In high school, I had a friend on my baseball team named John. John was our center fielder, and a good one at that. It felt like he covered center field in high school the way that Craig Gentry covers center field for the Rangers. He ran well, threw well in the outfield, was our third-best starting pitcher, and could hit a little too. However, the role that John filled best for our team was the giver of the pre-game speech.
So far in 2012, the Texas Rangers are taking advantage of the 1st inning of games to set the tone. The Rangers are outscoring their opponents 49-28 in 1st innings this year. The +21 run differential in the 1st inning makes up the largest chunk of their total +80 run differential any other inning. Rangers hitters have a .851 OPS in the first inning, and the pitchers have a 3.34 ERA in the 1st inning for the whole season.
In the last three weeks, they have taken that mantra to an even greater level. Rangers pitchers have the following stat line over that stretch of time in the 1st inning: 19 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 18 K. That is a 0.95 ERA, 8.5 K/9, and 0.5 BB/9. As you may recall, Rangers starting pitching hasn’t been at its best during these past three weeks. Included in that timeframe is a 21-8 loss to Seattle, a 10-3 loss to Seattle, and a 12-1 loss to Oakland – possibly three of the most embarrassing losses of the 2012 season. The average runs scored by Texas opponents were 5.2 runs per game in those 19 games. Four of those 19 games were started by Scott Feldman, and six different starting pitchers were used in total. Despite the struggles, the health issues, and the defensive lapses that took place over that time, the Rangers have only allowed two runs in the 1st inning in the last 19 games.
Leading the game after the 1st inning does not guarantee a team will be winning the game after the 9th inning, certainly. However, the probability of a win does increase, and an argument could be made that there is a psychological benefit to winning the 1st inning as well. I know that if my old team won the 1st inning after one of John’s pre-game speeches, we became world-beaters in our minds. A little extra confidence can never be a bad thing.
Set the tone.