Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) reports that the Rangers, having interviewed eight candidates to be the club’s next manager since the regular season ended (Tim Bogar, Mike Maddux, Steve Buechele, Torey Lovullo, Jeff Banister, Joe McEwing, Kevin Cash, and Alex Cora), are “expected to pare the list down to three and conduct some second more formal interviews next week.”
According to Jeff Wilson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), the new manager “should be in place within a week.”
With J.J. Hardy extending his deal with Baltimore yesterday, the off-season free agent shortstop market was stripped of one of its only legitimate frontline starters, leaving injury-prone Hanley Ramirez and then an underwhelming collection including Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Clint Barmes. With teams like the Yankees and Mets and Dodgers and Tigers and A’s and Pirates and Padres — most of whom are either big-market spenders or teams that view themselves as contenders or both — theoretically looking for shortstop help going into 2015, did Elvis Andrus’s trade value just tick up a bit with the Hardy development?
Would you be comfortable going with Luis Sardinas at shortstop in 2015, or someone like Lowrie or Barmes, and see if Jurickson Profar can play his way onto the big club sometime during the season and reclaim an opportunity to establish himself as a long-term core piece?
Sure, the Hardy extension not only takes the player off the boards but takes Baltimore out of the market as well — but there are at least a couple high-profile teams on that list who were probably interested in a younger player who they can plug in for the rest of the decade to begin with. Would you be open to seeing what sort of return Andrus could bring, given the holes a trade could theoretically address and the money it would free up?
Would you be concerned about the impact that trading Andrus would have on the clubhouse?
Do you think Andrus, who at 24 and 25 wasn’t really any more productive than he was as a 20-year-old rookie, has more in there, or more to the point, that he has more in there that you can get out of him?
With J.J. Hardy no longer an available option to any number of teams looking for an answer at shortstop, would you trade Elvis Andrus?
I am not asking you to respond to the above. And I’m on record: Elvis Andrus is my second-favorite Texas Rangers baseball player. Ever.
I’m just imagining whether this line of questioning came up during Kevin Cash’s interview yesterday, and in Joe McEwing’s and Jeff Banister’s Wednesday, and in Torey Lovullo’s Tuesday, and in Mike Maddux’s and Steve Buechele’s last week, and whether it will come up when the Rangers visit with Tim Bogar and Alex Cora today.
You’ve gotta fill those half-day and full-day managerial interviews with a whole lot of questions, lots of which have to be very tough to answer.
If not to ask.
Chan Ho Park dealt for seven innings, scattering two singles and three walks, after which Brian Shouse, Doug Brocail, and Francisco Cordero shut things down late as Texas blanked Seattle, 3-0.
It was the greatest of the 68 games Park would pitch in his four seasons as a Ranger.
Sabermetrically speaking, at least. Never mind that the Rangers had been mathematically eliminated from their fifth straight AL West race four days earlier and were sending the Mariners to their 99th and final loss of the 2004 season. There wasn’t a whole lot riding on that game.
The Game 162 expiration contest pitting Park and Gil Meche’s dueling 5+ ERA’s was played on October 3, 2004.
I lead today’s season-ending report off with reference to this meaningless baseball game not because today’s its 10th anniversary, but because Texas 3, Seattle 0 on October 3, 2004 was the last time the Texas Rangers won their final game of the year.
Of course, the point of the game is to play 162+, and these days, when 10 teams (and sometimes more) earn that opportunity annually, nine of them (and sometimes more) end their season with a loss. You’d rather be one of those nine (and sometimes more) who don’t go home when the regular season schedule has nothing left on it than one of the 20 or so others who watch October play out with the rest of us.
But yeah, even though the Rangers lost Game Five to San Francisco in 2010 (3-1), Game Seven to St. Louis in 2011 (6-2), the Wild Card Game to Baltimore in 2012 (5-1), and the play-in Game 163 to Tampa Bay in 2013 (5-2), they also dropped the season finale in 2009 and 2008 and 2007 and 2006 and 2005, even though for all intents and purposes those seasons had really ended before Game 162.
They lost again last Sunday, this time 4-0 to the A’s, and while the game had some actual consequence to it, as Texas had the chance to end Oakland’s disintegrating season (two days before the Royals would; #gauche), the loss wasn’t as marginalized as those pre-playoff days, because it ended a string in which the Rangers — with Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Harrison and Martin Perez and Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland and Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando and Jurickson Profar and Kevin Kouzmanoff and Joseph Ortiz and Pedro Figueroa and Engel Beltre and Ron Washington as available to the club as Chan Ho Park — won 13 out of 17, including a 7-0 record in one-run games.
In those 17 games, Rangers starting pitchers — namely, a veteran returning from injury (Derek Holland), a veteran who was never supposed to return from injury (Colby Lewis), two rookies (Nick Martinez and Lisalverto Bonilla), a second-year starter (Nick Tepesch), and Scott Baker (Scott Baker) — allowed two earned runs or fewer 15 times.
