October 2012

Reconstruction

The rebuilding of the Texas Rangers is about to begin. How much rebuilding will happen is anyone’s guess at this point.

The first salvo occurred Tuesday, when the Rangers decided not to pick up the options of Scott Feldman and Yoshinori Tateyama. Really no big surprises there. Tateyama, who pitched pretty effectively for Texas in 2011 (2-0, 4.50 ERA in 39 games) was a disaster in 2012 (1-0, 9.00 ERA in 14 games). Feldman, expected to fill the long relief/spot starter role, became a fulltime starting service after Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz were lost for the year with injuries and Roy Oswalt failed to do well as a starter. The biggest surprise of Feldman’s season is that his 6-11 record and 5.09 ERA was good enough to earn a 0.0 WAR. In other words, 6-11, 5.09 must be considered a replacement level starter. Wow.

The only potential minus here is if Feldman just needed longer to get over microfracture knee surgery in 2011 and posts a great 2013 for someone else. For all the good Jon Daniels has done as GM, this past season saw at least five Rangers cast-offs who performed credible jobs for their new teams: Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day for Baltimore, Cody Eppely and Clay Rapada for the Yankees. Constructing a pitching staff is so often a crap shoot, with many relievers having an awesome year, following up with two terrible seasons, then suddenly finding lightning again. Many teams’ fortunes rise and fall on these variables. If those castaways had been able to put together those seasons for the Rangers, it might have been a post-season difference maker.

So we know Feldman and Tateyama won’t return, unless they re-up with Texas at a major discount. The next step is the free agent process.

Josh Hamilton will get the league standard $13.3 million dollar offer to stay in Texas for another year. He will turn it down and if he signs elsewhere, Texas gets a supplemental draft pick. More unknown is whether the Rangers will make the same offer to catcher Mike Napoli. Because he had a down year, Naps could accept a $13.3 million offer for another year, hoping to turn it around in 2013 and get even bigger bucks and a multi-year deal a year from now. If no offer is received, then we’ll know Texas has committed to totally overhauling the catching.

The Blue Jays are stockpiling catchers, having picked up Yorvit Torrealba after Texas let him go and, just last week, inking Bobby Wilson after his release by the Angels. Since they already had two well-regarded home-grown catchers, it’s a good bet the Blue Jays will deal some of their catching in the off-season. The Rangers have expressed interest in both J.P. Arencibia and Travis D’Arnaud.

Other Rangers getting ready to test the free agent waters include Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Mark Lowe, Roy Oswalt and Ryan Dempster. Of that group, Oswalt is most certainly gone. Since Adams’ year ended prematurely to injury, the hope is he’ll be willing to sign again with Texas, as he might not now command the dollars he could have. I’d love to see them resign Uehara as well. Down the stretch, he was one of Texas’ most effective pitchers. Texas will allow Lowe to leave and I doubt there’s much interest in getting Dempster to come back, though that could depend on other factors.

If Texas lets both Hamilton and Napoli walk, we could be seeing a pretty big revamping of the offense. There’s a lot of power that would need replacing. That’s why, with Hamilton likely to go elsewhere, I think Texas will do what they can to at least keep Napoli.

I expect Texas to go hard after Zack Greinke in the free agent market, while the Angels will go all out to try to keep his services. If Greinke doesn’t materialize, Texas could pursue a trade with Tampa Bay for David Price.

Another reason to re-sign Napoli: to keep him for a first base platoon with Mitch Moreland. Moreland can hit the ball a long way and is an adequate defender, but at best is a streaky hitter with hot spells that don’t last long enough to off-set the cold snaps. And that’s just against right handed pitchers. Against lefties, Moreland is cold and colder.

