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This is a picture of Yu Darvish. I wrote something about him.

This is a picture of Yu Darvish. I wrote something about him.

There are plenty of topics that the average Dallas sports fan should be concerned about, but Yu Darvish should not be one of them. It is simply mind-boggling that writers, fans, and even long-tenured employees of the Texas Rangers, a notoriously pitching deficient franchise, can watch a legitimate number 1 starting pitcher (an “ace”, if you like), take the mound every fifth day with video-game stuff and still say he needs to be better. The numbers are out there for anyone to find, but by all accounts Darvish is easily a top 10 pitcher in all of baseball, and a top 5 in the American League. His 2.68 ERA is third in the AL. With apologies to Ranger mythology and romanticized Texas legends, If Darvish simply maintains his current performance level for another 4-5 years, he will go down as the best starting pitcher in Texas Rangers franchise history. Better than Nolan. Better than Fergie. Currently, in all of Major League Baseball, only 6 pitchers require less from their offense than Darvish does in order for their team to win a game in which he starts. That is true, top of the line, Cy Young, good-as-it-gets, ace performance. So what are we talking about here?

On a personal level, I must admit that I seriously second-guessed myself when I discovered who was on the side that says Darvish needs to be better. As it turns out, the great Eric Nadel is pretty active on Twitter, and was gracious enough to respond twice to questions I sent him about Darvish. His tweets to me made the following points:

@TimDevine: Believe me, I take no joy in being right at the expense of the great @nadeler

@Nadeler: @TimDevine hahaha…none of your stats addresses the real issue with darvish…appreciate the kind words though. really.

@TimDevine: @nadeler you sir are a legend, but I can’t wrap my head around why it matters when Yu gives up 2 if he only gives up 2…it’s on the line-up

@Nadeler: @TimDevine when the team busts it’s butt to get u a lead in the 6th inn you have to shut it down. That’s why.

This is the legend of the “SDI”, or “shut-down inning”, and it speaks to one of the more, shall we say, intangible aspects of the game. The idea is that when an offense gives a team a lead, it is extra important that its pitcher keep the other team from scoring in the following half inning. If a pitcher fails to execute the SDI, then the team feels some emotional letdown that carries over into offensive and/or defensive performance. (Somehow, the failed SDI must have some effect on player performance, otherwise it wouldn’t really be worth talking about.) This is the factor, according to some, that Darvish lacks; this is what keeps him from being “great”, or where his “issue” lies. (Note: to be clear, I am not in any way insinuating that Nadel, Newberg, etc do not think Darvish is a very good pitcher. Newberg says in today’s report that Darvish “is an ace” but “needs to be better”.)

To truly appreciate the no-win situation in which Darvish finds himself, one needs only to be reminded of the popular early season Darvish narrative:

@newbury1310: Darvish has given up 23 runs this year…11 have come in the first inning (5/27/13)

@vincebaseball: No shock that you want to get to Darvish early…9 of his 20 runs allowed have come in the first inning this season (5/21/13)

@espn_durrett: That’s 9 runs given up by Yu Darvish in the first inning. He’s allowed just 12 all year. #firstinningissues (5/5/13)

@JeffWilson_FWST: Chicago, the worst hitting team in the American League, has scored two first-inning runs against Yu Darvish. #Rangers. (4/30/13)

So what keeps Darvish from being considered great? Why is he not an ace? For the first few months of the season, the reason seems to be his problematic early inning performances. Now, it’s his inability to execute the “Shut Down Inning” late in games. It seems as though Darvish’s real issue is not actually when he gives up runs, but that he gives them up at all. A truly “great” pitcher doesn’t allow runs early in a game, or late, or after his team has just scored…but there are no 0.00 ERAs in baseball history, so at some point he must allow something without it meaning he “needs to be better”. If he were allowing runs at an alarming rate, say 2 in the first AND 3 in the 7th, this might hold water. But he ERA currently sits at 2.68, good for 7th among starting pitchers in all of baseball. Opponents are hitting .191 against him this season. He leads the league in strikeouts by a considerable margin (don’t buy the narrative that strikeouts are a “glamor” stat. Pop-outs and ground outs can still be productive outs; they can advance or even score a runner. Pitching to contact opens the door for errors, poor fielding decisions, balls getting lost in the sun or taking bad hops, missed calls by umpires, etc). Given these facts, the note that the Rangers are 14-11 in Darvish starts is a pretty meaningless stat as far as critiquing Yu goes, and deep down, most people know that to be true even if they don’t want to admit it. Want proof? If the playoffs started today, is the any, and I mean any question at all who starts game 1? Of course not. Yu Darvish is on the hill; he’s your ace. If that 14-11 record were any real reflection on Darvish, there’d be at least some hesitation about starting him given the team has a much higher winning percentage with their other starters.

The bottom line is when a starting pitcher consistently goes 7 innings and gives up 2 runs, he should win most of those games. If he doesn’t, that’s on the offense (or maybe the opposing pitcher’s stuff was just that good). No one seems to dispute this fact when Darvish has those stats but gives up 1 in the 3rd inning and 1 in the 5th instead of 2 in the 7th; that is usually considered an ace performance, and if the Rangers lose 2-1, the narrative will center around the ineptitude of the offense. “Sorry about baseball, Yu”.

