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June 24, 2007

Every Given Sunday

Negative Vibes

by John Perrotto

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Ron Washington's name had been bandied about for years as a potential major-league manager. After 11 years as a well-respected third base coach in Oakland, Washington got his chance this season to skipper the Texas Rangers. Despite a current stretch of seven wins in nine games, it has been a nightmarish debut for the 55-year-old. The Rangers are 30-44, and are in last place in the American League West, 17 games off the Los Angeles Angels' pace.

Washington has been saddled with a starting rotation so bad that it has a chance to make history. His lineup is also without two of its top performers, as first baseman Mark Teixeira and third baseman Hank Blalock are on the Disabled List. However, Washington was always known for his upbeat nature as a coach, and he is staying true to his personality in his new job. A man who lost his home and most of his possessions when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans two years ago, Washington isn't getting down about being 14 games under .500.

"I've not once felt sorry for myself this season, and I won't feel sorry for myself," Washington said. "Why should I feel sorry for myself? I'm just the manager. The guys I feel sorry for are the players. They're busting their butts every day and not having many positive results to show for it. They are the ones I feel bad for."

Washington's first season hasn't gone smoothly on the player relations end, either. He has clashed with Teixeira about wanting the star slugger to take more pitches in the late innings of close games, and he had a dugout blowup with Gerald Laird over the catcher's pitch-calling.

However, Washington and his players insist that disharmony in the clubhouse has not been a factor in the Rangers' lousy season. "More than anything, it's been just a case of seemingly everything that could go wrong going wrong," said Rangers shortstop Michael Young, who signed a five-year, $80-millon contract extension during spring training that keeps him in Texas through 2013. "We've had our share of injuries and we've had a lot of guys, including myself, not perform up to what they are capable of. There are a lot of reason why we're where we're at. You certainly can't pinpoint just one factor."

Undoubtedly, though, the biggest factor has been the Rangers' starting pitching. The 6.64 rotation ERA easily ranks last in the major leagues, and matches the mark the 1996 Detroit Tigers starters posted, the worst since the Retrosheet Era began in 1957.

Here is a look at the Rangers' five most frequently used starters this season:


PITCHER            IP    ERA  SNLVAR  VORP
--------------------------------------------
Vicente Padilla   80.1  6.69   -0.6  -14.8
Kameron Loe       76.2  6.34    0.1   -8.5
Robinson Tejeda   73    6.29   -0.1   -5.8
Kevin Millwood    60.1  7.31   -0.7  -12.5
Brandon McCarthy  50.1  5.90    0.5   -1.5

"We expected to have better starting pitching than this," Washington said. "We thought we would get more out of our No. 1 (Millwood) and No. 2 (Padilla starters)."

As a result, the Rangers have wasted a strong performance by their bullpen, including a fine comeback season by closer Eric Gagne, who has a 1.239 WXRL and whose signing as a free agent is one of the few moves made by General Manager Jon Daniels that has worked out. Akinori Otsuka has a 1.454 WXRL and Joaquin Benoit's mark is 1.337.

"We came out of spring training really believing we had a good shot to win this division," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I don't think anybody saw this coming. There was too much talent on this team to expect us to have this kind of record. But this is where we're at. I know it's going to be tough to come from this far back to make the playoffs, but we're going to give it our best shot. If nothing else, we've still got to keep pushing and keep developing."

A positive attitude the Rangers' rookie manager maintains. "God never gives you more than you can bear," Washington said. "We'll be fine."

  • The Baltimore Orioles have been the most dysfunctional organization in the major leagues with another two-headed general manager, with Mike Flanagan sharing power with Jim Duquette, and owner Peter Angelos wielding--and often using--veto power. However, the Orioles took a major step this past week to try to change things by hiring Andy MacPhail as president of baseball operations. However, it was telling that Angelos brought in MacPhail without giving Duquette or Flanagan any inkling that the move was coming.

