Texas Rangers: Sweep Defending NL Champs, deGrom Excels vs Orioles

Jose Leclerc shut the door in the ninth inning to lead the Rangers to their first Opening Day victory in years.
Photo Courtesy: Dominic Ceraldi

By Wiley Singleton

The Texas Rangers began their 2023 season at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies went to the World Series last season. They have two top end pitchers at the top of their rotation. Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler are two talented righties that throw hard. They were the main force behind the Phillies making it to the Fall Classic last season. Two of the main carries of the Phillies offense were hurt to open up the year. Two time NL MVP Bryce Harper is still healing from blowing out his throwing arm. He is one of the most dynamic and exciting players in baseball. Not having him hit third significantly weakened the Phillies attack. The Phils were also missing slugging first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins blew his knee out fielding a ball during Spring Training.

The best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, made his Rangers debut on Opening Day. He was opposed by Aaron Nola, who was making his 6th Opening Day start. Both righties throw very hard and are legitimate aces. Jacob deGrom walked out to his signature song: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” The atmosphere was electric in the ballpark despite the cold, windy conditions. The Rangers brass prefers to leave the roof open on Opening Day. Last season’s Opening Day was a blistering affair, as is often the case in Texas. That would have been a perfect day to close the roof, but they wanted to keep it open. This meant Jacob deGrom’s first start was in blustery, cold weather. That is extremely abnormal for an Opening Day in Texas. Fans in left field could feel the crisp kiss of rain and wind caressing them until the roof was closed mid way through the game.

After the brilliant Southern stylings of Lynyrd Skynyrd concluded deGrom opened up the game with a sensational 1-2-3 inning. Jake’s fastball crackled in at a menacing 102 MPH and Rangers fans were treated to a truly electric inning that was not only enjoyable, but cathartic. The Rangers fan who spent years suffering through watching the likes of Ariel Jurado pitch got a special sense of relief and vindication when watching the deGrominator mow down three S class players.

The best shortstop in baseball, Trea Turner, led off the game for the Phils. Turner just signed a $300 million dollar, 11 year contract. He was mowed down by deGrom. Next up was defending NL homer champ Kyle Schwarber. He was disposed of quickly on a fly out. In lieu of injured MVP Bryce Harper, the best catcher in MLB, JT Realmuto, stepped up to the plate. deGrom reared back and blew JT away on a hellacious heater JT never saw. Strike three looking.

deGrom was spectacular in the first, mowing down the batters with purpose like a true ace. The most noticeable moment came when he overpowered JT Realmuto to retire the side in order. After the initial wave of cheering, there was a second, more pronounced uproar. 

“Thank you. We waited so long for that,” the cheers echoed. 

The true fans in the ballpark understood the implications of the debut. Pitching is everything in baseball. For years the Rangers lacked pitching. This was addressed in the offseason in the best way possible. deGrom annihilating the Phillies in the first inning was more than just one good inning. It was a representation of things to come. The Rangers are no longer a joke team without pitching. We have deGrom. We have the best pitcher in baseball. The front office finally cares and the team will be worth watching. This was the sentiment expressed in the encore for the Florida flamethrower.

Aaron Nola was brilliant for the first three innings of this game. He sat down the first nine batters he saw in order. This stood in dark contrast to deGrom, who ran into trouble in the second and third inning. The Phillies started sitting on deGrom’s fastball and had some nice batted ball luck, with seemingly every hit ball being down the line for extra bases or finding another hole. The game stood at 4-0 Phillies after three innings. After getting two outs and allowing a double, deGrom was pulled in the 4th. The crowd was stunned to see Jake struggle after the electric first. deGrom was clearly flustered with his performance and was not at the top of his game. He did not throw many changeups and the Phils were sitting on his heater. Top pitching prospect Cole Ragans came in to get the last out and did so. Ragans and sinkerballer Dane Dunning are the two long relief guys in the Rangers bullpen. Both are talented and expected to be solid starters in the future.

