Back in February 2009, I penned a cover story about the Texas Rangers' new philosophy of relying on kiddos from their farm system instead of throwing big money at the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park and Kevin Millwood. The youth movement was in full swing that spring as Elvis Andrus took over at shortstop, even though Michael Young asked to be traded for the first time because the Gold Glove winner was forced to surrender his position to a 20-year-old with no experience beyond Double-A.
Hard-throwing Dominican hurler Neftali Feliz and southpaw Derek Holland were also focal points of the team's new vision, brought to life by general manager Jon Daniels, with the expectation that both pitchers would find themselves as the top two starters in the rotation for years to come.
Of course, Andrus and Feliz became All-Stars, and Feliz would win the American League Rookie of the Year award on his way to setting the record for saves by a rookie (which was broken this year by likely NL ROY Craig Kimbrel).
Perhaps Feliz will someday find himself in the rotation, but if the ninth inning of Game 1 didn't prove his value as a closer, nothing will.
The club's readiness to compete for a World Series seemed to hinge on Holland's ability to complete the trifecta and become an elite player as well, even though the team earned its way to the series last year with little help from Holland. After his first two seasons, during which he posted a maddening 11-17 record with a 5.52 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 31 starts and 16 relief appearances, he showed flashes of becoming the kind of pitcher the Rangers had hoped for, but the bad far outweighed the good.
This year felt like a do-or-die season for Holland, even though he just turned 25 years old yesterday. And after the first half this season (7-4, 4.68 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), the Dutch Oven seemed destined to be remembered more for his cool nickname than his ability to live up to the high expectations bestowed upon him by an organization absolutely desperate to pluck a top-of-the-rotation starter from its farm system.
But then the inconsistent and frustrating Holland finally learned how to pitch instead of throw, and it started clicking for him on a regular basis.
Holland would win nine games and lose just one in his 14 second-half starts, with a much-improved 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and mound presence. (Of course, he would also grow out his hair and add a mustache that would embarrass a middle-schooler.)
In less than an hour, Holland heads to the bump at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to fully realize his potential. The Rangers need him to be good if they're gonna win it all this year and to assist in absorbing the likely departure of current ace C.J. Wilson to free agency in the offseason. This is where the patience of Rangers fans and Daniels pays off.
Holland faces 27-year-old Max Scherzer, who had similar flashes of brilliance with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but they never saw him evolving into a consistent pitcher and worried about his violent delivery.
Fortunately for Arizona, they parlayed Scherzer into their top two starters: Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA, 198 K, 1.09 WHIP this year) and Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49 ERA, 169 K, 1.20 WHIP). What you probably haven't heard is that Detroit could have had both.
When the Tigers dealt Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, New York gave up Kennedy, along with Phil Coke and Austin Jackson. But Detroit immediately shipped Kennedy and veteran Edwin Jackson (now with the Cardinals) to Arizona for Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth. Seven months later, Arizona traded Jackson to the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline for Hudson and David Holmberg.
Although he won a career-best 15 games this year, Scherzer is headed in the opposite direction of Holland, as his ERA jumped from 3.50 in 2010 to 4.43 this year and his WHIP rose from 1.25 to 1.35.
This afternoon, I expect Holland to illustrate why Daniels has repeatedly refused to deal or give up on him, while the Tigers wonder what could have been with Kennedy on the mound and Hudson teed up for Game 3.
Quick Hits -- Delmon Young, who had originally been kept off the ALCS roster because of an oblique injury, has replaced Magglio Ordonez, who's out with a broken ankle. Young's penciled in to play left field, but if he can't go, Andy Dirks will start. Young could give the lineup a boost, given his three homers in the ALDS and provided he's healthy. He's also 6-for-12 against Holland with two home runs.
-- From a recent column by ESPN's Buster Olney: "With the addition of Ogando to the relief corps, the Rangers' bullpen is easily the deepest among the four teams still alive in the playoffs, and it may be the deepest bullpen for any contender since the dynasty Yankees teams of '96-'01, a credit to the Texas front office." Couldn't have said it better myself.
-- As I wrote in the comments of Saturday's open thread, I think the lineup could use a new look. Something along the lines of:
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1. Kinsler 2. Young 3. Napoli 4. Beltre 5. Hamilton 6. Cruz 7. Murphy 8. Andrus 9. Moreland
Won't ever happen, though.
-- Game 1's play of the game had to be Moreland reaching for and snagging a bad throw by Kinsler in the top of the 5th inning with the bases loaded after Mike Gonzalez caused Alex Avila to hit an easy grounder to second base. If that throw gets away, it costs Texas at least two runs and likely the game.
See y'all in the comments!