Blogger Calls it Quits to Focus on Career, Marriage

adrian-beltre-spring-training-2016This is probably a good stopping point for my blog.

I haven’t been in much of a writing mood since the stunning end to the season, and I don’t see that changing with a new job and, now, a wedding to plan.

Surely people have been able to balance a full-time job and marital bliss with occasional blogging duties (and likely more), but I’m not there yet. It’s something to work toward down the road.

Perhaps the Rangers will finally win a World Series in 2017. And if they don’t, I’ll just keep waiting until next year.

Thanks for your readership.

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Currently Reading: Mickey and Willie

mickey-and-willie-by-allen-barra

Mickey and Willie by Allen Barra – Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays played on two different teams, in two different leagues and, for a while, on two different coasts, but together they embodied the dreams of American boys across the country. In addition to their shared position in center field and quick rise to stardom in baseball-crazed New York City, Mantle and Mays both struggled with their fame and the pressures that came with it, as detailed by author Allen Barra in this dual biography.

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Rangers Notes: Division Series again goes Blue Jays’ Way

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Texas players watch from the dugout as the Blue Jays storm the field following a 7-6 walk-off win on Sunday. Toronto swept the Rangers in three games.

It had to happen this way, of course. In Toronto, in a pivotal A.L. Division Series matchup and – in the end – in the most heartbreaking fashion possible.

For the second straight year, the Rangers’ playoff run came to an abrupt halt at Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays. The Texas infield botched a potential inning-ending double play in the bottom of the tenth Sunday, allowing Josh Donaldson to score from second base with the game-winning run.

The 7-6 victory gave Toronto a clean sweep after the club had taken Games 1 and 2 at Globe Life Park, knocking Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish around early and often while knocking the Rangers to the ground with a quick 2-0 series lead.

Hamels was rocked for seven runs (six earned) in three-plus innings of work Thursday afternoon as the Blue Jays cruised to a 10-1 rout, and Darvish permitted a career-worst four homers in a 5-3 defeat on Friday.

For Toronto in the series, Donaldson batted .538 with four doubles, Edwin Encarnacion posted a .917 slugging percentage and Troy Tulowitzki led the team with five runs batted in.

Polarizing Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista was held to just 2-for-12 (.167) at the plate, although one of his hits was a ninth-inning long ball off Jake Diekman in Game 1.

It’s all too much to write about right now. Maybe someday, but not yet.

Lucroy’s Option picked up

On Tuesday, the Rangers picked up the team option on Jonathan Lucroy’s contract for next year, giving them a clear-cut No. 1 catcher before the winter shopping season officially begins.

Lucroy, 30, split the 2016 campaign between Milwaukee and Texas, for whom he batted .276 over the final two months of the season while collecting 11 homers and 31 RBIs.

Although Lucroy is under contract for 2017 (at a bargain price of $5.5 million, no less), potential free agents Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond, Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland may have already played their last games in a Rangers uniform.

Coaching Staff Stays Intact for 2017

All members of Jeff Banister’s coaching staff – including third-base coach Tony Beasley, who was limited to dugout duties this year while undergoing cancer treatment – are expected to return next season.

Interim coach Spike Owen filled in for Beasley on the third-base line this season. Owen had been tabbed to manage the Class-A Hickory Crawdads before the big-league opportunity arose.

Others on Banister’s staff include pitching coach Doug Brocail, hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, bench coach Steve Buechele, bullpen coach Brad Holman, assistant hitting coach Justin Mashore and first-base coach Hector Ortiz.

And in a kind farewell gesture, the Rangers presented former player, coach, minor-league manager and replay coordinator Bobby Jones with a red 1965 Ford Mustang convertible prior to the ALDS against Toronto.

The 67-year-old Jones is retiring after logging 50 seasons of service in professional baseball, 29 of which were spent with the Washington Senators / Texas Rangers franchise.

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Rangers Notes: Club Secures Home-Field with League’s Best Record

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Sam Dyson receives congratulations from catcher Jonathan Lucroy after striking out pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe to end Friday’s 3-1 victory.

Following a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Friday, the Rangers secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and finished the regular season with the best record (95-67) in the American League.

