I had a great time at
SMU last night, hanging with Tim Cowlishaw and Brad Sham and Steve Orsini at
the Dallas Morning News discussion and
getting the chance to hear those three hold forth. Thanks to those of you who came out to the
One of the subjects
that got Brad most fired up was the mindset of some fans that anything short of
a league championship is a failure. The dialogue
was launched in a Cowboys context, but Brad got around to suggesting that, even
if the Rangers were to go three and out in the first round of the playoffs, if there’s
anyone who doesn’t look at the 2010 season as a success, then the problem is
not with the team but with that fan.
I came home and saw
much of Colby Lewis’s brilliant start in Anaheim, in a ballpark where his lifetime
ERA had been 6.43 and his opponents’ slash had been .393/.471/.679, and maybe
it was because of what we talked about hours earlier at Hughes Trigg Theater,
but my thoughts drifted to 1996, 1998, and 1999. Lewis put up a borderline dominant 7-4-2-2-2-10
line, relieved by Darren Oliver, whose Game Three effort in 1996 – the first
home playoff game in Rangers history – was not all that different from what Lewis
did on Tuesday.
Was the 1996 Texas season
a success, after the club won Game One in New York and then dropped the next
two, with a key defensive play in each game none of us will ever forget, before
taking and subsequently spitting up a 4-0 lead in Game Four to get
How about 1998 and
1999, when Texas managed to score a total of one run in each three-game sweep?
Sure. Disappointing, but it’s not easy to play on
after 162 in baseball, and the Rangers did so for the second and third times in
four years. (Is a similar run of success
on the horizon? Baseball Prospectus’s Chase
it just might be.)
Has this road trip been a success? No. The
staff has a 2.85 ERA on this swing through Seattle and Anaheim, but the offense
has averaged just 2.4 runs a game, and the record on the trip is 1-4. It looks disturbingly like those three
playoff runs, when Texas posted an acceptable 3.48 ERA but scored only 1.8 runs
per game, winning one of 10.
But this season has been a success, and will stay that way,
as long as something impossible doesn’t happen over these final 12.
Like we learned in 1996, 1998, and 1999, Texas is vulnerable
to great pitching.
Know who else is?
It’s not an excuse. But
it’s a September reminder of what baseball often looks like in October.
The Rangers have also had run-scoring stretches this year when
it almost didn’t matter who took the mound against them, but you certainly can’t
count on that in the playoffs, and if last night’s game took place a couple weeks
from now, we’d probably be talking for years about Nelson Cruz’s decision to
bunt in the seventh, much in the same way Dean Palmer’s throw on that 12th-inning
Game Two bunt and Kevin Elster’s non-existent range in Game Three are as
lasting 1996 memories, sadly, as Juan Gonzalez’s epic symphony of destruction
in that series.
Close, low-scoring baseball is typical in the
post-season. From that standpoint the
way this latest run of games has been playing out might be useful, an
opportunity to get used to games in which a seventh-inning at-bat or
second-inning play in center field could be as pivotal as a ninth-inning
matchup against the other guys’ closer with the game on the line.
You want to be healthy going into October, you want to have
your rotation clicking and your bullpen steadied and your lineup riding a
little momentum, but you also want to be playing smart baseball, not pressing, and
not making terrible decisions or fundamental mistakes that could live forever
if they were to happen in a best-of-five or best-of-seven.
It’s been a remarkable month, as Texas, after winning on
September 1, lost five in a row, then won seven straight, and since then has
lost four of five. These wild swings are
a little nerve-racking, especially with what’s on the horizon.
As a result of this latest slide, the Rangers will head to
Oakland after tonight’s game with a magic number somewhere between four to six,
with four to play against the A’s.
It’s going to be a big weekend.
Without Josh Hamilton, who is shooting to return to action sometime
during next week’s homestand that will close out the regular season. Or Frankie Francisco, who threw pain-free yesterday
and might be on a similar timetable.
And without a blackout, it appears. No official announcement yet, but local
reports indicated that the Rangers were nearing a resolution with MLB and Fox
to get Saturday afternoon’s game televised locally (possibly on KDFW/Channel 4). Today’s the day by which the club has been hoping
to get something done. I’ll hit you up
with any announcement when word gets out.
As for last night’s event, I’m told that the SMU A/V folks
will have it up on the Web sometime in the next few days. I’ll send a link out when I get one.
The magic number better not still be six at that point.
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(c) Jamey Newberg