Series Preview: Texas Rangers @ Chicago Cubs - Chilly Confines

She finds a sense of humor attractive - Jonathan Daniel

The Rangers are in for another drafty series in the Windy City where they hope their bats ignite to keep them warm

Series Schedule:

Tuesday, April 16 7:05: LHP Travis Wood vs. LHP Derek Holland

Wednesday, April 17 7:05: RHP Carlos Villanueva vs. RHP Justin Grimm

Thursday, April 18 1:20: RHP Jeff Samardzija vs. RHP Alexi Ogando

When I was going through the articles for the morning update, Todd Wills' stats comparison piece on the offense through the first 13 games of this season versus the first 13 games of last season caught my eye. A lot has been made about the offense coming out with barely any cylinders firing, so, it was mildly interesting to reminisce on how the team was performing last year when people were still comparing them to all-time great teams a few weeks into the season.

It's sort of a weird exercise to take a 13 game swatch of anything regarding a baseball season and compare it to a swatch of 13 different games within that season, much less those from an entirely different season. Seeing as how baseball begins with a clean slate, there's very little to go on trend-wise. Though, as pointless as I know it is, I do have an unhealthy knack for attempting to see how a new season is stacking up by how things were going in the previous season at any given point in time.

This is how I convinced myself that Ron Washington teams were perpetual slow-starters. But, mostly, the Rangers just became a better franchise that put better teams on the field and those teams were capable of winning more games over any two week period than they were in the earlier Ron Washington days.

It is obvious now that the '12 team began the year with several components in the lineup hitting well, whereas this season has seen many members in the order facing slumps. And while the Rangers began the year at home for seven comfortably warm dates in those first 13 games, you can't blame everything on an unusually cold day in Arlington and standard biting conditions in Seattle for all of the mediocre Ranger hitting so far this season. After all, the Rangers did play a series in Minnesota last season and scored 14 runs in a series sweep.

The real glaring piece of information that I noticed per Wills was that the Rangers scored 30 more runs (49 in '13 vs 79 in '12) through 13 games last year compared to this year. Granted, that was an unsustainable average of 6.1 runs per game, but that goes a long way to explaining the difference between an amazing 11-2 start and a solid 8-5 start.

Not to excuse what very well could end up being a simple downgrade in hitting talent, but it might be worth noting how much the environment for scoring runs has changed in baseball. And I'm not just talking simply about an expected change over a span of a decade or so. There has been change even in just the last few seasons. Things have taken a dramatic turn toward famine when we've been used to a proverbial feast of runs.

To paint a picture of the high-end of the run scoring scale, last year, the Rangers led the American League in runs scored with 808 (5.0 runs per game). Just a year before that, in 2011, the Red Sox led the AL with 875 runs scored (5.4 runs per game). In 2008, just five years ago, the Rangers led the league again with 901 runs (5.6 runs per game). The difference between the best team in the American League at scoring runs in 2008 and 2012 was nearly 100 runs.

If you go back to 2000, during the height of the steroid era, the White Sox led the AL with 978 (6.0 runs per game). That same year, the Rangers finished 9th in the league with 848 runs (5.2 runs per game). If in 2000, the Rangers had scored the 808 runs they led the league with last season, they'd have finished 11th in the 14 team league.

Runs are down in baseball across the board and the environment for scoring runs that led to the tradition of scoring runs in big numbers for the Ranger franchise - or any team - just doesn't exist anymore in 2013. So, even if the bats do get it together, we very likely won't see a return to the output of scoring that we've had a reputation for in Texas, and that's before taking talent into account.

All of this is to say, we might want to get used to the 4-3 baseball game.

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against the Lovable Losers of the North Side:

  • Derek Holland: 0-1, 5.40 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, .222 BABIP, 80.9% LOB, 3.50 FIP, 4.11 xFIP, 0.3 WAR - Last two starts: 4 runs allowed in 15.0 innings
  • Travis Wood: 1-0, 7.30 K/9, 3.65 BB/9, .235 BABIP, 76.9% LOB, 2.62 FIP, 4.32 xFIP, 0.4 WAR - Last two starts: 2 runs allowed in 12.1 innings

Advantage: Derek Holland has started The Year of Holland off on solid footing, putting together two quality starts. He'll allow his share of home runs, but so does Colby Lewis. Perhaps he'll someday learn the Lewis trick of keeping those home runs as the solo dong variety. Of course, there's that pesky issue of scoring runs, and the Rangers have, so far, scored a total of three runs in Holland's starts.