Think about that.
In 2012, I booked my annual fall pilgrimage to Surprise for the last weekend of the regular season, wanting to get my few days of Instructs in before the playoffs got underway. I made those plans a few weeks in advance, when Texas, coming off two straight World Series and boasting what Jon Daniels has called his best club yet, nursed what seemed to be a comfortable lead on the division. I figured those four days in Arizona would coincide with tune-up games for the big club, with nothing but perhaps post-season home field on the line. Even as the trip neared, and Texas started playing sloppy baseball, the prevailing fear was that the club would merely go into the playoffs out of sync, not exactly ideal as the two-time defending AL champs set out to make it three in a row.
I lifted off for Arizona on a Sunday morning, with five games to go on the schedule (a twinbill with the Angels followed by three in Oakland) and a three-game lead in the division. I won’t finish this part of the story, other than to say that on that Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday afternoon, once I’d gotten in my days on the back fields, I headed over to the Brookside Sports Bar & Grille on Bell Road to watch each game of the Texas-Oakland series, and because we’re talking about Surprise, which has about one or less of most things, that was basically the place to be if you wanted to watch a ballgame that wasn’t on a basic Arizona cable feed, and so I was around a lot of Rangers officials for those three games, guys who were also done with Instructs for the day and ready to settle in to see Texas take care of business and extend its season.
Instead, we saw 4-3, 3-1, and 12-5, all in the Athletics’ favor, two days after which the Rangers’ season would end in Arlington.
I was in the same sports bar last Friday night, again watching Texas lose to Oakland, but there was no dog-cussing from Rangers management this time, even though we once again sat there two days before the Rangers’ season would end. This time we knew the end of the story well in advance, which made the vibe about as far away on the Venn diagram as it could get. There was nothing in common between the Rangers-A’s series that ended the 2012 schedule and the Rangers-A’s series that ended the 2014 schedule.
The 2012 Rangers, who placed two players in the top 5 in the MVP vote (Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton) and two in the top 9 in the Cy Young vote (Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish) and whose seventh-best regular (in terms of OPS) was Ian Kinsler, were baseball’s best team for much of the year, and spent 178 of 181 days in first place in the West.
The 2014 A’s were the best team in the big leagues for most of the year, including on July 31, when they added Jon Lester, several weeks after having added Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, to an already formidable starting rotation.
The Rangers may regret trading Kyle Hendricks (and Christian Villanueva) to the Cubs for starter Ryan Dempster that summer, but not nearly as much as the A’s are going to mourn the loss of Addison Russell in their deal with the same club for Samardzija (who they’ll probably trade this summer to get a better return than the compensatory supplemental first-rounder they’d get if they keep him another season) and Hammel (who will be a free agent this winter), neither of whom was able to help Oakland get past a 163rd game. Samardzija lost to Texas in Game 161, while Hammel threw the final pitch of the A’s season, a 2-2 slider away in the bottom of the 12th on Tuesday that Salvador Perez got around and lined past Josh Donaldson to bring in Christian Colon and end the game.
A Wild Card Game loss for the Rangers (to Baltimore) followed that 2012 season-ending Texas-Oakland series, while a Wild Card Game loss for the A’s (to Kansas City) followed the 2014 season-ending Texas-Oakland series.
And while the A’s wrecked the Rangers’ final week in 2012, relegating them to what amounted to a play-in game, you might say Texas put the penultimate nail in the coffin that Oakland spent two months building for itself. The Rangers swept the A’s in Oakland in mid-September and then split a set of four in Arlington on the season’s final weekend. Had the A’s managed to win just four of seven against the worst team in the American League (which not only had more than a dozen players shut down due to injury but had also shipped Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor away), they would have hosted the Wild Card Game rather than the Royals, and maybe the result would have been different.
But they didn’t, and it wasn’t.
In fact, if the A’s didn’t get a beast effort from a beast starter on the final day, taking Game 162 from Texas, they would have had to play Seattle in a Game 163 just to see who would get to travel to Kansas City for the Wild Card Game.
As it turned out, Oakland’s loss to the Royals — an epic, unforgettable baseball game that in some ways was a microcosm of Oakland’s 2014 as a whole — dropped the A’s to 0-7 in winner-takes-all playoff games in the 17-year Billy Beane Era, and 1-13 when they had the chance to advance.
Think about that.
Texas, forcing the A’s to travel for this latest Oakland spit-up, played a role.
A silver lining at best, maybe, but when asked in a radio interview Tuesday whether there was a part of him that was disappointed to see the 1.1 draft position slip away as his club ceded its league-worst record to the Diamondbacks and Rockies with all those late-September wins, Daniels said he’ll take the confidence and momentum that his players built up down the stretch every time.
In spite of the Rangers’ impossible epidemic of injuries and the record number of players and the manager’s resignation and Mike Carp batting third, overlaid against Oakland’s dominant first four months followed by Billy Beane’s decision to go absolutely all-in, all that it amounted to for the A’s was one extra baseball game.
