According to a Tuesday night report from La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which has been confirmed locally, the Minnesota Twins are prepared to hire Rangers Assistant General Manager Thad Levine to be their GM, under newly hired Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey.
Falvey is currently the Assistant GM with the Indians. His transition to Minnesota will take place after the World Series, at which time the Levine announcement is expected to be made official.
Jon Daniels brought Levine to Texas after the 2005 season to serve as Assistant GM, just weeks after Daniels had been promoted to the Rangers’ GM post. Levine had been identified as a candidate for several GM posts around the league in recent years, most recently the Angels job that had opened up a year ago.
Levine, an integral part of the front office that has helped to build this run of contending clubs in Texas, will be missed.
It’s without apology or more than a split-second’s introspection that I admit that, in certain years — most of them, lately — my rooting interest in the playoffs once Texas has exited has been that I pretty much want every team to lose, with only slight indifference in some cases.
The last two seasons, for obvious reasons, the exception has been that I have found it intensely simple to get behind The Team Playing Toronto.
And even more so this year, because I will never not pull for Mike Napoli.
(Well, I can think of one outlier scenario for 2017 and beyond, but I’m going to stop thinking about that now.)
He’s played with four teams, and if he returns to Cleveland next year, then, health permitting, he will have played fewer games with Texas than with any of the others.
Still, I’m pretty sure Mike Napoli is one of my 10 favorite Texas Rangers ever.
Chris Davis played more games as a Ranger than Napoli did. So did Craig Gentry. And Jack Daugherty.
Napoli has helped the four franchises he has played for (Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Indians) earn playoff berths eight times in his 10 full big league seasons.
The key phrase in the above sentence is “played for.” Because Napoli has actually been with five organizations. He never played for one of them.
On January 21, 2011, the Angels, prepared to give Jeff Mathis a bigger role behind the plate, traded Napoli and Frosty Rivera to Toronto for Vernon Wells. (Which may not have happened if Los Angeles had managed to close its deal with Adrian Beltre a few weeks earlier.)
Four days later, Toronto traded Napoli to Texas for Frankie Francisco.
The story is that Texas tried more than once to trade for Napoli during his five seasons with Los Angeles, but the Angels would never listen.
And then less than a week after he became an ex-Angel, he became a Texas Ranger.
There’s so much awesome there, both at the time and then over the next nine months, when he put together insane career-year numbers (.320/.414/.631) — mostly at catcher — and was one strike away from earning World Series MVP honors (.350/.464/.700, 10 RBI in seven games).
There was less success in 2012, for both Napoli (.227/.343/.469) and the team, after which he left for a one-year deal, heavy on incentives, with Boston. That was followed by a two-year extension with the Red Sox, nearly at the end of which he was shipped back to the Rangers, where he turned around what had been a lackluster 2015 season (.207/.307/.386) by hitting a robust .295/.396/.513 for Texas and giving the club, not at all surprisingly, a boost in what was already a good clubhouse.
In Game Two of last year’s ALDS, when Texas beat Toronto in 14 innings, 6-4, Keone Kela quick-pitched Josh Donaldson with the game still tied in the 13th. The Rogers Centre benches cleared. Two pitches later, Donaldson struck out. Five pitches after that, Jose Bautista walked, and when he reached first base, he and Napoli had words. Words that wouldn’t get by your email filter if I repeated them here. Words that were mostly issued by Napoli. Bautista didn’t say a whole lot.
It was that same first base bag in Toronto that Napoli and his Cleveland teammates charged out of the dugout toward last night, one year and 10 days later, as Carlos Santana squeezed a Troy Tulowitzki foul-out to end the ALCS in five games and send the Indians to the World Series.
That was awesome.
(As was listening to the Blue Jays radio broadcast for most of the game, and then the post-game fan call-in show. Glorious sports-schadenfreude.)
Napoli gave the Indians a lead two different times in the extraordinary bullpen game (Game Three) they won in Toronto.
He drove in the decisive run last night in Game Five as well.
Napoli is going to his third World Series in six years. One with Texas. One with Boston. One with Cleveland.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti during last night’s clubhouse celebration: “It would be impossible to overstate Nap’s impact on our team. You saw what he did on the field. But in the clubhouse, the way he unified guys. . . . We wouldn’t be standing here without Nap.”
The dude’s a ballplayer. And a winner.
Not to mention a Blue Jay for four days.
He was a Ranger for all of 2011-2012 and part of 2015, and while I would love to see him back here for a third stint in 2017, he’s coming off another .800 OPS season and is probably going to get a healthy contract from someone this winter (Jon Heyman [FanRag] predicts one year and $12 million, but I’m not so sure he’ll be limited to one-year opportunities).
I never wanted that guy to leave. Either time. I want him back here. But it’s probably a longshot.
In the meantime, his 2016 isn’t over, and while I’m caught up like so many in the Cubs narrative and went into this post-season thinking they were the team I second-most wanted to see succeed, that’s no longer the case.
I’d like to see Mike Napoli get one more champagne celebration in this year.
“When you find yourself in a bad dream, close your eyes.
Count backwards from three.
Wake yourself right up.”
— Maeve Millay, Westworld
Toronto 10, Texas 1.
Toronto 5, Texas 3.
Toronto 7, Texas 6 (10).
* * *
We’re watching HBO’s Westworld now. It’s flawed. But, at least a couple episodes in, it is fantastic.
It’s flawed but we watch. It makes us think and makes us feel and makes us crave more.
There are probably critics out there, hatchets sharpened, concluding that Westworld isn’t perfect. It’s not. Maybe there’s an implicit self-justification at work — I need to find fault in that show or else I won’t look smarter than fans reading the review — but for me the imperfections are acceptable and part of it, and I’m not talking about the glitches in the hosts.
There are flaws, perhaps like Jake Diekman assigned that one at-bat and Shin-Soo Choo not his, or an irritatingly inconsistent strike zone, but we watch.
Westworld was first a movie in 1973, the year the Rangers suffered the most losses (105) in franchise history. It’s been remade as a TV series in 2016, the year the Rangers (95 victories) fell one regular-season win short of a franchise best. And, on the whole, short of more than that.
So much better this time around. Exponentially better.
Over more than seven months, Texas assembled and prepared and competed and competed and competed, and in the process built the winningest club in the American League, a franchise first.
Three games after that, 2016 ended, as abruptly as 78 hours over a four-day span can.
The starting pitching faltered.
The offense staggered.
The defense wobbled.
* * *
Jeff Banister talked at his and Jon Daniels’s season-ending presser about the sense of a mission incomplete, about being unsatisfied with the ultimate outcome.
Daniels talked about the emotions the Rangers went through Sunday night and Monday morning, players and coaches and club officials, the sense of knowing how good a club this was and is, and how special and unique a group it was, a feeling that hit home knowing that, because this is professional sports, it won’t ever be together in that exact form again.
But they also both talked about the awesomeness of the season, the growth and the posting up every day and the success, and though it ended painfully — and sports pain comes in all kinds of different forms, whether you’re a strike away from a flag or swept in the first round or eliminated with a month left on the schedule — 2016 was a tremendous year for the Texas Rangers.
Post-season success is never guaranteed, maybe more true in baseball than in the other major sports. The job is to put your team in a position to win. That’s true of the starting pitcher and the leadoff hitter. The manager and his coaching staff. The General Manager and the advance scouts. The analytics department and the replay guys and the medical and conditioning team. Ownership and minor league coaches and coordinators and the amateur scouts all over the globe.
The job is to put your team in a position to win.
A whole lot of folks with the Rangers did that in 2016, and have done it for years at a nearly unmatched rate.
But then things like near-misses and close calls and small battles that go the other way intervene, and someone goes home sooner than planned.
The park in Westworld offers the “choose your own adventure” draw, and if we wanted to look at Texas-Toronto in that way, we could drive ourselves crazy.
What if Adrian catches the Donaldson line drive?
What if Rougie gets the tag down at the end of that play and Donaldson trots back to his dugout and the Rangers to theirs?
What if Cole catches Encarnacion’s soft liner right after that, or lets it go without deflecting it?
What if Desi doesn’t hesitate just short of the fence three batters after that, snaring the Tulowitzki shot rather than seeing it draw turf for a bases-clearing triple?
What if Desi doesn’t hesitate on the grounder to third before breaking home?
What if Lucroy holds onto the passed ball?
What if Rougie completes the double play?
What if Lucroy says yes to Cleveland and what if Cole says yes to Houston and what if Houston says yes to Banny?
What if Jeffress faces Saunders rather than Diekman facing Upton, and what if Choo leads off the ninth instead of Hoying?
Boston lost in three as well. Its starting pitchers (Rick Porcello, David Price, and Clay Buchholz) gave up 12 earned runs in 11.2 innings, not significantly less ineffective than the 16 in 10.1 that Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and Colby Lewis surrendered to the Jays.
The vaunted Red Sox offense — facing an Indians staff missing two of its three frontline starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) — hit .214/.278/.378 in its series. Rangers hitters: .204/.255/.320.
Texas finished no inning in its series against Toronto with a lead.
Boston claimed one such frame (Game One, inning one).
What nobody could anticipate was Texas (which posted the second-best batting average with runners in scoring position in the Major Leagues this year) hitting .130/.167/.174 over 24 such plate appearances in the ALDS, while Toronto (24th in the league during the regular season) hit .471/.550/.882 in 20 RISP opportunities.
