SweetSpot: Scott Feldman



Hey, it's not like Adrian Beltre hasn't been stiffed for the All-Star Game before. Back in 2004 when he was with the Dodgers, he was hitting .315 with 22 home runs and 56 RBIs at the break but didn't make the All-Star team, getting squeezed out at third base by starter Scott Rolen and backup Mike Lowell. Beltre would put up even bigger numbers in the second half and finish second in the MVP vote. But he wouldn't make his first All-Star Game until 2010 in his one season with the Red Sox after leaving the Safeco Field dungeon.

After putting up big numbers the past two seasons for the Rangers, Beltre finally played his first postseason games since that '04 season and, not coincidentally, finally began escaping the "most underrated" label. Amazing what playing for a playoff team will do for your reputation. People have even started viewing him as a potential Hall of Famer, given his reputation in the field and the possibility he'll reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. He's just 34, aging well and on track for another terrific season. He went 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs in Tuesday's 8-4 win over the Orioles, and suddenly, his season totals are 20 big ones and 52 RBIs to go with his .319 average.

He won't be going to Citi Field next week for the All-Star Game, however, which isn't an insult as much as a matter of the luck of his happening to play the most loaded position in the majors right now: third base, American League, at which Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado made the All-Star team. As a result, Beltre, Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson will get to spend a few days fishing.

Beltre is in a little different station this season: With Josh Hamilton gone, you can make the case that Texas is Beltre's team. Well, not in the sense that he owns the Rangers team, but in the sense that he's the guy of whom opposing pitchers will say -- if they actually say such things -- "We can't let this guy beat us." Beltre never has really had to be "the man" on the Rangers before, but without Hamilton and with this Rangers team scoring half a run per game fewer than last season, it's hardly the same power attack we saw in Texas in recent seasons.

However, Beltre did beat the Orioles on this night. He led off the second with a home run as Zach Britton tried to get ahead with a first-pitch, middle-of-the-plate 90 mph fastball. Beltre doesn't miss middle-of-the-plate fastballs, and he crushed this one 411 feet to center field. After surrendering a single to Beltre in the fourth, Britton tried to sneak a 1-0, middle-of-the-plate fastball past Beltre, or maybe figured he'd be taking. Bad idea. Beltre was sitting on that high fastball and tomahawked it on a line to left for a three-run homer. In the seventh, the Orioles had learned their lesson and intentionally walked Beltre. He added an RBI single in the ninth.

Pitchers try to work Beltre outside -- he's pretty much a dead-pull hitter for power, as only two of his 20 home runs have gone to the right of center field (including his first one Tuesday, which went just to the right of center). But he still hits for a good average on pitches on the outside part of the plate, hitting .311 on the season due to his ability to drive the ball to right-center for base hits and doubles. And if you miss over the plate, he can punish you.

Britton's inability to locate those fastballs pinpoints the larger issue with the Orioles: Their rotation remains a big question mark. The Rangers pounded new acquisition Scott Feldman on Monday. Britton now owns a 4.76 ERA and, after getting no strikeouts against the Rangers, has just 12 in 34 innings. He's not going to succeed with that ratio, and while his fastball has adequate velocity, he's just not the same promising left-hander of a couple of years ago.

The Baltimore rotation now sports a 4.85 ERA, 27th in the majors, and even the spectacular hitting from Chris Davis and all-around brilliance from Machado won't be able to mask that over a full 162 games. Orioles starters allow the most home runs per nine innings, and while some of that is a Camden Yards effect, it's a staff that gives up a lot of fly balls and doesn't register a lot of strikeouts. That can work in the spacious outfields in Seattle or San Francisco, but it's not going to work very well in Baltimore. Wei-Yin Chen returns Wednesday for his first start since May 12, and the Orioles are desperate for him pitch as well as he was before straining his oblique.

Chen's return essentially bumps Britton from the rotation, which now looks like Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel and Feldman. If the Orioles can keep those five guys healthy -- they've used 13 different starters -- and Chen pitches well and Hammel starts pitching like he did last season, maybe that's enough, even lacking an ace. But I get the feeling the O's will need Davis to keep hitting a lot of home runs.

Power rankings: All 30 teams!

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
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Last weekend, I presented the top 10 teams in my personal power rankings. That was before the Blue Jays officially acquired R.A. Dickey, so I updated my top 10 after that trade, and, to spur on more debate, now present the rest of my rankings. Agree or disagree, but I do think this is the most parity we've seen in a long time. It's why the Orioles and A's were able to surprise this past season and why we will undoubtedly see another surprise team in 2013. It's a great time to be a baseball fan.

1. Nationals
Most talented rotation in the majors, deep lineup, depth. Re-signing Adam LaRoche to add another lefty power bat will help.

2. Reds
Superb rotation could be better if the Aroldis Chapman transition works, bullpen is deep enough to absorb his loss and Shin-Soo Choo provides a needed leadoff hitter.

3. Yankees
I think they can stretch things out more season with a deep rotation, excellent bullpen and power. Remember, they had the largest run differential in the American League last season.

4. Tigers
Deep rotation, great 1-2 punch with Miggy and Prince, and Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez should improve the lineup.

5. Braves
Left-handed power, power bullpen and a young team that could improve from last year's 94 wins.

6. Blue Jays
Addition of Dickey adds a needed No. 1 to a rotation that could be dominant if Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow remain healthy.

7. A's
Young teams that show big improvement are usually for real, and this team has a solid rotation, a strong outfield and power arms in the bullpen.

8. Dodgers
Have to love the Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke combo and an offense with big upside if Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez come close to 2011 levels.

9. Rangers
I think the rotation is playoff-caliber with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis.

SportsNation

Which of these five teams should be No. 1 right now?

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10. Cardinals
Have to replace Kyle Lohse, but they'll score plenty of runs as long as Carlos Beltran (36 years old in April) and Matt Holliday (33 in January) keep producing.

11. Rays
Still some holes in the lineup, and replacing James Shields' 220-plus innings won't be that easy, but underestimate the Rays at your own risk.

12. Angels
Oddsmaker Bovada.lv has the Angels with the second-best odds to win the World Series (behind the Blue Jays), but I see a rotation with a lot of question marks behind Jered Weaver, and Josh Hamilton only replaces Hunter, who was terrific in 2012.

13. Giants
I discussed my issues with the Giants here. I could be wrong, although our friends at Bovada only put the Giants tied for ninth in their World Series odds.

14. Diamondbacks
Their run differential wasn't much different than the Giants last year, and they've added Brandon McCarthy, infield depth and still have Justin Upton.

15. Phillies
I want to say we're all underestimating a team that includes Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but then I see an outfield of Darin Ruf, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, and an infield defense that includes Michael Young and Ryan Howard and 30-somethings Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

16. Brewers
They can score runs -- most in the National League last season -- and if the bullpen regroups after 2012's gruesome late-inning efforts, this team could surprise.

17. Red Sox
There will be no expectations after the disaster in 2012 (the franchise's worst record since 1965), but I see a big rebound coming.

18. Royals
I'll buy -- but I'm not buying a playoff spot. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to take huge leaps forward ... or the Royals could be headed for another rebuild.

