Lance Berkman usually says whatever he’s feeling and he’s one of the most interesting interview subjects in professional sports because of it.
But he probably crossed some sort of line in Rangers camp Tuesday. Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has the story from Surprise, Arizona:
Berkman, who signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Rangers in the off-season, didn’t miss an opportunity to fire the first shot about the 2011 season.
During the team’s annual meeting before the first full squad workout of spring training, manager Ron Washington spoke about the players in the clubhouse who had been through the “war” of a baseball season.
“He forgot about me and then he was like, ‘Berkman has been through the war too,’” Berkman said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, we won that war.’”
Berkman’s Cardinals beat the Rangers in a wild seven-game series that featured one of the craziest postseason baseball games in the sport’s history. And the “Big Puma” played a huge part in capturing that championship for St. Louis. But he is with Texas now, and all the Rangers fans I’ve met despise rehashing the 2011 Fall Classic like they’ll probably despise Berkman’s use of “we” when referring to his former team.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.