Seriously, who were those guys in Rangers uniforms that in the last few weeks of the 2012 MLB season displayed anemic hitting and pusillanimous pitching? Baseball is a long slog, 162 regular season games and in taht time you get to know your team well. In general, teams play to form. A team that goes 18 and 10 over the course of a month will typically offer up similar numbers over the next 30 days. What the Rangers offered in 2012 was darn near inexplicable. If they started 2012 like they finished it, it would be easier to understand, After all, they were twice two strikes away in 2011 from winning it all - so a hangover and slow start to this season was to be expected. Instead, they came out of the gate en fuego and were by far the best team in baseball in April and May, to the extent that the experts were already penciling them for success in October. But that 162 game season is a killer and a strong start gave way to what is now seen as an epic collapse, ending last night with a home loss to the Orioles. A 13 game lead over the Oakland A's in July was squandered and based on the hangdog looks in the first ever AL Wildcard game, a victory over the O's was never going to happen, despite a valiant effort by Yu Darvish.
It all peaked back in mid-May when CF Josh Hamilton, an unstoppable force at the plate at this early juncture, hit four home runs against the O's - in one game! But even then, only 30 or so games in, the ominous signs were there. Two losses at home to the lowly Royals. A 21 to 8 run debacle in Arlington to the Mariners, another mediocre team. Josh then went into the mother of all funks, his batting average dropping 120 points over the course of two months. He continued to drive in runs, but more often than not they were sacrifice flies. Come September, when it really matters, his at-bats were awful. Numerous times, he struck out on three or four pitches. His body language was terrible. He looked like he wanted to be somewhere else and after striking out would saunter lazily back to the dugout with dumb smirk on his face. A normal player would express frustration, throw the helmet, break the bat. Our God-loving recovering addict appeared to be on another plane, totally indifferent to what was going on. Granted he hit 43 home runs in 2012 but had none in the last nine games - when it really mattered.
While Hamilton is the poster boy for the swoon, he has plenty of company. For most of the season, Michael Young had no pop in his bat. Ian Kinsler (a/k/a Mr. GIDP) could be relied on to hit weakly to short almost twice every game. Nelly Cruz could neither hit nor field consistently. Murphy, Moreland and Gentry would get hot for a few games (but never at the same time) and then disappear for ten days. Stolen bases were down. The number of times Kinsler and Elvis Andrus got picked off base was embarrassing. Napoli got injured and his replacement Sota batted an underwhelming .198, with little or no power; and certainly no force to hold runners on base.
Injuries to starting pitching played a role: Feliz and Lewis went down early and their replacements Oswald (his uncle shot JFK!!) and Dempster were poor. Early in the year, the bullpen was very solid. Robbie Ross or Alexei Ogando in the 7th, Mike Adams in the 8th, Joe Nathan in the 9th. But along the way, each picked up a niggling arm or shoulder problem and by September, they were easy targets.
The rest of the starting pitching deserves analysis. Yu Darvish, the rookie from Japan was everything we could have hoped for with his baffling assortment of eight (or is it nine?) different pitches. 16 wins and 221 strike-outs. Matt Harrison was a horse and led the team with 18 wins. Unfortunately, Holland was mediocre and as mentioned the rest were poor. A few bright spots out of the pen: Koji and Tanner Sheppers.
Back on the field, only Adrian Beltre and Elvis can hold their heads up. They had solid seasons. Elvis got on base, hit for average, was mostly clutch and for the most part was solid at short. Beltre was unbelievably good at third, virtually nothing got by him. At the plate, he had an excellent season. Batting .321, swatting 36 home runs and driving in 102. He gave 100% every game, every at bat. He had passion and commitment, something sadly lacking in many of his team-mates.
This brings us to the coaching staff. We have heard that Wash's demeanor on the field is different than in the clubhouse. We know he lets loose behind the scenes with f-bomb and other colorful language. I am sure he tried to motivate this bunch out of their stupor. But he failed. My biggest gripe is that he called up the supposed blue-chip prospects Olt and Profars - both of who initially showed great potential - and then rarely played them. Instead we were treated to the same old tired swings from Kinsler and Young. He should have rested his veterans in the heat of the Texas summer and let the young bucks play. Unfortunately Olt got injured... Others will claim both Wash and Maddux left the starters in for too long. That is a tough one to call.
I am also reasonably sure that Scott Coolbaugh tried to do something with Hamilton but that fell on deaf ears. Did Nolan ever pay a visit to the clubhouse and launch a tirade against the disaster that slowly unfolded from July to September? You would hope so but if he did, it was not inspirational.
The reality is, only one team wins. All that the fans of the other 31 teams can ask for is that their plays with passion and hustle, play for the team and do the little things right, for example, see the 2012 Oakland A's.
Maybe over the coming winter months, someone from the Rangers organization will explain what the heck happened or why the malaise set in.
Earlier in 2012, the Rangers blogger Jamey Newberg wrote an e-book entitled "JD: Building the Team that Built a Winner". It is a good read and suggests the best may be yet to come. The reality is, Jon Daniels faces a daunting off-season. Hamilton needs to go, period. I would not be upset if Cruz joined him. We need a catcher who can hit for power and throw out base-runners. Michael Young is entering the twilight of his career. His at bats and playing time need to be reduced in 2013. What to do with Kinsler? He just signed a long term contract. I am not convinced about Murphy or Moreland. Gentry looks like a keeper. We need at least one and maybe two new starters. Oswald (remember, his uncle shot JFK!) and Dempster need to go. Feliz and Lewis may not be remotely useful following Tommy John surgery.
In 2013, the Angels will be stronger. Trout, Pujols and Trumbo are to be feared. They have great pitching (CJ aside). We now know what the A's are capable of - to think I doubted Moneyball! The bright news is the Astro's will be in the AL West - they were one of the worst teams in MLB in 2012 and will likely struggle again in 2013.
For the Rangers, 2009 was a good year. They came in second in the AL West and the future was clearly bright. 2010 was great, the team finally got play-off wins and to be there when former Rangers A-Rod and Teixeira were retired in the ALCS was magical. 2011 should have been their crowning glory. But Nelly Bleeping Cruz failed to make the catch in right and as mentioned, twice our pitching failed to get the third strike that would have won the World Series. Now comes the debacle of 2012. Something similar happened to the Mets in 2007 and 2008. They have never recovered, although ineptitude and Bernie Madoff have a role in that saga.
Yes indeedy, the coming months will be very interesting in Rangerland.
"Shoegazers - Oct 5, 2012" - photo by Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer for the Dallas Morning News.