2012 Previews: A.L. West

Imagine for a second this scenario: a New York team wins consecutive pennants. They lose the first World Series to a lightning-in-a-bottle fast-finisher from the other league. They lose the next year to another one-month-wonder despite twice being one strike away from sealing the deal in Game 6. The New York team owner – one of the most famous men in sports – has to decide whether or not to retain his popular, African-American manager after the latter tests positive for cocaine. This was after he built the batting order around a recovered addict, who then falls off the wagon in the weeks before he was to get a nine-figure contract extension.

Can you picture that? It would be Armageddon every day at that ballpark as the media – not just in New York but nationally – struggled merely to decide whether these misceants were to be called the worst chokers of all time, or a bunch of druggies, or the team with the owner who needed to be run out of the game on a rail for letting such tainted underachievement continue. It would be, to adapt Dorothy Parker’s phrase to baseball, a Fresh Hell every day.

Of course, you don’t have to imagine anything here but the geography. This is not the imaginary story of the most controversial New York team of all time. It’s the 2012 Texas Rangers – and only their worst headlines – and in one of the most meaningful and revealing truths about baseball, and sports media, and America itself, they remain one of our feel good stories.

It’s not just New York, by the way. The 180 degree difference in how the New York Baseball Rangers would be treated, would also be true of the Boston Rangers or the Philadelphia Rangers or the Los Angeles Rangers. Regardless of the venue, it’s amazing, and it’s real.

And it’s relevant to a preview of the American League West because it means what is largely the same team can try it again for the third straight year – without Josh Hamilton being traded for Ken Phelps or Ron Washington being replaced by Dallas Green. There are only two notable changes: a real closer in Joe Nathan, and C.J. Wilson being swapped out for Yu Darvish.

The former move seems to reduce the variables; the latter may do the opposite. Darvish is the prototypical Japanese pitcher – with slight deception in the delivery, a mastery of five pitches and about four subtle varieties for each of them, and a rubber arm (at least for awhile). But Darvish is something Nomo and Matsuzaka and the rest are not: he is a Giant. He is 6’5”, 215, meaning he’s bigger than Nathan and Colby Lewis, and at least taller than Josh Hamilton. So the four different fastballs come in as fast as 95.

Watching Darvish against Colorado last week was watching the biggest kid in Kindergarten playfully slapping all the other ones. Half of them fell unconscious to the floor. The others? He missed them and he fell to the floor. The Rockies got their licks in, but in six at bats against him, Cargo and Tulo struck out six times and didn’t look close on any of the swinging strikes. It is almost a given (since we still condescendingly look at even Japan’s greatest veteran stars as our freshmen) that Darvish takes the Rookie Award in the AL. He may take the Cy. He may also go 12-15. The question isn’t whether or not he’ll make American batters look bad most of the time, but whether he might make American pitchers look bad most of the time.

The Rangers have competition in Orange County, but the ANGELS are the most tragically snake-bitten of all teams, and investments like the zillions spent on Wilson and Albert Pujols have always ended in tears – usually the late Gene Mauch’s. Despite the addition of Pujols and the resurrection of Kendrys “Just Shake Hands” Morales, the Cherubs are nowhere near a match for Texas offensively (hell, the ’27 Yankees might not be). The Mark Trumbo third base play comes at considerable defensive risk, and the bullpen remains a series of risky albeit probably good gambles. Ironically, for all that money, the difference-maker for Mike Scioscia might be his fifth starter, either retread Jerome Williams or rookie Garrett Richards, who at times looked lights out this spring.

There might be something to watch in SEATTLE. My affection for Jesus Montero’s opposite field power has been elaborated upon here before. But there is a flock of young hitters around him who might also blossom, and not just Dustin Ackley. Smoak, Carp (hurt), Saunders, Liddi, Gutierrez (hurt), and behind them Catricala and another Fernando Martinez might make the Mariners Wild Card eligible in a year. Probably would’ve helped if they hadn’t traded Doug Fister, because the rotation gets dicey just about the time you ask “Kevin Millwood is still alive?”