Yes: The Rangers had runners in scoring position more often than the Blue Jays did in the three-game series.
But, as Banister said, emphatically: “Toronto did not miss when we failed to execute a pitch.”
The club’s three big late-season additions to the offense — Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Gomez — hit .280/.341/.503 with 25 doubles and 26 homers in 461 Rangers at-bats in the regular season.
They went 5 for 36 (.139) without an extra-base hit in the ALDS.
“We got cold at the wrong time,” said Lucroy, though he was talking in that case about the offense as a whole.
Cole, Yu, Colby.
Lucroy, Beltran, Gomez.
* * *
So now what?
How many more years can we expect Adrian Beltre to be Adrian Beltre?
Can Elvis repeat his career year?
Can Texas expect to hit on another spectacular find or two along the lines of Ian Desmond and Matt Bush and Tony Barnette?
Which of the club’s free agents (Desmond, Beltran, Gomez, Lewis, and Mitch Moreland) will be back, and what about Derek Holland, who carries an $11 million team option?
Though Daniels said the club would welcome every one of them back under the right circumstances, they won’t all be Rangers next year.
Two of the three Blue Jays pitchers who started against Texas were acquired for Adam Lind (Marco Estrada) and for a relatively modest $10 million in the first year of a three-year deal (J.A. Happ, who before that had been traded four times).
Texas will need to get creative, and perhaps as fortunate as the Jays were with Estrada and Happ, to address the 2017 rotation behind Hamels and Darvish and Martin Perez. The free agent market for starters is nearly barren (and accordingly will be overpriced), and the cost in trade — as we saw in July — is going to be prohibitive.
(OK, let’s get this out of the way.
I need to say this first: You are not a bigger fan of Yu Darvish than I am.
Maybe on par with me. But no more. Next to Cliff Lee, I’m not sure there’s a pitcher with a “T” on his cap I’ve ever been as fired up to watch pitch.
But upgrading the rotation is going to take some out-of-box thinking, and I had a thought that, against my better judgment, I didn’t immediately dismiss.
Texas reportedly presented Tampa Bay with multiple offers in July for lefthander Matt Moore before the Rays shipped him to San Francisco. Jon Heyman [FanRag] wrote that the Rays, in discussing Moore and Chris Archer with Texas, “were focused on Joey Gallo and especially Jurickson Profar,” and I assume enough other names were discussed to give the Rangers a good idea which of their other prospects Tampa Bay covets.
Here’s my terrible idea: Yu Darvish, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, Jose Leclerc, and Yeyson Yrizzari for Chris Archer, Logan Forsythe, and Brent Honeywell.
Texas rationale: Darvish is going to attract prohibitive free agent contract offers a year from now, at a market level that the Rangers will likely back off of before someone like the Dodgers will. Assuming no major changes in the CBA this winter, Texas would recoup only a draft pick between rounds one and two if he leaves. And you certainly aren’t going to trade him during the 2017 season unless you’re hopelessly out of contention — obviously not something Texas plans to be. Profar doesn’t have a position here, and before long the shine is going to wear off if he’s still playing only a few times a week and getting even closer to free agency. Gallo is a fit — as long as he’s able to make the necessary adjustments at the plate that a contending team will need him to make. The 28-year-old Archer can be a legitimate number one (in spite of his ugly 9-19, 4.02 season), and he’s under club control for another five years. Next to Chris Sale’s, there may be no more valuable pitching contract in the game. Forsythe would offer a first base option and expands the club’s depth at several positions.
Tampa Bay rationale: If the Rays hit enough in 2017 to contend — and maybe they believe Profar and Gallo are ready to help them do that — then Darvish is arguably a one-year substitute for Archer. And if they don’t win in 2017, they can flip Darvish in July for another three or four blue-chip prospects, and effectively will have turned Archer into six or eight big-time building blocks.
Downside for Texas: Obviously, the upside of Darvish in his second year off Tommy John surgery — and in a contract year — is hard to imagine passing on, and moving Gallo and Profar (plus Leclerc and Yrizzari) would further decimate this team’s stable of young players. But Gallo and Profar should be done with the minor leagues soon, and if not there’s reason to consider moving them now before they won’t be able to help carry a blockbuster deal.
Downside for Tampa Bay: Moving a commodity like Archer for a one-year asset and two young players who carry question marks is very risky, especially for a franchise not equipped to outspend its mistakes.
Okey doke. This screw-loose trade spitball will self destruct in . . .
The rotation will front the Rangers’ to-do list this winter, but there’s more.
Texas went to camp eight months ago with Delino DeShields as the odds-on favorite to hold down center field, Lewis Brinson in the wings, and Drew Stubbs and Justin Ruggiano and James Jones as candidates to bridge the gap.
They finished the season with Desmond and Gomez.
Desmond, repurposed — extraordinarily — like a Westworld host.
Gomez, like the prototype Westworld guest that Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Ford visualizes: “They come back because they discover something they imagine no one had ever noticed before. Something they fall in love with. . . . They’re here because they want a glimpse of who they could be.”
Said Gomez to Ben Rogers (105.3 The Fan) about his time here: “They changed me and made me a better player, a better person, a better human being. . . . This month and a half changed my career completely. . . . Of course I want to come back.”
And Desmond, minutes after Game Three had ended, reflecting on his decision to move his career to Texas: “I learned there’s another way to play the game.”
If you saw the whole interview, you know he wasn’t talking about a new defensive assignment.
What an impact pickup that guy was.
But now Desmond and Gomez are free agents, Brinson is a Brewer, Stubbs (Orioles) is a free agent, Ruggiano is a Met, and Jones is a pitcher.
There’s a real chance that, years from now, we will glorify that one year Ian Desmond was a Texas Ranger, and that Carlos Gomez was, too — not on a Cliff Lee level, but right in line with one-year Ranger Vladimir Guerrero, though the difference between Guerrero on the one hand and Desmond and Gomez on the other is not only that Guerrero played in a World Series, but also that Desmond and Gomez dramatically resurrected careers here, after several seasons of gradual decline.
Maybe one of Desmond or Gomez will be back to roam center field. I’m sure there’s legitimate interest on the part of both club and player in each case to extend the relationship, but this is business and there will be hurdles, possibly insurmountable to one side or the other.
As for first base, Moreland is a free agent, too, and the likelihood is that the 31-year-old lands the biggest contract of his career somewhere else, just from a budgetary standpoint. If that’s where this goes, he will be missed.
In that case, would first base go to Gallo, who looked overmatched with the bat in the big leagues this summer?
To Ryan Rua, who’s probably more valuable when his versatility is capitalized on?
To Profar, whose bat doesn’t really profile on a corner, at least not now?
Beltran, who has five career innings at first base? Choo, who has none?
Texas has work to do this winter, and as Daniels acknowledged, the rotation and center field and first base probably head the priority list.
Catcher is no longer a need spot, with Lucroy in place for at least another year, Robinson Chirinos under control for two, and Brett Nicholas around as depth. There’s no reasonable argument to be made that the Rangers have been this settled behind the plate since Pudge’s prime 15 years ago.
The bullpen — with exactly zero key contributors who were acquired loudly — will likely be supplemented, but even if not, the Rangers are in good shape.
Texas has done a tremendous job building a very good pen unconventionally. Sam Dyson was picked up in a virtually anonymous trade for a pair of fringe prospects. Diekman and Jeremy Jeffress were sweeteners in large deals for other players. Barnette was signed out of Japan, where he’d spent six seasons after a minor league run with the Diamondbacks that stalled in AAA. Shawn Tolleson was a waiver claim. Alex Claudio was a 27th-round pick who arrived in pro ball with a standard-issue arm slot. Keone Kela was drafted late on Day Two (12th round), and less than three years later was a big leaguer. Tanner Scheppers had the highest profile when acquired, but his career had moved largely to the training room the last few years before he reannounced his presence in September.
And then there’s Bush.
* * *
In the past, Texas converted Alexi Ogando and Jon Edwards and Matt West to the mound (Pedro Strop’s transition got underway on Colorado’s farm before the Rangers swiped him) and they all made it to the big leagues as pitchers. That’s success.
The Rangers nearly did the same with Moreland, but after his second minor league season (2008) ended with a stint at Fall Instructs on the mound, they let him choose what he wanted to do with his career. He chose to stick with the bat, for at least one more season — and a year and a half later he was in the big leagues, hitting World Series home runs.
Texas tried making pitchers out of position players Johan Yan, Leonel (“Macumba”) De Los Santos, Michael Thomas, Che-Hsuan Lin, Salvador Sanchez, and current minor league field coordinator Corey Ragsdale, but those experiments never left the farm.
We’ll see where things go with James Jones and Ronny Carvajal, and while nobody’s taking the bat and corner glove out of Preston Beck’s locker yet, stay tuned.
None of those cases bears any meaningful resemblance to Matt Bush’s career arc.
He was the first pick in the entire draft a dozen years ago, a high school shortstop from San Diego pegged by the hometown Padres with hopes that he’d be far more Joe Mauer than David Clyde.
He hit just .219/.294/.276 over four minor league seasons that peaked in Class A, and made more disappointing news off the field than he did on it. San Diego moved him to the mound during that fourth season, but he tore an elbow ligament in August and had Tommy John surgery, costing him the rest of 2007 and all of 2008.