19. Orioles
Last season's 93-win playoff team provided a beautiful ride, but the Orioles haven't added that big bat they need.

20. Padres
Young team is moving in the right direction after winning 76 games in 2012. Can rotation improve to push Pads over .500?

21. Mariners
Mariners have pursued a big bat all offseason but were only able to pick up Kendrys Morales, and he cost them Jason Vargas, opening up a 200-inning hole in the rotation. Looks like 2014 before Mariners can make a push in the tough AL West.

22. Pirates
Still no No. 1 or even No. 2 starter (sorry, A.J. Burnett is a No. 3 at best) and not enough support for Andrew McCutchen. One of these years, Pirates fans, one of these years.

23. White Sox
No A.J. Pierzynski, a declining Paul Konerko, good year/off year Alex Rios due for an off year. Then again, White Sox had a bigger run differential in 2012 than the Tigers.

24. Cubs
Rotation of Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman could be competitive, but offense won't be.

25. Mets
At least Mets fans can dream of a future rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese and Noah Syndergaard. Unfortunately, the 2013 version still includes Frank Francisco and a bunch of fourth outfielders.

26. Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton still makes this team worth watching on a daily basis.

27. Indians
Getting Trevor Bauer in the Choo deal added a much-needed starting pitcher prospect. Unfortunately, much of the rest of rotation remains suspect.

28. Twins
Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey ... what, Rich Robertson and Sean Bergman weren't available?

29. Rockies
At least the Twins have a direction as they wait for young position players to reach the majors. I have no clue what the Rockies are doing, intend to do, want to do, wish to do or hope to achieve.

30. Astros
Welcome to the AL West, boys.
video

Let's fast-forward a couple of months. Pretend you're Ron Washington, preparing for the first game of the Division Series.

Who do you start?

When the Texas Rangers invested more than $100 million to sign Yu Darvish, they had to believe Darvish could be that No. 1 postseason starter, even if Nolan Ryan downplayed the idea at the time. Let's be honest: You don't spend $100 million to sign a No. 3.

These days, Darvish is looking less like an ace and more like a No. 5. He had perhaps the worst start of his major league career on Monday night at Fenway Park, allowing 11 hits, 4 walks and 6 runs in throwing 123 pitches over 6.2 innings. The Red Sox banged him around for eight doubles in the 9-2 victory. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, Darvish is the first starter to give up eight doubles in a game since Curt Schilling allowed nine in a 2006 start for the Red Sox against the Royals in Kansas City. The only other pitcher since 1990 to allow that many doubles in a game was Jim Abbott, in 1994.

Even more frustrating for the Rangers is Darvish's continued inability to throw strikes on a consistent basis. He has walked four or more batters in 10 of his 21 starts and is tied for third in the majors with 74 walks. Remember, in Japan he was known for his great stuff and great control; he walked just 36 batters in 28 starts in 2011. You hate to bring up the Daisuke Matsuzaka comparisons, but like Dice-K, it seems Darvish is doing a lot of nibbling at the corners, afraid to challenge hitters inside.

Here are his heats maps on his fastball versus left-handed and right-handed batters:

Darvish HeatmapESPN.comYu Darvish has struggled to get batters out with his fastball from both sides of the plate.


His fastball has been an ineffective put-away pitch. In 117 plate appearances against left-handers ending with fastballs, Darvish has allowed a .376/.496/.613 line. (Compared to a .275/.404/.488 line in 99 PAs against righties.) To me, it appears he's not trusting the pitch enough.

Part of his issues could be that in Japan he basically started just once a week. Here is his 2011 game log; most of his starts were made with six days of rest, sometimes more. He started only once all season on four days of rest. That allowed him to run up some big pitch counts -- seven games of 130-plus pitches -- but he has carried a heavy workload for the Rangers as well while making 11 starts on four days of rest, as only Justin Verlander and James Shields have averaged more pitches per start.

In a playoff series, there's the added consideration that in second and third starts against an opponent, Darvish is 3-5 with a 6.45 ERA. It's a small sample size, of course, but it possibly suggests that hitters are adjusting to Darvish's stuff after seeing him the first time.

So if not Darvish, who would the Rangers turn to?

SportsNation

Right now, who would be the Rangers' No. 1 starter in the postseason?

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Derek Holland had the great World Series start last season when he blanked the Cardinals for 8.1 innings, but he has a 5.17 ERA. In his past four starts, he has allowed six runs in three games while serving up nine home runs. And while we remember that Game 4 start, in his other three postseason starts he lasted a total of just 13.1 innings. Holland's strikeout and walk rates are essentially identical to his totals last season; the big difference has been his home run rate. Still, when the fastball is popping and he's keeping the ball down in the zone, he's the most dominant Texas starter.

Matt Harrison has certainly been the Rangers' most consistent starter, with a 3.17 ERA. If there's a cause to question Harrison's ace status, it's that he's not a big strikeout pitcher despite a solid 91- to 93-mph fastball. He relies on ground balls and that excellent infield defense provided by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. There's the old cliche that October baseball is all about power pitching and it's perhaps worth noting that Washington didn't exactly trust Harrison to pitch deep into games last October, as he didn't pitch more than five innings in any of his four postseason starts. But it's also probably true that Washington has a lot more faith in Harrison this year.

Ryan Dempster just came over from the Cubs. In his first start with the Rangers, he was pounded for nine hits, two home runs and eight runs in 4.2 innings. Welcome to Arlington, Ryan. With the Cubs, Dempster has transformed into a command guy, as he has averaged just a tick better than 90 mph on his fastball. Will that play in the American League, especially in Arlington, where balls fly? And how will it play in a big game against, say, the Yankees?

Finally, there's Scott Feldman, currently on a string of three outstanding starts. When he's on, he keeps his sinker down, but if he gets it up, he's prone to giving up the long ones.

Maybe we're asking this question at the wrong time, when the Texas rotation looks a little shaky. The Rangers have allowed 61 runs over their past eight games and are just 13-16 over their past 29 games. There's also the Roy Oswalt drama that flared up with his demotion to the bullpen and Washington uncharacteristically calling out a player, saying Oswalt asked out of his latest relief appearance after two innings.

And you can also argue that this ace stuff is overrated. After all, the Rangers were one out away from winning the World Series last year even though their starters pitched at least six innings in just four of 17 playoff games.

Still, when you may be looking at Justin Verlander or CC Sabathia or David Price or Jered Weaver twice in a five-game series, an ace may be an important thing to have.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Rafael FurcalJeff Curry/US PresswireThe Cardinals' blowout win was cause for cartwheels from Rafael Furcal.
Buster Olney's Insider blog this morning was headlined: Why the Rangers can't trade Profar, Olt .

As the Cliff Lee rumors heat up, I have to agree with Buster. I'd keep Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. While Profar is surely off-limits, Olt would undoubtedly be the main prospect the Phillies would demand in a Lee trade.