Nadel seems to criticize Darvish for demoralizing the team if his 2 runs allowed come right after the Rangers take a 2-0 lead. But again, if the Rangers can only muster 2 runs of offense, isn’t that where most of the responsibility lies? If one is making a list of who needs to be better, doesn’t it start with any number of Ranger hitters? How demoralizing must it be to know that you have to be perfect (which Darvish has almost been on a few occasions) in order to beat the White Sox? Isn’t the real “demoralizing” factor that Darvish is shutting down opposing line-ups, dominating them, making them look silly, knowing he will hold them to around 2 runs per 7 innings and it still might not be enough? Maybe it shouldn’t be if he’s opposing Felix Hernandez or Verlander, but those aren’t the guys shutting down the Rangers in Yu starts lately. Incidentally, Adam Morris (@LoneStarBall) tweeted the following W/L records for other “aces” when their run support is 2 or less:

Chris Carpenter: 13-49
Felix Hernandez: 19-52
Jared Weaver: 10-35

Also this: “@LoneStarBall: Justin Verlander, in his 8th major league season, has won 6 games in his career when getting 0-2 runs of support. Yu has already won 3.”

If a team is “demoralized” because their starting pitcher allowed 2 runs when they could only score 2 themselves, that’s on the line-up to be better. It’s basically asking the starting pitcher for a 0.77 ERA because the offense could only muster 1 run. Maybe the fact that Darvish gave up a 2-0 lead in the half-inning after it was given to him illustrates, as Jamey Newberg implies, that Darvish currently lacks an “extra gear” that great pitchers have. Maybe. Or maybe Darvish is a full-time, maximum effort player that presses for perfection without letting up. Maybe he doesn’t “have an extra gear” because we’re seeing it all the time, in every start, every inning, and that’s how he’s striking out 12 hitters per 9 innings while keeping opposing line-ups below the Mendoza line (or at a .594 OPS, good for 6th best in all of baseball, if that’s your thing).

Put it this way: if a team is offered a pitcher that is guaranteed in every start to go at least 7 innings and give up 2 runs, that team would take it every time, put that player and his 2.57 ERA at the top of the rotation, and watch him compete for Cy Young awards for years to come. That player would be the #1 starter in a playoff series for almost any team in the league, and at least in the discussion to start over Hernandez, Verlander…pretty much anyone not named Kershaw. That team would not first ask when those runs would be allowed; they’d simply say something to the effect of “if we can’t score 3, most nights we don’t really deserve to win anyway”. Truthfully, the best critique people seem to have of Darvish is that he’s something like 27th in innings pitched, but he usually goes 7, and with bullpen specialization the way it is now, Washington is probably using Nathan in the 9th of a close game anyway.

So with all the tangible, measurable numbers suggesting Darvish is as good, if not better, than most other “ace” pitchers in the league, why does he still have something to prove? Who knows. Truthfully, the debate between whether Darvish is very good or great seems to hinge on when he allows his two runs a game to score. For me, the fact that he only allows two makes him an ace, and I have a feeling that without the microscope of obsessing over his every start, most would feel the same. Obviously the criteria as to what is “fair” or “unfair” criticism is subjective, but without a doubt Darvish has the smallest gap between actual performance and maximum potential on this team. Beltre’s been great, for example, but he has more room for improvement this season than Darvish does. No one on this team is maximizing his talent better than Darvish this season, which means that he really doesn’t need to be any better. Could he be better? Technically, everyone could, I guess. But to say that he “is an ace” but “needs to be better” sounds a little like the baseball equivalent of criticizing Jonas Salk for failing to cure Cancer after successfully curing Polio. I guess technically he could have done more, but…

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A Fantasy Football Post

imagesHere’s the thing about most of the fantasy football articles I read (I’m looking at you, Matthew Berry); they all have long-winded introductions. All I really want is to find out which quarterback I should target, but first I have to wade through several self-indulgent paragraphs written by some blowhard who thinks he’s funny. He’ll probably tell some dumb story about how he is really short, and one time he met this really tall guy, and boy was it funny to see them standing next to each other. You keep reading because you want to be sure you are paying attention when the actual fantasy advice comes along, but deep down your frustration is growing because you can’t believe the guy is still going on and on and on,but hasn’t told you a thing about how to handle your draft or who to target as possible undervalued players that you can steal later. Truthfully, I suppose the system is to blame. I mean, if a person is getting paid to write, he or she feels a certain obligation to provide some style to the information, not for the readers, mind you, but for the editors and supervisors. Anyone who obsesses over fantasy football can just say “Arian Foster is a risky bet this season”, but websites don’t hire just anyone; they hire writers. Writers have to demonstrate how clever they are in addition to their grammatical prowess. Smart editors know that the average consumer really hates it when bloggers disregard the basic rules of written English. You wouldn’t want to read this at all, for example, if I did things like wrote in the first person, would you? No self-respecting fantasy footballer would dare take advice from a writer who bounced from first to second to third person pronouns, right? Having said all that, I want to assure you that this will not be one of those fantasy football blogs that has copious introductions with no real point, or one that uses a cornucopia of flowery prose just to try and impress you. No sir or ma’am; it is straight to the fantasy advice. Wait, what?

So, without further doo-doo, here’s my list of certain things you need to be knowing about before you draft because they are so important that you need to be knowing them:

1. Cam Newton is your starting quarterback. The schedule counts. The schedule is everything. Most respectable fantasy leagues hold their playoffs in weeks 14-16. Newton plays New Orleans twice in the fantasy playoffs. New Orleans. Twice. Not only will the Saints score at will, forcing Carolina to throw early and often in order to keep up, but the Saints defense was historically bad last year. So to fix it, they hired Rob Ryan. Ryan runs a complicated, gambling defense that just doesn’t work needs great players at a lot of positions. He doesn’t have them. Sure, getting Drew Brees would be great, but you have to address other needs first. Cam’s the top tier quarterback you can wait for after others have grabbed Rodgers, Brees, Brady, and Manning.