There are several directions the Rangers could go this off-season. What’s definite is they’ll make more moves between now and Spring Training than they did the past two years combined. I can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

GOLD GLOVE AWARDS: For the second straight year, Adrian Beltre nabbed the AL Gold Glove Award for his defensive play at third base. The other two Rangers up for Gold Gloves, David Murphy and Elvis Andrus, didn’t receive the honor. Beltre was an easy choice. That’s easy to say, but judging by the actual award winners, it’s hard to back up. On the one hand, sometimes they give the award to people just because they committed so few errors, despite not having the range of other players at the position. Case in point: JJ Hardy of the Orioles. While I love Elvis, the winner probably should have been Brendan Ryan of the Mariners, who had range and only nine errors. On the other hand, some players win because of past reputation alone. Case in point: Adam Jones of the Orioles, who’s won the award before but had six errors in the field this year, a high number for an outfielder. In other words, there’s no set criteria for winning Gold Gloves. That’s why I’m happy Beltre won. With no set criteria, there was no guarantee he would.

Preparing For A Future Without Josh-ing

Nothing becomes official, of course, until after the World Series concludes. I know the score, though.

The day after a new World Series Champion is crowned, free agency begins. Everyone knows Josh Hamilton will become a free agent. Rangers GM Jon Daniels has already announced Texas will “allow” Josh to shop for the best deal instead of Texas trying to make him a preemptive offer to stay in Arlington.

Josh’s agent has further allowed that after Hamilton has done his shopping, they’ll give the Rangers a chance to top the best offer.

But come on. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. The odds are 99% in favor of Josh Hamilton wearing someone else’s uniform in the 2013 season.

Like CJ Wilson before him, it’s a pretty sure bet the Rangers brain trust already knows the top dollar and  contract length they’re willing to give him. More than likely the scenario will be this: The annual dollars won’t be the issue, the length of the contract will be.

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton: Outta here? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Texas would love to have Hamilton back, but I doubt they’re willing to offer him more than four years, unless the fifth year and beyond are for lower dollars with heavy performance incentives. Texas could very well be willing to pay Josh $90 to $100 million over the next four years. But someone else is going to offer five or six years at $110-$125 million. Guess which one he’ll take.

Nope, the Rangers are already preparing for life without Josh. They started the other day by hiring Dave Magadan away from the Red Sox as the new hitting coach. Magadan is very much a Ron Washington philosophy type: do what the game asks you to do. Magadan’s Red Sox teams were known to be patient and took a lot of pitches, something the Rangers stopped doing in 2012, especially Josh Hamilton. He also has a reputation for getting the best out of young batters coming up. This lends credence to the possibility of Jurickson Profar and/or Mike Olt being on the roster for Opening Day 2013 and pretty much a certainty that Leonys Martin will be on that roster too.

While he wasn’t the only one for whom this was said, Hamilton has never been one to worry too much about instruction. He doesn’t watch much video, he loves swinging at the first pitch. He likes being the guy with the big bat, so much that he’d rather swing for the fences all the time than settle for a solid single even when the game situation calls for the base hit.

This isn’t to hate on Josh because he’s been the spotlight guy that’s led Texas to two World Series appearances. He’s put up MVP numbers in the past and still may in the future. If and when he goes, I won’t tear up or throw away my Josh Hamilton jerseys. Whoever signs Josh, though, know this: When his decline starts (and who knows, it may have started this year), I don’t think it will be pretty. Josh has succeeded because of his pure athleticism. He plays the game all out, which is good. On the other hand, because he trusts his athleticism, he’s also slow to make adjustments. When the inevitable decline comes, it could be a much steeper drop than most players have. But that likely will be someone else’s problem, not the Rangers.

Deja Vu All Over Again

One year ago, the former Washington Senators were one strike away from a World Series title twice.
One year later, the current Washington team was one strike away from winning the NLDS twice.
Both teams lost.
With all due respect, the Cardinals are really starting to hack me off.
They’re not really Cardinals, because they had to have made a deal with the Devil to pull this off.

So Dude, Like, What Happened?

While it is disappointing that the Texas Rangers didn’t get past the Wild Card round of the playoffs, smarter heads like the front office prevail over the fans when it comes to breaking down the season. If we just took the pulse of “message board” fans, you would think Texas won only 65 games all year. In fact, they still managed 93 wins and were a very good team overall. They just weren’t a very good team over the last 14 games.