I don't think it's worth it for Texas and I say this as someone who believes prospects get overhyped this time of year. Three reasons to avoid the Lee trade and keep Olt:

1. First off, the Rangers aren't as desperate for pitching as everyone seems to believe. Look at the AL leaders in runs allowed per game:

A's: 3.69
Rays: 3.97
Angels: 3.98
Yankees: 4.00
Mariners: 4.03
Rangers: 4.13
White Sox: 4.16
Tigers: 4.36

OK, the Rangers are four-tenths of a run per game worse than the A's, but right in line with the rest of the top AL playoff contenders. But the Rangers play in the best hitter's park in the American League. The Rangers actually lead the AL in road ERA, which doesn't necessarily paint the whole picture since they do get to play in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. And, yes, the Angels upgraded with Zack Greinke and the Rangers are without Colby Lewis the rest of the season, but away from home the Rangers have allowed 3.90 runs per game and the Angels 4.54. Scott Feldman has been pitching well of late, Neftali Feliz may return soon and there's a good chance Derek Holland will pitch better. You can win with this staff.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezCliff Lee has struggled this season and is 1-6 with a 3.95 ERA.
2. Cliff Lee doesn't guarantee anything.

This is maybe the most important point of all: Anything can happen in the playoffs. How much does Lee increase your odds of winning the World Series? Sure, if he pitches like he did in his first eight career postseason starts (7-0, 1.26 ERA) he helps a lot. Of course, neither the 2009 Phillies nor 2010 Rangers won it all, despite Lee's artistry. But in his last three postseason starts he went 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA and 26 hits in 15 innings. There's also the issue that Lee just hasn't been that effective of late, with a 5.20 ERA over his past eight starts. Lee supporters will point to a .348 BABIP over that span as a sign of bad luck, while others will point to the four home runs he allowed his last start. Lee has also strugged against AL teams; in four starts, he's 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA with a corresponding dip in batting average allowed and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He doesn't get to beat up lineups like the Astros or Dodgers in the AL.

So Lee is enough of a wild card that you would have to hesitate about giving up six years of Mike Olt's potential for a guy with a huge contract (more than $100 million remaining if his final years vests) who improves your World Series chances, what, 2 percent? 5 percent? Zero percent? Is Lee an upgrade over Feldman or Feliz? Probably. Is he a huge upgrade? Not necessarily.

3. Mike Olt can help the Rangers.

Olt is hitting .291/.405/.592 in Double-A. Yes, those numbers would likely decline at the major league level, but I believe he'd easily outproduce Michael Young right now. Young is hitting .268/.298/.347. He hasn't homered in nearly 300 plate appearances, doesn't walk and has hit .245 since May 8. Among players with 250 PAs, Young has the 11th-worst OPS+ in the majors. Other than Justin Smoak, everyone worse than him is a middle-of-the-diamond player. Young plays first base and DH.

With Olt, the Rangers' best lineups would look like something like this:

versus left-hander
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mike Olt
DH Michael Young
CF Craig Gentry

Versus right-hander
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
DH Mike Olt

Additionally, as Buster writes, Olt would be vital to the Rangers' future. Hamilton is a free agent and may not be worth a huge contract, especially in light of his recent struggles and Nolan Ryan's frustration with Hamilton's swing-at-everything approach. Cruz has one more season until free agency and isn't the type of player you want to gamble on with a long-term contract. Young has one more season but may be done. So while Beltre (signed potentially through 2016) blocks Olt's path at third base, that doesn't mean the Rangers can't slide him to first base where Moreland is a platoon guy at best, or maybe a corner outfield position. With Profar, you could easily slide him to second base and move Kinsler to left field. Keeping Profar and Olt gives the Rangers two Grade A prospects to build around for the future, keeping money in the bank as needed for other additions.

And I don't believe it hurts their chances at winning the World Series this year.

Kenny Williams never seems to get a lot of respect.

During his tenure as Chicago White Sox general manager, which began after the 2000 season, he's built two division winners, including the 2005 World Series champions. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his reign is that the White Sox are always competitive. They've been under .500 just three times, but two of those were 79-83. He's done this despite lacking the monster payrolls of teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies; despite only once having a pick better than 12th in the first round of the draft; despite never having a franchise superstar like Barry Bonds to build around or pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, like Brian Sabean has had with the Giants; despite a farm system -- in part because of ownership's unwillingness to spend in the draft and because of that lack of high picks -- that usually ranks near the bottom (Keith Law and Baseball America both ranked the White Sox system 30th heading into the season).

What I like about Williams is he never gives up. He's always trying to win, to build the best team he can given his resources. He never craters, never commits to a complete teardown and embarrassing on-field product, such as the one you're seeing from the Astros, Williams' 2005 World Series opponents.

This is why trading for Francisco Liriano is a typical Kenny Williams move -- high risk, perhaps mocked, but one with a potential nice payoff. Liriano's season numbers with the Twins look terrible -- 3-10, 5.31 ERA -- and his last start (against the White Sox, of all teams) was a rough, seven-run blowup. But after an awful April and temporary trip to the bullpen, Liriano pitched very well in a 10-start stint from May 30 though July 18, posting a 2.84 ERA with 77 strikeouts, 28 walks and 38 hits in 63.1 innings (a .171 average allowed). That stretch included back-to-back starts of 15 strikeouts and 10 strikeouts against the A's and Orioles on July 13 and 18, respectively.

In other words, there's a good chance Liriano will outpitch Zack Greinke the rest of the way, even though this trade will receive much less fanfare and required much less in prospect value: light-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

In fact, despite the much-maligned farm system, the White Sox have received contributions from several rookies, most notably on the pitching staff with Jose Quintana, closer Addison Reed, and relievers Nate Jones and Hector Santiago. With Quintana still the big surprise in the rotation, Liriano presumably takes the place of Philip Humber, who did pitch well in a 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday, but that strong start barely got his ERA under 6.00. With the hope that John Danks might return from his shoulder issues, the White Sox now have rotation depth and options in case of injury or if they want to conserve Chris Sale's innings.

The White Sox also have a lot to gain from a deal such as this; with a 2.5-game lead over the Tigers, winning the division title is obviously huge. There is a reason you're seeing teams contending for a division title making moves, while teams further back in the playoff chase -- such as the American League East wild-card contenders -- are more conservative. The reward for winning one of the two wild cards is essentially half as valuable as last season, with the one-game playoff plus the possibility that you've burned your best pitcher. But the payoff for the White Sox winning the division is worth taking a chance on Liriano.

As for the Rangers, they don't need to be as desperate as their division rival Angels, who gave up three good prospects to acquire Greinke. Yes, acquiring Greinke would have helped, but the Rangers have to ask: Do any of the other available pitchers make the team that much better? I agree with Jim Bowden: Probably not Insider.

The top three starters in a playoff series right now probably would be Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (who has had a disappointing season but lately has looked more like the pitcher who threw so well in the second half and postseason a year ago). The fourth spot might be open as Neftali Feliz rehabs, but among Feliz, Scott Feldman, Roy Oswalt and maybe even Alexi Ogando, the Rangers have options. Do you want to give up Mike Olt or another top prospect for what might be just a minor upgrade in Josh Johnson (having his worst statistical season and would be expensive to acquire) or Ryan Dempster (who is unlikely to approve a trade to Texas anyway)?