The Padres designated Bush for assignment days before spring training opened in 2009, and it was reportedly an off-field incident that prompted the move, which led to a trade to Toronto for cash or a player to be named later.
He lasted a month and a half, before another alleged incident led the Blue Jays to release him before the regular season even began.
Nobody else gave him a job in 2009.
Bush spent 2010 on the farm with Tampa Bay, showing enough promise as a pitcher — even though arm issues limited him to 10 Class A appearances — that he ended the year with a spot on the Rays’ 40-man roster. He had an interesting season with their AA club in 2011 (77 strikeouts in 50.1 innings, 4.83 ERA), but late in spring training in 2012, he was driving with an unlawful blood alcohol level when he struck an elderly motorcyclist and fled.
Tampa Bay released Bush that October. Two months later, he was sentenced to prison.
* * *
The story turned around in 2015. Upon his release from prison to a halfway house in Florida late in the year, Bush threw for Rangers officials in the parking lot of a Golden Corral where he was working for an $8.05 (minimum) hourly wage, at the recommendation of Roy Silver, who had mentored Josh Hamilton through his own addiction and legal troubles years before.
Josh Boyd and Mike Daly and Silver marked off 60 feet, six inches in the parking lot, using a parking curb to serve as a pitching rubber. Bush, wearing sweats and tennis shoes and a tracking device on one ankle, registered mid-90s on a Rangers-issue radar gun.
Months after that, another more conventional bullpen session, this time in Texas.
The Rangers were prepared to offer Bush a strictly structured opportunity to pitch in the minor leagues. Before they could lay out their stringent terms, however, Bush told the team, according to an ESPN article, that “he wanted to be contractually restricted from drinking, driving, or living by himself. He wanted a zero-tolerance policy written into his contract that guaranteed his release if he broke certain rules.”
On the same page, Texas offered Bush the chance to revive his baseball career.
The minor league deal included no spring training invite to big league camp. His job in Surprise involved getting work in on the back fields with 17- and 20-year-old pitchers also hoping to earn minor league assignments.
But enough eyes were opened that the Rangers brought him over to the big league side for a few days, and he got into two big league spring training games, facing 12 hitters in front of Banister and his staff and allowing just one of them to hit safely. Two walked, and three went down on strikes. Texas assigned Bush to Frisco as camp closed, even though he hadn’t put on a minor league uniform in five years, back when he was a Class AA player for the first time.
That assignment lasted five weeks.
And not like his short-lived Toronto stint.
Bush was brought to the big club on a day in mid-May when DeShields was sent down, and that night he faced the Blue Jays — the last team he’d faced in spring training in 2012 and the organization that had once given him a chance that didn’t even last through one camp — and he fanned Josh Donaldson before getting Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to pop out on the infield.
Two days later, he faced five Toronto hitters, not that anyone other than Bautista will be remembered from that appearance.
Bush hit only one of the 257 batters he faced in 2016. That one.
After an exceptional big league season (.196/.244/.281, 61 strikeouts and 14 walks in 61.2 innings) in which he kept getting better, dispelling realistic concerns that he would eventually run out of gas given the completely uncharted workload territory, Bush was on the mound as the Rangers’ season came to an end, getting the ground ball he needed but staying crouched in the center of the field, stunned, as Donaldson scampered home on the 6-4-3 that wasn’t completed.
Bush finished the year as perhaps the Rangers’ most dominant pitcher, a 30-year-old with six more years of club control and, more extraordinarily, the makings of a standout big league career that looked for years to have been fully squandered.
First overall pick. Washout shortstop. Dominating big league reliever.
* * *
I would guess most of us haven’t experienced the depths and the lows that Matt Bush has and — at least professionally — probably not the highs, either.
But maybe there’s still a lesson we can learn, a lead we can follow. Bush might be as emblematic of the 2016 Texas Rangers as anyone, and not just because he was at the center of some pretty massive moments with the Toronto Blue Jays — an organization that represented part of his ugly past — across the field. He’s certainly not satisfied with how his and his teammates’ season ended, but there was plenty in 2016 to appreciate, to celebrate, to build off of.
For him, and for the team, and for the rest of us.
Maybe 2017 will be even better. Maybe it won’t. All that one-run success could regress to something a little closer to the mean. Injuries could factor in even more than they did this year. Houston could figure out how to win an extra game or two against Texas.
The final strike, as we know too well, isn’t guaranteed. Neither is the final series, or even the playoffs.
But there will be aspects of this team that improve, and the nucleus in place should make us feel good enough about 2017 that we can envision this team playing 162+ for the seventh time in eight years — and maybe still playing baseball games at this time next year.
And the Rangers will make impact additions this winter. And in July, too. They always do.
The window is still very much open. As Daniels, eschewing the concept of windows opening or closing, said early this week, good organizations find a way to win year in and year out. This is a very good organization.
You can’t always choose your own adventure whether you play the game or go all in as a fan. Most of the time the stories change but ultimately find the same end.
But that’s not inevitable. One of these years, soon, Texas won’t be one of the 29 teams eliminated.
It’s been pointed out this week that, since Cliff Lee beat David Price in Game Five in Tampa Bay in the 2010 ALDS, Texas has lost five straight win-or-go-home playoff games.
It should also be noted that starting with that 2010 season, the Rangers have played in nine playoff rounds (not counting the 2013 Wild Card Tie-Breaker Game). No other American League team has played that many.
The job is to put your team in a position to win.
Voice of the Cowboys Brad Sham, who shared the Rangers booth with Eric Nadel in the mid-’90s, wrote this a few days ago:
This is for not only my fellow Rangers and Cubs fans, but all sports fans. But these teams’ fans especially. These teams do not owe us results. For our money and emotional investment, they owe us their best effort. These two teams have already over-delivered this year. We should thank them and congratulate them. Be very happy if they win. Be as sad as we wish if they lose. But they’re doing their best against other professionals, as they have since February. Let there be no sniping or acrimony from us. We have struck out no one, we have delivered no hits nor run down one screaming liner in the gap. We have sat and cheered. Thank you, Rangers. Thank you, Cubs. You are examples and inspirations whatever happens next.
Thank you, Texas Rangers baseball, for 2016.
Thank you, Adrian and Colby. Elvis and Rougie. Cole and Yu. Desi and Luc. Carlos and Carlos. Nomar and Mitch.
Thank you, Sam and Jake and Tony and Matt.
Thank you, JD and Banny.
Thank you, Beas. See you in 2017.
Thank you, Prince.
There was a half-week nightmare that ended the dream this year — three, two, one — but these seasons almost never end truly happily. We know that going in. They can end with 162, and sometimes, effectively, well before that point. They can end abruptly after that, as 2016 did for Texas, or they can end with just as much heartache, if not more, the further down the road the post-season takes us.
It’s routinely flawed. But we watch.
And we count on it.
- In a few hours, Bob Sturm and Dan McDowell will roll Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails with “Hurt,” because a local sports season has ended. I need to hear it. It will make me feel worse for a couple minutes, and then better.
But in the meantime, I’m going to recycle my own Sturm bit, a 2008 thing he wrote at the end of a Dallas Cowboys season that ended well short of expectations. It applied a year ago, after Toronto had eliminated Texas in what was a very different kind of kick in the junk from this year’s. It applies now — and in a way you hope it happens far more often than the years that breed indifference — and I include it again.
As I was leaving a frigid Texas Stadium after the game, I was walking right behind a Dad and his boy. The boy must have been 7 or 8 years old and was crying about the result. Some people might roll their eyes, but I knew how the boy felt. When you are young, and you love a sports team, you believe the games and the seasons will all have the happy endings of the Disney movies that you watch. Guess what, son, if you are going to pledge allegiance to a team as it appears you have with the Dallas Cowboys, I want to welcome you to the fellowship of the die-hards. Understand, that once you do, you are not allowed out of this commitment, and you should also understand that most seasons are going to end in tears. A favorite team is the only thing a male human feels the same about when he is 5 and when he is 45 and when he is 75. You will change your mind on everything else. Girls, money, hobbies. But, you will always still feel the adrenaline rush of a win, and the gutting sadness of a horrible loss. I didn’t say anything to the boy, as his Dad was handling it (and he might not have welcomed my advice) but I felt for him. Welcome to sports, young man. Someday, you may live to see a championship or five, but most years will end with your guts spilling onto the floor.
I needed to share that. It made me feel worse, and then it made me feel better.
- “They were one play better than us today.”
So said Jonathan Lucroy, for whom “us” became the Texas Rangers 10 weeks ago.
Fair observation, perhaps, but Toronto was far better than Texas in the series, by just about every imaginable measure. And that’s sports. Really, that’s baseball. It’s less predictable than football or basketball, because there’s no such thing as a quarterback rotation and you don’t change your backcourt based on the opposition. More often than not in those sports, the teams that win the most in the regular season should continue to do that in the post-season.
In baseball, it’s more about earning the opportunity to play in the post-season — at which time you roll the win-loss odometers back to 0-0.
Yes, in one sense the Blue Jays were one play better than the Rangers on Sunday night, but in the series sweep Toronto — which scored the fewest runs in baseball in September — hit .266/.344/.550 (.915 OPS), while Texas hit .204/.255/.320 (.575 OPS).
The Blue Jays, as a whole, were Nelson Cruz.
The Rangers were Cliff Pennington.