I wondered aloud on Twitter the other day which team and its fans had a worse 2014, Oakland or Texas. It’s easy to say the Rangers had a more brutal year, because by every objective measure that’s true, but I know that as a Rangers fan, 2012 was tougher on me than this season was — and again, the 2012 Rangers and 2014 A’s had a whole lot more in common than just Craig Gentry and Geovany Soto.
And that’s without even considering the level at which Oakland mortgaged its future to (attempt to) win big in 2014, something the Rangers didn’t do two years ago. Not only did the A’s give up a ton more as far as prospect inventory goes, they also had a dramatically weaker farm system than Texas to begin with, plus an economic situation that makes the development of inexpensive talent more important for that franchise than most clubs who view themselves as contenders.
Oakland’s collapse in 2014 was worse than Texas’s in 2012 — and the A’s season this year, as far as I’m concerned, was worse than the Rangers’.
Let’s talk about that prospect depth for a second. While first-year players like Rougned Odor, Nick Martinez (2.29 ERA over his final six starts, which spanned 35.1 innings — more than the former infielder pitched in three years at Fordham University), Ryan Rua (.338/.355/.514 over his final 76 plate appearances), Jake Smolinski (.349/.391/.512), Tomas Telis, Roman Mendez, Phil Klein (.073/.191/.122 split against righties), Spencer Patton, Luis Sardinas, Lisalverto Bonilla (the first Ranger ever to win his first three big league starts), Alex Claudio, and Jon Edwards contributed at varying levels, and other young players like Martin Perez, Neftali Feliz, Nick Tepesch, Leonys Martin, and Shawn Tolleson took steps forward, there’s another tremendous wave on the way.
While I was at Instructs last week, I saw a Rangers-Reds game in Goodyear in which Texas fielded this starting lineup:
A couple things about that:
1. Yes, Joey Gallo (zero pro experience in the outfield) started in right field, Ryan Cordell (whose entire pro career has been spent in the outfield and first base) started at third base, and Odubel Herrera (who had never appeared in the outfield in his first five pro seasons before making 13 of his 110 defensive appearances there in 2014) started in center field, and that’s not all: Midway through the game, Gallo shifted to center field (Herrera slid to right), and Jorge Alfaro moved from catcher to third base, a position he hasn’t played since Don Welke scouted him in Colombia and, squinting his eyes, saw a potential catcher. (And just yesterday, the starting assignments included Gallo at shortstop, Alfaro in center, and Ronald Guzman in right.)
All of the above qualify as experimental exercises in versatility and, even more so, an effort to liven things up for those guys as their baseball year nears its end.
2. More to the point — barring injury, there’s a legitimate chance that every one of the players in that lineup (six of whom reached AA in 2014, two of whom topped out at High A, and one of whom peaked at Low A) reaches the big leagues, in some cases in frontline roles. Six of them have a chance to play up the middle, and the three who don’t — Gallo, Mazara, and Guzman — have the potential to do damage in the middle of a Major League lineup.
Throw in the pitching that’s developing on the farm — the five pitchers in the season-ending rotation at Frisco (Chi Chi Gonzalez, Jake Thompson, Andrew Faulkner, Jerad Eickhoff, and Alec Asher) should all start in the big leagues, for example — and tack on whomever Texas will take with the fourth pick in this June’s draft to guys like Luis Ortiz, Lewis Brinson, Marcos Diplan, Keone Kela, Corey Knebel, Travis Demeritte, and plenty others, and there’s reason to believe that the Rangers are as healthy as any franchise in the game when it comes to the rest of this decade and into the next, when the club’s new manager is expected to remain at the helm.
While Daniels won’t look for his new big league manager to be as intimately involved in every aspect of player development as Buck Showalter wanted to be here, he’s said that he wants someone to “partner” with the front office in helping shape the direction of the franchise as a whole, establishing a culture of accountability up and down the organization while carrying out the more immediate and perceptible task of motivating 25 men every night at the big league level. He’ll be expected to connect with both core veterans and young players new to the squad, and that’s something that Bogar has already shown an apparent knack for.
After the club responded to the change in manager the way it did over the final few weeks of the season, Daniels said in a radio spot that, “having seen the last few weeks, having seen the change in the energy and atmosphere, I do think [bringing in a new voice] had an impact. Tim should certainly get some credit for that, but sometimes I do think that a change is beneficial. I told Wash . . . I was hoping he’d be the only manager I ever hired. . . . I was not going to make the move this winter. Since it was effectively made for us, I can look back now with some perspective and say, ultimately, it may be for the best.”
In this instance, the “new voice” Daniels seeks on a permanent basis will apparently belong to someone without big league managerial experience, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. When he conducted the process to replace Showalter after the 2006 season, Daniels assembled five candidates for the interview phase, and none had managed in the Majors, though all five — Washington, Don Wakamatsu, Trey Hillman, Manny Acta, and John Russell — would land manager gigs somewhere within two years.