Other reasons you can wait on a QB: Matt Stafford will be around, and Detroit chucks the pigskin more often than a professional pig-thrower at a county fair (just go with it.) Tony Romo will be around too. He’s the perfect fantasy storm: a pass-happy head coach who’s job is on the line, receiving weapons galore, and an O-Line that opens less holes than the sewer maintenance guy who’s job it is to open sewer manholes and check them for stuff (taking a class in similes, starts next week).

2. Guys I’d rather have than Arian Foster: Jamaal Charles. Matt Forte. Ray Rice. LeSean McCoy. And I wouldn’t blame you for taking Doug Martin ahead of him as well.

Guys I don’t want to risk my season on (draft them only if they fall): -C.J. Spiller (we’ll see if he can handle this workload, and Fred Jackson is still around)
-Trent Richardson (hard to wrap my head around a Cleveland player being as a lead offensive weapon)
-Alfred Morris (Shanahan changes his mind about RBs more often than Waffle McNotsure©)

3. Dez Bryant is better than Calvin Johnson. This year. In Fantasy land, at least.
-Receivers tend to break out in their 3rd year. This is year 3 for Torrey Smith. His average expert ranking puts him in the 3rd tier of wide receivers with guys like Steve Smith, Pierre Garcon, Eric Decker, Stevie Johnson, and DeSean Jackson. Of those guys, he’s the one you want.

4. Don’t draft David Wilson, Darren McFadden, Steven Ridley, or DeMarco Murray and expect them to start for you every week.
These are guys I want on my team, but not as one of my top 2 RBs. The guy you do want only because he is way undervalued right now: Ahmad Bradshaw. If Bradshaw stays healthy, he’s the kind of guy that puts you over the top, and you are better off taking a flyer on a guy like that than a mid-tier wide receiver.

5. Vernon Davis is lining up as a wide receiver in San Francisco.
But don’t waste a high pick on a tight end, even someone the likes of Jimmy Graham. Wait for Cameron in Cleveland.

6. Denver’s Defense is probably overrated on your chart.
Now that Von Miller is suspended for the first 6 games and Champ Bailey is hurt, this is a weakened option.

There. Turns out it was 6 things, but there’s a lot more.

Hamil-done: Hit It and Quit It

-Obligatory disclaimer that I wish Josh Hamilton all the best and that his recovery is the most important thing. Pretend it’s an entire paragraph if you like.-

This is not the place to debate whether drug and alcohol addiction is a disease akin to cancer, or a result of a weak moral constitution. Because the truth is, when it comes to Josh Hamilton, it doesn’t matter. Both possibilities are damning to the point where it is time for the Rangers to seriously consider cuttting ties with their most popular player.

It seems that there are many fans out there that are once again willing to forgive and embrace. For them, Hamilton is the tragic hero, constantly at war with his inner demons that threaten always to ruin him once and for all. Many will point to his religious zeal as proof that he really is a “good person” (whatever that means) whose mistakes are unfairly amplified because of his place in the spotlight. But there is another growing faction of people out here in Ranger nation that is simply tired of all the drama. There are those of us “skeptics” who tend to see Hamilton’s Christianity as nothing more than an attempt to replace one addiction with another. Most importantly, there are probably more than a few fans, players, and front office people who have grown weary of the constant distractions. The fact that this team has proven to be incredibly resilient in the past doesn’t mean that it should have to be all of the time. But on the eve of what is arguably the most important season in Texas Ranger history, on the eve of what is unquestionably the most important season of Hamilton’s professional career, he once again found his way to a bar, then called a teammate to come–what? Save him? Help him? Dote on him? Who knows any more.

We know he drank. We know he makes bad decisions when he drinks. The rumors indicate that this particular story could get much, much worse for Hamilton before it is all over. Two months after losing his babysitter accountability partner, he can be found drinking and allegedly having sex in a public restroom. Considering the timing of this incident, one thing has become perfectly clear; you cannot trust Josh Hamilton. Maybe he can’t stop. Maybe he can’t control himself. Maybe he chooses not to. But whether he can’t or he won’t, one thing has become abundantly clear: he isn’t. If his marriage, his family, his career, and reputation are all at the mercy of alcohol, then his story truly is tragic. If he too short-sighted, too weak-willed, too immature to deal with life’s difficult issues head on and instead chooses to resort to drunken oblivion, then his story is pathetic. It may matter in the way you judge him as a person, but it is completely irrelevant from a baseball standpoint.

There is simply no way the Rangers can commit to Hamilton long term any more. Think about it; is it really that difficult to imagine a scenario where this latest alleged incident costs him his marriage (after all, even the Bible allows for divorce in the case of infidelity) and his family? If that happens, does anyone really trust him to handle it responsibly? The possibilities are terrifying.

Hamilton has said more than once that he is trying to take responsibility for his actions. But that would include acknowledging that one of the reasons he cannot be counted on to play 150 games a season is because of the incredible trauma he’s put his body through by injecting and ingesting untold amounts of poison. Maybe someone will overlook his fragility and break the bank for him if he makes it to free agency in 2012. But he shouldn’t be asking the Rangers to do it. Not after the faith they’ve shown in him despite what he continues to put them through.

Maybe Josh Hamilton is the victim of a terrible disease. Maybe it’s his own fault. Either way, that ancient dating rule applies; you can date crazy, you can have a little fun with crazy, but you don’t marry crazy. Signing Hamilton to anything other than a 2-3 year deal would be marrying crazy, and it’s something this Rangers organization cannot afford to do. It doesn’t matter why he can’t stop. It only matters that he can’t.