    MacPhail's first act in his new job didn't work out, as he failed to lure last year's National League Manger of the Year, Joe Girardi, out of the Fox and Yankee broadcast booths and back into the dugout as a replacement for fired skipper Sam Perlozzo. But the 54-year-old MacPhail is excited about the chance to turn around a franchise headed for a 10th straight losing season. MacPhail, the GM when Minnesota won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, and the Chicago Cubs' president the past 12 years, makes it clear that he is the man charged with getting things headed in the right direction. "I think it's important to have one voice," MacPhail said in his introductory press conference. "You're looking for all the help you can get, all the research you can get. But at the end of the day, it has to be clear who is responsible, who's accountable, for baseball operations."

    Many in Baltimore wonder if Angelos will really give MacPhail autonomy to run the show. While Angelos did not attend the press conference or return reporters' phone calls, MacPhail believes he will be able to run the Orioles unfettered. "I probably know Peter, in a baseball context, as well as anybody in the game," said MacPhail, who worked closely with Angelos on getting labor agreements with the Major League Baseball Players Association in 2002 and 2006. "I think that's one of the reasons that Peter wanted to talk to me. Any owner of any team has a prerogative of owning the team, and I outlined to Peter where I think those lines are. He's very comfortable with it. I'm very comfortable with it."

  • The Colorado Rockies have the best record in the National League since May 22 at 19-9. The key to the Rockies' surge has been pitching, as their ERA is 3.65 during that stretch. That's quite a contrast to the first 45 games of the season, when the Rockies' ERA was 5.00 and their record was 18-27.

    "In the history of this organization we have seen what offensive baseball can be. It can be exciting," manager Clint Hurdle, knowing the club record for victories in a season is 83 in 1995, told the Rocky Mountain News. "You send a handful of players to All-Star Games. But championships are won with pitching and defense and that's something we have started to emphasize."

    That's paying off this season, and reliever LaTroy Hawkins, new to the Rockies after signing as a free agent over the winter, isn't surprised. "We knew what we were capable of doing out of spring training, we just didn't do it," Hawkins said. "Now we are playing like we should have from the beginning."

  • Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones recorded his 2,000th career hit last Sunday on a first-inning single at Cleveland. "I want to work on the next 1,000," Jones said. "I don't know if I'll play long enough. We'll see." Jones is now 35 and PECOTA sees his quest for 3,000 as an uphill battle. While PECOTA projects Jones to have batting averages of .288, .289, .278, and .294 over the next four seasons, that would still leave him with around 2,500 hits at age 39.
  • From the rumor mill: Mets General Manager Omar Minaya is said to be itching to make a move to give his struggling club a boost, and his primary trade target is Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, eligible for free agency at the end of the season. The White Sox say they aren't sellers yet, but that mindset is likely to change as each loss pushes them further away from contention. Minnesota center fielder Torii Hunter is giving strong indications that he would be very interested in signing with Boston if he becomes a free agent at the end of this season, a concept becoming more likely each day as the Twins have yet to approach him about a contract extension. The Red Sox, though, may be somewhat cool on signing Hunter as they have top center field prospect Jacoby Ellsbury at Triple-A Pawtucket. Baltimore's chances of making a big deal before the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline have dimmed now that shortstop Miguel Tejada is on the DL with a broken wrist. Many around the Devil Rays believe troubled center fielder Elijah Dukes has played his last game for Tampa Bay after being optioned to Triple-A Durham and placed on the Inactive List. Oakland has asked designated hitter Mike Piazza to do some catching when he goes on an injury rehabilitation assignment to Triple-A Sacramento, a likely sign that Jack Cust will continue to get significant at-bats at DH, and that Jason Kendall's playing time behind the plate will decrease. Though Rick Ankiel continues to amaze in his conversion from pitcher to outfielder as he is hitting .269/.304/.568 with 19 home runs in 253 plate appearances at Triple-A Memphis, St. Louis isn't ready to bring him to the major leagues yet because he is out of minor-league options and would likely not clear waivers if they tried to send him back down. Look for Ankiel to get the call in August.

    John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
    Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

    Related Content:  The Who,  Peter Angelos,  Washington

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