texas rangers

Cole Hamels refuses to take the easy way out after tough loss

Cole Hamels refuses to take the easy way out after tough loss

ARLINGTON, Texas — Roughly a half-hour after the Cubs were handed their second straight loss Sunday evening, Cole Hamels stood at his locker and faced the music.

He was presented an opportunity to at least partially blame home plate umpire James Hoye for the big fourth inning that helped swing the game in the Rangers favor, but Hamels didn't take it.

Instead of blaming the questionable calls, the 35-year-old veteran was accountable and took responsibility for the loss.

With a runner on first, two out and the Cubs holding a 4-1 lead, Hamels walked Logan Forsythe on a full count pitch that was somehow called a ball (left image below) and then wound up walking Jeff Mathis with another curious call mixed in:

That loaded the bases for Rangers leadoff hitter Delino DeShields, who battled to a full count and then took Hamels deep to left for a go-ahead grand slam.

Hamels wasn't about to let Hoye shoulder the blame.

"I don't think that really needs to be the focus," Hamels said. "When you're able to pitch and you get guys out, you have to be able to establish strikes and you have to be consistent and you have to keep attacking the zone. I got to the bottom of the order and I let it get away from me. 

"In that situation with Delino, it was coming down to — you don't want to walk a guy. It's something that we focused on a lot during spring — not doing it and making guys earn the base. Obviously Delino did, but it was falling behind and not executing when I needed to. 

"The situation can change. When you attack down in the zone, you give yourself a better chance to get groundballs, especially with the type of hitters they had. You can get some groundballs here. I wasn't able to do that. When you build momentum for them, that's when the mistakes happen and that's when they capitalize."

DeShields' grand slam gave the Rangers a 5-4 lead and while the Cubs bounced back a couple innings later, the bullpen was hit hard again and the Cubs wound up on the wrong end of an 11-10 rubber match.

Many Cubs fans will point to the bullpen imploding as the main culprit, and that's fair to do so. But Hamels was focusing on his own lack of execution in the fourth inning, unable to hold a 4-0 lead his offense had given him.

"It's the disappointment of letting that inning get away from itself," Hamels said. "I can't walk guys. ... Sooner or later, I finally had to throw a pitch down the middle because I'm not about to walk a guy in in a bases-loaded situation. Delino obviously knew what he was looking for and he executed and came away the victor. I have to not put myself in that situation where I have to then come with something that's pretty predictable."

So it wasn't the egregious missed call where Hoye gave Forsythe a free pass instead of an inning-ending strikeout?

"You can't focus on it like that's what dictated the game," Hamels said. "It's the fact that those 3 walks pretty much moved the lineup, gave them momentum and obviously created a big inning for them."

The Cubs scored 28 runs in the three games in Texas, but come away with only 1 win. They plated 16 runs in the last two contests and wound up 0-2.

That's not the way this team wanted to start out the season after a tough finish to the 2018 campaign and all the talk of "urgency" and "edge" this winter. 

Still, the offense was a big takeaway, and that's where Hamels kept bringing the focus back to.

"The amount of times we fell behind in the game and we climbed right back, you have to give them credit because they fought tooth and nail to get runs," Hamels said. "They got guys on, they were starting off the inning with a guy on and no outs. We were able to manufacture [runs]. 

"I think that's a real good positive we're taking away from this week is knowing that these guys are going to come out and they're gonna put up runs. For us pitchers, it's basically to get those shutdown innings. When we're able to establish that and get into a sort of rhythm, these games are going to be pretty entertaining for us and they're gonna come out more on our side."

Cubs start out 2019 on the right foot: 'October begins in March'

Cubs start out 2019 on the right foot: 'October begins in March'

ARLINGTON, Texas — A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

The Cubs may not actually be traveling a thousand miles by foot, but the old Chinese proverb still applies — the only way the Cubs could go out and walk the walk on Opening Day was by picking up a decisive win over the rebuilding Rangers.

That's exactly what they did after all spring — and winter — of talking the talk.

Nobody should overreact to one game and declare the Cubs "fixed" or state with any sort of definitive proof that all the offseason changes to add more urgency and edge have taken ahold.

But all the Cubs could do was win the day at hand — get out to a 1-0 start and look good doing so in a 12-4 victory.

As Theo Epstein met with the media before the game, he spoke glowingly of the Cubs players and how they've stepped up to respond to the challenge for more urgency all spring following last fall's disappointment. 

"Instead of hearing about the marathon of the season — which it is — we're hearing a lot about showing up every single day, about October begins in March," Epstein said. "That's really something that's coming out in our player group and I think it's the best possible way to react to a disappointing end to last year's season. I'm proud of them, but now that the season's starting, we have to prove it.

"Talk is talk. Them showing up everyday with a strong desire to win and assert ourselves on the field, take the game to our opponents, we'll all know it when we see it. I feel good about this group and their attitude."

Manager Joe Maddon lauded his players for their offensive approach, believing they carried over the same quality at-bats they were having from spring training to the regular season.

"That was a pretty nice performance," Maddon said. "I thought we played well. We played with a lot of energy, man. A lot of energy. And it was really fun to watch."

Again, it's just one game and it's very easy to get up and play with energy on Opening Day.