Only the Cubs posted a better winning percentage (.640) than Texas, which matched the Washington Nationals with a .586 mark.

Yu Darvish notched a season-high 12 strikeouts Friday – fanning exactly half of the 24 batters he faced over six innings pitched – and delivered perhaps his most complete start since returning from Tommy John surgery.

His lone hiccup came in the top of the sixth, when Kevin Kiermaier drew a leadoff walk and was driven home on Evan Longoria’s RBI double. Darvish rebounded in a big way, striking out Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Jaff Decker in order to end the inning.

Texas, meanwhile, jumped on Rays starter Matt Andriese for a quick tally in the bottom of the first courtesy of Adrian Beltre’s run-scoring single.

Two innings later, Carlos Beltran laced a solo home run off Andriese that sailed just inside the right-field foul pole, and Rougned Odor clubbed a towering bomb to right in the sixth inning to give the Rangers a 3-1 advantage.

Darvish’s outstanding performance was followed by stellar outings from the team’s top late-inning relievers, always a promising sign as they tune up for the postseason.

Tony Barnette and Jake Diekman combined for a scoreless top of the seventh before Matt Bush worked around another Evan Longoria double in the eighth. Closer Sam Dyson then tossed a perfect ninth inning punctuated by a swinging strikeout of Logan Forsythe to end the game.

In a matchup that seemed fated to happen, the Rangers will again take on Toronto in the American League Division Series, rekindling the fiery rivalry that began during the 2015 playoffs.

The game times and projected starting pitchers are as follows:

Game 1 – Thursday, October 6, 3:30 p.m. (TBS)
RHP Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32)

Game 2 – Friday, October 7, 12 p.m. (TBS)
LHP J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (7-5, 3.41)

Game 3 – Sunday, October 9, 6:30 p.m. (TBS)
RHP Colby Lewis (6-5, 3.71) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00)

Game 4 (if necessary) – Monday, October 10, Time TBD (TBS)
TBD vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37)

Game 5 (if necessary) – Wednesday, October 12, Time TBD (TBS)
TBD vs. TBD

Texas could either start left-hander Martin Perez in Game 4 at Rogers Centre or bring back Hamels on short rest. The latter option would allow Darvish to start a decisive Game 5, if necessary.

Rays Come Back for Series Win

On the heels of their victory Friday, the Rangers had two chances to beat Tampa Bay and match the top regular-season record in franchise history (96-66 in 2011), but the Rays bounced back to win Saturday and Sunday to take the series.

Tampa Bay rode a quality start from Jake Odorizzi and a three-run homer from Corey Dickerson to a 4-1 win on Saturday before eking out a 6-4 extra-inning victory in the rubber game.

Hanser Alberto pulled the Rangers even on Sunday with his game-tying single in the bottom of the ninth, but Tanner Scheppers permitted a pair of runs in the tenth inning to help the Rays defeat Texas.

Prior to their series with Tampa Bay, the Rangers had taken two out of three contests from the Brewers at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Choo Activated, Poised for Playoffs

Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday after missing a month and a half with a fractured left forearm.

The 34-year-old Choo was hit by a pitch from Oakland’s Ross Detwiler on Aug. 15 and underwent surgery the following day, an injury that kept him from taking batting practice until late September.

He started all three games against Tampa Bay in right field, going 2-for-12 with a pair of singles and a pair of strikeouts. Choo’s availability could mean less playing time for Nomar Mazara in the upcoming division series.

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Currently Reading: Branch Rickey’s Little Blue Book

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Branch Rickey’s Little Blue Book by Branch Rickey – Espousing valuable pearls of wisdom at every turn (many of which are contained here), Rickey was at once an innovator, an agitator, a motivator, a shrewd debater and, ultimately, a Hall of Famer. In short, the legendary executive was many things to many people across baseball, and he generated such a wide variety of opinions that he was hung with nicknames ranging from “The Mahatma” to “El Cheapo.”

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Rangers Rack Up Second Straight Division Crown

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Third baseman Adrian Beltre (center) celebrates with his Texas teammates in the visitors’ clubhouse following Friday’s division-clinching victory over Oakland.