The question is, what went wrong? The front office will be addressing that over the next few weeks and make changes accordingly. To help them out, I’ve compiled this nifty little summary, compiled in the order I think is the most important to the eventual success level of the team.

INJURIES TO THE STARTING PITCHING STAFF: In 2011, the Rangers were the most blessed team in baseball. The starting five started all but five or six games the entire season. After converting from closer to starter, Neftali Feliz lasted only eight games, seven of them starts. His last start was May 18th before he was lost for the rest of 2012 and the first half of next season as well to Tommy John surgery. Two months to the day later, Colby Lewis went down with an elbow issue, never heard from for the rest of the season.

Jon Daniels gets a lot of credit for making the moves that built the Rangers into a winner, but not every move works every time. When Feliz went down, Texas signed Roy Oswalt. It was considered a brilliant move at the time, but Oswalt was rushed back to the big leagues a week or two too early and flopped as a starter, finishing the season in the Rangers bullpen as the middle reliever.

After Oswalt came Scott Feldman, who was as streaky as they come. Feldman started out 0-6, then won his next six decisions. Unfortunately, Scooter ended up dropping his last five decisions to end at 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA. At the trade deadline, JD acquired Ryan Dempster from the Cubs after failing to land Zack Greinke from the Brewers. To be fair, Dempster did compile a winning ledger with Texas. The problem was, he only beat teams with losing records. He lost every game he pitched against fellow playoff contenders.

Also getting a few spot starts for Texas were rookies Justin Grimm and Martin Perez. Both had one good start but also combined for four poor ones.

BULLPEN INJURIES: Coming into the season, the Texas bullpen was among the strongest in the majors. By mid-season, the pen had become an issue. There was a revolving door in middle relief. After Feliz went down and Oswalt struggled, Alexi Ogando made a spot start and promptly pulled a hamstring early after just three innings of work, losing a month of playing time. Koji Uehara, who ended the season as perhaps the Rangers most effective reliever, went down just the day before Ogando, losing six weeks of time to the DL. Mark Lowe also found his way to the injured list. During the Rangers down month of July they were relying on relievers like Michael Kirkman, Yoshinori Tateyama and rookie Tanner Scheppers. Not a great recipe.

Josh Hamilton, ROLLER COASTER: While “Message Board Fans” put the entire blame on the 2012 season on Michael Young‘s poor offensive showing and Ron Washington’s habit of never giving Young a day off, Josh Hamilton’s June and July swoon had even more to do with it. Potent as the Rangers line-up can be, it is Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre who pace the offense. Hamilton was the AL’s Player of the Month for both April and May, but fell off the face of the Earth in June and July, batting a paltry .208 and striking out on three pitches more than any player has a right to. Hamilton compiled a 4.7 WAR for the season according to Fangraphs.com, but that’s deceiving. By the end of May, Josh was at a 3.3 WAR already and pacing towards almost a 10 WAR for the season. While a drop-off from those lofty heights could be expected, it’s still pretty reasonable to assume he should have given the Rangers 6-7 WAR production for the season. In other words, Hamilton probably cost the Rangers more games from June to October than Michael Young did all season on the basis of WAR.

TOO MANY PLAYERS WITH DOWN YEARS: Much has been written about Michael Young’s off year. Not as much was said about the down years of Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler. Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon called 2011 the Year of the Napoli. There was no better hitter in baseball over the second half of 2011. This season wasn’t nearly as kind. Napoli fell from a .320/.414/.631 with 30 HR and 75 RBI to .227/.343/.469 with 25 HR and 56 RBI. Kinsler had essentially the same batting average in 2012, but his power numbers were down, his walks were down and his strikeouts were up. He also regressed defensively, leading all AL second basemen in errors. Nobody, though, sunk as much as Michael Young. Young’s batting average went from .338 to .277, his RBI from 106 to 67 and from 58 extra base hits, he sank down to 38 in 2012. By the WAR stat, only Jeff Francouer had a poorer year.