The three starting pitchers Texas sent to the mound gave up an opponents’ slash line of .333/.396/.854, permitting 16 runs (13.94 ERA) on 16 hits and four walks in 10.1 innings.
Toronto played better defense, too.
The team that led baseball in turning double plays in 2016, and that booked an insane number of one-run victories, lost by one run when it failed to execute what, for this club, appeared to be a fairly routine double play chance.
And for the second straight post-season, the Rangers’ elimination will be remembered, at least in part, for plays their reliable defenders usually make, but didn’t.
This was not the 1998 Rangers who lost three straight to the Yankees, or the 1999 edition that did the same, two clubs that gave us the feeling that maybe they didn’t even really belong in the post-season fraternity. This, instead, was a very good team that got outplayed in three games by a very good team, once very narrowly, and as a result the Rangers flew home a day earlier than planned, and will pack their things up a couple series early.
Toronto may have been one play better on Sunday, but they were many plays better in the series.
- Great starting pitching is the surest way to make a lengthy post-season run, and the converse bears itself out, too. Texas wouldn’t have drawn this series up any differently coming out of spring training — a legitimate chance to start Cole Hamels twice, Yu Darvish twice, and Colby Lewis once in a best-of-five with home field — and it lined up perfectly.
The Rangers’ 1996 playoff team had Ken Hill and Roger Pavlik fronting the rotation.
In 1998 they had Rick Helling and Aaron Sele.
In 1999: Helling and Sele again.
Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson headed up the 2010 rotation.
Wilson and Matt Harrison were probably the top starters in a well-rounded Texas rotation in 2011.
In 2012, when the club played in the Wild Card Game, Darvish and Harrison were the top two starters.
In 2013, when Texas played in a Game 163 tiebreaker, Darvish and Derek Holland were one and two.
None of those tandems measure up, objectively, to Hamels and Darvish. You’d take Lee over either of them, but in terms of a one-two punch, this was the one best suited to take the team deep into the tournament.
There are lots of things that can and will be dissected as far as this Rangers season’s autopsy is concerned. But the failure of the starting pitching to execute is the one that was most shocking, and ultimately most damning.
- Meanwhile, Toronto’s pitching shut the Rangers down late on Sunday. After Texas chased Aaron Sanchez in the sixth, clawing back from a 5-2 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the frame, Jays relievers — thought to be a relative weakness — were not only perfect in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth, but didn’t allow a ball out of the infield until the final Rangers plate appearance of the season:
Strikeout, 5-3, 1-3.
F-5, strikeout, F-5.
F-2, 4-3, F-5.
Strikeout, strikeout, F-8.
“We didn’t hit,” Adrian Beltre said after the game, taking personal responsibility for his part in that. “Can’t win when you don’t score.”
“They got hot,” Lucroy said.
“We were cold.”
Was it that simple, that fundamental a breakdown? Am I dumping 2,000 words too many this morning? (No need to answer that.)
The only prize you get for winning the most regular season games is a marginally cleaner opportunity to advance in what follows. That’s worth something, without question.
But if you’re not clicking, that margin more than disappears.
- Rougned Odor had a huge hit in the game, but his fourth-inning home run was just his second hit of the series, and then he was at the center, defensively, of the play that will unfairly define this post-season, especially unfortunate given the reality that he’d become the face of this rivalry for Texas in May.
He’s a tremendous talent who’s getting better and whose edge will help define this team’s identity for years — and he’s still just 22 years old.
But a year after Tony Beasley had a long and very productive talk with Elvis Andrus about embracing the challenge to use his final game in Toronto as motivation, I wonder if Beasley spent the better part of last night’s flight back to Texas sitting alongside Odor.
- The Lucroy passed ball.
Still hard for me to digest.
Love that guy.
- Hey, while we’re running down a list of things to blame for the Rangers’ early exit, on top of shaky starting pitching and a team slump at the plate and surprisingly wonky defense, you won’t mind, I assume, if I go ahead and say, hey, thanks a lot, Buck Showalter.
- Man, the bullpen was nails the whole series. Only one reliever permitted any earned runs — Jake Diekman, whose appearance Sunday night was really the one personnel decision I didn’t understand, after his lengthy sputter to end the season and as ineffective as he was in garbage time in Game One — and the rest (Alex Claudio, Tony Barnette, Matt Bush, Keone Kela, Jeremy Jeffress, and Sam Dyson) threw 16.1 scoreless frames, scattering eight hits and six walks while fanning 10.
Kela, after throwing the lead-surrendering pitch in the sixth that Lucroy didn’t handle, was as good as he’d been all year in the seventh, punching Josh Donaldson out swinging and then getting Edwin Encarnacion to fly out to right and Jose Bautista to pop out to first.
Getting Kela back in 2015 form in 2017 would be huge. He flashed it last night.
- Bush was brought in on a minor league deal 10 months ago that didn’t even include an invite to big league camp in the spring. He finishes the year as the Rangers’ most dominating pitcher.
Three times in his professional career had Bush faced nine hitters in one appearance: in a Class AA game on May 10, 2011, in another AA contest on August 9, 2011, and in a July 25 outing this season against Oakland. He’d never faced more than nine.
He faced 10 Blue Jays last night, over 2.2 innings — after never having pitched more than 2.0 innings in any game at any pro level.
It should have been 3.0 innings.
Russell Martin was the first batter he faced and the last one as well. The first time they faced off, in the eighth inning, Bush struck Martin out looking. The second time, he got the ground ball he needed to escape the tenth and, most likely, turn the ball over to Martin Perez until Texas managed to get a lead for Sam Dyson to preserve.
But no such luck.
Bush threw fewer than half as many pitches (42) as Sanchez (92) but got the same number of swinging strikes (nine each). His stuff was electric, and though he was pushed to a workload level he’d never reached as a pro, nobody could have second-guessed the decision.
He fanned the first four Jays he faced, sitting 98-99 and locating his breaking ball as well. In the tenth, he struck Bautista out for the second time in the series (Bush drilled Bautista in May, of course, in his second big league appearance) before coaxing the grounder to Andrus off Martin’s bat.
What should have been Andrus to Odor to Mitch Moreland — the three men, incidentally, who had homered and homered and doubled, in that order, to produce the final five of the club’s six runs — and back to the dugout, for Carlos Beltran, Beltre, and Odor to get another shot (would Roberto Osuna have gone a third frame?), and maybe Lucroy, if the Rangers managed to put at least one runner on, instead involved a low feed, and a wide throw, and a short throw, and Lucroy was instead the fourth fielder involved in the play, never getting the chance to be the fourth hitter in the next half-frame.
Bush deserved better. Maybe, in a sense, we all did. But Bush definitely did.
He was incredible, and he’s under Rangers control for six years.
- Maybe next year the Rangers win a lot fewer of those one-run games.
But maybe they win a lot more by four, or six.
- A few minutes ago I deleted 16 entries on my work calendar. A couple said “ALDS?” Seven said “ALCS?” Seven more said “WS?”
It sucked to delete those.
The last thing I wrote a year ago when Toronto sent Texas home was this:
I’m close to physically ill, still. I can’t imagine how much it hurts for the players and the coaches and the trainers and the front office and the scouts and everyone else who kills it all year to get to a moment like yesterday’s, because it has to be 100 times more painful than it is for me, and mine’s as agonizing as I can imagine on a sports level.
But I’m at peace.
I’m a believer in writing while it’s raw, and for me that’s usually the play.
But occasionally it’s not, like now.
In spite of the title, this isn’t really a negative entry.
Actually, it’s not at all. Losses suck. Especially final ones. But 2015 was awesome. Awesome.
I’m really proud that the Texas Rangers are my team. That Jon Daniels is in charge of one facet, and Jeff Banister another. That they battle the way they do, that they overcome the way they do, that they embrace being underestimated. If your thought right now is that 2015 was a failure, well, I suppose every baseball season is a failure for 29 teams, by the strictest definition. But that’s a terrible way to look at this, I think.
I’m really proud that the Texas Rangers are my team.
I’m not sure how much more baseball I’ll have the stomach to watch the rest of the month. The games will be easy to stay away from, at least for a while, not to mention the highlight packages, which I’ve immediately got zero use for.
I’ve got a book to put together — and I’m fired up to let you know that Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley and MLB Network Radio/TBS Pre-Game Show host Casey Stern have agreed to write the two forewords — and I’m busy enough with family and with work to keep from getting myself mired in the muck of an untimely and unwelcome exit by the baseball team I love.
I’ll get this book done, and that’s going to be a tangible opportunity to celebrate 2016.
Before that, soon, I’ll sit down and write an epitaph for the season. It won’t be tomorrow and won’t be the next day and it may not be this week. It will be soon, though, while this one still hurts.
I’ll talk about a few free agents whose Rangers careers may have just ended, and I’ll toss out a wild trade idea that, in these next few days, I might instead talk myself out of exposing to the light of day.
But I will celebrate 2016, too. It deserves that. It ended too soon, far too soon, and that’s the dependable cruelty of sports — but it didn’t end with 162, like it does for most, and the Texas Rangers’ drive this year to 162+ was one helluva ride.
Just sucks that it ran out of gas when, and how, it did.
By the end of the night, weather permitting, there will have been 12 playoff games played. I found something sorta interesting about those dozen games, if not very important.
In the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday, neither Toronto’s nor Baltimore’s starting pitcher had Texas ties, but the pitching story of the game was Orioles closer Zach Britton, who went to Weatherford High School.