For the second year in a row, Texas used a clutch pitching performance from Cole Hamels to wrap up the American League West division championship, shutting out Oakland on Friday by a 3-0 final.

With a magic number of 1 heading into play, the Rangers needed either a win or a Mariners loss in order to clinch the seventh division title in franchise history. Seattle hammered Minnesota, 10-1, so Texas and its ace left-hander controlled their own fate.

Hamels displayed his usual effectiveness after going through a string of four straight subpar starts, scattering six hits and a pair of walks over seven shutout innings. The Athletics’ Kendall Graveman outdid Hamels with six perfect frames before running into trouble in the seventh.

Consecutive singles from Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond put runners on the corners with nobody out for Carlos Beltran, who hit an infield chopper to drive in Gomez. On the very next pitch, Adrian Beltre slugged a two-run homer off Graveman to give Texas pitchers all the support they would need.

Rookie right-hander Matt Bush followed Hamels by fanning two of the three men he faced in a spotless eighth inning, and closer Sam Dyson worked around Danny Valencia’s two-out single in the ninth to induce a game-ending grounder from Yonder Alonso.

The Rangers enjoyed a relatively subdued on-field celebration at Oakland Coliseum before heading back to the clubhouse. There they popped champagne, lit cigars and stressed the importance of achieving their ultimate goal.

“This is just the first step,” Beltre said. “We have 11 more games to win. We have a good team. We have a team good enough to win the World Series.”

Texas made its only two World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, getting shut down by San Francisco the first year before pushing St. Louis to seven games the second. Last season marked the team’s first A.L. West title in four years, but Toronto ousted the Rangers in a five-game divisional-round matchup.

Just four players remain from the squad that captured the first A.L. pennant in 2010 (Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Mitch Moreland), and they’re still leading the charge in their seventh season together.

“I feel like we’ve always had a lot of emotion,” Lewis said. “We play with a lot of passion, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes us good.”

The Rangers needed only 154 games to seal the division title, matching their 2011 rate for the fastest to clinch a playoff berth. They’ll play the final week of the regular season with a chance to secure the best record in the American League and, with it, home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Additionally, Jeff Banister became the fourth big-league manager since 1995 to win division titles in each of his first two seasons with a new club, joining Larry Dierker (Astros), Bob Brenley (Diamondbacks) and Ron Gardenhire (Twins).

Following Friday’s big win, Texas split the final two contests against Oakland to run its record to 92-64 on the year. Yu Darvish turned in a nine-strikeout performance Saturday as the Rangers rolled to a second straight shutout, 5-0, but the A’s stomped any hopes of a sweep with their 7-1 victory on Sunday.

Jeffress Returns from Restricted List

The bullpen received a boost when right-hander Jeremy Jeffress was reinstated from the restricted list on Friday, nearly one month after he was arrested on a driving while intoxicated charge in Dallas.

Jeffress, 29, spent the past few weeks in a Houston-area rehab facility, where he received treatment and was able to throw every day to keep his arm in shape.

When the Rangers clinched the A.L. West in Oakland, the team held a ginger ale toast so that Jeffress and fellow reliever Matt Bush – another recovering alcoholic – could celebrate before the champagne and beer were opened.

Righty Tony Barnette, meanwhile, also rejoined the Texas relief corps after being sidelined with a strained oblique muscle since early September.

Mavs Go Out in Memorable Fashion

With a 7-4 comeback win over Visalia on Saturday, Sept. 17, the High Desert Mavericks claimed the fourth and final California League title in club history.

Given a quick 1-0 lead with which to work, starter Collin Wiles dug a hole for High Desert by permitting two runs in the second inning and another in the fifth. The Mavs roared back, however, with a five-run bottom of the sixth against a combination of four Rawhide hurlers.

High Desert tied the score on a pair of bases-loaded walks drawn by Josh Morgan and Michael De Leon, then went ahead when Luke Tendler grounded into what should have been an inning-ending double play.

Visalia’s catcher forgot to tag Carlos Arroyo as he came home from third base, a miscue that set the stage for the next batter – Juremi Profar – to deliver a decisive two-run single.

The team will now depart the California League and move cross-country to Kinston, N.C., where it will change names and begin play in 2017 as part of the High-A Carolina League.