DEPRECIATION OF THE RUNNING GAME: In their presser, Ron Washington called a question about the fall-off in the Rangers running attack “nitpicking”. I’m a Wash fan, but the question wasn’t nitpicking. As pointed out in a previous post, the fall-off from 2011 to 2012 was precipitous. Stolen bases were down from 143 to 91 while getting caught one less time in 2012 than they did in 2011. They were also picked off seven more times in 2012 compared to 2011. Conversely, opposing teams stole 106 bases on Texas in 2012 compared to 85 in 2011. Overall, that’s a difference of 73 bases from a year ago. By season’s end, the Rangers had virtually stopped running. Over the last 30 days of the season, Texas had only three steals and were caught stealing four times. Sorry Wash, that’s not a little thing.

WHEN BEING HEALTHY HURTS: Much has already been made of the Rangers offensive malaise over the last week and a half of the season. Wash has already said maybe he didn’t rest his regulars enough. In a couple of cases, there could very well be something to that. Take the case of Nelson Cruz. On one hand, Cruz set personal highs in RBI with 90 and runs scored with 86. On the other, Cruz only topped last year’s RBI total by three while playing in 35 more games. His home runs were down to 24 after hitting 29 a year ago. In 2011 his OPS was .821, in 2012 it was .779. Before this season, Cruz had five different stints on the disabled list over the previous two seasons. While his bat was missed, it could be surmised he had the advantage of being fresher when he returned from those DL trips. The same could be said of Ian Kinsler. 2011 was the first year in a while that Kins was healthy enough to play virtually the entire season. Playing over 150 games two years in a row, for someone with an injury history, could take its toll more than other players. Multitudes of articles have been written about innings counts for young pitchers and pitchers coming off injuries, but but hardly about game counts for young position players or position players coming off injuries. It may very well have had some effect on certain players.

THE MYSTERIOUS STOMACH VIRUS: This came early in the season, but who knows if it had an ultimate impact on the Rangers’ lack of energy at season’s end. In the month of May, Mike Napoli came down with a stomach virus. It spread through the clubhouse quickly. Ian Kinsler got it. Josh Hamilton got it. A host of Rangers players missed a game or two because of it. Nobody was affected more than Derek Holland. The virus caused Dutch to lose 20 pounds. At the end of May while battling the virus, Dutch didn;t make it out of the second inning, giving up 8 runs to the Mariners. Five days later, Holland’s fastball velocity was down so sharply he was pulled after 5 1/3 gritty innings. He would miss the next month getting his weight back up and back into playing shape. Whether this had anything to do with Holland’s dismal 4.67 ERA on the season is uncertain. Stories have come out in the last couple of seasons about players taking a long time to get their strength back after contracting Desert Fever and recovering from appendectomies. There’s always the chance the stomach virus had more of an impact than just the two-week span it was spreading in the clubhouse.

On the positive side, all these things happened to the Rangers in 2012 and they still managed to get to 93 wins on the season and a berth in the Wild Card playoff. This is still a team with a lot of potential.

Next Up: Looking ahead to potential off-season moves.

Future Hints From A Present Press Conference

This was going to be the “Why The Season Broke Down” analysis post. Instead, Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan, General Manager Jon Daniels and Manager Ron Washington decided today would be a great day to hold their first post-season press conference to talk about the season ending prematurely and what could transpire in the future.

First off, Dallas Morning News writer Evan Grant put to rest one rumor that has run rampant among Rangers on-line fans. He noted Jon Daniels not only gave Ron Washington his endorsement as manager of the club, but that both appeared quite relaxed and comfortable with each other. Many Rangers fans had imagined a power struggle between Wash and JD over the handling of highly regarded prospect Mike Olt after his promotion to the parent club. I never bought the whole power struggle conspiracy theory in the first place. Hopefully, this presser puts those rumors to rest.

English: photo of Josh Hamilton playing.