Plus, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are impending free agents, and there's no guarantee they'll be back, even though the Rangers have entered the upper echelon of payrolls. Maybe the Rangers will let one of those guys walk, spend some of that money elsewhere and give a starting position next season to Olt (with super prospect Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings).

The Rangers have options, but their best chance at holding off the Angels and surging A's might lie within: Namely, Hamilton and Michael Young finding their strokes. Hamilton was given a mental day off Saturday to clear his head. Since June 1, he's been one of the worst hitters in the league, batting .190 with a .274 on-base percentage. He's hitting .145 in July with 21 strikeouts in 19 games. Young is eating up at-bats at designated hitter and first base despite an empty .270 batting average. His OBP is less than .300, and he hasn't homered since May 7.

For all the talk of needing a starter, Young is a gigantic hole in the lineup right now. Kenny Williams filled one of his holes. We'll see whether Rangers GM Jon Daniels plugs his.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chase UtleyDale Zanine/US PresswireAs quick as Chase Utley is to the ball, he's not so quick he'll beat the ball to first base.
It's not in Nolan Ryan's nature to give in.

Throw a 3-2 fastball down the middle of the plate? No way. Let up on his fastball -- just a little -- to throw a few more strikes? Are you kidding? He was not going to give in to a hitter. Ever. It's why he walked more batters than any pitcher in the history of the game, as many as 204 in a season.

Surrender to the ravages of time? No way. Keep firing fastballs, riding the exercise bike, lifting weights, staying strong ... and lead the National League in ERA at age 40, throw a no-hitter at 43, another at 44 and pitch until you're 46.

When Rangers manager Ron Washington admitted to cocaine use? Stand by the guy you believe in, not giving in to the pressure to fire him.

And this is why the Texas Rangers will win the right to negotiate with Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.

The Los Angeles Angels have signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The Rangers have a countermove to make. It's Nolan Ryan, after all. He's not going to let the Angels dig in and get that final pitch down the middle.

Now, of course, there's no guarantee the Rangers will get Darvish. The bidding process -- which ends Wednesday night at 5 p.m. ET -- allows teams to submit bids to negotiate with Darvish. The highest bidder then has 30 days to sign him. When the Red Sox won the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season, they paid $51.1 million to win the bid and then signed Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract. The same winter, the Yankees paid $26 million to negotiate with Kei Igawa.

Estimates to win the rights to the 25-year-old Darvish have ranged from $30 million to $70 million, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo. The performances of Matsuzaka (mediocre, nibbled too much, couldn't go deep into games) and Igawa (horrible) will perhaps make some teams hesitant to pay a small fortune just to negotiate with a player who may have a preference to sign with a West Coast team -- if he signs at all. There is no guarantee that will even happen, as Darvish apparently doesn't have a burning desire to prove himself in America like Hideki Matsui or Ichiro Suzuki did. Darvish is already the highest-paid player in Japan.

Those who have seen Darvish say he can be a No. 1 pitcher over here. Mets manager Terry Collins, who managed against Darvish in Japan, raved about him at the winter meetings. Davey Johnson has also managed against him and called him a "big, strong hard-thrower. Throws a lot like Americans. ... That guy is going to be expensive," he said at the winter meetings.

In his final two years in Japan, Matsuzaka's numbers read 401.1 innings, 310 hits, 83 walks and 426 strikeouts. If anything, Darvish has been even more dominant; in the past two seasons, he's pitched 434 innings with 314 hits, 83 walks and 498 strikeouts. But Matsuzaka's fastball never seemed to have the same life that he displayed in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, and he often appeared afraid to challenge hitters over here, leading to high walk rates and inconsistent performance.

If there is a concern about Darvish, it's that he's pitched a lot of innings at a young age. He turned 25 in August but has already compiled four seasons of 200-plus innings in Japan, the first coming when he was 20. Former Royals manager Trey Hillman, who managed Darvish in Japan, says Darvish would be able to handle the pressure of coming to America better than Matsuzaka. "He's a totally different person," Hillman told USA Today's Paul White. "He gets it, and it doesn't faze him in the least."

That circles us back to the Rangers. They've lost Wilson, their best starter the past two seasons, to their division rival. The signing of Joe Nathan likely prompts a move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation -- giving the club five starters in Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Feliz, with Scott Feldman also hanging around. It's a good rotation. Solid.

But Nolan Ryan wants more than solid. The Rangers came within a strike of winning the World Series in 2011, even though their starters pitched into the seventh inning just four times in 17 postseason games. He needs a No. 1. They can sign Darvish and move Ogando back to the bullpen, where he profiles as a dominant setup man to Nathan.

Maybe Ryan will fool us. Maybe he and general manager Jon Daniels are happy with their current rotation. Maybe the Rangers really won't spend any big money this offseason, letting Wilson go and passing on Prince Fielder, whose left-handed bat profiles perfectly in the middle of the righty-heavy Rangers lineup.

Maybe. But that's not the way Nolan Ryan usually pitches.
CardinalsSteve Mitchell/US PresswireThe St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their 11th World Series title, beating the Texas Rangers in Game 7.

ST. LOUIS -- You fight through the monotony of fielding practice in spring training. The sore elbows, the back pain, the starts when you leave your fastball in the bullpen, and maybe a surgery or two at some point in your career.

Chris Carpenter missed an entire season with shoulder surgery. He missed another season after injuring his elbow on Opening Day and undergoing Tommy John surgery. When the St. Louis Cardinals reached the World Series in 2004, he couldn’t pitch due to nerve problem in his right biceps.

A couple days ago, Tony La Russa wasn’t sure if Carpenter would be able to pitch Game 7. For one thing, the Cardinals had to win Game 6. La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan didn’t officially decide to go with Carpenter until Friday, going with their staff ace on three days’ rest.

There was a time, of course, when that wouldn’t have been a big deal. Christy Mathewson once tossed three shutouts in the World Series over a six-day span. Sandy Koufax pitched a three-hit shutout in 1965 on two days’ rest. Jack Morris’ famous 10-inning shutout in 1991 came on three days’ rest.

[+] EnlargeChris Carpenter
Jeff Curry/US PresswireOn short rest, Chris Carpenter gave up two runs on six hits in six innings to win the clincher.
But Carpenter had only done that once before in his career -- three weeks ago, in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He lasted three innings. It wasn’t pretty. He said he’d learned a few things from that experience. La Russa made the call: Go with the big guy, the 6-foot-6, 36-year-old veteran from New Hampshire with a scruffy growth of beard, and on this day, in the biggest game of his career, a toolbox full of pitches.

The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers 6-2 in a Game 7 of the World Series that couldn’t match the impossible drama and excitement of Game 6. The Rangers played hard, but their pitching staff simply ran out of gas, exemplified by the Cardinals’ fifth inning, when they scored two runs without getting the ball out of the infield -- without even getting a hit. Rangers pitchers walked three batters and hit two more, turning a 3-2 game into a 5-2 deficit. Critics will put a lot of blame on manager Ron Washington for the Rangers’ defeat, and deservedly so, but in the end the Rangers simply couldn’t throw enough strikes and couldn’t get the final out they needed in Game 6.

