Its over, guys.
I’ve thought on several other occasions that the 2017 Texas Rangers were done, that this team was toast, only to have them claw back into it, owing in no small part to the rest of the American League being thoroughly mediocre. After sweeping Seattle, the Rangers went into Friday’s series against the A’s just 2.5 games back of Minnesota, still clinging to hopes of a Wild Card berth.
And now? Minnesota swept the Tigers, the A’s swept the Rangers, and while the Rangers aren’t mathematically eliminated, for all intents and purposes its all over but the crying.
I’ve been a Ranger fan long enough that I can remember when still being in the race in late September was reason for celebration, when games were already meaningless by mid-August, so I’m not unappreciative of the fact that this team stayed in the hunt until the final week. Watching games where there is hope, even if that hope is slim, after Labor Day is preferable to having given up.
Still, we have been spoiled by this team in recent years. This is just the second time in the last eight years where the Rangers will only be playing 162 games, and the other time — 2014 — the Rangers were done as contenders much, much earlier. We aren’t used to seeing our hopes die with a week left in the campaign.
One can reasonably argue this team played better than last year’s division championship team — the +13 run differential this year is superior to the 2016 team’s +8 run differential, with the main difference in record being due to the Rangers being an awful 13-24 in one run games this year, compared to 36-11 in one run games in 2016. That said, this looked like a team, coming into the season, that would be a .500 or a little better club that would need to catch some breaks to make the postseason. In late September, that’s still what this team looks like. They are who we thought they were.
If we want to identify the areas where the team broke down, the reasons why this team will be sitting home next week rather than playing in a Wild Card Game, well...there’s no mystery there. We’ve talked about it all year — key members of the bullpen didn’t perform, and key hitters didn’t hit.
The focus of the bullpen complaints have centered around Sam Dyson, who went from being a very good reliever in 2015 (post-trade) and 2016 to awful in 2017. A 1-6 record, a 10.80 ERA in 16.2 IP for Texas, and a trade to San Francisco for a PTBNL after being designated for assignment is a recipe for disaster when you’re talking about your closer. But it wasn’t just Dyson...Jeremy Jeffress, acquired from Milwaukee last summer, put up a 5.31 ERA. Tony Barnette, an unheralded middle relief piece who was solid in 2016, put up a 4.74 ERA this year, and struggled in particular early on. And the team lost a key contributor for most of the season with Jake Diekman recovering from ulceritive colitis surgery. Some guys stepped up and filled in, but not enough to keep the pen from being a weakness in 2017.
And then there are the three middle-of-the-order hitters the Rangers were counting on, who didn’t hit -- Rougned Odor, Jonathan Lucroy and Mike Napoli. These were players the Rangers expect to be key parts of their lineup. Odor has a .205/.250/.402 slash line. Napoli has a .193/.285/.428 slash line. Lucroy had a .242/.297/.338 slash line before being shipped out to Colorado. The emergence of Joey Gallo, and the performance of Robinson Chirinos, helped mitigate some of the damage Napoli and Lucroy inflicted on the team, but at the end of the day, Texas had three guys they were counting on to put runs on the board who flopped this year.
If the Rangers had dealt with just one of these problems, things would have been fine. If the bullpen had tanked but Odor, Napoli and Lucroy had performed close to where each performed last year, then the Rangers are probably neck-and-neck with the Twins right now. Or if those three had struggled, but the bullpen had been solid, the Rangers are either playing meaningful games this weekend, or will be resting guys to get ready for a Wild Card game. Both, however, couldn’t be overcome.
So that’s where we are. The 2017 Rangers were at times entertaining, maddening, fun, boring, exciting, infuriating, exhilarating...but ultimately, they fell short.