Aaron Nola returned to the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning. The score was 5-0 Phillies. The Rangers new ace had been chased from the game early. The Rangers had zero hits. It was a bleak time on a blustery day. Then like Teen Gohan of Dragon Ball Z the Rangers flipped a switch and hit an insane power spike. Corey Seager began the inning with a single. After Nate Lowe made an out, Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia hit a single. Top hitting prospect from Texas Tech Josh Jung walked after. Catcher Jonah Heim hit a double to score two runs. After that outfielder Robbie Grossman hit a towering three run Jimmy Jack to tie the game at 5. Nola was yanked after Brad Miller beat a ball into the ground and former Tigers closer Gregory Soto replaced the Phillies ace. Gregory Soto is a hard throwing lefty that used to be the Tigers closer. The Tigers traded him this offseason along with Roger Clemens’ son, Kody Clemens. Soto was great last year but got lit up in this game. Walk, single, steal of 2nd, walk, single is what Soto did before being yanked. By the time Connor Brogdan cleaned up his mess it was 9-5 Rangers. 

Rangers skipper Bruce Bochy then inserted their best lefty, Brock Burke, into the game. Burke did well but gave up a run. Brad Miller hit a two run shot in the next half inning to make it 9-6. Bochy intelligently left Brock Burke in the next inning. Burke retired the side in order. The next inning Jonathan Hernandez stranded a leadoff triple from JT Realmuto to escape scoreless. Hernandez pitched again in the 8th, taking advantage of the off day the following day. Hernandez set the Phillies down 1-2-3. Fireballer Jose Leclerc shut the door in the ninth inning to lead the Rangers to their first Opening Day victory in years. Win 11-7.

Game 2. – Game 2 of the series boasted an impressive pitching matchup. Zach Wheeler took on former Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi outperformed Wheeler in this game. The Rangers were up 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth when Wheeler walked free-swinging star Cuban outfielder Adolis Garcia. Third baseman rising star Josh Jung singled against reliever Yunior Marte. With two men on Mitch “Garvesauce” Garver hit a three run Jimmy Jack to make the score 7-3.

The Rangers waited until the bottom of the 7th inning to truly pour it on. Josh Jung opened the inning with a walk. Robbie Grossman followed with a single to right field. Mitch “Garvesauce” Garver hit another three run Jimmy Jack to bury the Phillies 13-3. 

In the top of the 8th former top end closer Craig Kimbrel made a fool of himself for a few batters until he was eventually replaced by third baseman Josh Harrison. Harrison was essentially meant to wave the white “gg” flag as he was popped for three more runs in this blowout. The Rangers were so ahead they eventually pitched Taylor Hearn. Win 16-3.

Game 3 – After hanging up a staggering 27 runs on the Phillies in the first two games of the series, the final game was a pitchers duel. The Rangers 27 runs in the first two games is second most all-time behind the 1951 Tigers. Martin Perez started this game for the Rangers and was solid. He went 5.2 IP and gave up one run. Brock Burke and Johnathan Hernanadez were great in relief again. Skipper Bruce Bochy called upon lefty Will Smith to close the 9th. Will Smith was effective and closed the ninth 1-2-3. Win 2-1.

Series against the Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles were absolutely horrific for the last six years just like the Rangers. They shocked people last season by massively over performing and winning 83 games. The O’s are led by superstar catcher Adley Rutschman. The brilliant young catcher is 25 and placed second in Rookie of the Year voting last season. World Baseball Classic choker Cedric Mullins is also on the O’s again this season. He killed the Rangers last season as part of the O’s decimation of Texas. The Rangers had a six game losing streak against Baltimore going into this series. 

Game 1 – The Rangers were embarrassed in this atrocity. O’s star catcher Rutschman had the day off. After hitting O’s starter Kyle Bradish with a liner and forcing him out of the game after 1.2 innings the Rangers failed to record another hit. Baltimore’s mediocre bullpen posted 7.1 of hitless relief against a lifeless Rangers attack. Jon Gray was solid, logging 6.1 innings of 2 run ball. The Rangers bats simply did not show up. Josh Jung saved the Rangers the embarrassment of being no hit. Loss 2-0.

