May 13, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz (17) rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam home run during the third inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
The Angels and Rangers played their first bout in the 2012 season, and everyone outside of Texas fans has to be disappointed with the results.
So, the first series between the Rangers and their supposedly-biggest division competition is in the books, and all told it went fairly well. With wins in games one and three, Texas took the series.
The legion of baseball media has to be a bit disappointed, though. This was likely circled the moment the schedule was out as one of the first big series of the year; a showdown between two AL powers figured to be close to one another. It was the first chance for one AL West team to directly gain some significant ground on the other. It was supposed to be a tight, thrilling series.
Instead, the Angels came in a whopping seven games back. The seemingly-perfect Yu Darvish vs. C.J. Wilson opener was ruined by rain, and the Rangers won two of the three games in laughers.
Disappointing for the mass media, but not for Rangers fans.
What we learned is that Yu Darvish is something special. He struck out seven despite having a game broken up by rain in his first start ever against his new rivals. There were three walks, two home runs, and only 5.1 innings, but considering the rain delay we should all still be happy with what we saw. Though, I guess we already knew he was special.
For his six innings in the series -- including not coming back after a rain delay -- C.J. Wilson pitched six innings with five strikeouts, four walks, and six earned runs.
Neftali Feliz also continues to look like a good choice for the rotation, striking out five against two walks in six innings. He did it pumping his fastball in relentlessly and getting putrid contact off of it. It was a one-game sample, but it was an example of Feliz being able to survive at least one game without being able to get his off-speed stuff over. All that said, while he only threw three change-ups in the third game of the series -- only one for a strike -- all three resulted in whiffs. We already knew he had crazy heat, though.
Then there's the relentless Ranger offense. Three more home runs from Josh Hamilton. Five more base hits from Elvis Andrus. And Nelson Cruz is finally on fire, with six hits, two walks, a double, and a home run in the series. The home run was one of the most exciting moments in the Ranger season: a two-out grand slam off Jared Weaver to make the game 6-2; an enormous 28% swing in win expectancy. His wOBA on the season is now .321, inching closer to his expected mean. Of course, we also knew the Rangers had a destructive offensive force and Nelson Cruz was one streak away from being fine.
The series goes down as a 2-1 Rangers win, but it wasn't really that close. Texas outscored the team that many in the media felt was going to take away their crown 25-13. Their two victories were effortless beatdowns, and their loss featured just one fewer total base. The Angels needed some good luck and small ball to eke out a victory in the series, while the Rangers steamrolled through the other two; including the one where their ace started against a first-year starter.
It should be pointed out that this series didn't actually mean a whole lot as far as the Rangers' standing in the division, though. A sweep would have been awful, but other than that, a game added or subtracted from the standings wasn't going to do a whole lot. The way the Angels have fallen back so early in the season is sort of like being back six runs to start the third inning. You might still win, but you're so far back that scoring a run still won't do more than cause a slight bounce on the chart. Watch, at the time this is being written, Baseball Prospectus places the Rangers' odds of winning the division at 81.4%; you won't see that go up much when you click the link as you read this. Win or lose this series, Texas was going to need an epic collapse and an incredible run by Anaheim to botch this. It could happen, it's just not much less likely than it already was.
So, what we learned is this: Texas is capable of dominating inferior competition. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are inferior competition. It is only a month in to the season, and yet they do not look at all like they are on the same level as the Rangers, no matter how much money they spent. They are likely a good team, but when they have to deal with a great team in front of them, they are most likely playing for a Wild Card without something special happening, and Texas reminded them of that in their first meeting.
Then, we probably should have known that, too.
Oh well, it's nice to have some confirmation.