My friend Bob Melvin gets his first full year managing again, in OAKLAND. He loves to do it and was born to do it, and if anybody can drag this team back into respectability after its latest re-casting, it’s Bob. Unfortunately, even though he only played 11 games there in his career, Bob might be the best first baseman he has, and that’s a problem. The base hits get thin once you get past the exciting Jemile Weeks and the possibly exciting Yoenis Cespedes. And I won’t write anything long-winded on the latter for fear of being accusedof being Cespedes-sesquipedalian.

Sorry.

It’ll be fun watching the A’s continue their role as baseball’s breeding and/or training grounds for B+ pitchers. Mulder, Zito, Hudson,  Harden, Haren, Street, Gonzalez, Cahill, Bailey, Anderson, et al. The new names are De Los Santos, Milone, Parker, and Peacock and maybe baseball can get on the stick and get the A’s into San Jose before they become eligible for the A’s Alumni Association, too.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST FORECAST:

TEXAS wins again, with Darvish filling the Wilson vacuum. LOS ANGELES/ANAHEIM/THE OC, afflicted by some calamity, still has enough to claim a wild card. SEATTLE approaches .500, and OAKLAND does better than you’d think.

UNRELATED NOTE:

Love the Braves taking a flier on third baseman Juan Francisco. He may amount to nothing, but he is capable of a Jose Bautista like breakout, and he’s no more of a load defensively than Cabrera or Trumbo. He was dying a slow death in Cincinnati where I believe Dusty Baker never played him two games in a row. Because he isn’t 37.

9 Comments

You have an axe to grind with the Yankees, but then break out the Rangers pompoms.

The Rangers could become the Buffalo Bills of baseball but the Yankees lost the World Series in 1921 and 1922 with the third time in 1923 being a charm, then there were the Braves of the early ’90s against the Twins and Blue Jays before beating the Indians. As far as Ron Washington: I think he’ll be fired at the drop of a ten gallon hat if Texas struggles early. It will be the typical “White Guy Upgrade.” I think Darvish will be huge for the Rangers too. The only problem is a pitcher has to be great for 6 or 7 innings or he’s a bust, whereas a hitter only has to be good 30% of the time (or less if he pops some home runs). Watch out if Darvish has a hard time finishing off starts or struggles for a month or two in the summer. He could be dazzling the rest of the time but still be regarded as a failed experiment.

Wow! That was really a long long time ago and I never know about that if you didn’t mentioned. Can’t wait what Darvish will really show off. Thanks for sharing!

Lulu
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Hope you’re right about Francisco. It’s amazing what just a little opportunity can sometimes do for some players.

With Chipper Jones’ injury issues the past few years and this being his last season, it’s a good opportunity for Francisco. (He should change his first name to “Sam” though.)

I watched the Yanks at the Marlins’ new ball park and WOW! So pretty! Great to see the ol’ fellas that I feel like I now know back on the field. Loved your twitter pic from there, too. Cool. I miss you so much on TV…that I could go eat worms. See you tonight on Late Night with David Letterman, good Lord willin’ and creek don’t rise.

I forgot to mention. I adore Dorothy Parker…and that “Fresh hell daily” comment is just so hot! Like Churchill said…”It’s just one damn thing after another”…when we don’t stay in the now present moment. Ouch.

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Hi Keith, this is good stuff. I got all the way to the bottom of the American League West discussion when I looked up at the URL of your blog and realized it was you talking – now I can just imagine what many of those phrases sound like, with your voice behind them. Anyhow, I’m 100% on-board with your assessment of the American League West this year. I think Darvish could win 20 games, and I think Jemile Weeks will hit .315 and steal 50 bags, while Cespedes goes 30-20 (if he can run… I’ll need to check that stat). Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Albert Pujols walks more than anyone in the A.L., and his contact rate and fly ball rates drop due to the increase in off-speed pitches in his diet. Seattle makes a move before the July deadline, as they’re in contention… they pick up Tim Hudson from the Braves, and sign veteran Roy Oswalt – but miss the AL West by 3 games, and the 2nd wild card spot by 1 game. Oh, Man-Ram hits 11 homes, while hitting .256 in the green and gold, but mentors Cespedes, Taylor, and Carter to 2nd half big-league success.

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