 

Obligatory “Yu” Pun

Yu is here. You are here. Grammatically, his presence confuses me. But as a Rangers fan, I have never been more excited for a season. Even going into 2011, I did not really consider the Texas Rangers to be the favorite to return to the World Series. 2010 felt magical-like lightning in a bottle. The story was perfect: from bankrupt to flush with cash, from lacking a true ace to Cliff Lee, etc. Granted, they fell just short to San Francisco, but that almost didn’t matter. More than any other sport (except maybe college football), the series that decides the champion feels like an exhibition; the rules literally change from game to game, based on a home field advantage that is decided in a nonsensical format. In baseball, the league championship is almost enough, and the way the Rangers dominated the Yankees, culminating in the most memorable at bat A-Rod ever had at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, brought most of us a singular moment that even a World Series championship might not match.

There were greater forces at work in 2010. Without an ace, the Rangers entered 2011 as playoff hopefuls, but certainly not favorites to return to the World Series. We all watched, wondering if the pitching staff would hold up, wondering if Beltre would be worth the new contract, wondering how Michael Young would respond to his new role after another rocky off season, wondering about the depth of the bullpen, wondering if we really needed Mike Napoli.

This year looks different. With the addition of Darvish, it is hard to find a serious question mark on this Rangers roster. The infield is young, has incredible range, and remarkable chemistry. The outfield is deep. The starting rotation has enough depth that the phrase “6-man rotation” has been thrown around, and with Ogando likely back in the bullpen taking the ball from the starters, then handing off to Adams who hands off to Nathan, opposing line-ups will have to be more aggressive earlier in the game. The Rangers boast the best pitching coach in baseball, the best motivational manager, the best GM, and still have depth to spare in the farm system. All that adds up to the Texas Rangers entering 2012 as the clear favorite to win the AL for a third straight year.

There are certainly plenty of question marks for the skeptics to point to. But as we’ve learned over the past few years, whenever the Rangers have questions, the answer is almost always a resounding “yes”. So expect Nathan to be an above average closer. Expect Feliz to hold down the 5th spot in the rotation, with occasional flashes of brilliance. Expect Hamilton to miss 30-50 games, but expect Murphy, Gentry, and maybe Martin step in and hold down the fort (maybe Moreland as well, especially if there is a new 1st baseman on the roster on opening day…). And then there’s Yu. I expect Yu to be dominant early, given his stuff and that MLB hitters have never seen him. He will likely hit a wall around July, and perhaps be skipped in the rotation a few times (assuming that pitching depth is still in tact, this won’t be a problem). How he responds after half a season of ballpark heat, 4-day rest, and the inevitable adversity that will come once hitters get a book on him will tell us how great he can truly be. But here’s the bottom line; if JD wants him, you should too. Yes, he could fail. He could be Chan Ho Park II. But the worst part about the Park years wasn’t Chan Ho himself; it was the Rangers ownership deciding that because Chan Ho failed, they would no longer spend on free agents. That won’t happen under this ownership.

The future is bright, but the time is now. If you and I are still haunted by game 6, imagine how the Rangers brain trust must feel. I still have this sneaking suspension that they will steal Fielder and deal with the financial consequences later. At any rate, the longer Oswalt and Fielder sit on the market, the more likely it becomes that the Rangers get the one they want. But even without them, this Rangers season will be the most entertaining one in history. Sell your Cowboys season tickets; it’s time to re-invest in the best run franchise of the city. It’s time to become a baseball town.

There are those in the media who playfully mock fans who get excited about a preseason game, but educated fans knew that Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, and Tony Romo had something based on their alleged “meaningless” performances in these games. With that in mind, here’s what mattered from last night’s game:

Denver’s opening drive against the first team defense

Cover art for a fat-fetish erotica novel

There will be severe growing pains as the defense tries to absorb the new, complex Rob Ryan defense. Even when all 11 players have sufficiently grasped the concepts, assignments, and terminology, there will still be several big plays surrendered because of the gambling nature of Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. In the preseason, Sensabaugh will be late a few times when asked to cover a corner blitz and pick up the receiver. I don’t put much stock in the fact that Dallas had some blown coverages against Denver, because I think that is merely the product of learning a new system with no off season. What concerns me about Denver’s opening drive is how the Cowboys simply got manhandled up front against the run. The fact that the Bronco’s young offensive line frequently overpowered the front three for Dallas has to be cause for concern. This was not a product of learning a new scheme; it was simply power and skill, and the Dallas front three looked less than competitive. Certainly plugging Ratliff back in the middle will help, but he has his biggest impact on the passing game. I believe that this defensive line will tell us a lot about Garrett as a coach. He appears to be the kind of coach that does not believe in the “incumbent starter”; if that is true, then Igor Olshansky will not be on the field for the Jets’ opening drive on September 11. In fact, one wonders if, at $3.34 million this season, Olshansky should even be on the roster. The only justification I can see is Hatcher’s injury history, but that seems like an expensive insurance policy.

The kicking game

David Buehler’s value took a serious hit when the NFL decided to move kick-offs up to the 35 yard line. (Doesn’t it seem like kickers should spend more time trying to increase kick-off hang time and force the receiving team to field the ball around the 3 yard-line?). With touchbacks now a foregone conclusion, Buehler is no longer needed for his big leg or his kick coverage. The days of keeping a kick off specialist are over, which means that the kicker’s sole job is to make field goals (and extra points, which I guess we shouldn’t take for granted based on last year). From most reports, rookie Dan Bailey has at worst kept pace, and at best out-kicked Buehler at camp. Though Bailey did not get a field goal attempt in the first preseason game, Buehler did. Is it splitting hairs to say that even though Buehler made his 42 yard kick last night, the fact that it barely, and I mean barely, sneaked through the uprights concerns me? Here’s the bottom line: this team should be favoring younger players at every position. If the talent is close to a push, then the younger player should get the nod. That’s what 6-10 teams do. Buehler was handed the job last year and did not deliver, and he has shown little improvement in camp this season. Again, I’d love to see Garrett favor youth in this situation.