Expect Daniels’s list this time to be similarly full of men seeking their first big league skipper post — and expect those who don’t get this job to start landing them elsewhere. In other words, don’t expect Ron Gardenhire.
We know that AAA manager Steve Buechele (whom Houston spoke to before hiring A.J. Hinch earlier this week) and pitching coach Mike Maddux have already interviewed, Bogar is set to in the next week or so, and as many as four or five others from the outside will as well. According to local reports, “a few” of the external candidates are currently with playoff clubs, though no names have been confirmed. (Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports this morning that the club has at least had internal discussions about Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr and Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach, whose teams are still playing, plus White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing and a name I hadn’t seen yet — Angels Assistant GM Scott Servais, who spent six years with Texas (all during the Daniels regime) as Director of Player Development.
Michael Young isn’t on the list, but Daniels did ask him if he’d be interested in being considered for the job, a conversation that has reportedly led Young and the organization to agree in principle on the framework of a front office position. Young and Darren Oliver have evidently been involved in the evaluation process from the club side, and you better believe both will be asked to weigh in on how Bogar and the other candidates would fit from a player’s standpoint.
There are strong indications that the front office evaluation on Bogar was boosted by the work he did after Washington resigned. While Daniels said Bogar couldn’t have locked up the job even if he’d put up a 22-0 record as interim manager and couldn’t have lost it by going winless, the 47-year-old made a strong impression.
“I do think the atmosphere that was created, the communication with the players, the in-game management, how he worked with . . . the media were all very good,” Daniels said. “I really appreciate the job he did, and that factors in for me.”
But there’s a process to go through, and Daniels isn’t going to cut it short. “I think it’s really important for the organization to get this hire right,” he said. “And for the fans and players and everyone else involved to feel like we were as thorough as possible, and when we announce our full-time manager to know that there was a lot that went into it.” If Bogar gets the job — Daniels plans to make the hire before the World Series starts on October 21 (Thad Levine added in a radio interview that the club wants the manager to be “central in meetings and the recruitment of players” as free agency kicks off) — he will know he earned it on the basis of more than mere familiarity, or that 13-4 finish.
“Tim is a real good candidate,” Daniels said. “But if he is our manager, it will be a lot more meaningful if we went through a thorough search first.”
I try to never miss the Manager’s Show that Eric Nadel precedes every game broadcast with, and I was very interested in what Bogar would say before the season finale last Sunday. Aside from the note that he’s already under contract with Texas for another year (which is why the Diamondbacks have had to ask for permission to interview him for their managerial opening), Bogar addressed whether he handled the end of the season with his players any differently as their interim manager than he would have if he had been appointed full-time. His said he conducted exit interviews with every player, going over individual off-season programs and what the organization expects from them in 2015. “I went about it . . . as if I was going to be sitting in this chair next year,” Bogar said. “I think it was the right thing to do.”
I’ve become a big Tim Bogar guy. All the talk from the front office about energy and culture, about the ability to connect and motivate and communicate, about the search for a “partner” in the setting of the franchise direction — if it doesn’t point to Bogar, and the front office believes there’s an even better candidate to entrust the job to, then that other guy clearly will have blown the organization away. Adding talent to an organization goes beyond starting pitchers and middle infielders and corner bats, and the Rangers have a huge opportunity here to add an impact talent on the coaching side of things, at the very top, one who can help set the tone not only in the dugout but also throughout the organization.
In spite of the temporary void at that spot, there’s tremendous strength throughout the system in terms of those entrusted to oversee the franchise’s player development program, and that’s something that jumped out at me last week in Surprise. Obviously there are coaches in every organization who are exceptional at what they do, but I dare you to spend any amount of time around Danny Clark or Scott Coolbaugh or Casey Candaele or Hector Ortiz or Ryley Westman and not find yourself looking for a wall to run through, and that’s without even getting to the managers and pitching coaches and hitting coaches assigned to specific farm clubs.
When Nick Martinez is handed off to Maddux, and Smolinski is put on Dave Magadan’s and Gary Pettis’s plate — and when Bengie Molina gets Alfaro — those guys don’t arrive as finished products, but the crazy amount of work put in not only by the prospects but also by any number of coaches and instructors whose sole purpose is to make them better baseball players and teammates is what turns a 17th-round Lake Erie College infielder into Ryan Rua and a 30th-round Youngstown State righthander into Phil Klein, even if things don’t quite work out for Jordan Akins or Matt Thompson.
There are waves of prospects coming — pitchers first at this point, then position players — and it’s still a very good time to be a Texas Rangers fan, 67-95 notwithstanding. Fielder is swinging a bat and working through normal baseball activities. Choo played all year with torn cartilage in his ankle (he was hitting .314/.432/.500 when he originally injured it — .229/.322/.351 afterwards) and, as it turns out, he was battling through a bone spur in his throwing elbow as well, and both have been surgically repaired. Holland is back, Darvish will be, and eventually Perez will be, too. We have Odor.