In the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday, the Mets started Mansfield High School produce Noah Syndergaard.
On Thursday, the Rangers played one game, and in the other ALDS Game One, Cleveland gave the ball to Trevor Bauer, who was heavily rumored late in spring training to be a Rangers trade target.
Four games were played on Friday: Texas played in one; Corey Kluber (Coppell High School) started another; Clayton Kershaw (Highland Park High School) faced Max Scherzer (who pitched professionally for the Fort Worth Cats while negotiating with the Diamondbacks as their first-round pick) in the third; and Jon Lester, who was traded to the Rangers as a AA prospect in the Alex Rodriguez deal with Boston that MLB ultimately rejected, started the fourth.
One game was played yesterday, and in it former Rangers farmhand Kyle Hendricks started for the Cubs.
Today there are three DS match-ups slated.
Former Rangers minor leaguer Tanner Roark starts for Washington in the early game.
The mid-afternoon contest pits Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin (Tyler native; Whitehouse High School; Angelina College in Lufkin; Texas Tech University) against Boston’s Clay Buchholz (Nederland, Texas/Lumberton, Texas native; Tomlin’s 2005 teammate with Angelina College in Lufkin).
The Rangers play the night game.
And that’s this morning’s edition of I Hope This Didn’t Push You to Unsubscribe Even Though It’s Arguably the Worst NR Entry Ever or at Least in a While and I Badly Need Game Three to Hurry Up and Get Here.
1. Rangers left on base in the first inning: 2
2. Rangers left on base in the second inning: 2
3. Rangers left on base in the third inning: 2
4. Rangers left on base in the fourth inning: 2
5. Texas had more hits (13) than Toronto (6). Texas drew more walks (3) than Toronto (2). But they don’t keep score by counting baserunners. It’s only the ones that cross the plate which ultimately matter.
The Rangers not only got on base a lot — they put runners in scoring position in the first inning and in the second inning and in the third inning and in the fourth inning and in the sixth inning and in the seventh inning and in the eighth inning and in the ninth inning. After not getting a runner past first base in Game One until Elvis Andrus tripled in the ninth, Texas did it in eight of nine frames in Game Two.
But when the game was in the hands of the bullpens, the stage for so many Rangers comeback wins in 2016, the beleaguered Jays relief corps made the pitches and the defense made the plays, and all the promising traffic Texas generated in the game failed to create enough payoff. The game ended on an out in the bottom of the ninth, which is always bad news for the home team.
Texas went 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position yesterday, not only the club’s worst mark all season but also the most ineffective playoff effort in that regard by anyone in baseball since Atlanta went 1 for 18 against the Astros in a 2005 ALDS game that went 18 innings. The Rangers’ failure to capitalize on real and frequent opportunities to score runs was half the story Friday.
Seriously: In a game that felt almost out of reach until the eighth inning, Texas put runners in scoring position in every inning but the fifth.
6. While Toronto never had a runner in scoring position.
Remarkably, the winning team never started or finished a play with a runner on second base, or third.
But they hit four home runs (three with the bases empty) among their six hits (the other two of which were two-out singles with nobody on).
Another oddity with regard to the Jays’ bats: Toronto has scored 15 runs in the two games to open this series — without a one-run inning.
It’s an offense that finished dead last in all of baseball in September runs scored, a big reason the Jays’ division lead entering the month evaporated and left them fighting to salvage a place in the Wild Card Game.
Edwin Encarnacion would tell Toronto Star writer Bruce Arthur after yesterday’s game: “It’s very fun when everybody gets hot like we are right now, hitting good. It’s very fun to be part of. We didn’t have that great a season, everybody didn’t hit the way we used to hit, and now we’re here, and [it’s] the perfect moment for everyone to get hot.” Arthur summed Encarnacion’s remarks up by suggesting the Jays “have changed into the best version of themselves, and . . . have to hope they don’t change back.”
Count the times in that paragraph the Rangers could say just the opposite.
7. Rangers left on base in the seventh inning: 2
8. The narrative from Game Two, fairly, was as much about Yu Darvish giving up a career-worst four home runs — matching an all-time Major League playoff record — as it was about the Rangers’ failure to capitalize on a stack of chances offensively. But just as with Game One against Cole Hamels, Toronto should properly be given lots of credit for its approach against the Rangers’ other number one starter.
The Jays clearly game-planned an effort to make Darvish get ahead in the count, and to sit fastball when he failed to do that. Toronto sent 22 batters to the plate against Darvish — only six swung at the first pitch.
Darvish threw only nine first-pitch strikes to those 22 batters, regularly falling behind and setting up fastball counts. And the Jays were ready for the fastball, swinging with intent — and not always at strikes. But they didn’t miss much, swinging and missing at only eight of Darvish’s 84 pitches on the day.
One fairly alarming note: Darvish hit 97 mph in an eight-pitch first inning. He touched 96 in the second.
He topped out at 95 in the third, and in the fourth.
And then, in the fifth, Darvish never exceeded 93. The three home runs that inning, all on fastballs: 92, 92, 91.
He was behind in the count on two of them, and at 1-1 on the other. He was behind on Troy Tulowitzki in the second as well, when Tulo — in his first-ever at-bat against Darvish — homered on a four-seamer.
After the game, Jeff Banister labeled the four Darvish deliveries that Toronto took deep “four unexecuted pitches.” Part of the difficulty Darvish created was that, by falling behind (in part because the Jays refused to chase early in the count), he narrowed the options for execution, and accordingly the margin for error.
Toronto forced fastball counts all day on Darvish, and as his heater steadily lost its heat, a bad recipe was brewing. And where Texas failed to take advantage of opportunities all day, the Jays — who managed only five hits off Darvish and six on the day — converted seemingly every one of theirs.
Opportunities that, under the surface, the Jays often created even though nobody was on base.
9. Yesterday was one of two days this post-season — and possibly the only day — when four games were played.
The eight starters in those games: Darvish, J.A. Happ, David Price, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, and Jon Lester.
Four have won Cy Youngs. Two others (Darvish and Cueto) have been runners-up. The other two (Happ and Lester) won 20 and 19 games this year, respectively, and are in the conversation for the 2016 hardware.
Four of them were really good on Friday. You might even say three, depending on whether you’re critical of Happ’s nine hits allowed over five frames, or dazzled by his consistent ability to escape trouble.
The other four — Darvish, Price, Kershaw, and Scherzer, owners of five Cy Youngs and four number two finishes — collectively allowed 17 runs on 24 hits over 19.2 innings yesterday.
Add in three of the four starters who went on Thursday — Rick Porcello (who could win this year’s AL Cy Young), Cole Hamels, and Trevor Bauer — and the total comes to 32 runs (31 earned) on 42 hits (including 13 home runs) over 31.2 frames.
Great pitching wins playoff games, and playoff series. But that shortchanges the reality that big offense can absolutely get it done, too, and teams with rotation fronts built to win in October still have to execute. And they don’t always out-execute the players they’re tasked with getting out.
10. Home plate umpire Lance Barksdale had a bad day.
That’s largely immaterial. Granted, it’s without question that bad counts which shouldn’t be bad counts can absolutely course-change at-bats and outcomes, but umpires misjudging taken pitches is as much a part of the game as bad hops, fan interference, and rain delays. Gotta deal with it.
Lance blew a bunch of ball-strike calls Friday, and perhaps worse, he was inconsistent with his zone.
Can’t pin the loss on that, though, and I include it only because I’ve committed to number today’s things at 11.
11. So here we are, reduced to having to point out that, a year ago, the Blue Jays were bloodied and on the ropes but kicked Texas in the gut, because it makes us feel less hopeless about the current gut kick.
More than half (13) of the 25 rostered Rangers weren’t even on the ALDS club that went up 2-0 on the road last year only to lose the best-of-five. But we were all there, and so were most of the Blue Jays, who understand better than anyone that bringing a two-game lead home in a best-of-five is no time to relax.
The series now moves to Toronto, and considering the Rangers (the best home team in the American League this year) are now 1-11 as an ALDS home team in their history, and 1-13 if you include the 2012 Wild Card Game and the 2013 Tiebreaker, maybe heading out on the road isn’t necessarily all that daunting, in and of itself.
Aaron Sanchez and Colby Lewis were relievers in last year’s ALDS.
They shared the mound in Rogers Centre on May 4 and threw dueling quality starts.
One is a 24-year-old with an insanely bright future.
The other is warrior beast who keeps lengthening his past.
Who said, today, about starting a game with his team facing elimination: “I don’t feel like it’s a burden. I feel like this is an opportunity.”
The 2016 Texas Rangers have been spectacularly resilient, executing comebacks at an extraordinary rate.
Now it’s on them to pull off the biggest one yet, so that we all at least get to see this awesome video another time, this year, in a 50,000-seat theater.
No matter how much baseball is left in 2016 for this team — one game, three games, 17 — it’s been an awesome year to be a Rangers fan. One of the best ever. Nothing can change that.
But it can get better.
Starting tomorrow night.
Create, and capitalize.
Not just on scoring opportunities — on this opportunity to extend baseball another game.
And then take it from there.
1. So the Rangers’ run differential in 2016 is now –1.
2. It was +178 going into the ALDS in 2011, the last time the Rangers drew the Wild Card to kick off the post-season. That year it was Tampa Bay.