Opportunity is knocking; let the Butler get it

Victor "Jeeves" Butler

I don’t know if Victor Butler is a difference maker, but he was clearly the best player on the field against Denver’s second team. He has shown flashes throughout his Cowboys career, and as far as I can tell, is held down only because of 5-6 good games from Spencer in 2009. I’m not saying I’m ready to replace Spencer with Butler, but I would love to see what Butler can do against a first team offense at some point in the preseason. I do believe that if Rob Ryan decides he wants more Butler, he won’t be told no just because Spencer was a 1st round pick and Butler was a 4th.

Banned from the Arboretum for staring lustfully

Kevin Ogletree will not make the final roster. Harris is still raw, but his speed makes him a potential difference maker as a slot receiver. Garrett specializes in using pre-snap motion in order to get players in space, and while Harris polishes his route running ability, he can contribute with plays like last night (Harris can also be a major factor when Romo decides to improvise). The 4th receiver on any roster must be able to make an impact on special teams, and Ogletree can’t. This is another case where Garrett and Jones need to think of themselves as a 6-10 team that has an opportunity to favor youth and upside over a decent player who has hit his ceiling. Even if Dallas wants to think of itself as a Super Bowl caliber team, cutting Ogletree will likely not be the difference in a playoff game.

On the Hot Seat: Holland is sitting in a Dutch Oven

I liked the starting offensive line last night, and noticed no real difference between what Arkin brought to the table at left guard and what Holland brings at right guard. This is another opportunity for the Cowboys to develop Arkin by starting him. It’s not as though Holland will be missed at guard. At least Arkin is someone who could have a future here, whereas Holland continues to grow older and more injury prone. For that matter, the Cowboys better be ready for Costa to play significant time at center. Gurode is expected to return soon, but a 32 year old offensive lineman less than two months off of arthroscopic knee surgery is a recipe for disaster. Will he trust his knee? Will he be able to generate the same power from his legs? This is a case where I’d rather have a healthy Gurode than the young Costa, but I’m not betting that Andre will make it through a 16 game season.

Back that Thing Up

Does this team still need Jon Kitna? Has McGee shown enough that the Cowboys can save themselves $2.6 million by jettisoning a 39 year old back up quarterback who can only get the ball to his tight ends and running backs? Isn’t Dallas better served having McGee get the 2nd team reps and continuing to develop him? I like what Kitna did for this team last year, now that Garrett is in charge, Kitna’s leadership is not as vital to the offense as it was last year.

Ta-Shardly had a Chance (thought I’d go different way there, didn’t you)

Jason Garrett clearly does not believe in Tashard Choice. I have no idea why, but the fact that Dallas took Murray in the third round when they had so many other holes to fill tells us all we need to know. I’d have been happy with a RB rotation of Felix, Choice, and Miller, but if Choice is cut/traded, then the team is left with two injury prone players (Murrary and Jones), and a very young and unproven Lonyae Miller (or Phillip Tanner, based on last night’s game). I think the team would be crazy to get rid of Choice, but it feels inevitable at this point.

A good start for the Ginger-Bred Man

The bottom line is this: the more I look back on last night’s game and reflect on this team, the more I see them as a 6-10 team that should be favoring youth at every position. I think they can be competitive with Bailey instead of Buehler, Arkin instead of Holland, Harris over Olgetree, McGee as the back up, and so on. Perhaps the most exciting thing about these 2011 Cowboys  is the general vibe that now surrounds the entire organization. It feels like this team has finally been humbled, and for the first time in years, there seems to be no sense of entitlement or unearned arrogance. This feels more like a team than a collection of talented individuals, and Garrett has brought a much more organized and purposeful feel to practices and games. Despite being the first preseason game, penalties were kept to a minimum. I love what Rob Ryan brings to this team, and I love the fact that Garrett wanted him despite their incredibly different personalities. Watching Garrett laugh and playfully slap McGee around at the end of last night’s game spoke volumes to me about his ability to relate to players while still maintaining his authority. I still worry about Garrett as both head coach and offensive coordinator, but the guy did go to Princeton, after all.

It has been a while since the Cowboys entered a season flying under the radar. I’m not sure if they have built a playoff team, but I am confident that this team won’t embarrass its fans the way they often did last year.

Miggs and the Rangers

Musings, Insight, Guffaws, Guidance and Shortcomings (MIGGS): Flinging my Rangers thoughts at your sports face for a Jackson Pollock of a blog post

1. The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Rangers appear to be the clear winners. It will be interesting to see just how long Feliz is allowed to struggle in the closer’s role before Washington considers making a change now that he has two other guys who can close. If that happens, what becomes of Feliz? Can he recover to be an effective 8th inning reliever, or is it all or nothing with Nefti? Will the trade energize him or discourage him? It is hard to predict how young players will react, and anyone who believes that part of Feliz’s struggles stem from the spring training-starter experiment must have serious questions about his mental make up.

2. This is how I know that I am a “glass half empty” kind of Rangers fan: every time I heard about Jurickson Profar being untouchable at the trade deadline, it made me sad. Not because I think he’ll be a bust, or because I think the Rangers should have moved him, but because I realize that the team might need him in 2014. I hope that Texas isn’t just grooming Elvis Andrus to be Jeter’s heir-apparent in New York, but there has to be some part of the Rangers front office that is considering this possibility. I’m not saying that is the only reason Profar is untouchable, but it might be a factor.