And this is a team led by Adrian Beltre.
Jon Daniels said in the wake of this brutally difficult season: “I expect that we’re going to win next year. The years of hoping and praying are gone.”
Maybe Billy Beane said that to a group of Bay Area reporters as well, but contrast that with what Peter Gammons wrote after Oakland’s final-third collapse that culminated with the loss to Kansas City:
When Beane made the trades for Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Lester, there was a sense that, at least in the Cubs trade, that it was the wrong thing to do, but he didn’t care. He wanted to win one of those post-season elimination games. There was no solution to their venue or revenue problems, not for another six years. They had the best run differential and record in the game. He and Dave Dombrowski were going to duel at an October sunset. Now Lester and Hammel are free agents and Samardzija will be put on the market to try to find an Addison Russell.
Good luck with all that.
In many ways I’m glad the 2014 baseball season is over in Texas — but, truthfully, I didn’t really want it to end.
When Chan Ho Park won that season-ender 10 years ago today, it gave Texas its 89th victory, following four straight seasons in the low-70s and in last place. There was a prevailing sense that the Rangers weren’t quite as good as their final record in 2004, and I know many of you will remember the cautionary mantra routinely issued by John Hart and Buck Showalter that ensuing winter, even if it didn’t end up on billboards marketing season ticket packages for 2005:
Hart’s successor bluntly said something very different a few days ago: The years of hoping and praying are gone.
He expects to win in 2015.
There’s much work to be done between now and then, with the coaching staff and with the roster and with the definition of everything else, including a culture tune-up that evidently began a month ago.
While I’m eager to see how all of it plays out, this is sports, and one of the great things about hiring a new manager or adding a number three starter or pulling the trigger on a direction-altering trade, all in the name of window-fitting, is that every one of those steps brings us closer to a new baseball season and all the expectations that go with it, expectations in this case that need not be managed but instead confronted head-on, as the quest for a season that ends in a win — and I’m not talking about Game 162 — awaits the hungry and healthier group of Texas Rangers that will suit up for 2015.
Tonight will be a sad night. Lisalverto Bonilla’s season will come to an end.
I’m not predicting injury or a Mo Claiborne-style walkout for the 24-year-old righty. No, this is more like U2, leaving the stage, one by one, as they play “40” to finish the show.
Only this is a concert with no encore, and that’s what makes it so sad.
Tonight Bonilla takes the ball to start the fifth-to-last Texas Rangers game of the season. And then, because only four games follow, he’s done for 2014.
I’m so used to the ramp-up adrenaline that coats this week on the schedule, and I miss it. The last time the Rangers were playing out the string in the final week, the iPad hadn’t been invented, there was no such thing as Instagram, and Tiger Woods was not only Superman but Clark Kent as well.
It shouldn’t be that tough to handle. I spent a lifetime celebrating 162 with perennially gutted hopes of anything more than that, and I was still a passionate, devoted baseball fan. There were those three years out of four when the miracle of the baseball encore visited my world, but getting fed to the Yankees each time got to be even more demoralizing, in a sense, than the innocence of having a regular season attraction without realistic expectations of more.
I know for some of you it’s hard to even fully enjoy 10 wins out of 11, given the surrender of the “worst record” trophies that seems fairly likely at this point, but I’ve got to say, baseball is fun again. I’d have appreciated something more than the one win out of eight that the Diamondbacks have pocketed on their bullet train down to baseball’s worst mark, and while I’ll admit to moments the last couple weeks when seeing a Scott Baker inning go wrong wouldn’t have crushed me, I still find myself wanting the win every night, and when the big moments are provided by Rougned Odor or Ryan Rua or Nick Martinez or Spencer Patton — or Derek Holland — all the better.
And if there’s a better candidate to manage this team in 2015 than the one at the helm right now, then great — and yes, I’m in favor of going through the process of interviewing a small number of whoever the front office considers the top prospects for the job, for various reasons — but I can’t imagine anyone other than Tim Bogar running this team on the field at this point. And it has nothing to do with this win streak, in which eight of the 10 victories have come against teams who needed the wins. Bogar is an awesome candidate for this job. He wants it, and has said so. This is going to happen, and I’m fired up about that.
Jon Daniels has said he doesn’t expect to begin the interview process until a week or so after the season ends — but wants to make a permanent hire before the World Series kicks off on October 21 — and though we don’t know who is on the list of folks that will come through, Michael Young won’t be one of them. Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News), Richard Justice (MLB.com), and Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) each devoted a story to the idea of Young as Rangers skipper over the last week or two, but Grant reported last night that while Daniels and Young discussed the possibility Tuesday, Young is committed to family right now and isn’t ready to consider an opportunity as all-encompassing as managing a big league baseball club.