In Game One in Arlington, the Rays threw Matt Moore, who had one big league start on his resume. He was matched up against C.J. Wilson, the Rangers’ number one starter.
Tampa Bay 9, Texas 0.
Moore completely shut the Texas offense down. The Rangers’ go-to lefthander got hammered. Tampa Bay had stolen home field advantage, loudly, and had its more established starting pitchers (James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson) lined up after that.
And then the Rangers won three straight and advanced.
(Winning by two runs, one run, and one run, meaning they lost the run differential measure for the series . . . but won the win differential.)
Texas is now 1-10 as the home team in the ALDS all-time (including 0-3 against Toronto). The one win came in Game Two in 2011, when the Rangers beat the Rays, 8-6, avenging the 9-0 beating they took the day before.
So, you know.
3. In that 2011 ALDS opener, Wilson and the Rangers found themselves down, 6-0, in the top of the third. The frenzied afternoon crowd, hungry for a second straight run at a pennant, was completely taken out of the game early.
Yesterday was reminiscent of that one.
Shin-Soo Choo started the frame making an outstanding running catch at the fence on Cole Hamels’s first pitch to Melvin Upton Jr.
Hamels then walked nine-hole hitter Ezequiel Carrera on five pitches.
But Devon Travis fouled out, and even though Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista were due, it felt like Hamels was back in control of the inning and poised to keep the game knotted at 0-0.
Then Donaldson fouled off two pitches (a theme we’ll revisit shortly) and watched two miss, the second of which kicked away from Jonathan Lucroy and allowed Carrera to advance to second, after which he rocketed a hook liner to third base that could have ended the inning scorelessly, at 14 pitches.
How many times have we said: “If only Adrian made the play”?
The 109-mph laser volleyed off Beltre’s glove into left field for a run-scoring double. (That was very nearly a single with Donaldson getting cut down trying to stretch it into two, which would have ended the inning after one run.)
Then Encarnacion let two Hamels pitches sail outside the zone, took a strike and fouled off another, and on 2-2 he hit a ball up the middle that also could have, and probably should have, ended the inning without further damage. Hamels got a glove on it but it flicked off for an infield single, putting runners on the corner for Bautista.
Had Hamels caught the ball, inning over.
Had he let it go, Rougned Odor, who was positioned almost directly behind second base, likely would have made the play: Inning over.
But Hamels deflected the ball without gathering it, and the inning continued.
Bautista worked an eight-pitch at-bat, fouling off four pitches, and then singled sharply up the middle, scoring Donaldson.
Russell Martin then saw five of the 42 pitches Hamels would throw in the inning, fouling off a pitch in between four balls. The free pass loaded the bases, which Troy Tulowitzki promptly unloaded (after fouling off three of the at-bat’s first five pitches) with a triple that Ian Desmond will probably tell you he should have caught.
Hamels then retired Kevin Pillar, the ninth batter of the inning, on a comebacker that he casually spiked in the ground, needing Mitch Moreland to make a very good play to complete the out, and the inning, and keep Tulowitzki from scoring as well.
Toronto fouled off 27 of Hamels’s 56 strikes yesterday. He got only four swings and misses on the day — and this is a pitcher who punched out 200 batters in 2016, good for seventh most in the American League, at a rate of 8.97 per nine innings (eighth best).
Hamels didn’t have a putaway pitch Thursday, and that was a killer. The Jays fouled off 12 two-strike pitches in his 3.1 innings. That’s a big number.
Every run Hamels allowed in the five-run third came with two outs . . . and two strikes.
4. I can’t prove this (well, I probably could), but Toronto seems unusually good at working pitchers, spoiling two-strike pitches, and extending at-bats. Boston and Oakland do that well, too.
The point is this shouldn’t fully be an indictment of Hamels, who came into the game with the best post-season ERA (1.57) of any big league starting pitcher (minimum three starts) since 2010. Give the Jays’ hitters some credit on their approach. They made Hamels work, put together very good at-bat after very good at-bat, and forced the Rangers to make plays, some of which they didn’t.
Hamels went into an August 30 start against Seattle — just a little over five weeks ago — as a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young. He was 14-4 (Texas had won 19 of his 26 starts at that point) with a 2.67 ERA, holding opponents to a stingy .231/.307/.361 slash line.
In seven starts since then, including yesterday: 7.64 ERA, and a .310/.386/.503 slash.
The inability yesterday to get swinging misses, and to put hitters away in general, was huge.
5. It was a part of the game that was basically incidental when Jake Diekman, acquired with Hamels a year and a half ago, was handed the ball, but there’s even some significance to that fact. Texas needs to get him right, obviously, and it was noticeable that he was called on Thursday in a low-leverage situation.
You can examine the exact same split with Diekman as with Hamels: Going into that same August 30 game, Diekman was holding hitters to an anemic .171/.262/.262 slash line, issuing only 18 walks in 47.1 frames while fanning 52. He was throwing strikes at a 60 percent rate — a little lower than you’d like, but it worked given the quality of his stuff.
In 11 appearances since: .364/.500/.636, and 52 percent strikes. Yesterday’s effort: Single, single, home run, strikeout, single, foul out, walk, groundout.
Regardless of where this series goes, honest question: Can Texas rely on Diekman again in this series unless the team is down a bunch of runs? (Maybe the silver lining here is that the Rangers were able to find out yesterday where he is, rather than in a high-leverage situation with the game on the line.)
Love that guy, but he’s out of sync.
6. I’ve completely buried the lede. Objectively speaking, the story of Game One was Marco Estrada.
You can make a case that six of the seven runs the Jays scored off Hamels could have been prevented with better defense — not highlight defense, but plays that could have been made. In spite of what the local focus might be, this game was less about Hamels than it was about Toronto’s starter.
Pitching is the disruption of timing, and Estrada was brilliant in that regard. Not only did he hold Texas to four hits without a walk in 8.1 innings — he gave up very little solid contact, set up by consistently getting ahead in the count.
Two times through the Texas lineup, he threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of 18 batters.
In the top of the fourth, Toronto had scored seven runs. Estrada had faced 10 batters.
In the top of the sixth, Devon Travis and Donaldson and Encarnacion made their fourth trips to the plate.
Meanwhile, Elvis Andrus and Choo had been up one time each.
The only hit Estrada permitted through five innings came when he failed to cover first base on Beltre’s flare to the right side of the infield.
Estrada faced 27 Rangers, and threw 26 balls.
Of his 98 pitches, 33 were changeups (a pitch he threw at a greater rate than any starting pitcher in baseball this year), and 24 of those (73 percent) were strikes — 21 on swings. Texas put 10 of Estrada’s changeups in play, reaching safely one time.
The changeup allowed him to make his ordinary 89-mph fastball, which he threw 56 times, 75 percent of the time for strikes, work all day. He located well, changing eye levels and using both sides of the plate, and Texas was off balance and out of rhythm the entire game.
I’m really not all that upset or concerned about the offense. Estrada was simply fantastic.
If you were to poll 100 baseball people going into the playoffs and ask them to peg Toronto’s number one starter, that club’s other three starters (J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez) would get not only more votes than Estrada but probably all 100 between the three of them. But Toronto’s schedule slotted Estrada for Game One, and he shoved.
If this series happens to go five games, back in this ballpark, Estrada’s going to get the ball again. And if I were Toronto, I’d feel very good about that. He disrupted, he dictated, he dominated. Dude’s a really good pitcher.
7. After the game, Toronto manager John Gibbons said: “Guys with good changeups tend to be effective against guys who are all revved up.”
While Estrada was befuddling Texas with his change, Alex Claudio relieved Hamels and put up a 3.2-2-0-0-2-0 line of his own, mixing 11 changeups in among his 35 pitches. Nine were strikes. Four were put in play. None for hits.
We think of Claudio as a gimmick pitcher given the Bugs Bunny changeup velocities that are regularly sub-70 (Estrada’s is generally 76-78 mph), but Claudio’s sinking fastball sits at 86-88, compared with Estrada’s 88-90.
Claudio was really good, as he has been just about all year, and, if far less so than Estrada, nonethless proved Gibbons’s point and did a tremendous job settling things down — recording more outs than Hamels in fewer than half the pitches — and giving his team an opportunity to get back in the game.
8. Mitch Moreland is 4 for his last 43. All singles. One walk.
9. I saw a kid, probably 14 or 15, walk away from his seats in the fifth inning, a couple steps behind his father.
The kid got to skip school and go to what was sure to be an unforgettable Game One with Dad, in a packed ballpark with a flyover and a giant flag and sunny skies and an insane energy level, pitting the American League’s top seed and best home team against the Wild Card survivor as the march toward the World Series got underway. Not sure it could gotten any better than that if I think back to being 14 or 15 years old.
He had the most heartbroken, shattered look on his face as he walked up the steps.
10. The irony is that the team with all the down time heading into this series — not the one that had to survive a grueling final week and an intense Wild Card game and then drowned itself in champagne and flew 1,200 miles to play a daytime road game — was the one that seemed to come out a bit flat.
Truth be told, to call the Rangers flat on Thursday unfairly discredits what Toronto was able to do. But the starting pitching wasn’t sharp, the defense at times wasn’t sharp, and the bats never found a rhythm, even after seeing Estrada several times.
There’s probably something to be said for having to fight all the way and not having three days off before the playoffs begin (not to mention a couple games before that with little on the line). In 22 years of the Wild Card, 23 have beaten the number one seed, and a dozen have won a pennant. Bet some of those Wild Card teams would say that momentum — or more specifically, no interruption of momentum — might have played a part.
