They’d won four of five, five of seven, seven of 10, and many of them handily — they’d needed only one save in those seven wins, and that was in a game they led by four going into the ninth.
They’d lost just one series out of their previous 10, dating all the way back to July 31-August 2.
They looked primed to win a 10th of 11, having responded to an early 4–0 deficit against the Yankees last Friday by scoring 11 of that game’s remaining 12 runs.
That 11–5 win over New York culminated a week of baseball in which the Rangers hit .303 (1.021 OPS), hit the ball out of the park 15 times, and scored eight runs per game. They held their opponents to a .282 average (.772 OPS), and went 5–2.
They were playing contending baseball. An inconsistent season had them two teams and 2.5 games short of a playoff spot, but with 22 games to go, a seventh year of 162+ out of eight seemed in reach.
Since then: A .201 batting average in six games (.589 OPS) and 3.5 runs per game. Opponents at .308 (.940 OPS) and scoring 8.3. One win in that stretch.
Last year’s Rangers club led the American League in wins and yet had a lesser run differential (+8) than this year’s club (+19), which has hovered around the .500 mark forever. (The last time the record was more than two games above or below even was a month and a day ago.)
Make of that what you will, but you don’t have to limit your view to a sabermetric one to see that some of the key components of this team are flawed.
They miss too many pitches.
But not enough bats.
They don’t throw well from the outfield, and the routes aren’t always clean.
Some of the latter is experience — and maybe a reminder that in ways this team is too young.
And too old.
Their closer played his way into a dump deal.
Their free agent-year catcher fell off a production cliff and played his way into a dump deal, too.
(Not that Pedro Gonzalez doesn’t have a chance; but compared to what Texas gave up for the catcher . . . . )
They collide on infield pop-ups and lose a combined 24 games from one of their most important bats and one of their most important relievers as a result.
Their failure to put hitters away and failure to avoid the center-cut offering and failure to take care of the baseball leads, seemingly, to an inning every night in which the other guys bat around.
Not every night.
But it feels like it.
Twenty blown saves (19 of which, it feels like, came in April).
They traded their most dangerous starting pitcher and they played without their heart and soul for close to half the year (his return to action the last two nights was an act of urgency, not desperation, and I’ll take a guy every single day who leaves it all out there for his teammates) and their closer throws as hard as I did and seven of their 12 leaders in relief appearances have been Jose Leclerc, Jeremy Jeffress, Dario Alvarez, Jason Grilli, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Ricky Rodriguez, and Nick Gardewine, all of which, if you were told in March would be the case . . . .
Well, you wouldn’t expect this team would have been in it with three weeks to go.
They’ve been valiant, resilient, tenacious, stubborn. Entertaining.
But the sun eventually sets. Batteries lose their charge. The song always ends, and there’s not an encore every time.
It’s looking bleak for 2017, making Texas one of half the league’s 2016 playoff teams that in all likelihood won’t return this year.
The Rangers’ thinning chances are better than the other four clubs (Blue Jays, Orioles, Giants, Mets) who played 162+ last year but won’t again, and anytime we get to be locked in after the NFL has kicked its season off beats what’s behind Door №2.
Still, 29 big league seasons end in disappointment at some level every year, and I’d rather have the crushing disappointment of a playoff sweep than no invitation to that party, the one that Texas has been a guest at almost every year for the better part of a decade.
Maybe last year’s club, a Pythagorean anomaly, overachieved. This year’s?
The Rangers haven’t just been losing lately. They’ve been getting smoked.
Kyle Seager, the last four nights (if not the last seven years), has been a human reminder that baseball can kick you in the junk.
And then follow that up by kicking you in the junk.
Rougned Odor, those same four nights, has reminded us a few times, at the plate and in the field, that it’s still in there, even if his 2017 has been a kick in the junk.
But ours hasn’t. At least I don’t think it has. Floating around .500 all year certainly isn’t the ideal, but I’d rather be playing games that matter in September than go through what Texas went through in 2014 — or what San Francisco is going through this year.
Plus: Elvis Andrus and Alex Claudio and Joey Gallo and Delino DeShields and Robinson Chirinos and Willie Calhoun.
We feel a whole lot better about every one of those guys than we did in March.
But a whole lot worse about the season.
Different levels of disappointment, for almost everyone, almost every year.
I didn’t expect, as late as a week ago, that this particular level was going to set in this soon.
The Rangers still fight, and that’s awesome and one of the things I love about caring so much about this team. They still fight, because that’s what they do.
That’s what they’ve done in the Michael Young and Adrian Beltre years.
The Wash and Banny years.
The JD years.
They still fight.
But this year’s song is ending.