thursday's finale (is that the finale of the two-game series at home, or the four-game series in total? This is a question for greater baseball minds than mine) Matt Harrison will oppose Franklin Morales. Like De La Rosa, Morales has had issues with allowing homers, but that could be an early-season fluke; for his career, 10 percent of Morales' flyballs have left the park, but this season that mark is 15.2 percent.
While the statistician in me wants to see those rates drop, as a matter of regression, the Rangers fan in me sees no problem bumping them up just a bit for the time being.
Joseph Ursery can be found here and on twitter.com at@thejoeursery. His main interests include fatherhood, craft beer, facial hair, and twenty-year-old middle infielders with patience and power. Oh, and cover songs, too. He really likes cover songs. 'No particular reason why,' he says, but WFAA feels like there's more to this story.