On May 21, 2011, Colby Lewis marched into Citizens Bank Park and dealt, getting 20 outs and holding Philadelphia to two runs.
And Texas never had a chance.
With Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz wrapping up rehab assignments in Round Rock, the Rangers fell that Saturday night to Cliff Lee, whom they’d last seen sharing their uniform, by the score of 2-0. They’d managed to put together five hits off Lee over eight frames, never more than once in an inning. The loss dropped the Texas record to 23-23.
The Rangers haven’t been a .500 team that late in a season since then. The next latest date on the calendar is today’s.
The thing is, after that loss in Philadelphia, Texas went on to go 73-43, a .629 win rate that extrapolates to 102 W’s over a whole season, followed by 10 October wins that were a strike short of an 11th that would have added a World Championship to the franchise trophy case.
It wasn’t even conceivable on May 21, 2011.
Yes, that club had Mike Napoli hitting sixth, seventh, or eighth most nights, on his way to a 1.046 OPS. Michael Young hit .338 with 58 extra-base hits. Ian Kinsler hit 32 bombs, Hamilton had a very good year but Adrian Beltre’s was better, and Cruz was one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters after coming back from that May quad injury.
But that team’s number one starting pitcher was second-year starter C.J. Wilson, and we know how his 2011 ended. Number two and three were Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, each in his first full year as a big league starter, and the rotation was rounded out by Alexi Ogando (also a first-year starter) and Colby Lewis. And the bullpen, headed by Neftali Feliz, got its next-most innings from Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, Michael Kirkman, and Dave Bush, in that order.
Re-read that last paragraph, in case you don’t remember how you felt about the Rangers’ chances when they were a .500 team on May 21, 2011.
So as not to stay on a disingenuous path, I should concede that the 2011 rotation got 157 of its 162 starts from the five listed above. (Bush got three, and Scott Feldman the remaining two.) The Rangers have already used more starters than that (eight) in 2014, a number that will tick to nine with Nick Tepesch’s arrival Wednesday, and that’s before Holland returns.
I should also note that Texas girded the bullpen in a big way in July by adding Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.
No telling what’s in store for the Rangers this July.
But I get it: It’s hard to think ahead that far. The rotation, in the club’s last dozen games, has an ERA of 7.36. Without Yu Darvish, it’s 9.13. Now we find out Martin Perez is hurt, news that’s less painful considering his weekend MRI showed no structural damage, but still.
Yesterday’s first inning was another frustrating one to watch, from Robbie Ross getting too much plate and John Lackey being granted more of it than he needed and Ron Washington issuing an intentional walk with 26 outs to go, and right out of the gate a seventh home loss in nine felt inevitable.
Just like a third straight loss, and 16th out of 25, when Cliff Lee shut the Rangers offense down on May 21, three years ago.
That night, with Lewis taking the loss, was followed by a Harrison shutout over the Phillies the next afternoon, which kicked off a run of 11 wins in 14 games. With that inexperienced, aceless rotation, and that ransom-note bullpen.
Texas now relies on those same two — Lewis and Harrison — to help get things back on track in Houston, with Tepesch and Feldman teeing it up on Wednesday before it comes back around to Darvish on Friday at home. It’s not hard to find some optimism there.
The last time Texas was under .500 later than this point on the calendar, I’m pretty sure, was the final day of the 2008 season, when German Duran led off, Milton Bradley cleaned up, Jamey Wright and Josh Rupe and Warner Madrigal relieved, and Texas failed to score off of Angels starter Joe Saunders. Napoli was an Angel, Beltre was a Mariner, Elvis Andrus was a RoughRider, Rougned Odor was 14.
Still, we all knew the arrow was pointing up in September 2008, because we understood the context, a decent lesson as we sit here at 19-19 today.
I’m not anywhere near ready, considering the incredible outbreak of adversity the 2014 club has had to battle through, to look at a .500 record and write anything off, or rule anything out.