Game 2 – Former Rangers opening day starter Kyle “Ace” Gibson was electric in his return to Texas. He shut the Rangers down for seven strong innings. Gibson has above average stuff and when he commands his fastball he is formidable like Vince Vaughn in his role as Mel Gibson’s loose cannon cop buddy in Dragged Across Concrete. Big offseason acquisition Andrew Heaney made his anticipated start for Texas. Heaney is a strikeout artist lefty with a nasty slider. His debut was akin to the Challenger’s. Heaney exploded before getting out of the 3rd inning, allowing a staggering 7 earned runs. Heaney looked wildly out of sorts. He had a blow up start. 

“The first game of the day does not count.” – Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski

Heaney should view this debut like a bad start to a gaming session. He should forget about it. Completely memoryhole it. This start should be dismissed as an aberration. This was the sort of game that is brutal to attend in person because the Rangers fell far behind early and never got close. This is what Opening Day was looking like until the Rangers 9 run explosion in the 4th inning. The only explosion in this game was Andrew Heaney. Loss 7-2.

Game 3 – In years past the Rangers would have lost this game 100%. The tepid offense would have choked and sputtered after falling behind early and the Rangers would have suffered a devastating sweep and lost control of 1st in the division. But this year is different. This year they have Jake. The deGrominator was opposed by Grayson Rodriguez. Adolis Garcia and Josh Jung got the Rangers on the board in the 1st inning with a double and single respectively. The Rangers notched two critical runs to give their ace a lead. What would Chan Ho Park have done with the lead? Choke it away immediately in the following inning. What did Jacob deGrom do? He struck out the side in order. 

Jacob deGrom, or Jake as Rangers fans affectionately call him as though he is a boyfriend or brother, showed off his ace pedigree in this game. He pumped his gas in a way reminiscent of M.I.As Paper Planes. After a quick 1-2-3 third to maintain the 2-0 lead Jake had another memorable moment. The Southerner blistered the top of the Orioles lineup with the precision and power of Dimebag Darrell during his time playing for Pantera. Big game choker Cedric Mullins was blown away to open the inning. Superstar catcher Rutschman was then disposed of with the brutal efficiency of a perfectly executed Summit spawn trap in Call of Duty: Black Ops. deGrom annihilated Anthony Santander to cap the 3 strikeout inning. 

The Rangers offense lay dormant like Blizzard’s StarCraft II Development Team and allowed the game to be tied 2-2. Many Rangers starters in the past would have allowed the game to get out of hand in the 6th after a leadoff walk. But Jake is not like other pitchers. He overpowered Anthony Santander as young star Rutschman tried to steal and was burned down at second by Jonah Heim. The strike em out, throw em out, double play was a momentum destroying moment for the O’s. The cleanup hitter Ryan Mountcastle was then brutalized like Tex Cobb in his fight with Larry Holmes for the final strikeout of deGrom’s start.

Garcia and Jung got the offense going again in the 6th inning. Garcia singled and Jung homered. 4-2 Rangers. Adolis Garcia is the most valuable position player on the Rangers. He has been much more patient this season. He swung at everything during his Rangers tenure and racked up a plethora of strikeouts. If he can fix this part of his game he will be an S class outfielder. He has a great arm, speed, and range. He is the Rangers best outfielder.

Will Smith replaced deGrom and was efficient again. He shut the O’s down in the top of the 7th. Nate Lowe doubled home a run in the bottom of the 7th. Jonathan Hernandez pitched a scoreless 8th. Jose Leclerc came in to shut the door in the 9th. Rangers won a crucial game behind deGrom’s 11 strikeouts. Win 5-2. 

The Rangers will take on the Cubs and the Royals next. The Cubs were bad last year and overpaid big this offseason. They are very beatable. Then the Rangers will take on the awful Royals in Texas. The Royals are the sort of team you should sweep like the 2012 Astros. The Rangers are tied for first in the division with the Angels at 4-2. 

Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
4/7 – 1:20 p.m. – at Cubs
4/8 – 3:05 p.m. – at Cubs
4/9 – 1:20 p.m. – at Cubs
4/10 – 7:05 p.m. – vs Royals
4/11 – 7:05 p.m. – vs Royals
4/12 – 7:05 p.m – vs Royals
4/14 – 7:10 p.m. – at Astros
4/15 – 6:10 p.m. – at Astros
4/16 – 6:00 p.m. – at Astros