Texas dropped the ball
Blew what should have been a sweep
On to Yanks & Sox
You can spend 3,000 December words on an off-season move to add a middle relief candidate, holding forth like you have a bead on what it will mean for the bullpen, if not the pennant race.
And then your three most reliable defensive players make blunders in one catastrophic April inning, three plays that sit somewhere on the spectrum between unfortunate and inexcusable, taken together bordering on something like impossible, and you realize how unpredictable this game is, and how all the objective data in the world is suggestive at best, persuasive yet not controlling, and maybe even distracting at times from the organic nature of the game and its players and its plays.
This team could very well be 8-1 with baseball's best record - in fact, it has trailed only once after seven innings. But they make you play nine, and too often in the first 1/18th of the season (keep that part in mind) Texas hasn't closed the deal, on the mound or in the field, and instead the club heads into the New York-Boston swing at what can only be characterized as a disappointing 5-4. Better than the Angels, better than the Mariners, better than the Red Sox. But disappointing.
There's so much to be encouraged about - starting with the starting five, which is pitching with that swagger that the front office talked more about trying to develop and capture back when Nolan Ryan arrived and Mike Maddux was hired. Nelson Cruz appears to be taking the next step, one that only a fraction of the few even capable of taking actually convert on. Vladimir Guerrero and Darren Oliver aren't yet acting their age. The Neftali Feliz chrysalis is splitting.
The problems of the first week and a half aren't the type that armchair GM's insist they can fix by whiteboarding the perfect trade, or by starting the clock on the all-important, imminent call-up. They're the type that call for better execution (and sometimes concentration) by players clearly capable of executing.
And maybe that's what's so frustrating. The resignation of seeing games get away because Chan Ho Park or Ben Broussard or Kris Benson or Andruw Jones isn't getting it done is a lot different from the gut punch of watching a core player we tend to take for granted fail to come through.
Half of the Rangers' outcomes have taken the sabermetrics right out of it, and that's ok with me. The data might tell us what we can expect when a starting pitcher reaches that third time through the lineup or what happens when Josh Hamilton can't lay off the first-pitch breaking ball out of the zone, but could never prepare us for Thursday's defensive eighth, or for the difference between a Frankie Francisco outing where the squared-up shots don't find gloves and one where they do, or for the potential impact that the latter could have on his confidence going forward.
Texas has won two straight series, one at home against a division contender and the other on the road, and of course you'd take that. It doesn't make the nature of the last three of the Rangers' four losses any easier to take, but it hammers home for me that trying to diagnose how you get to 5-4 can drive you crazy.
Instead, maybe the proper prescription is to enjoy this unprecedented run of Rangers starting pitching and hope that it continues into these next six against two of baseball's best, a stretch that should include C.J. Wilson twice, and that the shortstop will have learned something Thursday the way the new closer did on Opening Day.
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(c) Jamey Newberg