Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington is fond of saying, “Sometimes that’s how baseball goes.”
But when it goes like it did for the Rangers in the final 10 games of this season? Well, there’s nothing funny about it. The Rangers went 2-8 in their final 10 games, including a collapse that saw them lose a four-game lead in the American League West in their final six regular-season games.
The collapse was nearly unprecedented. Then, on Friday, the Rangers fell to Baltimore, 5-1, in the first wild card playoff game in AL history.
In one season the Rangers went from a team built to win a World Series to a team that must now deal with the dreaded “c” word — choke — whether fair or not.
In one season the Rangers went from a team built to win a World Series to a team with unfulfilled promise, a team that must now deal with the dreaded “c” word — choke — whether fair or not.
But what all Rangers fans really want to know is: what happened? In sports, it’s never one thing, as much as fans would love it to be. How does a team so favored at the start of the season find itself left out of October baseball? Here are some theories:
To this point, the Texas Rangers have played more regular-season and postseason games than any team in baseball starting in 2010. The Rangers played 521 games – 486 in the regular season and 35 in the postseason.
They did that largely with the same core group of players. Perhaps all of that, plus three spring trainings and two shorter-than-normal offseasons, finally caught up to them. Washington says it wasn’t a factor. David Murphy used the words “ran out of gas” after Friday’s loss. Hmmm.
The Josh Hamilton derivative
Think about the year Hamilton has packed into a little more than nine months. There was his well-publicized relapse in a Dallas bar. There was the tabling of a contract extension after spring training. There was the red-hot start to the season.
Remember when people were talking about Hamilton winning the triple crown? There was that strange feature in Sports Illustrated in which Hamilton, among other things, told SI there would be no “hometown” discount for the Rangers because he and his wife and God had plans for that money.
His lifestyle is high-maintenance, and there’s no way you can argue that Hamilton, at times, wasn’t a distraction this year.
There was the movie deal about his life. There was the downturn in his numbers. Then there was that lost weekend in California last month when Hamilton lifted himself out of the lineup for what amounts to sinusitis.
Oh, and that dropped fly ball in Oakland. Can’t forget that.
Can you remember the last time a player who hit 43 home runs and drove in 128 runs during the regular season was booed in his final two at-bats of the season at home? Hamilton’s story is magnificent and magnetic. But his lifestyle is high-maintenance, and there’s no way you can argue that Hamilton, at times, wasn’t a distraction this year.
Perhaps all of that wore on Hamilton and the Rangers. Remember – Hamilton struck out in 18 of his final 39 at-bats this year.
An offense that caved under pressure
Was this offense really as special as we thought? Well, statistically, yes. The Rangers finished the season as the AL leader in runs (808) and RBI (780), second in batting average (.273) and fourth in home runs (200). But in September, the Rangers were eighth in the AL in runs, RBI and batting average, along with fourth in home runs.
The top of the order didn’t see a significant decline in numbers from last year to this year. Of the hitters counted on to bolster the bottom of the order — Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland and David Murphy — only Murphy improved on last year’s numbers.
The bottom of the order made the Rangers a dangerous offense in 2011, but less so in 2012. Perhaps that put more pressure on the top of the order.
The easiest path to the playoffs in any sport is to dominate your division. Guess what? The Rangers were under .500 in the AL West (27-30), three games behind the Angels (30-27) and well behind the Oakland A’s (33-24).
The Rangers were the only team to reach the postseason with a losing record in its division. Perhaps protecting that lead against arguably the best division in baseball in September simply wore them out.