Josh Hamilton- Outta Here? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ah, but there was much to report beyond Ron Washington’s job security, with the biggest item reserved for the biggest free agent on the market this off-season, one Josh Hamilton. Daniels said the Rangers are NOT going to make Hamilton an offer during the exclusive negotiating window and will allow him to explore his options first. This is a gutsy call on JD’s part, but maybe not as risky as one might think.

Going into the off-season, Hamilton oftentimes stated the odds of him remaining a member of the Rangers was about 50-50. He also was quoted on more than one occasion he owed it to the Players Union to get the best deal possible, but would give the Rangers the first shot at his services. Daniels decided they’d waive the first shot. I find it highly doubtful Hamilton would have accepted the Rangers first offer no matter how generous because of his allegiance to the Players Union, so the front office passing up the chance to make that first offer might be much ado about nothing.

In addition, knowing Hamilton’s spiritual side, I believe (but have no proof) Josh’s agent and the Rangers already have a gentleman’s agreement to return to the Rangers after all the offers have come in to give Texas the last chance to re-sign him. That said, I’m sure the Rangers already have a final price and contract length in mind and will not hesitate to let Josh go if someone else offers him a better deal. That’s what they did a year ago with CJ Wilson and that’s what they’ll do here.

More from the presser: Daniels said no decisions have been made yet on coaching staff, the 2013 plans for Michael Young haven’t been discussed and that everyone in the organization accepts responsibility for the disappointing way the season ended. Washington admitted he probably played his regulars too hard and could have rested them more in the summer to keep them fresher for the stretch drive. He also said, despite a disappointing season, he still has faith that 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler can still do the job.

Reading between the lines, I think there will be casualties among the Rangers coaching staff, with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh being the top candidate to face the chopping block. Young’s fate likely rests on the outcome of the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes. If Hamilton goes, Young stays and vice versa. Daniels is right about everyone taking responsibility and should be lauded for including himself. After all, while the moves he made during the season were all considered the right ones, the fact is they didn’t work out. Roy Oswalt. Ryan Dempster. Geovany Soto.

For Wash’s part, I applaud him for addressing his fault of playing his regulars into the ground, but it won’t be enough for his detractors. Human nature, you know. You just want someone to admit they made a mistake. Then, when they do, you jump up and say, “See, that just proves what an idiot he is!” Fans. Gotta love them. Especially since I’m a fan (but a pro-Wash one).

Surprisingly, Mike Napoli’s impending free agency was not discussed during this press conference.

Two last tidbits. Daniels said the Rangers likely will carry a slightly larger payroll than they did this year. And Daniels said the Rangers still aren’t in a rebuilding phase. That’s a strong message, telling the faithful “Even if we lose Josh Hamilton, we’re planning on reloading for 2014.” Of course, that could also mean Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar aren’t in the 2013 season plans.

It’s going to be an interesting off-season. I can’t wait to see how they’re planning to remold this team.

Voting For The Post-Season Hardware

Before delving into dissecting the 2012 season for the Texas Rangers and looking ahead to potential off-season moves by Jon Daniels and Company, it’s time to cast my votes for the Baseball Bloggers Association post-season honors. Seeing as this blog concerns itself for the most part with the American League, my votes will be cast strictly for the American League honorees.

 

CONNIE MACK AWARD (Best Manager)

 

Four weeks ago, I was totally prepared to waste my vote. I had a litany of reasons why Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers should finally get his due. After the last four weeks and even more specifically the last four games, there’s no way my rationale applied anymore. There are three other candidates: Buck Showalter of the Orioles, Bob Melvin of the A’s and Robin Ventura of the White Sox. At season’s start, I had all three of those teams pegged to finish at or near the bottom of their divisions. The White Sox faded at the end, which is about the only reason I eliminated Ventura from the discussion. From a Rangers perspective, I have reasons to vote for both Melvin and Showalter. What swung my vote in the end was how one pitching staff kept going, no matter the obstacles thrown in their way. Starter suspended? Plug someone else in. Ace gets cracked in the skull by a line drive? Here’s another guy. The guy coming back from the DL goes back to the list after five starts? No problem! My vote goes to Bob Melvin.