On this night, however, the Cardinals made the big plays: David Freese with another clutch hit, a two-out stinging double into the gap in left-center to score two runs in the first (giving the World Series MVP a postseason record 21 RBIs); Allen Craig with a go-ahead home run in the third, fighting back from a 1-2 count to hit a 3-2 Matt Harrison fastball into the St. Louis bullpen in right-center; Craig later robbing Nelson Cruz of a home run.

But the key was Carpenter. "Dave had a real heart-to-heart with him to gauge just how ready he was to pitch just physically, not mentally, but physically," La Russa said before the game. He then added, "The last thing is ... what he means to our club. I think our guys feel better about him starting than anybody."

Carpenter pitched into the seventh and became the first pitcher to win two do-or-die games in one postseason, after also winning Game 5 of the division series. No, it won't quite go down alongside Mathewson and Koufax and Morris, but it was a terrific effort, especially since he almost didn’t get out of the first inning. The first four batters all reached base as Carpenter fell behind each hitter. But Ian Kinsler slipped while taking an aggressive secondary lead and Yadier Molina picked him off. The play proved enormously costly when Elvis Andrus walked and Josh Hamilton and Michael Young doubled to right field. Carpenter struck out Adrian Beltre and got Cruz to ground, maybe the two key at-bats of the game.

From there, the St. Louis' bullpen mowed down the Rangers, Busch Stadium getting louder and louder with each out, erupting when Arthur Rhodes retired Yorvit Torrealba and Octavio Dotel struck out Kinsler, raising the decibel level when Lance Lynn fanned Beltre to end the eighth, the anticipation building into a loud chant of "Let's Go Cards!" in the ninth and the crowd releasing into a deafening explosion of joy as Jason Motte recorded the final out on a fly ball to left field.

Maybe Game 7 was over as soon Freese hit his home run onto the grass in Game 6. Many people said it was. I didn't think that was the case; I thought the Rangers had a chance. You make your own breaks, but the Rangers sure didn't catch any: Craig steps in for the injured Matt Holliday and has a great game; that 3-2 pitch to Molina with the bases loaded in the fifth could have been called a strike and changed the momentum of the game.

But give credit to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that could have given up in early September. A team that made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, that needed to beat Roy Halladay just to reach the National League Championship Series, that was down to its final strike twice in Game 6, and figured out how to win the World Series. A worthy champion and one to be remembered.

* * * *

Of course, this World Series will also be remembered for the many questionable decisions by Washington, moves that led to the Rangers suffering one of the most painful defeats in World Series history. Before we get to that, keep this in mind: Rangers pitchers walked 41 batters, a World Series record worst. They walked six more in Game 7. Too many walks, too many walks.

  • Washington didn't help matters by issuing another ill-timed intentional walk. I said it all series long: the intentional walks were going to come back to haunt the Rangers. A free pass to Lance Berkman hurt the Rangers in Game 6. In Game 7, Washington walked Freese with runners on second and third, which was followed by Scott Feldman's walk to Molina and then C.J. Wilson hitting Rafael Furcal to force in another run.
  • I didn't necessarily have a problem with using Feldman to start the fifth. The best option might have been Mike Adams, but Washington hasn't shown a lot of confidence in Adams' ability to go more than three outs. He was hoping Feldman could get him a couple innings. (Needless to say, using Alexi Ogando would have been a likely disaster).
  • Washington's decision to have Andrus bunt in the top of the fifth after Kinsler's leadoff single was odd. Down by one on the road, top of the order, giving up an out? Play for one, get none. Carpenter got Hamilton to pop out to third on a 3-1 fastball -- Freese made a nice catch as he leaned over the dugout railing and stumbled to the ground -- and struck out Young on a 1-2 cut fastball.
  • In the bottom of the fourth, St. Louis up 3-2, Molina and Furcal singled with one out, bringing up Skip Schumaker and Carpenter. Washington had Feldman warming up, but it made sense to leave in Harrison at that point since Schumaker is a career .210 hitter against left-handers. Schumaker grounded out to first to move up the runners, leaving La Russa with a choice: Hit for Carpenter? There were calls on Twitter to do so. At that point he’d thrown 63 pitches, 34 for strikes, but had retired 11 of the previous 14 Rangers hitters. I thought it was too early remove Carpenter, who had settled down, and especially considering La Russa's own bullpen didn't have a lot of pitches left in it.
  • In the seventh inning, Albert Pujols came up for maybe the final at-bat of his Cardinals career. Oddly, there was no chant, no standing ovation, just a bunch of flashes going off as he struck out. The crowd did stand and applaud as he walked back to the dugout after striking out.
David FreeseRob Carr/Getty ImagesDavid Freese tripled to tie Game 6 of the World Series in the ninth and homered to win it in the 11th.

ST. LOUIS -- At the end of "Ball Four," the greatest book about baseball ever written, pitcher/author Jim Bouton writes, "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

This sport brings the greatest of joys and then crushes you with pain. It increases its grip on you with game-ending home runs and division titles and playoff victories and rally squirrels. And when the defeats come, it's too late to turn back; you're already in, unable to escape.

Game 6 was a roller coaster for both teams, a laughable parade of Little League errors and miscues, followed by dramatic home runs, a ninth-inning rally, a monumental blast by Josh Hamilton in extra innings, another rally by the Cardinals and finally a David Freese home run into the grass in dead center field that ended this game -- we say game, but it seemed so much more consequential than a mere game -- and sent Busch Stadium into an eruption of hugs, high-fives, tears of happiness and professional athletes jumping up and down at home plate like 8-year-olds being treated to ice cream.

In the end, the scoreboard reads: St. Louis Cardinals 10, Texas Rangers 9, in 11 innings. That, of course, hardly tells the story of the exciting, unpredictable and at times unfathomable Game 6 of the World Series, one that will be relived and replayed, analyzed and scrutinized, one that will go down as one of the more remarkable World Series games ever played. Some day, somebody might have to write a book about this one.

So in this season of comebacks and collapses, of the best postseason baseball has witnessed in years, we get a Game 7. The Cardinals, down to their final strike in the ninth inning, down to their final strike in the 10th inning, kept fighting and fighting and fighting, somehow keeping this baseball season going a little longer when Freese became just the fifth player to hit a walk-off home run in Game 6 or 7 of the World Series. "Growing up or whatever, and you see stuff like that happen, those become memories," Freese said. "You know, if it's going to be replayed over and over again, I don't know, but it's really cool to be a part of this and to force a Game 7."

The Rangers, one strike away in the ninth inning, one strike away in the 10th inning, will have to regroup and mentally re-energize for one more game. Ron Washington couldn't say much, other than, "It just wasn't to happen tonight."

No, it didn't happen on this night for the Rangers, so, yes, we'll get at least nine more innings. And, yes, baseball, we are in your grip.

* * * *

Where to begin? With Freese, of course. He hit the two-strike, two-run triple in the ninth inning off Neftali Feliz, a ball lined off the wall in right field, a tough play but one that Nelson Cruz could have made. He was playing deep -- you play "no-doubles" defense at the point of game -- but drifted back too slowly and the ball flew inches over his outstretched glove.

