Rangers make early lead stand up in Game 2

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On Friday, it was 5-0 after four innings.  Today, it was 5-0 after three.

The Rangers, though, held on this time.  Jumping all over Phil Hughes, they scored a total of seven runs in the first five innings and turned a five-run lead over to the bullpen in the sixth.  Colby Lewis was strong early, although just like in his start against the Rays, he wore down quickly.  He gave up a solo homer to Robinson Cano in the sixth to make it a 7-2 game and then allowed two more batters to reach with two outs.

At that point, it was obvious a move needed to be made.  Manager Ron Washington, though, again seemed to be throwing darts as far as whom to bring in.  Warming up in the pen were probable Game 4 starter Tommy Hunter and lefty specialist Clay Rapada.  Due up for the Yankees was the left-handed-hitting Brett Gardner.

Washington had to know that if he called on Rapada, the Yankees were going to counter with right-handed slugger Marcus Thames.  On the plus side, that would get Gardner’s speed and defense out of the game.  But Thames, who hit nine homers in 127 at-bats after the All-Star break and one more in the ALDS, was a definite threat to make it a 7-5 game with three innings still to go.

Fortunately, it all worked out for Washington.  Rapada entered, and Thames came in as a pinch-hitter.  The battle went on for nine pitches, with Thames battling back from down 0-2 to work the count full, but Rapada ended up with the strikeouts.

From there, the Yankees continued to threaten, but couldn’t come up with clutch hits.  They worked leadoff walks off Alexi Ogando in the seventh and Darren Oliver in the eighth, but left two men on in both frames.  Ogando’s strikeout of the red-hot Cano to end the seventh was just as big as Rapada’s an inning earlier.

So now, while the series is even and home-field advantage has gone to the Bombers, one has to think the Rangers are happier with how things went in the first two games than the Yankees are.  Both CC Sabathia and Hughes suddenly look vulnerable, and Texas has its ace lined up for Games 3 and 7.  The pendulum would certainly swing back in the Yankees’ favor with a win over Cliff Lee on Monday.  The Rangers would be at a far bigger disadvantage than the Yankees upon facing a 2-1 deficit.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.