 

WILLIE MAYS AWARD  (Ouststanding Rookie)

 

Mike Trout

Mike Trout (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

You know, if I really wanted to drive up traffic on my site, this would be the easiest way to do it: Come up with a heartfelt, at least sane-sounding argument why Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels WASN’T worthy of this award because of the accomplishments of (Insert A Rookie Player’s Name Here). Then watch the sparks fly as reader after reader blasts that choice, then tweets all his or her friends to send their vitriol my way as well. Yep, sure-fire way to increase traffic to the site.

 

Not gonna do it. No doubt. Mike Trout. But feel free to tweet all your friends and tell them to visit my site anyway.

 

GOOSE GOSSAGE AWARD (Outstanding Reliever)

 

You know what? My man Joe Nathan had himself a pretty darn good year in 2012. He only blew three saves all year. It sure didn’t help that the last one he blew turned out to be at the worst possible time, in the last week of the season. So I have to go with Fernando Rodney of the Tampa Bay Rays. Yet another guy that comes out of the blue in Tampa and regains his past glory. Outstanding season.

 

 

 

Jered Weaver

Jered Weaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WALTER JOHNSON AWARD (Top Pitcher)

 

Lots of choices here. Justin Verlander of the Tigers. Jered Weaver of the Angels. David Price of the Rays. Earlier this season, I sang the praises of Matt Harrison and bemoaned the fact he wouldn’t get much serious consideration for the award because he’s not a strikeout pitcher and argued those type of pitchers should get MORE consideration because it makes it even harder to make that upper echelon. Well, you know what? Weaver doesn’t have that blistering fastball either and his K rate isn’t where Verlander’s and Price’s are and he did just fine too. My friends Kristen and ICE will be happy with my second vote towards an Angel this year. Jered Weaver is my vote here.

 

STAN MUSIAL AWARD (Top Player)

 

There are constant arguments here on an annual basis and 2012 is no exception. The main question is this: How do you define this award? I always ask this because I do find a distinction between calling someone the Player of the Year and the Most Valuable Player. The year he won 27 games, Steve Carlton was easily a Player of the Year. Some would say since his team finished in dead last place that didn’t qualify him to considered the Most Valuable Player (let alone because he was a pitcher). So it is with this award. There are tribes in two camps. There’s the Mike Trout camp and the Miguel Cabrera camp.

Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trout had a rookie season for the ages in 2012 and accomplished things in combination that no rookie had ever done before. Cabrera was Cabrera, which means the best player in baseball over the past five years. Trout has a higher WAR. Cabrera plays for a team in the post-season. Trout accomplished what he did despite starting the season in the minor leagues. Cabrera was hotter in September when the playoff push came. Trout was a better defensive player. Cabrera had more power. I could go back and forth all day. In the end, putting your team over the hump for the playoffs when they were all but dead just three weeks from the finish line won out. Miguel Cabrera gets my vote. If Anaheim had made the post-season, my vote would have been different.

 

The King Is Dead. Long Live The King!

A day later, that’s what it feels like. One reign is over, but now it’s time to pay honor to the new one that takes its place.

After a magnificent three-year run that no other stretch in over 40 years of fanhood even came close to, the end came as more of a thud than a gradual tapering off process. By failing to win more than four games of their last 14 or even one game of their last four, my Texas Rangers no longer have an ALDS playoff match-up to look forward to. No best of five showdown with the Yankees. No shot at finally achieving the ultimate prize that had eluded them in the previous two seasons.

An era has come to an end.

Make no mistake, this probably is the end of this cycle of Rangers vying for the ultimate prize. To be sure, they are far too talented to stumble to a losing record a year from now. There’s plenty of talent in place, more in the pipeline coming up and plenty of money to spend. But will the World Championship window be open a year from now? I tend to doubt it.

English: photo of Josh Hamilton playing.