In the 11th, the Rangers brought in Mark Lowe, their eighth pitcher of the night, and not the guy you'd expect to be on the mound with the World Series on the line. Freese led off the inning and crushed a 3-2 changeup to center. "You know, I felt like I was part of a circus out there, bouncing balls off the top of my hat a little bit," Freese said of the Cardinals' three errors, including one by him. "But, man, I just wanted an opportunity -- we tied that up, we had some good ABs and we tied it up and just kept battling. That defines our team, that game."

Ron Washington had elected to pinch-hit for Scott Feldman with Esteban German in the top half of the inning with a runner on first and two out. You can't fault Washington for that, but it was a low-percentage opportunity to score a run. The difference in ability between Feldman and the rarely used Lowe is sizable; he may have been better off letting Feldman bat, hope to keep the game tied, and play for the 12th inning.

Other notes:
    [+] EnlargeTexas' Alexi Ogando
    Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAlexi Ogando reacts after walking Yadier Molina with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

  • In the end, the wildness of Alexi Ogando and Feliz finally came back to haunt the Rangers. The worst decision of the game was Washington bringing in Ogando in the sixth inning with the bases loaded. Ogando had been terrible in this series, allowing 12 baserunners in just two innings. I wrote earlier that Game 6 of the World Series was no time to be loyal; Washington remained loyal to Ogando, believing in him as his sixth- and seventh-inning guy. But after a long season, he's clearly gassed and never should have been in there. He walked in the tying run and only escaped further damage because Mike Napoli picked Matt Holliday off third base. (And Derek Holland had to be brought in to escape the inning.)

    As for Feliz, his control has been shaky all postseason. He had a chance to close out a 7-5 lead in the ninth inning, but gave up a double to Albert Pujols and then walked Lance Berkman, setting the stage for Freese. The Rangers had gone 5-2 in the postseason when walking five or more batters; that's just not sustainable. When doing that in the regular season, they went 7-19. They walked seven batters in Game 6.
  • Berkman quietly had one of the great individual performances in a World Series game: 3-for-5, four runs, three RBIs, a two-run home run, a big walk in the ninth, a game-tying single with two outs in the 10th, just the the fourth game game-tying hit in World Series history in the ninth or later when a team was one out from elimination (Freese's triple was the third; the others were the Braves' Otis Nixon in 1992 and the Giants' Josh Devore in 1911). "I actually felt pretty good (there)," Berkman said, "because I figured I was in a no-lose situation. If you don't come through right there, it's only one at-bat and it's over with, and they might talk about it for a couple days, but it's not that big a deal. If you come through, it's the greatest, and plus you've built a little bank account of being able to come through, so that if I don't come through tomorrow I can be like, 'Well, I came through in Game 6, what do you want from me?'"
  • Should Washington have left in Feliz to start the 10th? He’d thrown 22 pitches in the ninth, while the Cardinals had the bottom of their order up -- and the pitcher due up third, with no position players left to hit. (Could you imagine if the World Series had ended with a pitcher hitting?) But with lefties Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay up, Washington brought in veteran lefty Darren Oliver. Can’t really fault him too much for that one; it just didn’t work out.
  • Washington also elected to walk Pujols in the 10th inning -- when he was the winning run. Instead of having Feldman go righty-on-righty, he faced Berkman, who hit a soft single into center to tie the game. What have we been saying? You're playing with fire with all those intentional walks and Washington finally got burned. Yes, it's Albert Pujols, but Berkman isn't exactly Mario Mendoza.
  • Napoli once again came up big at the plate -- his RBI single in the fourth inning gave him 10 for the series, only the sixth player in World Series history to drive in that many in one Fall Classic. His pickoff of Holliday looked like it would end up being the key defensive play of the 2011 season.
  • You can't fault Washington for using Holland for two innings, but since he pitched two innings and threw 23 pitches, his availability as a long reliever for Game 7 is now in question. If Game 7 starter Matt Harrison struggles early, that likely makes C.J. Wilson the long man out of the pen for the Rangers.
  • OK, if you watched this game, you know it won't be appearing on any instructional videos. Freese dropped a routine pop fly that any fifth-grader could catch, Holliday dropped an easy fly ball in left field, appearing to yell "You take it" to Rafael Furcal, but realizing too late that Furcal was in a bad position. Both errors led to unearned runs. Two Michael Young errors at first base also led two unearned runs on the Texas ledger.
  • Great cat-and-mouse game in the fifth. Freese's error was followed by Young's RBI double. With Young on third and two out, Napoli was walked. Washington sent in David Murphy to hit for Craig Gentry -- and got Holland up in the pen, hoping it might force La Russa to pitch to Murphy. La Russa didn’t bite; Murphy was pitched around and Washington let Lewis hit (and strike out to leave the bases loaded).
  • For what it's worth, the three most recent games that involved crushing defeats in Game 6 to keep the World Series alive were the Cardinals to the Royals in 1985, the Red Sox to the Mets in 1986 and the Giants to the Angels in 2002. All three teams lost Game 7. Also, the home team has won the past eight Game 7s. It won't be easy for the Rangers.
ST. LOUIS -- Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando are the big names in the Texas Rangers' bullpen. Feliz, after all, was last season's American League Rookie of the Year and can throw a baseball through a car wash and keep it dry. Ogando, the oufielder-turned reliever-turned starter-turned temporary bullpen dynamo, throws nearly as hard.

But it's the depth of the Texas bullpen that has allowed Ron Washington to overcame some shaky outings by his starters this postseason and why the Rangers beat the Tigers in two 11-inning games in the ALCS. Mike Adams and Scott Feldman are two of those relievers, two guys who have become indispensable parts of the Rangers' World Series run.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRangers reliever Mike Adams has allowed two runs in eight 2011 postseason appearances.
Both pitchers have the scars to prove that baseball isn't always easy, that for pitchers in particular it can be a grueling grind of success, failure and injury. Feldman was a lowly 30th-round pick by the Rangers in 2003, a non-prospect who then blew out his elbow four games into his professional career. He had Tommy John surgery that October. Remarkably, he reached the majors in 2005. Converted to a starter, he had a breakout season in 2009 when he won 17 games and became the Rangers' Opening Day starter in 2010.

Feldman credits former Rangers pitching Mark Connor for helping his career. "I was throwing more sidearm and he raised my arm up, which helped me do a little more against left-handers," Feldman said Tuesday. But that magical 2009 season was followed by a nightmarish 2010, as his ERA rose to 5.48 and he was left off the postseason roster and had to watch from the bench as the Rangers reached the World Series.

"I was happy to see my buddies doing so well," Feldman said, "but at the same time you want to be out there contributing and helping out." He had microfracture knee surgery in the offseason, putting his 2011 in season in doubt. While rehabbing in the minors in July, he was moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. A few days later, he was outrighted to the minors, which meant any team could have claimed him on waivers. With his salary ($4.4 million this year, $6.5 million next year), no team did. Once he cleared waivers, Feldman explained that he had enough service time to reject the assignment to the minors. The Rangers decided to activate him rather than release him.

