There Is No Joy In Mudville
It would be easy to explain away the Rangers’ back to back losses by identical 12-4 scores to the Yankees as a team that’s in a pitching slump. Indeed, you could go back to the Minnesota series before this one and see further evidence of this. The Twins scored 14 runs in the last two games of that set before sending Texas off to Gotham. Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando and Derek Hollandall had bad starts. The bullpen hasn’t been much better. 38 runs given up in a 4-game span is not a good thing.
It would also be easy to place some blame on the offense as well. Nelson Cruz has been stuck below .250 for most of the season and is currently mired in an 0-18 slide with ten strikeouts (according to Dallas media reports, Cruz has now discovered a problem in his mechanics to explain the current slump. We’ll see.) Ian Kinsler, as previously mentioned in this space, has easily the worst road batting average in the majors, although he lifted it somewhat last night with a two for three, two walk performance. Add those consistent problems to Josh Hamilton having a mini-slump and you have a recipe for offensive troubles as well.
It would be easy to look at these things as the most likely culprits as the Rangers enter Thursday’s getaway day game with the Yankees with a slim one game AL West lead over the Mariners. To a certain extent, I agree with the assessment. There is, however, something else missing that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on until watching last night’s debacle.Texas is missing Joy.
Many may scoff at such a notion. Baseball is a numbers-driven game. Whether it’s looking at the basics of BA, ERA and OBP or expanding your horizons to FIP, WAR and BABIP, most of us who love the game also find using the numbers is the best way to explain a team’s fortunes. We tend to take the human element out of it.
Indeed, it is a way of life in society to approach any job as something you don’t take personally. It’s business, after all. It has to be done and, in fact, it usually gets done better when you don’t let your feelings get in your way. We know this all the while telling ourselves and others if you find something you love doing, you’ll never “work” a day in your life.
I’m not a scientist or researcher by nature, but I’m willing to bet if you look at recordings of last year’s Rangers games and compare them to this year’s, you’ll see a certain spontaneous joy missing, whether the Rangers won or lost the games. In 2010, we had the “Claw and Antlers”, a way the team had fun and honored each other for good hustle and speed plays. That has been the most noticeable absence in 2011. It could be because the fad has run its course.
Much is written about the word “chemistry” as it applies to sports teams and whether it really exists. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but I certainly think a job is more enjoyable if everyone you work with attacks it with a positive mindset. Say what you will about his decreasing production as the season wore on last year, but few would argue Vlad Guerrero’s ever-present enthusiasm wasn’t infectious.
The departure of Clint Hurdle as hitting coach to become manager of the Pirates could be an explanation as well. Hurdle’s success with Pittsburgh thus far speaks volumes for how well he motivates players. Still, to a man Rangers players have talked about how much they love playing for their skipper, Ron Washington.
[The question is, does the apparent lack of joy being exhibited by the Rangers of late have to do with their playing underneath their capabilities? Or are they playing under their capabilities because they’re taking themselves too seriously as defending AL Champions?It is a chicken and egg conundrum, to be sure.
Look at this team top to bottom and you’d be hard-pressed to find any reason for them to be a mere three games over .500 at this point of the season, even taking the DL stints of Cruz and Hamilton into account.
I think the answer is as clear as the classic “Casey At The Bat”. There is no joy inArlington. I honestly believe if it stays that way, there will be no World Series, and maybe even no playoffs, in 2011.