Is the Josh Hamilton era over in Texas?. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of free agents to be from this year’s Rangers team: Ryan Dempster. Roy Oswalt. Mike Adams. Koji Uehara. Mark Lowe. Oh and two guys by the name of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton.

Some speculate there is a very real chance the longest-serving Ranger, Michael Young, could be traded or released in the off-season. It’s even more likely Scott Feldman suffers the same fate.

Because of the ignominious way the season ended, there could be turnover on the management side as well. While I think Ron Washington‘s job is safe, it wouldn’t surprise me to see hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh take the fall for the Rangers late-season offensive woes. Baserunning/first base coach Gary Pettis could become a casualty, as the Texas running game became a shell of what it had been the past two seasons. Maybe even bench coach Jackie Moore could be asked to think about retirement so the front office can give Wash a bench coach who more statistically inclined to convince the skipper he’s about to make a foolish move.

A month into the 2012 season, the narrative was “Pay Josh Hamilton whatever money he wants to keep him here”. On October 6th, the narrative has changed to “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Josh”. Hamilton received standing ovations in April. He and the nationwide TV audience heard audible boos following his last two meek at bats.

Something changed on this team in 2012. I don’t know whether there was clubhouse discord or whether the stomach virus that swept through the team in May had longer-lasting repercussions than anyone wants to admit. But something changed and by the time the season mercifully came to an end Friday night, it appeared the Rangers offense just flat-out didn’t have anything else to give.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll have plenty to say about what went wrong, the Hamilton situation and what changes I think are in store. For now, I’ll just let it hurt for a day or two, posting my picks for BBA post-season honors, and cheering the AL West champion Oakland A’s in their ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.

The Rangers are dead. Long live the Rangers.

Win Or Go Home

 

Everything about tonight’s game screams mismatch.

 

Start with the pitching match-up: Yu Darvish, 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA, but 3-0 with a 2.21 in the month of September, going up against Joe Saunders, 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA but a career 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

 

A battle-hardened Rangers roster vs. an Orioles team whose roster is 20% composed of players who logged time with the Rangers’ AAA affiliate Round Rock a year ago (Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day). In other words, Rangers light.

 

Texas finished second in hitting, the Orioles 10th. Texas was first in runs scored, the Orioles 9th.

 

Texas is playing at home. Texas was 5-2 against the Orioles in 2012.

 

Yep, everything is pointing to a Rangers win tonight.

 

Hogwash.

 

Home Plate Entrance of Rangers Ballpark in Arl...

Home Plate Entrance of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington,site of the AL Wild Card Playoff (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

English: The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. (Photo credit: Wikipedi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a Rangers fan, tried and true. This game scares me. The Rangers should win this game, but their own manager preaches it like a mantra: It’s the team that plays the best baseball, not the best team, that wins the game. Over the last 13 games, the Rangers have not been playing good baseball. They stumbled home to a 4-9 conclusion to the season, which cost them the AL West Championship and put them into this one or done situation.

 

The Orioles have gone 12-5 over the last 17 games. Say what you will about the competition they’ve faced in that span (Boston, Toronto, Seattle and Tampa Bay), they did what they had to do to get to this point. The Rangers are at this point because they didn’t do what they had to do.

 

I’m supporting my team. There’s no doubt they have the talent to win this game and even to go far in the playoffs and I’ll be yelling and cajoling them from my seat in the living room tonight. But they could also have me muttering “I can’t @&%$# believe it”  if they continue to play the game the way they’ve played it lately. Don’t tell me this one’s in the bag. Tonight, I’m Yogi Berra. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

 

And The Walls Went Tumbling Down

Sure, it’s easy to say the Texas Rangers are in the playoffs as a Wild Card, so the term “collapse” doesn’t really apply. The playoffs don’t matter in this case. All the playoffs do is make the Rangers 4-9 finish and ceding the AL West title to Oakland seem not as bad as the collapse of the Red Sox a year ago.

Honestly, it’s worse than the Red Sox. My last post mentioned the A’s were 13 games behind Texas on June 30th. This makes the Rangers downfall the third largest lead ever given up to a team in baseball history.