"Considering where I was in spring training, it's great to be here," Feldman said. "The other guys in the bullpen have helped in my preparation, how to be ready to enter the game at any time." Indeed, Feldman may have thrown the most important 4 1/3 innings of the Texas season, when he came on in the third inning of Game 2 of the ALCS and gave up just one hit as the Rangers rallied to tie a game they eventually won in extra innings. In 8 2/3 postseason innings, he's allowed just three hits, no walks and has nine strikeouts. And the guy who once had trouble with left-handed batters? It's admittedly a small sample size (58 at-bats), but he held them to a .155 average in the regular season.

Adams has his own scars. At least Feldman was drafted; Adams wasn't even selected in the draft out of Texas A&M-Kingsville. He signed with the Brewers as an amateur free agent and first reached the majors in 2004. He spent 2006 getting shuttled from the Brewers to the Mets to the Indians to the Padres. And then missed all of 2007 with three knee surgeries. After a solid season in 2008, he missed the first part of 2009 following shoulder surgery.

"I'll tell you what," Adams said, "I view the injuries as the best things that have happened to me. I'll admit at times I wondered if I'd ever make it back, but with all those hours I spent working out with my headphones on, you do learn to appreciate the game and how much I love to compete."

Adams returned and became one of the premier setup men in baseball. The Padres dealt him to the Rangers in July -- the team he grew up rooting for while growing up in Texas. His idol was Nolan Ryan and he had a poster of Ryan in his bedroom. He talked about meeting Ryan for the first time after the trade.

"I was in awe," he said. "I mean, it's Nolan Ryan! I was definitely more than a little awestruck. But now I'll go up to him and say hello. He doesn't come into the clubhouse too much, but sometimes I'll see him sitting on the couch in the manager's office and I'll poke my head in and try to pick his brain a little bit. He doesn't usually say much though. What can he say? He's Nolan Ryan!"

The gregarious right-hander spoke with confidence about his team's bullpen. "We probably have the most dominant bullpen in the playoffs," he said. "I know the St. Louis bullpen did a great job, but our group had an MVP-type performance (in the ALCS) as well. If they need us to come in early, we have some guys who can throw some zeroes."

Asked how the team plans to approach Albert Pujols, Adams laughed, "Don't let him hit a home run." He admitted he did get him out a few times while pitching for the Padres (Pujols is 1-for-8 off Adams, with three walks and three strikeouts). It's undoubtedly a matchup that will arise in a key situation at some point. "I hope we pitch to him and go after him," Adams said. "We know he's a great hitter, but every pitcher wants to go after after the best."

Pujols will be expected to do big things for the Cardinals. Scott Feldman and Mike Adams will be two of the key guys trying to prevent that from happening.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast was a fun one for me and Keith Law, as we talked not only about the final four teams, but there were plenty of calls of "Cat bias!" That’s always a good thing!

1. The Rangers sure seem to have things under control, up two games and heading to Detroit. What advantage do the Tigers actually have at this point, and will Justin Verlander get another shot?

2. Was Nelson Cruz the big star Monday? Despite the historic walk-off grand slam, which shouldn’t have been the first in history, we looked elsewhere.

3. Meanwhile, the NL side is tied up as Albert Pujols had a monster game, and Tony La Russa made the early move to his bullpen yet again. Is the Brewers' starting pitching becoming a problem?

4. Is our show too dependent on statistics to tell the story? An emailer thinks so, and KLaw rants back.

5. KLaw gives a dissertation on extended spring training, instructional league, winter leagues and more.

So check out Tuesday’s fun, meow-filled Baseball Today podcast, because it’s the right thing to do!

Pitchers' year? Not for these guys...

July, 15, 2010
7/15/10
3:13
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For some reason, I've got a sick fascination with pitchers who are allowed to pitch and pitch and pitch, despite spectacular failure. I don't know if everyone below precisely fits that description, but here are the 10 guys with ERAs higher than 5 who have pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA rankings:

Even before tacking on 13 runs in five innings last weekend, Scott Kazmir's ERA was 5.98; now it's 6.92. Even during Kazmir's four-game June winning streak, he walked nearly as many hitters as he struck out. It's hard (for me) to say exactly what's wrong with Kazmir ... Except we know he's not throwing as hard as he used to, we know he's striking out many fewer hitters than he used to, and we know he's walking more than he used to. All of which could have been said last year, too. Which isn't an encouraging trend.

Like Kazmir, Nick Blackburn (6.40) pitches for a contender, which makes his continuing presence in the rotation that much more problematic. Blackburn's problem isn't that he's getting too few strikeouts; it's that he's not getting any strikeouts. I exaggerate, of course. But 34 strikeouts in 97 innings is nearly impossible. Blackburn's struck out 3.15 per nine innings; sinker-baller Aaron Cook is the only other ERA qualifier under 4 ... and he's at 3.97 Ks per nine. Blackburn's just operating on a completely different level, which would be cool if that different level wasn't that of a scrappy non-prospect in Triple-A. Fundamentally, he's better than this. Blackburn entered this season with a 4.14 career ERA, which was somewhat lucky but not wildly so, considering his 2.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. You can understand why the Twins haven't given up on him yet.

Kevin Millwood's on the DL, so perhaps he shouldn't be on this list. But Millwood has started 18 games for the Orioles, and he does have a 5.77 ERA. Not exactly what management had in mind when they traded for Millwood, hoping his veteran presence would stabilize a rotation composed mostly of much younger pitchers. Granted, the Rangers are paying $3 million of Millwood's salary this season ... which still leaves (roughly) $9 million for the Orioles.

Next we've got a couple of twin Royals, Prince Kyle Davies (5.57) and Prince Brian Bannister (5.56) ...
    First Banny, then Davies:
    Even at their very best,
    Our closer figures to get
    A relaxing two-day rest.

The Royals aren't going anywhere and they don't have anyone better than Davies and Bannister, so they may as well keep pitching. And each is capable of doing better. Just slightly better, though. If the Royals ever get better, they'll have room for just one No. 5 starter.

Scott Feldman (5.32) is the one guy who really, really wasn't supposed to be on this list. Not after his 17-8, 4.08 ERA campaign just one year ago. Of course, Feldman's skills never really supported that season's record ... But then again, they don't suggest a 5.32 ERA, either. Feldman was mildly lucky last year, and this year he's been terribly unlucky, giving up a .343 batting average on balls in play. Feldman's going to win more games and post a lower ERA in the second half, which is good news for the Rangers and better news for Feldman (whose postseason role is now -- with the Rangers' acquisition of Cliff Lee -- highly questionable).

Cleveland's Justin Masterson (5.31) is another guy who just needs to keep pitching, and for two reasons: 1) His team isn't going anywhere anyway, and 2) there are some things to like here. Masterson throws hard, his ground-ball rate is high, and his strikeout rate is fine. He does walk too many hitters (and always has), but if he can cut his walk rate by 25 percent he'll be a perfectly fine No. 3 or 4 starter.