I'll give the advantage to Wood, however, because he's had himself an equally solid beginning to the season and the only guys he's faced from the Rangers' lineup are Lance Berkman (who is 7-11 against him), Jeff Baker, and Geovany Soto. I wouldn't be surprised if all three of those people end up watching Wood pitch from the bench.

  • Justin Grimm: 0-0, 4.50 K/9, 6.75 BB/9, .286 BABIP, 90.9% LOB, 7.53 FIP, 5.32 xFIP, -0.1 WAR - Last start: 2 runs allowed in 4.0 innings
  • Carlos Villanueva: 1-0, 5.79 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, .205 BABIP, 100.0% LOB, 3.53 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 0.2 WAR - Last two start: 1 run allowed in 14.0 innings

Advantage: I know it sounds bleak but I have to side with the opposition instead of Justin Grimm, even with a starter as vanilla as Carlos Villanueva. I don't know that I'd select Grimm in a match-up against very many Major League pitchers just because I don't know if he's a Major League pitcher himself yet. His first start wasn't very encouraging, but, then again, the Rangers did win that game and Felix Hernandez was the opposing pitcher on the mound. Who is Carlos Villanueva to Justin Grimm when he's already defeated The King? (Note: I am in no way attributing that win to Justin Grimm's pitching.)

I suppose it is worth noting that Villanueva has only allowed a single run all season and that came on a Justin Upton home run in the first inning of Villanueva's first start of the year.

  • Alexi Ogando: 2-0, 9.18 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, .267 BABIP, 88.2% LOB, 1.89 FIP, 3.14 xFIP, 0.7 WAR - Last three starts: 2 runs allowed in 16.2 innings
  • Jeff Samardzija: 1-2, 12.36 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, .295 BABIP, 71.4% LOB, 1.50 FIP, 2.28 xFIP, 0.9 WAR - Last three starts: 6 runs allowed in 19.2 innings

Advantage: Here's an interesting if it weren't another meaningless two-weeks-into-the-season-small-sample fact: The Rangers are 2nd in starting pitching fWAR (2.1) and the Cubs are 3rd (1.9) in baseball. Each team currently trails the clown car of quality starters in LA (not Anaheim, silly) on the Dodgers (2.5). For the Cubs, a large reason for why that is, is because Jeff Samardzija is currently 4th in baseball with a .9 fWAR. For the Rangers, a large reason for why that is, is because Yu Darvish is 3rd in baseball with a 1.0 fWAR so far. Well, and also, Alexi Ogando is 11th in baseball at .7 fWAR.

This should be a good match-up between two recently converted starters (Ogando in 2011, Samardzija last season) with high K rates (Samardzija with a Yu-ian 12.36 K/9, Ogando with a solid 9.18 K/9) and fun to say last names. I will give the advantage to Ogando because his overwrought origin story (spent years trying to join Rangers after involvement in a human trafficking ring) is more interesting than Samardzija's (played football well).

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Chicago Cubs (4-8, 4th Place in NL Central)

Rangers' 2012 Record vs. Chicago Cubs: Did not play

Chicago's Recent Results: 1-3 home series loss against the San Francisco Giants

Chicago's 2012 Home Record: 38-43 (2-4 at home in 2013)

Wrigley Field Park Factors (in 2012) (LHB/RHB): HR: 96/103 - Runs: 91/107

SB Nation Cubs Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Match-up: (as of 04/16) Rangers Cubs Advantage
Batting (RAR) -5.0 (21st) -13.6 (27th) Both worse than the Astros
Base Running (RAR) 0.1 (13th) -0.4 (17th) The Elvis Principle
Starters (RAR) 7.6 13.0 The Grimm Albatross
Bullpen (RAR) 6.4 (2nd) 1.8 (16th) Remember when the bullpen was going to be the weakness?
Defense (UZR) 5.1 (6th) -10.1 (30th) That's just awful, Cubs
Overall (UZR + RAR) 14.2 -9.3 Rangers, surely

Questions to Answer:

  • Which former Rangers now on the Cubs do you miss the most: Alfonso Soriano, Scott Feldman, or Alberto Gonzalez?
  • Who is your Return of the McLemore Approved Player to Watch in this series? (I'm feeling a Derek Holland CGSO followed by a zany Harry Caray impression after the Rangers let him off of his leash.)
  • Over/Under: 14.5 runs scored by the Rangers in this series?
  • What's your guess for line (IP/H/K/BB/ER) by Justin Grimm in his second start of the Rangers' Tested Depth Tour?
  • Do you share Lance Berkman's opinion on Wrigley Field?
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"If they're looking for a guy to push the button when they blow the place up, I'll do it," he said.
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