On the other hand, one has to hand it to the Oakland A’s. I had them picked as my worst team in the AL at season’s start. Think about this. For the early part of the season, their best starting pitcher was Bartolo Colon. He got suspended for PED use. As soon as he was suspended, here was Brett Anderson coming back. He pitched brilliantly before an oblique strain put him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Brandon McCarthy, the overall ace of the staff, was literally knocked out of the season by a line drive to the head. This was a good starting pitching staff that was getting decimated and every time, someone else just came in and took someone’s place and pitched just as well. Contrast this to Texas, who lost Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz to injury for the season. As replacements, the Rangers tried Roy Oswalt. Then Scott Feldman. They acquired Ryan Dempster. Rookies Martin Perez and Justin Grimm were given brief shots. None of them panned out the way the Rangers hoped. Every one of the A’s did work out. Kudos to Oakland and their coaching staff.

Oakland’s offense outperformed the vaunted Rangers offense throughout the second half of the season. Look at the overall offensive stats and almost everything  indicates the Rangers had the superior offensive team. Here’s where statistics can lie to you, though. Texas led the American League in most innings scoring five runs or more. They’d also follow-up these monster games with spans where the offense would flat-out disappear for three and four game stretches. It was a testament to the most consistent starters, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish, that the Rangers avoided long losing streaks during these offensive swoons (their longest streak was 5).

Rangers primary logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once the Rangers season is officially over, which could very well be Friday night, this space will list the “whys” in order of importance. For now, a hearty congratulations to the Oakland A’s for their accomplishment, for it wasn’t entirely a collapse to end the Rangers regular season. The A’s didn’t back in because of the Rangers. They drove straight in by their own right. They earned the title.

Texas will host  the Baltimore Orioles Friday night for the right to play a 5-game set with the New York Yankees. The Rangers will be the favorite Friday, playing at home with Yu Darvish on the mound. But if anything has been proven over the last two weeks of the regular season, it’s that favorites don’t always come out on top, much as you might want them to.

The Edge Of Glory (Or Armageddon)

It comes to this. One game. Whatever happens this afternoon determines whether the Texas Rangers get to rest for a couple of days before starting a best of five series against the Tigers or only one day’s rest before facing a 1-game face-off against the Yankees or the Orioles to decide who gets to face the other of those two teams in the ALDS.

When the month of May concluded, the Rangers winning their third straight AL West crown was a given. Even though Mike Trout had breathed new life into the Angels, they were so far out, it was unlikely they’d be able to catch up. The Mariners and A’s were afterthoughts, not expected to do anything in 2012. Well, not quite true. The A’s were doing a great job in the early going being shut out by other teams. Their offense was starting to rank right up there with Seattle in ineptitude.

On June 30, after losing their third straight game to the Rangers in a four game set, the A’s stood at a surprisingly good (for them) 37-42. That still only got them a 13-game deficit in the standings at month’s end.

81 games later, the two teams are tied in the standings. At 2:30 PM CDT this afternoon, the two teams will meet one last time in the regular season. The winner wins the AL West.

Two years ago in the ALCS, the upstart Texas Rangers made the Evil Empire New York Yankees look like an old team with a 6-game victory that propelled them into their first ever World Series appearance. Over the past two days, the Oakland A’s have made the Rangers look like the old team. They have swagger, a spring in their step and a loose atmosphere. The team that has been in first place since the early part of April has looked tight, tired and lifeless.

My team might still have a rabbit left in their hat this afternoon. I certainly hope so. But I give credit where credit is due. I’m expecting to lose the game today and seeing Texas as one of the two Wild Card teams. They’ve shown me nothing over the last week to give me confidence they can do this. The Oakland A’s have shown me they have the toughness to get the job done. If they do, good for them. It’s been many years since Oakland has had anything to cheer about.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has said it many a time the best team doesn’t always win, but the team playing the best baseball usually does. Right now, there’s no question who’s playing the best baseball, and their home base isn’t Arlington, Texas.

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