COMMENTARY | This was supposed to be the Texas Rangers' year to finally win that elusive championship. Instead, they missed the postseason entirely after losing a Game 163 tiebreaker 5-2 against Tampa Bay on Sept. 30 at home.
The Rangers were lucky just to make it to that 163rd game after a miserable first half of September. They rallied to win 7 games in a row to force a tie with the Rays for the second wild-card position.
But it was not meant to be. In the tiebreaker game, the Rangers could do little against Tampa Bay starter David Price, a former Cy Young winner with a 5.98 ERA against the Rangers in the regular season and an 0-3 mark against them in the postseason. As a result, the Rangers missed the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Perhaps it was a fitting end to the 2013 season for the Rangers. They were never really consistent enough in 2013 to be considered championship material. For the first 5 months of the season, if the hitting clicked, then the pitching fell out -- and vice versa. In September, both the hitting and pitching went south at the same time and the Rangers lost 10 out of 12 to start the month.
The baserunning was another issue. Manager Ron Washington's team has been brutally aggressive on the bases in the last 4 or 5 years. The aggressive approach resulted in a lot of stolen bases (second-most in the majors), but it also resulted in a lot of easy outs for the opponent. Aggressive baserunning does not always equal smart baserunning.
Bad baserunning cost the Rangers dearly in the tiebreaker against Tampa Bay. Both Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler were picked off in the first three innings. On Sept. 13 against first-place Oakland, Alex Rios was thrown out trying to go from first to third on a single to left in the eighth inning -- and it ended an inning in which the Rangers had rallied for six runs. They lost that series opener 9-8 and were swept by Oakland to fall out of the running for the division title.
The Rangers ran into far too many easy outs on the bases this season, repeatedly killing potential rallies. Since their offense was not packed with power like it has been in the past, they could not afford to give away so many easy outs on the bases. Washington has steadfastly remained unapologetic about this, saying, "That's the way we play." I'll be the first to suggest that they play a different way -- a way that doesn't result in so many easy outs on the bases.
Losing their leading home run hitter and run producer, Nelson Cruz, to a PED-related suspension on Aug. 4 did not help the club's offense. After serving his 50-game suspension, Cruz did not play again until the Sept. 30 tiebreaker against the Rays. He went 0-for-4 in that game despite coming in with a 9-for-21 past performance against Price that included 3 home runs.
The Rangers' front office will have all winter to think about what changes they want to make for 2014. They will probably make changes to the coaching staff. I think they should take a good long look at making a managerial change, although they likely will not.
People like Ron Washington, and I get that. He is a likeable guy and a favorite grandpa or uncle type to the players. He is, however, a terrible in-game strategist. He often makes head-scratching decisions, such as putting low on-base percentage guys at the top of the lineup, not sitting players who slump badly for an extended period, or removing a pitcher too soon (or not soon enough). A perfect example was in Game 162 against the Angels when he brought in closer Joe Nathan in the ninth with a four-run lead. Nathan was pitching on the fourth straight day and Washington knew they were playing a do-or-die game the next day against Tampa Bay. Bringing in Nathan for that game made no sense.
Washington has shown me enough in the seven seasons he has managed the Rangers to make me believe that he will never lead the team to a World Series championship. The sooner the front office makes that change, the sooner they can start working toward winning that goal.
Brian Honea is a Dallas, Texas-based freelance writer who is a lifelong Texas Rangers follower.
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