But after Elvis Andrus deposited Jon Lester's pitch into the Cubs bullpen in right-center in the bottom of the third inning, the Cubs responded with 12 unanswered runs. 

They lulled the Rangers to sleep with a bunch of groundballs up the middle and patience (drawing 8 walks), but also asserted their authority over the Texas pitchers with a multi-homer game from Javy Baez as well as a 426-foot opposite-field dinger off the bat of the now-healthy Kris Bryant.

Every Cubs starter scored a run, including rookie Mark Zagunis making his first Opening Day roster. Baez, David Bote and Ben Zobrist all scored twice. It was the first time the Cubs had scored at least 12 runs in the season opener since 2006.

So this offense that "broke" down the stretch last season is all fixed, right?

"Yep,that's all we needed," Bryant joked, before turning serious. "I think offensively that was better than any game we had last year, so that's a good start. Hopefully we can continue with it. Great game to be a part of. Not stressful at all — just going out there, scoring a lot of runs."

The Andrus homer was the only blemish on Lester's line as he recorded a quality start en route to picking up his first win of the season. 

"Every year you have an opportunity to win, you want to take full advantage of it," Epstein said. "We have a special group of players, this is a special era of Cubs baseball and each year we want to make sure we leave nothing undone in our pursuit to make the most of it and win. 

"This group has won and I believe they'll continue to win, but we want no regrets, we want to put our best foot forward and that's how we should all approach our jobs and that's what this group is all about. It doesn't mean we're not gonna have adversity along the way. 

"I believe that this group has responded the right way to the adversity we faced at the end of last season."

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Texas Rangers

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Texas Rangers

As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

Behold the weirdest starting rotation in baseball!

Seven different pitchers started at least a dozen games for the Rangers during the 2018 season. Only one remains. Texas went through a starting-pitching overhaul this winter, letting walk the likes of Bartolo Colon, Yovani Gallardo, Martin Perez, Doug Fister and Matt Moore. They traded Cole Hamels to the Cubs last summer, and so the only one of that not-so-magnificent seven that remains is Mike Minor and his 4.18 ERA.

He's the "ace" of the bizarre hodgepodge of one-time promising pitchers that the Rangers will be calling a starting staff this summer. After Minor, there's Lance Lynn, whose agent somehow got him a three-year contract coming off an age-31 season that saw him finish with a 4.77 ERA. Then come — I kid you not — three guys who combined to make four starts in 2018: Drew Smyly, acquired from the Cubs after spending last season recovering from Tommy John surgery; Edinson Volquez, a one-time Rangers mega prospect who also spent 2018 recovering from Tommy John; and Shelby Miller, now on his fourth big league team after three nightmarish, injury-plagued seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Whoo boy.

But let's be honest, the Rangers have rarely been about pitching. They're about dingers! And they still have Joey Gallo, who hit 40 home runs last year! Case closed. (Dusts off hands.)

For a team that loves dingers so much, though, the Rangers only had four 20-homer guys in 2018: Gallo hit 40 and the trio of Shin-Soo Choo, Jurickson Profar and Nomar Mazara hit a combined 61. But none of those guys hit better than .265. In fact, only one guy on the team hit better than .265, and that's the now-retired Adrian Beltre.

Beltre's departure is probably still the headline in Dallas this season — that and which Ranger will now fly into fits of rage when Elvis Andrus touches their head? — which is a strong indication of how un-rosy the forecast is for the 2019 product. Replacing Beltre is Asdrubal Cabrera, who put up some not-so-great numbers after getting dealt from the New York Mets to the Philadelphia Phillies in the middle of last season.

So the bright spots are hard to come by. To get through this season, Metroplexers, go listen to the first three Old 97's albums on repeat until October.

2018 record: 67-95, fifth place in AL West

Offseason additions: Asdrubal Cabrera, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Shelby Miller, Jeff Mathis, Jesse Chavez

Offseason departures: Adrian Beltre, Robinson Chirinos, Yovani Gallardo, Jurickson Profar, Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister, Matt Moore, Martin Perez

X-factor: Uh, how about the bullpen? Jose Leclerc has been promoted to closer because the mass pitching exodus out of Arlington applied to the relief corps, too. But Leclerc was legit excellent in 2018, the owner of a 1.56 ERA in 59 appearances. His 13.3 K/9? Italian chef kissy fingers. And behind him is former Ranger/former Cub/current Ranger Jesse Chavez, who was a legit loss for the Cubs' 'pen after he allowed just five runs in 39 innings with the North Siders down the stretch last season. So for fans staring at a lineup full of the same old guys that offer little past Shin-Soo Choo's predictably excellent on-base percentage, look to the bullpen (at least the back of it) for some good vibes.

Projected lineup:

1. Shin-Soo Choo, DH
2. Rougned Odor, 2B
3. Elvis Andrus, SS
4. Nomar Mazara, RF
5. Joey Gallo, LF
6. Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B
7. Ronald Guzman, 1B
8. Jeff Mathis, C
9. Delino DeShields Jr., CF

Projected rotation:

1. Mike Minor
2. Lance Lynn
3. Drew Smyly
4. Edinson Volquez
5. Shelby Miller

Prediction: Fifth place in AL West, no playoffs

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