More immediate is the wait for the Carolina Mudcats to decide whether to hook up with the Rangers (who visited on Monday) or the Braves, leaving the other to head to Adelanto, California to make the High Desert Mavericks their new High Class A home, and this isn’t an unimportant thing.
And for Texas to hold a private workout for 23-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, which will reportedly happen today. Also not unimportant.
And for Bonilla-Scott Feldman tonight, which is unfortunately less important.
Followed by Colby Lewis-Jason Hammel, Nick Tepesch-Scott Kazmir, Holland-Jeff Samardzija, and Martinez-Sonny Gray, four games that six months ago looked like they might be for everything, a long weekend of Castle Doctrine baseball as the Rangers looked to reclaim the AL West perch that the A’s had swiped from them the last two years.
Instead, the ultimate meaning of those four will likely be wrapped up in whether Texas can force Oakland to travel to Kansas City for the Wild Card Game, after which the house lights at 1000 Ballpark Way flip on and we file out of the 2014 season, without an encore.
As a baseball fan you never want the length of the off-season to be fixed when there’s still one swing through the rotation left on the schedule, but in this case the question of how long to sing the winter song offers a sadly clear-cut answer, and the identity of the manager who will lead this team the next time it suits up is nearly as certain, and I’m not sad about that part at all.
I don’t remember many concerts or many baseball seasons that I wanted to end, and while I’m enjoying baseball right now more than I have in a long time, thanks to Rougned and Neftali and Adrian and Bogey, one absolute truth for the Rangers is that it’s necessary for 2014 to end in order for 2015 to get here, and though I’m looking forward to these final five of 162, truth be told I’m more than ready to pour a 40 out on this baseball season and, like I’d gotten used to before the last four glorious, spectacular years of 162+, get fired up for the next one.
I hope you saw Tim Bogar’s postgame presser, especially his response to Gerry Fraley’s question about whether he considered pinch-hitting for Guilder Rodriguez in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and the go-ahead run on second base.
Pretty great moment, both in the seventh and after the game in the media interview room.
Atlanta, two games back in the NL Wild Card race, badly needed a win in Arlington last Friday.
And badly needed a win Saturday.
And badly needed a win Sunday.
Oakland, in the midst of a colossal, spiraling plummet, badly needed a win in its own building against Texas on Tuesday.
And badly needed a win Wednesday.
And badly needed a win Thursday.
They both needed wins far more, practically speaking, than the Texas Rangers did but they failed, all six times, against a Rangers team that some diehard fans, inspired by draft position and associated lagniappe, have been hoping would lose every game left on the schedule.
(Not me, by the way — I’m just pulling for Rockies and Diamondbacks wins . . . and series splits when they play each other, as they are right now. The Rangers’ tragic number: nine, and counting.)
How slim were the odds of the Rangers sweeping either the Atlanta or Oakland series, let alone both? Ridiculously slim — in fact, the great Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs called the sweep of the Braves the third-most unlikely series outcome of the entire 2014 MLB season (2.766 percent likelihood) . . . and the sweep of the A’s the first-most unlikely series result all year (2.087 percent).
As Sullivan put it, “the A’s didn’t just get swept — the A’s got embarrassed, by a full roster with half the talent. . . . [I]nexcusable.”
In none of those six games, by the way, did more Texas players appear who started the season on the big league roster than those who didn’t. In the Braves series finale, for example, six Rangers from the Opening Day roster appeared, along with three players who began the year in AAA (including one with San Diego’s AAA club), four who started the year in AA, and one who was in High Class A. Appearing for Texas in the A’s finale: five Opening Day big leaguers, three AAA players (including one with Kansas City’s top farm club), and six AA players.
Hanging in there and pulling for this Rangers roster isn’t quite like watching Jackie Davidson and Johnny Monell on the Replacement Rangers in the spring of 1995. Or Kevin Sweeney and Cornell Burbage leading the Replacement Cowboys in 1987. Or Ralph Drollinger leaving Athletes in Action to suit up for the expansion Mavericks.
But there are minor league free agents getting regular playing time for Texas right now, and you can probably imagine what a gut punch it must be to be a fan of the Braves or A’s right now, let alone of their players, coming off three days each of abject failure against this going-nowhere team, when every game meant just about everything to them.
Oakland corner bat Brandon Moss, who is hitting a remarkably anemic .179/.303/.282 in 185 second-half trips to the plate, said after his team’s series-ender against the Rangers: “When you’re in a race, it’s supposed to be fun. But I don’t see anyone in this clubhouse having any fun. Because it’s not.”
I completely disagree. This has been a blast.
And, considering that this is a team relegated to the unwanted role of spoiler and in line to land draft pick 1.1 — for the first time since 1973, very strange to watch.
I can’t begin to imagine how much more exponentially strange it is for Ron Washington to watch, from a couch rather than the top step.
