If the Yankees caught the Devil Rays at exactly the right time over the past week and a half, getting off to a 3-1 start in the season series against their nemesis of a year ago while Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, and Jorge Cantu languished on the DL, the opposite is true about the six games they'll play against the Texas Rangers over the next two weeks. As of this afternoon, the Rangers had a half-game lead on the Yankees for the second-best record in the American League, they're sixth in the AL in runs scored, but just five runs behind the second place Yankees (the Indians lead by a bunch), and fifth in the AL in ERA with a 4.21.
It's that team ERA that is the big news here. The Rangers pitching has been awful for years, and the primary reason their crop of young hitters has been unable to take the team into the playoffs. In 2001 and 2003 the Rangers were dead last in the AL in team ERA and they were in the bottom three in 2002. In 2004 they lept into the top half of the league on the strength of a fluke season by their bullpen, which posted the third best pen ERA in the majors, but their starters still struggled, posting a 5.16 mark, leaving few leads to be protected. Last year, their pen crashed back to earth and the Rangers once again finished among the worst three teams in the majors in team ERA.
This year, the Rangers rotation features just one pitcher who was with the team last year, and he, 24-year-old Kameron Loe, pitched primarily in relief in 2005. Loe's 4.15 ERA stands as the worst of the five men currently in the Texas rotation. While big trade acquisition Adam Eaton languishes on the 60-day DL following surgery on the middle finger in his pitching hand (he's due back in August), Loe, late-March acquisition John Koronka (25) and veteran free agents and former Phillies Vincente Padilla and Kevin Millwood have combined to record 14 quality starts in 24 tries. Meanwhile, Robinson Tejeda, who is younger than Loe (having just turned 24), and a more recent Phillie than Padilla, and more recent acquisition than Koronka, held the Devil Rays to three hits over five innings in his first start of the year on Tuesday. Other spot starters and new acquisitions Rick Bauer and John Rheinecker have also turned in solid, if abbreviated starts, with only famiar face R.A. Dickey, since dropped from the 40-man roster, stinking up the joint.
Things have been only slightly less encouraging in the bullpen, where Francisco Cordero has lost the closer job he's held for the past several seasons, but Akinori Otsuka, who came over in the Eaton trade, has picked up the slack, posting a 1.98 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 13 2/3 innings. No one else has been quite that dominant, but only another member of last year's staff, lefty C.J. Wilson, has been truly bad.
Back on the other side of the ball, the few Rangers hitters who didn't get off to hot starts have heated up in past weeks including Brad Wilkerson, the key player in the Alfonso Soriano deal, and Kevin Mench, who--as the Yankee broadcasters are sure to tell you far too many times over the next three days--discovered his shoes were a size to small and has been hitting the cover off the ball ever since he fixed his footwear. Most notably, Mench fell one game shy of Don Mattingly's shared record for most consecutive games with a homer (the record is eight, shared with Griffey Jr. and Dale Long, Mench hit homers in seven straight).
The good news is that the Yankees have Mike Mussina on the mound tonight and Gary Sheffield back in the lineup to get things off on the right, properly outfitted foot. Moose's opponent will be Vincente Padilla, a borderline All-Star for the Phillies in 2002 who posted similar numbers in 2003 before a pair of disappointing and injury-shortened seasons in 2004 and 2006. Still just 28, Padilla looks to be reestablishing himself as a solid mid-rotation starter, having failed to record an out in the sixth inning just once in six starts, and lasting through five in that exception. Padilla had one dominant outing against the Mariners two turns ago (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 K), which was immediatley preceeded by that stinker in Oakland (5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 HR). His other four starts have fallen in between those two extremes, though curiously he hasn't given up any other home runs in those four other starts.
Manager: Buck Showalter General Manager: Jon Daniels
Home Ballpark (2005 Park Factors): Transarmitronick Ballpark dela Arlington (104/103)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Ian Kinsler replaces Alfonso Soriano (Kinsler is on the DL, Drew Meyer is up in his place with Mark DeRosa starting at second)
Brad Wilkerson replaces Richard Hidalgo
Phil Nevin takes over David Dellucci's playing time
Gerald Laird inherits Sandy Alomar Jr.'s playing time
D'Angelo Jimenez replaces Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Brown replaces Laynce Nix
Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, Robinson Tejeda and John Koronka replace Chris Young, Kenny Rogers, Chan Ho Park, Pedro Astacio, Ryan Drese, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Juan Dominguez with a little help from Kameron Loe
Akinori Otsuka replaces Francisco Cordero as closer and Doug Brocail on the roster
Antonio Alfonseca replaces John Wasdin
Rick Bauer replaces R.A. Dickey, Erasmo Ramirez and others
1B Mark Teixeira (S)
2B Mark DeRosa (R)
SS Michael Young (R)
3B Hank Blalock (L)
C Rod Barajas (R)
RF Kevin Mench (R)
CF Gary Matthews Jr. (S)
LF Brad Wilkerson (L)
DH Phil Nevin (R)
R Gerald Laird (C)
S D'Angelo Jimenez (IF)
S Adrian Brown (OF)
R Drew Meyer (IF)
R Kevin Millwood
R Vincente Padilla
R Kameron Loe
R Robinson Tejeda
L John Koronka
R Akinori Otsuka
R Francisco Cordero
R Antonio Alfonseca
R Joaquin Benoit
R Rick Bauer
L Ron Mahay
L C.J. Wilson
15-day DL: R Ian Kinsler (2B), R Frank Francisco, L Brian Shouse, L Fabio Castro
60-day DL: R Adam Eaton, R Josh Rupe
Restricted List: R Omar Beltre
S Gary Matthews Jr. (CF)
R Michael Young (SS)
S Mark Teixeira (1B)
R Phil Nevin (DH)
L Hank Blalock (3B)
R Kevin Mench (RF)
L Brad Wilkerson (LF)
R Rod Barajas (C)
R Mark DeRosa (2B)