You’d never choose to forgo the top seed and home field advantage, and the available rest that comes with locking things down before 162. But having all that down time probably isn’t ideal.
Still . . . Slam dunk: Two points.
11. Yu Darvish told the Japanese media, when he signed with Texas in January of 2012: “I want people around the world to say that Darvish is the world’s best pitcher.”
We’d settle for him being the best one this afternoon. Toronto sends its 20-game winner Happ (9-2 on the road) to the mound.
The Jays, of course, managed to knock Texas out a year ago after losing the first two games at home, but that’s not history anyone here wants a shot at repeating in reverse.
The Rangers need Darvish to put the team on his back today.
And if he pitches well and is able to help Texas even this series as it moves to Canada, and if this series ends up going the distance, he has to be the Game Five starter back in Arlington, doesn’t he — probably making it more likely that Hamels starts Game Four on short rest (especially if the Rangers are on the brink of elimination, probably not a great challenge to ask Martin Perez to take on in a road game)?
That’s not a conversation for now.
For now, it’s all about repeating a little of that 2011 ALDS history — so that Texas isn’t faced with needing to replicate the 2015 ALDS history that Toronto made.
Gonna need to take that run differential out of the negative today.
Here we go.
1. Seven and a half months ago, most of the players and coaches on this club gathered in Surprise, with the taste of Game Five, Inning Seven still bitter.
And now this.
Intense, and tense.
Still, while a date with Baltimore might have felt a little more inviting from a matchup standpoint, you can’t sneak your way to a World Championship. Bring it on.
In the Major Leagues, a third of the teams make the post-season (and just over a fourth get to play more than one game). In the NBA and NHL, the playoffs include just about twice as many teams — to state it another way, if baseball were the same then the eight teams playing in the ALDS and NLDS would all be home teams, hosting another eight. (The NFL is about halfway between baseball and basketball/hockey.)
The point: Enjoy this. Baseball is the most demanding of the major sports in terms of reaching the post-season, and arguably the least likely to have a renegade club slide in, with as many games as there are in the regular season to identify the best.
And despite baseball’s uniquely demanding gantlet, Texas is now playing 162+ for the sixth time in seven years. That’s insane consistency and contention, especially in a sport in which good teams regularly get left out.
To be fair, the Cowboys and the Mavs and the Stars have each won titles, and the Rangers have not.
But there are 22 teams that already know they won’t get that done in 2016. Texas is one of eight with a shot to make history, and today that gets underway.
Don’t take this for granted. Savor the ice cream headache.
2. The Blue Jays. A relatively harmless franchise that, until a year ago, was sort of just there.
As Toronto and Baltimore went into the late innings on Tuesday night, there was a camera shot that caught a Jays fan holding a sign that read, with the Jays and O’s knotted up: “WE WANT ODOR.”
There were reports that, shortly after Edwin Encarnacion crossed the plate with the walkoff winner, a chant broke out in the stands shouting the same three words.
USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale noted: “Just in case you need a reminder, these two teams hate each other.” Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar, asked postgame to comment on the bad blood between the Jays and the Rangers, the baseball animosity that boiled over in last year’s ALDS finale and raged in mid-May, said: “It’s not fabricated. They don’t like us, and we don’t like them.”
The Rangers? That team that worked in powder blue for years, that plays country music over the P.A. system, that was largely baseball-irrelevant for its first two decades — hated?
And, MLB’s scheduling notwithstanding, there’s a sense, confirmed if you’ve watched and listened to national coverage the last couple days, that this is a rematch the baseball world wants to see.
Whose score is it to settle?
The Rangers, who went up two games in the best-of-five a year ago, on the road, only to lose three straight and have their season end in a hostile and crushing and shocking manner?
Or the Blue Jays, whose humiliation in Arlington seven months later was perpetrated less by the four Texas runs in the seventh that turned that game completely around than by what happened in the eighth, when a Matt Bush fastball to Jose Bautista’s elbow (on Bush’s second day in the big leagues) led to a late-and-hard Bautista slide at Rougned Odor’s knees and then to an Odor chest-shove and an Odor haymaker to Bautista’s jaw and a bench-clearing melee that got ugly?
Chances are good that both clubs are going to behave over the next week (“Play with emotion,” says Jeff Banister, “but not emotionally”), but you can bet they both feel that they have something to avenge, that the other guys have some payback coming — as added fuel not to send the opponent a message, but to send the opponent home.
Toronto won four of seven against Texas this year (the three Rangers victories were each by one run, and each credited to the bullpen, because of course) — which is no more meaningful than the three of five the Jays won last October. Since these two teams last played nearly five months ago, Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez and Tanner Scheppers and Jurickson Profar have arrived in Texas. Bush had played just two games, Shin-Soo Choo five. Since the last time the Jays faced Texas, Francisco Liriano and Jason Grilli and Devon Travis and Melvin Upton Jr. and Scott Feldman and the now-injured Joaquin Benoit joined Toronto.
The thing that worries me most about the Blue Jays is not the firepower in the middle of the lineup, but the depth in the rotation. I’ll take Cole Hamels and Darvish over Toronto’s top two (and put them up against anyone’s in the playoffs), but I like Toronto’s one-through-four depth, no matter how you sort them. Because they weren’t able to arrange their ALDS rotation strategically, having to play to the wire to secure a Wild Card berth and then win or go home against the Orioles, the Jays will send Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ out today and tomorrow in Texas, followed by Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman in Toronto.
Happ and Sanchez are probably considered their two best, while Stroman is a proven big game pitcher. Estrada, if fourth best by most assessments, has always given Texas fits, including in ALDS Game Three last year, with his team facing elimination and playing on the road.
Thought: Could Lucroy — who caught 110 of Estrada’s 139 games in Milwaukee from 2010 through 2014 — give the Rangers enough of an added read on the righthander’s tendencies that things could swing differently today? Even just a marginal difference could be huge.
There are all kinds of ways this series could play out — including a couple scenarios in which there’s never a Game Four to be played — but if Texas and Toronto do play a fourth time, which by definition would be an elimination game for one team or the other, there’s a real chance that Hamels will be asked to start it on short rest, leaving Darvish to pitch Game Five (if needed) on regular rest, and effectively allowing Texas to throw their two aces four times in five games.
Hamels has pitched 354 big league games, including in the playoffs. Of those, 353 were starts.
The one relief appearance was the only time he’s ever pitched on short rest in the big leagues.
On the final day of the 2011 season, Hamels (who was behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in Philadelphia’s rotation) pitched on three days’ rest in a game that had zero bearing on the standings for the 102-win Phillies club. He’d thrown 93 pitches in a start four days earlier, and then came in to throw 40 Game 162 pitches over three frames to tune up for what would be a Game Three NLDS start six days after that.
But it seems like at least an even bet that Hamels would start a Game Four in Toronto, on three days’ rest, whether it’s to try and lock down a series win that day — or stave off elimination.
So while I fear the Blue Jays’ third and fourth starters a bit — I’m not so sure that Hamels won’t be the Rangers’ number one and number four in this series, with Colby Lewis getting the Game Three assignment.
In their 10 post-season series as a franchise, the Rangers have had home field just three times: against New York in the 2010 ALCS, against Tampa Bay in the 2011 ALDS, and against Detroit in the 2011 ALCS.
They won all three.
Still, interestingly, Texas is only a 9-14 team overall as a home playoff team, and 12-14 on the road.
That said, they’ve never had a one-two punch like Hamels — who is 4-1 lifetime in Game One’s (with four straight wins, one short of John Smoltz’s record) — and Darvish.
A couple weeks ago, Nightengale tweeted: “Nobody wants to play the Rangers in October, who are awfully scary these days.”
Maybe the truth is Toronto doesn’t want any part of Texas. And maybe Texas would have preferred Baltimore. But this is the baseball playoffs and there are no cakewalks.
This series is going to be electric.
3. And it’s probably a good time for this reminder: The Rangers have been significantly better in 2016 against good teams.
Texas had an insane record of 60-31 against clubs who were .500 or better. And, oddly, a 35-36 mark against losing clubs.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs points out that, since 1913, no team has had a more disparate winning percentage against good opponents than the Rangers have had in 2016. Their .659 winning clip against .500+ teams was 166 percentage points better than their .493 mark against teams with a losing record. The next biggest differences on the plus side: the 2010 Cardinals (137-percentage-point difference) and 1932 Reds (132-percentage-point difference).
That’s as crazy as the +8 run differential in a 95-win season.
And probably meaningless as far as this Best-of-Five goes.
4. Joe West’s crew will umpire this series.
I have nothing else to say about that, and I hope to say nothing else about it over the next week.
5. I suspect I’ll be writing a lot about Elvis Andrus, whose career hit a low point in the brutal Game Five seventh inning last year, against these Jays. Things could have gone in either one of two directions at that point, and I know a lot of people feared what kind of toll that sort of nightmare might have had on the 27-year-old.
Instead, Andrus has had his best year, setting eight-year career highs in batting average, reaching base, and slugging, playing more consistent defense, and making fewer baserunning mistakes in what has always been a weapon aspect of his game.
We all want to see Adrian Beltre and Beltran get a ring, and there are any number of players and coaches and front office folks who fit that category as well. But man, I’m not sure anything would make me happier from an individual player standpoint than to see Elvis Andrus carry this team through October and into November.