Even as little as a month ago, if I’d asked you to identify which AL West team had locked up 162+ by now, which two were fighting for a playoff position (perhaps the final one), and which two were looking for a manager, there’s basically zero chance you would have gotten more than two of the five right. What a weird season.
I’m enjoying Oakland’s developing and potentially epic collapse (#addisonrussell) immensely. Unbecoming (the accusation a couple years ago was “gauche”), maybe, but unapologetically so, because sports.
And because we as Rangers deserve a little fired-up in 2014, wherever we can find it, after the season-long fusillade of gut-punches we’ve had to endure.
None of us is going to look kindly back on 2014 as Rangers fans, even if the way it has played out could end up leading to a franchise-altering draft and the Dawn of Odor and perhaps an opportunity to go forward with a field manager that the organization wouldn’t have had the chance to entrust Game Day to had it not been for perhaps the most unbelievable turn of events in a season full of them.
But, strange as it probably seems, I bet lots of us are enjoying baseball right now more than a whole lot of Atlanta Braves and Oakland A’s fans are, and not just because even the losses these days — remember those? — come with a highly unfamiliar silver lining.
Tonight the Rangers kick off their third and final series in Oakland for the season. In the last one, Texas took the June 16 opener, 14-8 — putting up its biggest run total of the season — before embarking on an eight-game losing streak (which would extend to 22 losses in 25 brutal games) by dropping the final two against the A’s.
In the clubs’ first series in O.co this year, Texas won the first two games by a run each, and took the finale, 3-0, behind a Martin Perez complete-game shutout on April 23, which for obvious reasons feels like about two years ago.
That early-season series happened to have been the only Rangers sweep of 2015 until they took care of the Braves in Arlington over the weekend.
There’s late night baseball the next two nights, followed by a getaway afternoon tilt on Thursday, and while Texas will go to battle with a turbo-decimated roster marked by an absurd number of rookies, it’s the other team that’s in a really bad way.
Just five weeks ago, on August 9, the A’s owned baseball’s best record (72-44) by a full four games, leading the West by the same margin because it was the Angels who boasted MLB’s second-best mark. Since then, Oakland has the worst record in the game at 11-22 (Texas is 12-21 over the same stretch), while Los Angeles’s 26-8 tear has it on the brink of clinching the division title.
Oakland is now a game ahead of Kansas City for home field in the Wild Card Game — but only three games ahead of Seattle (imagine if the Mariners hadn’t just lost three straight) in its effort to avoid missing the playoffs altogether.
The Rangers have a chance to make things meaningfully worse for the A’s this week, just as they did for Atlanta over the weekend.
The silver lining, of course, is that any loss to Oakland takes Texas closer to securing the 1.1 pick in June and all those other goodies, though this three-game win streak in combination with the Rockies’ current seven-game skid has Colorado just 1.5 games back in that backpedal chase. Arizona had briefly caught the Rockies before going on its own win streak these last three days, but there’s now 4.5 games of distance between the Rangers and Diamondbacks.
Speaking of Colorado and Arizona, Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) was the first to report that Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine is on the Diamondbacks’ list of 10 candidates for their vacant GM position, while Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) speculates that if the Rockies dismiss GM Dan O’Dowd, Levine could be a candidate there as well, as he worked in Colorado’s front office for six seasons before Jon Daniels brought him to Texas.
But that’s not what brought me to my keyboard this morning. Buster Olney (ESPN) published a story on Saturday titled “Oakland’s collapse could be worst ever,” and I enjoyed that a lot before even reading the article, especially because I’d just read a chat that Olney’s ESPN colleague Keith Law conducted that included this exchange:
Q: How many hitters in minors have a future 70 hit tool, [and] is J.P. Crawford one?
A: I wouldn’t put that on many prospects. Addison Russell would be one. Crawford . . . I’d feel more comfortable at 60 or even 65. 70 is pretty rare.
Yes it is.
And Russell, like Yoenis Cespedes and Billy McKinney, belongs to someone other than Oakland going forward. Which is awesome.
Maybe you think the schadenfreude is a little unbecoming and a lot pot/kettlesque given where the Rangers’ season has gone, but 2014 is what it is for Texas, and you can recover from injuries.
Recovering from Cespedes (and a premium draft pick) for impending free agent Jon Lester, and Russell/McKinney/Dan Straily for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel? The A’s have a chance over the next two weeks to make sure their season doesn’t have a devastating “worst collapse ever” result, before salvaging things when they trade Samardzija this winter (or I guess possibly next summer) to start to restock a turbo-decimated farm system.
And Texas has a chance, late tonight and late tomorrow night and Thursday afternoon, to make things even more difficult on the A’s, a position that I hate the Rangers find themselves in, but we are where we are, at least for 2014, and I’m not a bit above looking forward to this opportunity to keep knocking the Oakland kettle off the stove . . . not that I won’t be keeping an eye on Colorado and hoping for a little Rockies pride at home against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks these next six days.
