Originally published October 8th, 2012
It was in the air around the 8th inning. Defeat. The Rangers were only down 2 runs with the heart of the order up to bat in the inning. If this had been 2010 or 2011, you’d half expect the Rangers to put up a 5-spot and blow the game wide open, but unfortunately for the Rangers, it’s 2012. The team had a different vibe late in the season. After losing 7 of 9 games, they entered Friday’s one game playoff with a questionable confidence both in the clubhouse and from their fanbase.
I was just happy to be watching playoff baseball in October. I flew down from Seattle for meetings that week after watching the Mariners play a 3-game set with the Angels. October baseball is every fans dream, but it’s just not the same when it’s between 2 teams that are out of it, so to have the chance to be there for Game 163 was perfect timing! I didn’t really care who won going in, I just wanted to see a good game, but what I ended up seeing in Texas begged the question: Is Texas in trouble?
A few observations from Friday’s game:
- Attitude – Pardon the worst picture ever, it’s here to illustrate a point. Body language is an indicator of attitude on any team. This is both bullpens in the 8th inning. Texas is only down 2 runs. Look at the Texas bullpen — sitting and completely disengaged. Now look at Baltimore’s (you’ll have to squint – haha). Everyone is standing and locked in on the game. Think about how this fit into the player quotes from the rest of the week. There was a clear disappointment when the Rangers failed to make the playoffs outright. It’s kind of like a College Football Bowl game. When a team feels slighted, like they “deserved” more, they’re primed for an upset. The same thing happened to the Rangers. Now wait, if you’re thinking “Sure, but this is just the bullpen, those guys weren’t playing anyway,” let’s move to point 2.
- Josh Hamilton – Josh Hamilton will not be with the Rangers next year. For everyone that says the Rangers wouldn’t be where they were without Josh Hamilton, I’d tell you you’re probably right. They’d probably be playing the Tigers. Josh Hamilton had turned into a giant distraction, but worse than that, he was a giant distraction that wasn’t playing. Bad eyes, sinuses, muscle soreness — Josh Hamilton struggled to get on the field when his team needed him the most, and late in the season when the team counted on his power and work on the field he failed to deliver. The other thing that stood out about Hamilton leading into Friday’s game was his attitude. We all saw his error against the Athletics. Without beating a dead horse, could Hamilton have looked like he cared less when Ron Washington confronted him in the dugout? Hamilton goes 0-4 against the Orioles. I watched him run out to CF and saw him giving a two-finger salute towards the O’s bullpen. Who was he saluting? If it was the O’s bullpen, what’s his problem? If it was the fans, was that a “See you later”? One thing was certain from Friday’s game, there’s a big part of the Rangers’ fanbase that are ready to see him go, which leads to…
- The Fans – Yikes. These fans got real ugly. It had already started early in the game, but by the time Hamilton went 0-4 it got a lot of worse. It wasn’t just the boos, which there were plenty from where I was at in RF/CF, then CF to end the game, it was the venom. “Why don’t you snort some more coke, you crackhead!” “You suck Hamilton, go to Fenway!” “Don’t drop it!” It was pretty bad. When the fans weren’t getting on Hamilton, they were ready to fight each other. It was a far cry from the chants of “Let’s Go O’s” by the end of the game.
- Ron Washington – You know the saying, “Ballplayers win games, not Managers.” On any given day the Manager’s role is really geared around managing relationships and morale. He doesn’t swing a bat or throw a pitch, but he’s the key component to controlling and manipulating a team’s attitude. I mentioned earlier that the Rangers didn’t look like a team that wanted to be there — They were playing through disappointment where the Orioles were playing for their lives. It seems ludicrous to say that a Manager with 2 straight World Series appearances could have his job be on the line, but understand that the Rangers have lost 2 straight World Series and now in 2012, blew a 14 game lead to the Oakland Athletics. How many proponents of Wash remember that he was set to be fired in 2010 before the team played to save his job? Nolan Ryan will not accept losing, and watching the Rangers meltdown had to raise eyebrows in the front office. Ron Washington should send the Cleveland Indians a “Thank You” note, because Francona could have been the perfect fit for a contending team of veterans like the Rangers.
- Buck Showalter – Managers don’t win games, right? Well, sometimes they do put you in a position to win. Saunders has a history of throwing batting practice in Arlington, but Buck went with him anyway. Pulling Saunders after throwing 77 pitches was a shrewd move that put the bullpen in a position to win the game, while preserving a starting pitcher for the series against the Yankees. One of the keys to the new one game Wild Card is that it theoretically puts the winner at a disadvantage because they’ll be a starting pitcher short — by pulling Saunders when they did, he could be ready to go on 3 days rest.
Is Texas in trouble? They’re a talented team with a ton of veterans and there’s zero question that ownership is committed to winning. Losing Hamilton in the offseason could actually make this team better. The Rangers have played through Hamilton’s offseason distractions the last two years. (Keep in mind he’s had to publically apologize to his team at least twice for off-field indiscretions, that we know about.) Does the team play tighter because they’re trying to respect Hamilton’s struggles? Texas could be better without Hamilton because they wouldn’t have to worry about offending him or dangering his sobriety — It’s hard to run when you’re walking on eggshells. Does the team losing Hamilton help Ron Washington? Judging from their interactions in the dugout, it just doesn’t look like Wash and Hamilton are on the same page, so moving on away from Hamilton could help align a team that on the surface seem to support and respect him as the manager. One thing is certain: Regardless of how the Rangers ended this year, expectations are high for this team in 2013.