It is late August. There are 32 games to go in the regular season for your Texas Rangers. And the team is in second place in the American League West, tied with the Houston Astros, and a game back of the Seattle Mariners.
This is only the second time all year the Rangers have been a game back in the A.L. West. The last time was on April 8, when they were 4-4 on the year. Since then, the Rangers have had at least a share of first place in the division.
Until Sunday’s loss, combined with Seattle’s victory, dropped the Rangers into second place.
Its been quite a roller coaster in the second half, hasn’t it? Coming out of the All Star Break, Texas won six in a row, then promptly lost seven of nine to end the month. Texas then reeled off eight in a row to start August, part of a stretch where they won 12 of 14 games, before losing eight in a row and nine of ten.
Texas is currently 13-11 in the month of August. Kind of amazing, isn’t it, given how bad the team has played lately? And also kind of amazing, isn’t it, given how good the team played to start the month?
Part of what has been so demoralizing, as a fan, in this recent losing stretch is the way so many games having seemingly slipped away. Three of the Rangers last ten losses — dating back to the series finale in San Francisco — have been extra inning walk off losses. Four have been one run losses. Two more have been two run losses.
The bats have been quiet for much of this stretch. And when the bats have done things, the pitching has let them down — see Sunday’s 7-6 loss, the 9-8 loss in Milwaukee, the 7-5 loss in Minnesota to start the series.
The weird, wild win in Minnesota on Saturday seemed like it might be a breakthrough, might start a hot streak, might have the Rangers rattling off wins like we have seen them do so often this season.
And instead, Sunday saw another painful loss — that took 13 innings and 4 hours and ten minutes — that featured bats going cold at the wrong time, the bullpen falling apart, and finally, to cap it all off, three straight two out walks to bring home the winning run.
The Rangers’ chances of making the playoffs, per Fangraphs, was over 90% just a week or so ago. Its dropped down to 65.4% as of today. The odds of winning the division have slipped to just under 20%, per Fangraphs.
Its a long, long season. And that’s part of what makes it so painful, when your team is losing, when a strong position is slipping away. Day after day, the slow, seemingly inevitable progression. The hope that today is the day that things will turn around, only to be let down. Over, and over, and over again.
We can remind ourselves that the Rangers are still in a strong position right now, especially compared to where things stood back before the season started. Fangraphs has the Rangers projected at 89 wins, which is a little higher than where most projections had Texas to start the season. Texas still appears more likely than not to make the playoffs, still has a decent shot at winning the division, and that’s what we were hoping for to start the season.
But that was before the Rangers played dominant baseball for the first two months. That was before they ran out to a big lead early on. That was before they went out and got Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery at the trade deadline to solidify the starting rotation.
Just because the team exceeded expectations for much of the season doesn’t mean we can’t feel disappointed right now in where things stand.
Especially with the festering sore that is the Rangers’ bullpen. The expectation was that moves would be made to significantly solidify the pen at the deadline. And while the Rangers did go out and get Aroldis Chapman at the end of June, the only other addition was Chris Stratton, a journeyman middle reliever who isn’t a difference maker — and who gave up the kick-in-the-teeth grand slam yesterday to Royce Lewis immediately upon entering the game in relief of Jordan Montgomery, who had kept Minnesota off the board up to that point.
There’s something unique about rooting for a good team with a shaky bullpen. The nervous feeling when there’s a lead late, not being able to feel confident about nailing it down. Worrying about who might cough up the game this time.
Maybe Will Smith’s early season success led to a level of complacency, to forgetting that, well, he’s Will Smith. A 4.24 ERA at this stage has reminded us of who he is. Maybe there was an unwarranted belief that the answer would come from inside the organization. Grant Anderson, as it turned out, wasn’t the answer. Neither was Alex Speas. Joe Barlow and Spencer Howard and John King and Taylor Hearn have all been jettisoned after not solving the problem. Jonathan Hernandez, sent down to Round Rock after a disastrous start to the season, was brought back in the hopes that he might be the answer.
Three two out walks later, it doesn’t appear he is.
Its maddening. Its frustrating. Its anxiety inducing.
And all we can do is watch over the last 32 games, hope things get back on track, and see what happens.
The trials and tribulations of being a baseball fan.