3. If the playoffs started today, my rotation would be Ogando, Wilson, Harrison, Holland, with Lewis in the bullpen prepared to back up Holland, who would be on a very short leash. When the Dutch Oven is on, he can be dominant. When he’s not, it’s obvious from the start (if he struggles through 2 innings, pull him…even if he’s working out of jams).  I’m pretty sure the Rangers will go Wilson, Lewis, Ogando, and Harrison because of the experience factor, but I really believe Ogando’s power will translate well to playoff baseball, and I think Holland is a risk worth taking. With all due respect to Colby Lewis, he simply isn’t the same pitcher as last year. His numbers are a bit skewed (positively) because of the high percentage of solo homers allowed, but playoff teams will get runners on base.

4. It’s time to move Kinsler from the lead-off spot. His .344 OBP is right around the league average, but his swing is gone. Dropping him in the line up will take some pressure off and hopefully allow him to find his stroke again. Andrus can easily transition back into the lead off spot until Ian gets back on track. There is no question Kinsler is having a gold glove caliber season defensively, and that’s why Washington can’t afford to sit him too often. His only real option is to drop him in the order.

5. Beltre cannot come back soon enough.

6. Before the start of last season, the Rangers could have fired Ron Washington after his failed drug test became public. They chose not to, and the team went to its first World Series. Had they chosen to let Washington go, however, they likely would’ve promoted hitting coach Clint Hurdle to the manager position. I’m not saying I’d rather have Hurdle than Washington, but given the success he is having in Pittsburgh…well, let’s just say I think we’d be in good shape either way.

7. If the Rangers do make the playoffs, Torreabla better be glued to the bench. Napoli is hitting–but more importantly, he is calling one hell of a game right now. The Rangers pitchers have a collective ERA of around 2.4 when Napoli is behind the plate and is an every day must start in the post season.

8. This team sacrifices too much. The line up is too good to be surrendering outs to opposing pitchers. Ron has to learn to trust his hitters more.

Jonesing for a GM

Keeping himself busy

August is supposed to be a time of excitement and anticipation for the upcoming NFL season. But as Cowboy fans watch their beloved team stand pat for the second straight NFL off-season, the frustration, and, perhaps more disconcerting, the hopelessness is starting to set in. Here stands a 6-10 team that has subtracted at least four starters. I say “subtracted” instead of “replaced”, because the jury is still out on exactly who will step up and take over these positions. To be fair, all four subtractions were justifiable. Replacing Colombo with Smith at right tackle has to be considered an upgrade, even as Smith struggles at first to learn the NFL. Replacing Barber with oft-injured rookie DeMarco Murray is at worst a push, especially with Felix and Choice mixed in. The real problems lie in the fact that Holland is now the starting right guard, and Ogletree is now the third wide receiver. Currently starting at safety: Alan Ball(?), the man who helped the 2010 Cowboys set franchise records for defensive futility, and a group of guys who couldn’t beat out Gerald Sensabaugh last year. Do we really trust Kyle Kosier to stay healthy for an entire season? Is a 33 year old Andre Gurode going to be able to bounce back from his knee surgery in June and play well? What if Dez gets hurt again, as he has shown a propensity to do?

How could the Cowboys possibly be so dormant in an off season filled with free agents that could help the club? What was Jerry doing while other teams were plugging holes and improving their teams?

Cowboy fans know that Jones loves to make the big splash. This year, the only guy able to cannonball free agency was Nnamdi Asomugha, and by all accounts, Dallas was in on him until the end. Asomugha eventually signed with Philadelphia for 5 years at $60 million, a price that proved too steep for Jerry. Fine. This team has so many holes that using all available cap space on one corner was probably a foolish idea to begin with. The real problem is that Jones allowed Asomugha to hold the Cowboys hostage, while other teams were making savvy moves. By fixating on Nnamdi, Jones guaranteed that he would miss out on many other useful players, because he had to keep that money available just in case they could sign the former Raiders corner. Every free agent contract took money away from the Nnamdi offer, and Jones appeared fine with waiting to see what Asomugha would do before seriously considering signing anyone else.

Now, Nnamdi is an Eagle. Dawan Landry is a Jaguar. Michael Huff is a Raider. Jonathan Joseph is a Texan. Eric Weddle is a Charger. The Cowboys were left so far in the lurch that they had to panic and re-sign Marcus Spears to a big deal because they lost Stephen Bowen. This 6-10 team has done nothing but bring the same players back, promote back-ups, and put all their faith in a new defensive scheme brought by an admittedly creative football guy, though we’ve seen that his scheme cannot overcome a severe lack of talent (Cleveland, Oakland).

Maybe Jones simply does not have the finances to sign free agents right now because of that monstrosity sitting in the heart of Arlington. Maybe he just got caught fixating on the big name and missed out on several chances to better his team in areas of need. Maybe he truly believes that the Cowboys can compete for a Super Bowl with Holland, Gurode, and Kosier up front, Ogletree in the slot, Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears trying to stop the run, a 33 year old injury-prone Newman starting at corner, and Barry Church/Akwasi Owusu-Ansah starting at safety. Maybe Keith Brooking and Bradie James will discover that the Riverwalk in San Antonio is actually the fountain of youth. One of these things has to be true, right? Which one is most comforting to you?

The path that this team is currently on leads to 8-8 at best, which means Jones is wasting another year of Tony Romo’s prime. At this point, it appears Cowboys fans will be subjected to watching Philadelphia dominate the NFC East. It is only August, and the season already feels like it is slowly slipping away. It is time to stop defending Jerry Jones. He does not want to win at all cost. He is now officially closer to being Tom Hicks than he is to Mark Cuban or Nolan Ryan.

But hey, that video board is pretty cool, right?

Fantasy Football

The sh*t is hitting the fans

Fans of the NFL, it’s time to admit the ugly truth; we are in an abusive sports relationship. Whenever this lock-out finally ends, players will be able to get more money and have less required of them; no more training camp two-a-days, fewer OTAs, limited workouts in full pads, and so on. The owners will be better off because of rookie wage scales and lowered salary caps. The fans? We’ll still be required to pay full price for preseason games. And we will. The owners know it. The players know it. We know it.