Starting with a statement series against the opponent he had to think about for four long months this past winter.
6. I said this about Odor when I wrote “11 Things” at the outset of last year’s ALDS:
I’m a little worried about Rougned Odor, not so much because he hit .172/.209/.359 over his final 17 games and had a handful of errors and other mistakes that didn’t register in the box score.
I’m a little worried because he’s shown a tendency to try and be really big in situations that don’t necessarily call for it, and while Texas has always believed heavily in adding players who have never won and bring that extra hunger to the team (veterans Beltre, Choo, Napoli, Joe Nathan), Odor has never tasted the playoffs and I fear he’s going to try and hit six-run home runs with the bases empty.
Vince Gennaro, a SABR guy who shows up on MLB Network on occasion, talked this week about players with big swings who often struggle in the post-season because the number five starters and middle relievers against whom they often do lots of their in-season damage tend to gather dust in the playoffs. He mentioned Josh Hamilton as an example, and it prompted me to look up Prince Fielder’s post-season numbers, which it turns out are not pretty (.194/.287/.333 in 164 plate appearances). I think Odor probably fits the profile, too, as much as I hope I’m wrong about that.
Slow the game down, man, just a little. Just be Rougie.
Much different circumstances a year later, but the basic sentiment remains, at least for me.
Odor’s finish was actually not all that different from his 2015, as he hit .178/.231/.356 over his final 20 games this year. His game took a step forward in 2016, but his strikeout rate increased while his walk rate, already ugly, dipped further.
For everything I love about Odor, I still worry about the 22-year-old’s tendency to chase and his urge to be big — and that’s without even taking into consideration the story line that the national media will be all over.
Two things calm my fears as far as Odor goes: the fact that he lifted his game out of a slump last year once the ALDS got rolling (.278/.381/.500 in 21 plate appearances), and the at-bat he had against Seattle closer Edwin Diaz on August 30, when he was so locked in during the high-intensity confrontation that ended in the walkoff home run that it was almost chilling.
Still, I’m in the same place I was last October: Slow the game down, Rougie. Just a little.
7. I have a similar concern about Carlos Gomez, who has been so tremendous since the 1-for-19 he opened his Rangers career with — .330/.414/.608 in his succeeding 111 plate appearances (and .284/.362/.543 overall with Texas, after I’d hoped for something close to the .250/.267/.500 run Josh Hamilton gave the Rangers late last year) — but whose history suggests he sometimes gets out of his game, gets too big, and can be his own worst enemy. In eight career playoff starts, he’s a .250 hitter (28 at-bats) with eight strikeouts and one walk.
If he can be the patient hitter that he’s been with Texas — with a few well-placed ambush hacks mixed in — he can help set a tone that he’s done such a good job of for the last six weeks. With the state of the Toronto bullpen (Tuesday night notwithstanding) — and we don’t really know how healthy Roberto Osuna is — it’s going to be important for Rangers hitters to work counts and drive Jays starters out of the game.
Gomez has demonstrated that ability here, and given the importance of getting into Toronto’s pen early, it might turn out to be as important for him to deliver as the more dynamic parts of his game.
8. On the subject of relief pitching, Texas finished the season on a tear, with the bullpen putting together a franchise-record 35.1 scoreless innings going into the final game. Clinching the division early helped Banister, Doug Brocail, and Brad Holman ease up some on the staff’s key relievers down the stretch, and Jeffress and Tony Barnette in particular are relatively fresh, having not pitched for a long stretch going into the season’s final week.
And Keone Kela — probably the Rangers pitcher I’d most closely compare to Odor in terms of getting too amped up at times — was better down the stretch (7.0-6-2-2-2-8 over his final six appearances, five of which were scoreless) than he was most of the season. If he is pitching at his peak level this next week, that’s a big arm that can be relied on to get big outs in the sixth or seventh inning — something Toronto is not as flush in right now.
I’m not going to write about Bush here, but I’m confident I will before long.
9. This was my Top 72 Rangers Prospect ranking going into the 2015 season:
1. Joey Gallo, 3B-1B
2. Jorge Alfaro, C
3. Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, RHP
4. Nomar Mazara, OF
5. Jake Thompson, RHP
6. Ryan Rua, OF-1B-3B-2B
7. Luke Jackson, RHP
8. Luis Ortiz, RHP
9. Lewis Brinson, OF
10. Nick Williams, OF
11. Andrew Faulkner, LHP
12. Ronald Guzman, 1B
13. Marcos Diplan, RHP
14. Keone Kela, RHP
15. Jake Smolinski, OF
16. Alec Asher, RHP
17. Ryan Cordell, OF-1B
18. Jerad Eickhoff, RHP
19. Corey Knebel, RHP
20. Brett Martin, LHP
21. Travis Demeritte, 2B-3B
22. Yohander Mendez, LHP
23. Spencer Patton, RHP
24. Tomas Telis, C
25. Jairo Beras, OF
26. Phil Klein, RHP
27. Hanser Alberto, SS
28. Jose Leclerc, RHP
29. Michael De Leon, SS
30. Alex Claudio, LHP
31. Abel De Los Santos, RHP
32. Odubel Herrera, 2B-OF
33. Lisalverto Bonilla, RHP
34. Pat Cantwell, C
35. Jon Edwards, RHP
36. Josh Morgan, 2B-SS
37. Yeyson Yrizarri, SS-2B
38. Sam Wolff, RHP
39. Chris Bostick, 2B
40. Will Lamb, LHP
41. Jared Hoying, OF
42. Ti’Quan Forbes, 3B-SS
43. Samuel Zazueta, LHP
44. Chris Garia, OF
45. Kelvin Vasquez, RHP
46. Cole Wiper, RHP
47. Jose Valdespina, RHP
48. Victor Payano, LHP
49. Connor Sadzeck, RHP
50. Jose Trevino, C-3B
51. Akeem Bostick, RHP
52. Josh McElwee, RHP
53. Frank Lopez, LHP
54. Evan Van Hoosier, OF-2B
55. Matt West, RHP
56. Trever Adams, 1B-OF
57. Martire Garcia, LHP
58. Preston Beck, 1B-OF
59. Luke Tendler, OF
60. Cody Kendall, RHP
61. Drew Robinson, OF
62. Eduard Pinto, OF
63. Cody Ege, LHP
64. Seth Spivey, 2B-3B
65. Brett Nicholas, C-1B
66. Ben Rowen, RHP
67. Jose Almonte, OF
68. Luke Lanphere, RHP
69. Kellin Deglan, C
70. David Ledbetter, RHP
71. Sherman Lacrus, C
72. David Perez, RHP
The names in red — 25 of them — are gone just a year and a half later, having moved on to other organizations, either by trade or waivers. Another five (in purple) are no longer around.
Texas has divested itself of a lot of minor league talent from a very deep system that’s now giving clubs like the Phillies, Brewers, and Yankees added hope for windows that just now may be starting to open wider.
But where would the Rangers be without Hamels and Lucroy and Beltran and Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman and Jeffress?
Probably not hosting the Wild Card today.
The system will build back up. (And let me take this opportunity to thank Scott Lucas for another spectacular season covering the Rangers’ farm clubs. Just awesome work.)
It might take some time and a good bit of our patience to see the system reload at levels we’ve become accustomed to the last decade or so. But the insane depth Texas developed on the farm the last few years allowed the club to go out and execute on an approach articulated by Michael Young for a Dallas Morning News article: “We have targeted guys that fit a certain mold, a mold [that] I think has become identifiable with this organization. We’ve identified guys who are extremely accountable and competitive. We’ve identified guys who embrace the struggle and grind of the full season.”
And guys who produce at the highest level.
Best of luck, Jorge and Lewis, Marcos and Tomas, Jake and Luis, Dillon and Nick, Jerad and Ryan. You’ve got lots of fans around here who will pull for you for a long time, even though your uniform doesn’t say Texas.
But you’ve already paid dividends.
10. A little over a year ago, Jose Fernandez tweeted something that’s resurfaced over the last couple weeks since his tragic passing: “If you were given a book with the story of your life, would you read the end?”
That stuck with me as the playoffs neared and, now, as they’ve arrived.
We all want a championship here, and along the way a knockout of the Blue Jays in a strictly figurative sense.
But there’s no way any of us would want to skip ahead to the last page, just to find out the result — right?
The journey — as 2016 has exemplified — is such a huge part of the payoff. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out, whether it’s crushing or the best thing ever, but I have zero interest in finding out how it ends without embracing the experience of getting there.
11. Win the Damn Series.
It took 10 innings and 388 pitches, and there were 24 base hits and nine walks, and the upshot of the four-hour game against the Rays was that, on a day when all 15 games started at roughly the same time, the Rangers finished the regular season playing baseball when nobody else was.
At least one member of the national baseball media believes this morning, as he has all year, that that will be the case in the post-season as well:
Casey Stern (@CaseyStern)
I’m sticking with what I had in March. The Texas Rangers will be the last team standing.
First step: Take on whichever of the last two teams to knock Texas out of the playoffs eliminates the other tomorrow night.
Games 1 and 2, Thursday and Friday, at Globe Life Park, times and team to be determined.
As well as a couple spots on the Rangers’ ALDS roster.
We care the way we do in hopes that we, as fans, get this opportunity. This is the return on investment. This is why.
Here we go.