Everybody mentioned above suffers the disadvantage of pitching in the Big Boy League, with their better hitters and designated hitters and the like. To be fair, I could have focused on a league-neutral statistic like ERA+ or something. I didn't. I like numbers that start with 5. Sue me. But all this makes San Diego's Kevin Correia (5.26) really stand out, as he pitches in a pitcher's park in the National League. Just think how good the Padres would be if they didn't have the worst pitcher (ERA-wise) in the league. Correia looked pretty good last year. But he's 29, and in his career he's got a 4.54 ERA as a starter. Maybe he's just not quite good enough to pitch for a team with postseason aspirations.

Tim Wakefield (5.22), you can judge for yourself. I'm not saying anything negative about Kid '66.

And finally, we've got our second National Leaguer, Nate Robertson (5.10). Robertson is simply a place-holder, and the Marlins can hardly worry about his contract; they're paying him $400,000 this season ... while the Tigers are contributing $9.6 million. If you're a fan, enjoy Nate Robertson while you can. You might not see much of him after August.

Feldman, Wells good bets to improve

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
3:24
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What's wrong with Scott Feldman (5-6, 5.32 ERA)? In a word: nothing. For more words, we've got David Golebiewski:
Last season, Feldman benefited from a .276 BABIP. In 2010, balls put in play against him are falling for hits at an absurd clip — his BABIP is .352, trailing only Zach Duke and Randy Wells among qualified big league starters. Also, Feldman’s strand rate has slipped. After leaving 72.8% of base runners high and dry in ’09, his LOB rate is down to 64% this year (70-72% MLB average). He’s not pitching worse with men on base:

Feldman with runners on base

2009: 4.48 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 4.66 xFIP, .252 BABIP
2010: 5.89 K/9, 3.25 BB/9, 4.50 xFIP, .338 BABIP

Truth be told, Feldman is neither the rotation stalwart that his shiny 17-win total from 2009 suggests, nor the bust that his 2010 ERA implies. Both seasons, he has been a passable starter — Feldman’s xFIP was 4.49 last season, and is 4.58 in 2010. Despite the wild fluctuations in his surface stats, Feldman’s the same pitcher he was last year.

Same thing with Randy Wells, by the way. Last season, Wells finished with a 3.05 ERA. That was a mirage. Not because of BABiP; Wells' was .294, just moderately lucky. Rather, his 76-percent strand rate was unsustainable, and this year it's been just 66 percent. Toss in Wells' incredibly unlucky .361 BABiP and you've got the recipe for a decidedly non-tasty 5.21 ERA.

Let's give some (rare) credit to the Cubs' decision-makers, because (to this point, anyway) they haven't panicked. I don't know if they know that Wells isn't fundamentally pitching any worse than last year, but he's still in the rotation and eventually this thing's going to turn around for him.

Feldman, too. If he keeps striking out twice as many hitters as he walks, his ERA is going to drop. I don't know if he'll ever win 17 games in a season again. I do think he'll be an asset as the Rangers continue their drive for a spot in the postseason tournament.

Making Scott Feldman's case (again)

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
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From the third inning of today's A's-Rangers game, and one of my favorite broadcast teams:
    Josh Lewin: Greinke and Felix Hernandez seem to be the favorites for Cy Young, but I don't know, Tag. I understand that Scott Feldman doesn't get a lot of national attention. If he ends up 20-5 -- say his ERA's about 3.30, 3.40 -- does he at least get some consideration?

    Tom Grieve: Sure he does. I don't think it's, you know, a slight at all if you come in the top five in the top five in the Cy Young voting. That's a pretty nice season. Whether you win it or not. If he wins 19 or 20 games and has that kind of an ERA and finishes in the top five, that's a spectacular season. That solidifies his spot as a top-of-the-rotation guy, and probably next year's Opening Day starter.

All that was before Feldman gave up seven runs in three-plus innings, with his ERA jumping to 3.90 rather than dropping. He's not going to win 20 games. As for being the Rangers' Opening Day starter next spring, I'm afraid that's not going to be a great honor.

Still, it's been an amazing season for Feldman. As Lewin pointed out later in the conversation, Feldman opened the season in the nether regions of the Ranger bullpen, got hammered in his first three outings, and entered the rotation only because Kris Benson got hurt and the manager was desperate.

But Feldman pitched effectively in his first start and he's been in there ever since.

I don't know that he's ever going be anyone's idea of an ace, though. His strikeout-to-walk ratio this season is just 1.74. He's given up a .264 batting average on balls in play, which simply isn't sustainable. He's managed to pitch seven full innings only four times all season.

Essentially, Feldman is a No. 3 or No. 4 starter with a No. 1 starter's record and a No. 2 starter's ERA. Hey, it happens. If it's one of your guys, you enjoy the ride and make your plans accordingly. Feldman's earned his slot in the rotation next year. But if he's the best the Rangers have, they're in trouble.

A voter should consider everyone, from Zack Greinke (15-8, 2.08) to Brian Tallett (7-9, 5.39) and everyone in between (including relievers). But a voter has time to seriously consider only so many pitchers.

Do you know how many lines are on a Cy Young ballot?

Three.

How much serious consideration is necessary to determine that Scott Feldman is not one of the three best pitchers in the American League?

Three minutes? Less?

Feldman might finish fifth or sixth in the voting, if a few of the more win-obsessed voters give him a token nod for third place on their ballots. He might get a bit of down-ballot love from one or both of the voters who cover the Rangers. But he's not a great pitcher, and by most standards he's been far from spectacular.

Great story, though.

Who will start for Rangers in 2010?

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
1:42
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Jeff Wilson on the Rangers' rotation in 2010:
    Kevin Millwood hit his magic number Monday night when he got Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis to bounce into a double play in the fifth inning. The right-hander reached 180 innings to automatically earn a $12 million contract for next season and lock up a spot in the Rangers' 2010 rotation. After Millwood and 17-game winner Scott Feldman, though, there are no guarantees for the rotation.

    Sure, Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland are strong candidates, but manager Ron Washington said that that rookie duo will have to earn a spot during spring training. "Once we get to spring training, everyone's going to be competing," he said. "Hunter and Holland, they've still got to compete. Doing good the first time around, the challenge comes the second time around to repeat."
The funny thing about that? Hunter and Holland haven't actually doing so good. Holland's got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among the Ranger starters, but he's also given up the most homers and has a 6.17 ERA. Hunter's 8-4 with a 3.25 ERA, but has struck out only five hitters per nine innings. Both are still exceptionally young -- Hunter turned 23 a few months ago, Holland will turn 23 in a couple of weeks -- and both still figure as major leaguer starters. But both still have a lot to prove.

Which I suppose is Washington's point.

Among the other candidates for next season's rotation: Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, and Eric Hurley. Hurley has spent this season on the disabled list, and Harrison has joined him for much of the season. Nippert's 28, and has a 5.73 career ERA. This season's been his best, but he's still walked too many batters and given up too many home runs. Neftali Feliz. Well, we know about him, don't we? A starter during most of his professional career, Feliz has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen since joining the big club in August, and given up only 12 hits in 28 innings.

Feliz is even younger than Hunter and Holland, and one should not trifle with talent like his. Still, it's hard for me to imagine a winning rotation next season that doesn't include Feliz for at least half the season.

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