That’s why the attempts by the owners, players and media to portray the use  fans’ “good will” as a bargaining chip is ridiculous. ESPN tries to kill time on SportsCenter by debating on which side of this stand off the fans’ sympathies lie. Do we blame the owners or the players for this mess? (submit your answer online now!). Yesterday, the owners apparently (and I say apparently because I don’t really care enough to find out the fine details) voted to approve a proposal that the players hadn’t seen yet, allegedly as a way to put the onus on the players in the eyes of the public. The NFL may have done this for strategic reasons, but I can assure you “public perception” isn’t one of them. How do I know? Because both the players and owners know that whenever, however they decide to settle this, we’ll be waiting with open arms wallets. Public perception has zero affect on either side, and for the NFL and media to pretend otherwise is adding insult to injury. Yes, we know that no matter how the NFL treats us, we’ll be back when they tell us to be, cash in hand. It doesn’t matter who we blame; it doesn’t matter if we are anti-owner or anti-player; tell us when to be there, and how much it’ll cost, and we’ll pay it.

Aren't we cute?

I’m not asking for an attitude adjustment from the fans. Maybe one day in some alternate universe, fans will actually pull off a “fan strike” and leagues will have to take us into account. All I’m asking is that ESPN, the NFL, and the NFLPA stop mocking us by pretending that public perception means anything to the union or the owners. If and when we have our first preseason game, the stadium will be full, and people will be so grateful that the lock-out is over that any sort of anger or resentment towards the NFL will be forgotten. We will happily buy our $10 beers while we sit and cheer Joe Something-ton lead the Bengals’ third stringers onto the field.

So please, NFL, stop pretending that you give a damn about the fans, and just get this thing done. Stop acting like any sort of public pressure could intimidate one side or another into making a deal, when both sides are well aware that when the NFL snaps its fingers, we will come running. We’re not proud of ourselves for it; please stop taunting us. Please don’t say it is important to get this done for the fans. You care about the fans because they pay your bills, and you know that you could cancel the September 11 game in New York on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and would (at worst) have to deal with a light smattering of boos before the kick-off of the next game. What we think doesn’t matter; certainly not to you. Stop using the media to negotiate. Stop sending out press releases. Stop trying to paint yourselves as martyrs. At this point, we hate all of you. But we’ll be there.

Please get this done so you can take our money and we can go back to pretending that you care.

 

Touched by the Angels

(just pretend I made a clever pun on "Wells")

It’s hard to get too worked up over one loss in July, especially when it signals the end of a 12-game winning streak. Sooner or later, someone in the rotation was bound to have an off night. The past 3 weeks of Ranger baseball shifted so much focus onto the talent of this rotation that it may have caused many to forget  just how young it actually is. Maybe there is no reason for angst over 1 game in July that marked the end of a historic run of pitching, defense, and winning; after all, this team has shown incredible resiliency under Ron Washington, whether it be in the face of on-field adversity or real life tragedy.

On the other hand, last night certainly felt like more than just .62% of the 2011 season. The fact that it came against the only other credible threat in the division hurts. With more than half of the game complete, the Rangers had a five run lead, and the Angels were reeling. The top of the 5th could have easily been a catastrophic moment for the Angels season, culminating in Wells’ humiliating misplay in left field where he simply lost the ball in the lights, turning an out into a 2 run double for Torrealba. Finish that game off, and the Angels are 6 games back and on the verge of getting swept at home. Maybe doubt starts to creep in. Maybe the Angels front office is pushed one step closer to making another desperate move in the trade market and over-paying for a rental player. At worst, it would have guaranteed that the Rangers leave Los Angeles/Anaheim with a larger lead than they had when they arrived. Instead, the Angels will throw Jared Weaver in the rubber match of a home series with a chance to pull within 3 games of the division lead.

For those who would argue that July is too early in the baseball season to worry about one game, remember this: a game is a game, regardless of when it happens (Yogi Berra wishes he would’ve thought of that). It doesn’t matter when it was played. Adding one game to a division lead is critical, especially early on, and precisely because no one knows what will happen during the season. God forbid one of the starting pitchers gets injured, or Hamilton goes down again, or Kinsler gets mired in another slump, or Cruz pulls another hamstring, or Ogando wears down at the end of the season–but any of those things can happen, and odds are at least one of them will. When a team has a five run lead past the 5th inning, it simply must take advantage. Win the games now, and when Hamilton misses two weeks, it doesn’t mean the difference between playing in post-season and watching it. When the Rangers game against Oakland was called because of weather despite being two outs away from an official game and having built a 7-0 lead, it hurt. Sure, it was only May, but when the team does that much work to build a lead, it stings to lose that opportunity. Whether the game is played in April or September, it all counts the same. If you wait until September to play meaningful ball, there is usually no meaningful ball left to play.

For Whom the Bell Tolls?

But beyond that, a game like last night hurts the Rangers because it once again exposed the soft underbelly of the bullpen to the rest of the league. It is no secret that the Rangers are in the market for an impact bullpen guy, and teams like San Diego, Oakland, Washington, etc. are looking to deal. In one sense, Texas is dealing from a position of strength because their farm system is so incredibly stocked with talent that they could put together a package that no other contenders could match, if they chose to do so. More importantly, the 12 game (pitching-led) winning steak made the Rangers appear more as a team that could afford to pass on any deal if they felt it was mortgaging too much of the future. Last night’s bullpen failure reminded the league that Texas needs bullpen help, which can only serve to drive up the price of a Heath Bell, Mike Adams, or a Tyler Clippard. The fact that it happened in such a high profile divisional game and in such dramatic fashion can only hurt the Rangers’ chances of acquiring an impact pitcher without giving up too much.

