COMMENTARY | While it's true that what happened last year doesn't matter this year, it's also true that those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
In 2012, the Texas Rangers held first place in the American League West for 186 days. They had what seemed like a comfortable lead for most of the season. They even led the Oakland A's by 5 games with 9 games left. Still, Oakland won the division on the last day of the season after sweeping the Rangers in the final 3 games. The Rangers then lost a one-game playoff at home to their former manager to punctuate an ignominious end to the season.
It is happening again and the All-Star break is not even here yet. It has taken a mere 3 weeks for the comfortable lead to evaporate. On May 19, the Rangers led Oakland by 7 ½ games. At the start of play on June 7, the Rangers held first place by a slim ½ game lead over Oakland. The A's have won 1 more game than the Rangers, but the Rangers are still in first because they are 2 ahead of Oakland in the loss column.
Take note, Ron Washington and company--the Rangers will not win the division just because they are the Rangers or because they went to the World Series for two years in a row a while back. They will win the division by playing solid, consistent baseball and winning games when they should, and by consistently beating their division rivals.
One of the biggest reasons for last year's September swoon is that Washington failed to shake things up when everyone else could see that the lead over Oakland was dwindling and some changes needed to be made in the lineup. Some of them might not have been popular decisions, like for instance benching Michael Young, who was statistically one of the worst offensive players in the major leagues last year. But Wash has to ask himself what is more important--being popular, or the team winning?
It is amazing the Rangers are where they are now, given the number of injuries they've had to deal with. The latest casualty is first baseman Mitch Moreland, who was starting to get hot at the plate. The Rangers are without three starting pitchers (Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz) and the right side of their infield (Kinsler and Moreland) because of injuries. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is playing hurt now. Some relievers (and some starters) have been ineffective. The offense has been inconsistent. The Rangers are still in first place, albeit by a half game, because the injury replacements have performed just well enough.
It's time to make some changes, because if the Rangers continue the way they are, the A's will easily catch them. Sometimes what worked two or three years ago doesn't work now. Just a few suggestions: put the high on-base guys at the top of the lineup instead of inserting Elvis Andrus and David Murphy, two low on-base guys, at the top of the order every night. When the Rangers have a 6-run lead, how about not using Yu Darvish for 130 pitches? If a reliever is throwing well and getting people out, how about leaving him in instead of pulling him after 7 pitches because he's a righty and there's a lefty coming up (or vice versa)? How about not using struggling relievers in close games? How about not utilizing the intentional walk so much, especially when the next hitter is David Ortiz in the bottom of the 9 th at Fenway?
In answer to the question as to whether it's time for the Rangers to panic: yes. It is. They didn't panic last year and didn't shake things up, and look what happened. The same will happen again this year, only much earlier in the season, if Washington and company don't start adjusting and changing their strategy.
Brian Honea is a Dallas, Texas-based freelance writer who is a lifelong Texas Rangers follower.
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