Twenty years ago today, the Rangers had already played the final game of what to that point had been their unluckiest season. A franchise that had never played a post-season game was in first place in the American League West (albeit with a 52-62 record) when, on August 12, 1994, the Players Association went on strike.
New stadium. New uniforms. First place. No playoffs.
The Stars were coming off their first season in Dallas and were weeks away from the second NHL work stoppage in two and a half years. The Mavericks were coming off their second-worst season ever (also known as “the Quinn Buckner era”), enabling them to draft Jason Kidd. The Cowboys were kicking off their first season under Barry Switzer, coming off of consecutive Super Bowl wins. The day before September 12, 1994, Dallas (which would ultimately go 12-4 but lose to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game) squeaked by the hapless Houston Oilers, 20-17, in its home opener.
It was nearly four years before the first Newberg Report, a terribly crafted email I sent to a few friends that focused on the AAA contract given by the Rangers to 28-year-old 4-A lefthander and Fort Worth product Ricky Pickett. It was written very poorly, regrettably preserved evidence of an effort that was about 9,999 hours short of the Gladwell threshold. It contained exclamation points.
I’d like to think there were no exclamation points generated from my desk back on September 12, 1994. That Monday, 20 years ago today, was my first day as a lawyer.
Ron Washington (Low A manager), Tim Bogar (second-year big leaguer), and Mike Maddux (ninth-year big leaguer) were each with the Mets, and 20 years later they’re all part of a story whose next chapters are uncertain, as a season whose Unlucky Quotient obliterates 1994 nears a merciful end.
Arizona Diamondbacks GM candidate Thad Levine finished up his bachelor’s degree and baseball career at Haverford College in 1994, and four-year-old Engel Beltre presumably had two fewer injured legs than he does today.
Rougned Odor was seven months old on September 12, 1994, and of all the awesome images I have in my head of that kid, whose future I can’t wait to see unfold (preferably in a Rangers uniform), the one I can’t shake right now is seeing him quietly seethe in the dugout last night, all alone, well after all his teammates and coaches had retreated to the clubhouse after a sweep at the hands of baseball’s best 2014 team, the Angels. Bet he was a handful at seven months old.
Dominican “14”-year-old Albert Pujols was about to move to New York in September 1994, after which he would move to Missouri, after which he would be drafted in the 13th round, after which he would play in 2,102 big league baseball games before striking out four times in one of them, and it would come at the hands of Nick Martinez (twice), Spencer Patton, and Neftali Feliz, because not even Albert can predict ball.
And even if he could, it’s highly unlikely that he’d have foreseen that it would happen in a game that ended the worst 76-game stretch in Texas Rangers — and predecessor Washington Senators — history, culminating a 19-57 run that feels pretty much like a 19-57 run.
That footnote from last night’s loss comes from the great Scott Lucas, who was in Austin those seven years I spent before that September 1994 day and has been since, and yesterday he delivered his final minor league game report of the 2014 season. It was Scott’s best year yet, at least from a writing standpoint, though as a new father I suspect he might think of this as his best year in other ways, too.
So might Guilder Rodriguez, about whom Scott wrote on Monday, and about whom I will write about myself one day soon, bringing Jayce Tingler into the discussion because I think there’s an awesome parallel.
Jayce, who was born the “same year” as Pujols, probably won’t think of this as his best year, but it was a tremendous season on the farm for the Field Coordinator and his troops. While there have been an obscene number of setbacks at the big league level, there have been remarkably few in the organization’s minor league system this season, and a huge number of players who without question will consider this their best year yet, and rightfully so.
The Texas Rangers will think of 2014 as something entirely different. They now have baseball’s worst record by a full five games, and of course that’s not the worst part of it.
The only people at my office who will know that today is my 20th anniversary to practice law are those who read this newsletter, and that’s cool. It’s not a big deal. It’s sorta hard for me to believe that I’ve been at it this long, but it’s not a big deal.
But I do want to thank everyone I work with for making our law firm a place I still look forward to pulling into (almost) every day.
And I want to thank Scott for another really fantastic year of writing, and for doing what he does so reliably and with integrity.
And Jayce for another great year on the farm.
And Roogie for being Roogie, which includes that cold postgame stare out of the dugout and across the field last night, which was the 20-year-old saying to the Los Angeles Angels, I think: Go ahead. Get your licks in now.
(Or, as a hat-tip to that awful first-Newberg-Report-ever back in 1998: Get your licks in now!)
My wife and I finally got around to watching Season 2 of “Derek” the last few nights, at the end of which the Ricky Gervais character says, through tears:
That’s the amazing thing about life. You can just start again.
It’s what you do from now.
It’s never too late, until it is.
It’s one of the amazing things about sports, too, and I can’t wait for Texas Rangers baseball in 2015, when things can just start again, and give us genuine, renewed hope that we can celebrate the 19th, 18th, and 16th anniversaries of something special, if not the fifth and fourth.