The bottom is, last night stung. It makes it more likely that Texas will have to win one, two, or even three of those games in LA at season’s end, instead of using those games to rest Andrus, Hamilton, and Cruz while setting up the playoff rotation. It reinforced the idea around the league that the Rangers need bullpen help, instead of being a team that is open to a deal for the right price. The mentality of the Rangers is not in question. They will bounce back immediately from such a disappointing loss. Would the Angels have been able to do the same? I guess we’ll never know.

Statement 1: The Rangers are not a first place baseball team.

Statement 2: This statement is false.

As a philosophy student, statement 2 messed with my head. The problem is that if statement 2 is true, than it is false. But if it’s false, than it has to be true. (Take a minute to allow your mind to re-congeal.) The problem with statement 1 feels very similar to statement 2; the Rangers actually are in first place in their division, despite nearing completion of an extraordinarily frustrating first half of the baseball season. It feels neither true nor false. Through 86 games, the Rangers are last in Major League Baseball in fielding percentage, having committed a league-leading 72 errors (compared to 105 for the entire season last year). Taken as a whole, the pitching staff is about where it was last year (team ERA of 3.96, compared to 3.93 in 2010), as is the team batting average (.268 compared to .276 last year, when they led the league). It is difficult to put a number on how many games the sub-par Ranger defense has cost this team, but it might mean the difference between leading the division at the break and falling into second (third?) place. The Angels are streaking. The Mariners are stacked on the mound. Meanwhile, the Rangers drift listlessly through a stretch of games against last place teams and struggle to play .500 baseball. Defense is the difference; and while this truth is pretty clear, it just doesn’t make sense. Andrus should be getting better. Beltre should be an upgrade at 3rd over Young. The core of this team is in tact and in its prime. The parts seem greater, and yet the whole is not.

Elvis Has Left The Building…Mentally (see what I did there?)

Since this slam dunk Andrus line rarely gets used as a home run call (3 in the last 2 years), it might be better served as an indication that Elvis has temporarily spaced out. Official scorers have determined that thus far Andrus has failed to make the routine play sixteen times this season, prompting the “E6” graphic to flash often enough that some may wonder if he simply adopted the number as his middle name (E. 6. Andrus). Elvis is a young player who shot up through the minor leagues. The major league team moved a reigning gold glove shortstop (asterisk, but a true statement nonetheless) and the face of the organization to 3rd to make room for him. Last year he made the all-star team, and was a critical part of winning the AL Pennant. This year, he’s playing like he knows it. The Andrus problem seems to be a case of a player who got too good too quickly. Now he is taking his enormous talent for granted, and the result has been unsettling. He’s been pulled, benched, and publicly reprimanded by his manager, but only time will tell if this has an effect on him.

We're having fun here, no?

Washing-fun (see what I essentially failed to do there?)

The bigger concern is the collective lack of focus that this team shows in the field and on the base paths, of which Elvis is a simply a microcosm. The Andrus problem speaks to a larger issue that will likely define the season for Texas, and it centers around the manager. On the scale of coaching, Ron Washington is much closer to Wade Phillips than Bill Parcells; he is a players’ coach as opposed to a disciplinarian. Both types can be successful, but both sides also face their respective challenges. For the hard-ass coach, the problem comes when the players get sick of being yelled at and micromanaged, to the point where they finally tune him out. The players’ coach, on the other hand, often struggles to get the best out of his team, especially after having some success. It’s not that the players don’t respect him; they simply no longer fear him. Right now, this team is starting to show a lack of fear. It is apparent in the team’s waning defensive focus, but even more so in the way players deal with the media. Michael Young had no issue making his frustrations very public over the winter and into spring training. Josh Hamilton did not hesitate to call out the third base coach for sending him home on the play that put him on the DL. Last year, Ranger fans came to appreciate the huge smiles on the faces of Elvis and Cruz. Funny how quickly charming becomes annoying when the player is struggling; the last thing Ranger fans want to see after an error are rows of teeth flashing under the guilty party’s nose.

Consider the Cowboys as a cautionary tale: In Wade Phillips’ first year, the Cowboys enjoyed immense regular season success. They quickly became enamored with their raw talents (despite playoff failure), and stopped paying attention to the details. When the talent lost focus, the team suffered. They made dumb, inexcusable mistakes that cost them games. Despite all the experts who insisted that the Cowboys had outstanding talent on their roster, the team continued to struggle because they no longer obsessed over the details of preparation. The fans screamed for a disciplinarian. Eventually, the team quit on its coach.

Ron Washington is no Wade Phillips. He has a more holistic understanding of his sport that Phillips did, and he has shown the moxie to sit players for mental errors and call them out publicly if necessary. Having said that, it is clear that the second half of this season represents a crossroads for Washington, because he has to do something that has never been a part of his job description; he has to convince these players–Andrus, Cruz, Hamilton, and so on–that they are not as good as they think they are. That’s what success does to a players’ manager; it requires him to find ways to keep his team humble, hungry, and focused on details. He has to find ways to get them to think the game all the time. He cannot let them do what Elvis appears to be doing: fall in love with his own talent. For the first time in team history, the Rangers are no longer the scrappy underdogs. They are now perennial contenders who are expected to win their division and compete for World Series titles. As great a job as Washington did last year, the thankless life of an MLB manager demands that he re-invent himself to some degree. These are the situations where disciplinarians usually excel, and it is now up to Washington to find a way to effectively challenge and motivate his team to eat, sleep, and obsess over the the minute details of the game. If not, Texas may find itself watching October instead of making history.

Looks like he picked the wrong week to stop snorting cocaine.