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Rangers’ miscues to blame for ALDS Game 1 loss to the Blue Jays

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Though it’s no surprise to see double digit runs next to the Blue Jays’ logo in the score bug of any TV broadcast, it was rather interesting how the Jays came about those runs as the Rangers lost 10-1 on Thursday evening in Game 1 of the ALDS. The Jays registered third in the AL in home runs for the 2016 regular season, but truly didn’t need that power to beat the Rangers.

If the Jays are looking for someone or something to thank for Thursday’s win, it’s the Rangers’ sloppy defense and mental miscues. It began in the third inning. Facing Josh Donaldson with Ezequiel Carrera on first base, starter Cole Hamels uncorked a wild pitch, moving Carrera to second. Then the normally sure-handed Adrian Beltre couldn’t snag a Donaldson line drive for the final out of the frame. Instead, it caromed off of his glove into left field, allowing the Jays’ first run to score. The next batter, Edwin Encarnacion, hit a weak liner back to Hamels but the lefty couldn’t snag that one either as the ball instead dribbled out to Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Jose Bautista promptly brought another run home with a single.

After Hamels walked Russell Martin, the Rangers’ biggest miscue happened. With the bases loaded, Troy Tulowitzki slammed a 92 MPH fastball out to right-center field. It appeared that center fielder Ian Desmond had a beat on it, but as he approached the wall, he slowed up and the ball dropped in for a bases-clearing triple. Desmond is a shortstop by trade, but he played the entire regular season in center for the Rangers. It’s a play he has to make, especially in the postseason. Hamels finally got Kevin Pillar to ground out to end the inning.

The beatdown continued in the fourth inning as Melvin Upton, Jr. led off with a solo homer to right field. After Carrera flied out, Devon Travis hit a grounder to shortstop that appeared to be a routine 6-3 out, but Andrus threw wide of first base, pulling Mitch Moreland off the bag. Facing Donaldson, Hamels threw a fastball that catcher Jonathan Lucroy couldn’t handle and that moved Travis to second base. Donaldson then sent a soft liner to right field to bring Travis home.

Along with the handful of defensive miscues, Hamels’ mental unraveling was a big factor in the Rangers’ loss. As a Phillies fan, I had the pleasure of watching Hamels pitch in Philadelphia from 2006-15. For as good as he was, Hamels was prone to getting tilted. “Tilted,” for those not familiar, is a poker term that means letting unfortunate results affect your mentality, making you play worse from that point forward. If an umpire’s strike zone was too small, if a Phillies defender made a bad play, if Hamels couldn’t hit his spots… he would devolve, becoming increasingly stubborn as if he needed to fit a square peg into a round hole. Longtime catcher Carlos Ruiz and/or the pitching coach would have to come out to the mound to get Hamels back on track but it rarely ever worked. Hamels’ biggest enemy is himself and that was on display for everyone to see on Thursday.

As the Blue Jays showed last year, losing the first game of a best-of-five series isn’t necessarily a death knell for a team’s playoff hopes. But it’s just one more hurdle that the Rangers need to clear if they are to advance to the ALCS. They certainly can’t afford to have any more sloppy games like Thursday’s.

Yasiel Puig is still a free agent

Yasiel Puig
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Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.

There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.

The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.