The Texas Rangers came out of their Opening Weekend against the Chicago White Sox with a 2-1 series victory, with little that happened in terms of season-altering significance, and just as importantly, no injuries. Here are the 5 key things that we learned from this series:
1. Colby Lewis still has one of the most effective pitches on the team
Lewis doesn’t possess the ability to reach the mid-90’s with his fastball like the other four members of the Rangers starting rotation, nor does he have some of the flash in his secondary pitches like the younger guns do. What Lewis does have, however, is a devastating slider that he is comfortable with, can locate, and can completely baffle a big-league hitter when it’s working. It was certainly working during the Rangers game on Friday, throwing 29 sliders, with 22 of those for strikes, and 11 of those for swinging strikes. Those are all incredibly impressive numbers. The key of Lewis’ slider is that it looks like his fastball, right up until it breaks. This makes the slider tough to hit, and also works backwards to make his fastball better, even if it averages 88 mph.
2. The Rangers bullpen can be very, very good
Despite collecting the loss after Joe Nathan surrendered the go-ahead home run in the Rangers second game, the bullpen performed admirably over the three-game series. The collective stat line for the six different relievers the Rangers used was: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP. The only reliever who went unused was Scott Feldman, and as he is the Rangers long reliever, that is typically a good sign.
3. Matt Harrison knows how to pitch at the Ballpark in Arlington
In a game where his opponent allowed three home runs, Harrison only allowed 3 fly balls, total. In a stadium that has been one of the more hitter-friendly parks in Major League Baseball since it opened in 1994, it is crucial to induce ground balls and keep the ball from flying out of the yard once they get in the jetstream to right-center field. Harrison threw a 2-seam fastball for 48 of his 103 pitches, and tallied 6 swinging strikes off of that pitch. The 2-seamer has a sinking action that makes it difficult to elevate. In Sunday’s game, it was also the hardest pitch Harrison threw, maxing out at 96-mph.
4. The Rangers offense is going to be one of the best for a reason
The Rangers only scored 11 runs over the 3-game series against the White Sox, which is good for a tie at 22nd in the league in runs scored so far in the season. The reason this offense will still be among the league leaders at the end of the season is that it does not rely on only one or two players to carry the rest of the group. Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, and Elvis Andrus are all off to sluggish starts (combining for 3 hits and 11 strikeouts), but the rest of the team is picking up the slack. From batting order slots 1 through 9, the Rangers are a tough out, and over the long haul will be a very productive unit.
5. The Rangers ballpark staff is great at their jobs
From the music, to the video montages, to the entertainment between innings, to the concessions, and to the polite and friendly ushers, a trip to the Rangers ballpark is always fun, fan-friendly, and worthwhile. Chuck Morgan, PA man and in-game entertainment savant, creates an audio/visual experience that is in a league of its own. He even got the fans involved by using Twitter to let individuals have a say in the song the Rangers took the field to for the first time in 2012. As an attendee of Opening Day, I have to tip my hat to a job well done by the ballpark staff all the way around.