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Rangers Notes: Crazy Comebacks Help Trim Magic Number

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Elvis Andrus drove in Rougned Odor with his game-tying triple Tuesday at Minute Maid Park, then scored the winning run just one pitch later.

The Rangers increased their American League West lead to 8.5 games with a solid series in Houston this week, taking two out of three contests from the Astros while cementing their status as the best clutch team in baseball.

With the victories, Texas reduced its magic number to clinch the division to single digits (8 games) with 15 left to play.

Martin Perez was staked to an early lead on Monday thanks to Carlos Beltran and Rougned Odor, each of whom collected an RBI hit against Doug Fister in the top of the first inning. Odor drove in another run with a single in the third, although his best moment was still nearly three hours away.

Perez permitted just three hits in his six-plus innings of work, protecting a 3-2 advantage when he was pulled for Matt Bush in the seventh. Bush wiggled out of trouble and tossed a perfect eighth before handing the ball to closer Sam Dyson.

Following a flyout by Yulieski Gurriel, North Texas native Evan Gattis went deep off Dyson for his 26th homer of the season, knotting the score at 3-3 and forcing extra frames.

In the top of the twelfth, Odor — always a thorn in the Astros’ side — teed off on a fastball from Houston’s James Hoyt, sending the ball into the right-field stands and lifting the Rangers to victory. Keone Kela earned the win out of the bullpen while Jake Diekman picked up the save.

Tuesday’s matchup featured a quality start from A.J. Griffin and allowed Texas to showcase the come-from-behind prowess it has honed all season. Griffin fanned seven batters but departed on the short end of the 2-1 score after yielding solo homers to Jose Altuve and Jason Castro.

Closer Ken Giles was summoned to protect the slim lead for Houston in the ninth, and he got Adrian Beltre to ground out before inducing swinging strikeouts from Odor and Mitch Moreland. Giles’ third strike to Odor, however, sailed wide and put the tying run on base.

Elvis Andrus then followed with an RBI triple that flew over the head of center fielder Colby Rasmus and onto Tal’s Hill, driving Odor home and knotting the score. Jurickson Profar singled on the next pitch to push Andrus across the plate and set Texas up for a 3-2 victory.

The Rangers were unable to mount much of a rally on Wednesday, falling behind early when Derek Holland gave up a run in the first inning and two more in the second. Joe Musgrove, meanwhile, struck out seven Texas batters and delivered a quality start en route to an 8-4 win for the Astros.

Prior to their series in Houston, the Rangers took two out of three — including yet another one-run victory — against the Angels in Anaheim.

Friday’s 2-1 win was one of 33 Texas has taken by a single tally this season, and the team’s winning percentage in one-run games (.767) currently stands as the best mark in the modern era of baseball.

Expanded Roster Keeps Growing

The Rangers made their second round of September roster additions last Tuesday, activating right-hander Tanner Scheppers from the 60-day disabled list and recalling infielder Joey Gallo and outfielder Jared Hoying from Round Rock.

Scheppers, who had left knee surgery late in the offseason, made his first big-league appearance of the year with one perfect inning against the Mariners on Wednesday, and he didn’t allow a single baserunner over his first four outings.

Veteran righty Colby Lewis was activated for Sunday’s start versus Los Angeles while southpaw Michael Roth was designated for assignment. Roth appeared in one game for Texas, giving up six earned runs on 10 hits during an Independence Day loss at Fenway Park.

High Desert in Hunt for Cal League Crown

Just weeks after learning that the franchise will move to Kinston, N.C., in 2017, the Rangers’ High-A affiliate in High Desert, Calif., is chasing its fourth California League championship.

Led by manager Howard Johnson, the Mavericks charged through the 2016 regular season and into the playoffs on the strength of a roster that includes some of Texas’ top young prospects.

Jairo Beras and Luke Tendler each clubbed more than 20 homers while Scott Heineman led the team with 96 runs scored, and the High Desert pitching staff was anchored by right-handers David Ledbetter, Ariel Jurado and Collin Wiles.

The Mavs will face the Visalia Rawhide — Arizona’s High-A team — in a best-of-five championship series, and they can secure the title as soon as Saturday night.

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