NEW YORK – By now you know the Texas Rangers have endured an excessive number of injuries and, partly as a result, aren't very good. Two nights ago, they lost to the New York Yankees. Last night, they lost to an obstinate tarpaulin. By Thursday morning, an emboldened toolshed (T-shirt inspiration: "We rake.") wanted its shot.
This is the team that won 91 games last year, 93 the year before that, 96 the year before that. The team with nine players on the 60-day disabled list. The team whose regular lineup, at a glance, suggests its league-worst record nevertheless qualifies as a lesser miracle.
"Seems our feng shui is a little off kilter," one team official observed.
In Arlington, Qi is the new WAR.
From the jaws of that inevitability, the Rangers off-loaded their closer during Wednesday night's rain delay, trading Joakim Soria to the Detroit Tigers for two young, healthy pitchers. They saved a few dollars, and began the rebuild, the healing or whatever, and continued into what looks to be the worst summer of Rangers baseball in at least a decade, maybe two.
Jon Daniels, the general manager who helped build a highly competent organization and presumably will oversee what comes next, would not dismiss the confluence of injury and poor performance that has doomed the season. He also blames himself.
"I left us exposed," he said Thursday afternoon.
For all the life in the Rangers' farm system, he said, prior trades and natural graduation left the system thin at the upper end, in Triple-A. When the injuries came and came fast, Daniels said, "We lacked true major-league protection."
They were left with an average offensive club trying to back the American League's worst pitching staff toiling in front of a dreadful defense. For the fortunate few hale enough to remain on the roster, enough underperformed, or were in over their heads, or regressed, so that a merely untidy season became much worse. It became hopeless.
So, on Wednesday, the closer went. Soon, Alex Rios and Neal Cotts could, too. Some of this can be solved with smart acquisitions, some with time. Prince Fielder will heal, as will Shin-Soo Choo, Jurickson Profar, Tanner Scheppers and Derek Holland. It still leaves issues in the rotation. It does not address the backsliding shortstop, Elvis Andrus. And it does not address today.
Ron Washington, in most ways, is in charge of today.
He sits behind a desk at Yankee Stadium. The chair allows him to lean back to laugh, to lean forward to glare, to swivel to, when necessary, swivel. He'd been part of the process here, the one that had built the Rangers into an American League champion, twice. His first team, in 2007, lost 87 games. His second finished 21 games out. Over seven seasons, he'd been the folksy, charming, occasionally mis-stepping, subject-verb-mixing clubhouse motivator. He'd been knocked around for his top-step decisions, but that comes with the assignment. In season eight, with the Rangers irrelevant in July, Washington hasn't changed at all.
"I'm not miserable," Washington says. "Been here before, bein' a baseball guy. My team needs to be taught how to play, so that's where we are. We all wish we was handed gifts. Sometimes you gotta take what we get. That's where I'm at."
So, on a muggy afternoon nine hours before the Rangers would lose in the 14th inning, Washington is standing near third base, facing the left-field wall, rolling ground balls to Chris Gimenez as you would to your 8-year-old, preaching fundamentals, mechanics, footwork.
Washington grins so hard his nose crinkles, making his glasses ride up to his eyebrows.
"You see him at the end?" Washington demands. "See him at the end?"
That's his day, anymore. Get a little better somewhere. Try to win a ballgame. Show up and start over tomorrow. He could carry the team's record, the franchise's failure, into the locker room every day. Some do. But where would that get him? Instead he lauds the effort and professionalism of Adrian Beltre, the determination of Choo, and rolls baby grounders to Gimenez.
In some ways, Washington says, it's like '07 all over again. I'm Ron, nice to meet you, here's how we try to play the game here. Pay no attention to the standings.
"We're not making excuses. We just want them to play baseball and step up," Washington says. "But when you start losing your difference-makers, it's too much. Sometimes the team you're playing, you just can't keep up with them."
The Los Angeles Angels, for one, he says, "The lineup just wouldn't stop. It just kept coming. It was relentless."
The Rangers lost all four of those home games in a July stretch in which they lost eight in a row, including three to the Houston Astros, and 14 of 15 overall, and, well, it just kept getting worse. By Wednesday night, Washington was standing in the muck that was the Yankee Stadium infield, unplayable because the grounds crew had lost a 14-minute battle with its tarp, and the game had gone on just long enough – five innings – for the Rangers to lose it. Of course it had.
So Washington stuffed his hands into his back pockets, splashed across the field and went to work on tomorrow a little early.
"You start over," he says. "And if you do it right, in the end you're going to make some moves. We did it before. We can do it again."
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