A Eulogy for the 2014 Texas Rangers
The signs were there on opening day. Tanner Scheppers, the Rangers' starting pitcher, was making his first major league start, not because he'd stated a case that he deserved to start the first game of the season, but because of injury. The bullpen, similarly beset by injuries, would melt down in spectacular fashion, giving up seven runs in a 14-10 loss to the Phillies. It was a sloppy, interminable game and would prove microcosmic.
The team would hold on for a while, riding good luck and great pitching from Yu Darvish and Martin Perez until near the end of the season's first month. The season would crest on April 23. Perez three-hit the A's on a Wednesday afternoon, finishing a three-game road sweep and giving his club a half-game lead in the American League West. It was Perez's second consecutive shutout, fourth consecutive quality start and the Rangers' fifth straight win in a game he started. The team would not win another of Perez's starts and by May 10 the 23-year-old lefty would be, like his team, done for the year. Perez needed Tommy John surgery to fix a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the Rangers lost to the Red Sox and fell into fourth place.
The Rangers hadn't particularly looked good at any point before May 10. The team had kept its head above water inexplicably -- finishing the day at 19-18 -- despite mounting injuries and an inferior run differential, but couldn't hang on any longer. Perez went down, then, five days later Matt Harrison made his last start of the season (and perhaps his career). The Rangers lost 31 of their next 50 games and found themselves 16 games behind the first place A's on July 5.
From that point until early September the club was largely unwatchable.
There were a few bright spots. Twenry-year-old second baseman Rougned Odor brought energy and verve to the team, Darvish flashed some of his usual brilliance before being shut down for the year on September 6 due to elbow inflammation, and Adrian Beltre showed every day why he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
The bad far outweighed the little good there was, though. Prince Fielder, acquired along with cash from the Tigers for Ian Kinsler in November, never hit and eventually required season-ending neck surgery in late May. Despite those flashes, Darvish consistently looked disinterested. Players who have no business starting on a major league team, like outfielder Daniel Robertson, received ample playing time. Shin Soo Choo, the on-base machine the Rangers paid $130 million during the offseason, didn't get on base,playing hurt most of the season. That the team's worst season came on the heels of a 2010-2013 stretch when the Rangers won at least 90 games each year, made watching the disaster all the more painful. By September 1, the Rangers were 30.5 games behind the first place Angels and had finally, it seemed, hit rock bottom.
Then came September 5. Ron Washington, the team's manager since 2007, quit the club with no warning. Jon Daniels, the team's general manager, made it clear at a subsequent press conference that Washington's resignation wasn't drug related -- Washington tested positive for cocaine in 2009 -- nor the team's dismal on-field performance. Later, at a bizarre press conference to provoked more questions than it answered, Washington would say only that he'd been unfaithful to his wife and needed to take a step back from baseball.
Even for a club that's seen relief pitcher Roger Moret slip into a catatonic trance in a April 1978 locker room incident and a home run ball bounce off Jose Canseco's head before going over the fence, it was strange.
Tim Bogar, the bench coach brought in as an analytic check on Washington's gut, was given the reins. All he did was lead the club to 14 wins over the last 22 games of the season. Bogar, along with pitching coach Mike Maddux, is expected to interview with Daniels in hopes of removing his interim tag this week.
Heading into next year, the Rangers, and Daniels specifically, face a number of questions. Obviously, Daniels' choice of manager shade the direction the club takes over the rest of the offseason. Bogar has to be seen as the favorite to get the full-time gig and would be a good choice. His knowledge of advanced statistics and tactical acumen puts him in line with Daniels' organizational philosophy and, in an admittedly small sample, he's shown the ability to wring effort and victories out of his roster.
If Fielder and Choo can get and stay healthy and produce, the lineup should be fine. The biggest question marks are Odor at second base and Leonys Martin in center. With Jurickson Profar's recent injury setback, Odor is likely to get the majority of playing time at the keystone. The energy he'd bring over a full season will be welcome, but it's yet to be seen if he can get on base enough to be a big league regular. No matter how fun he is to watch, he must get on base significantly more than 30 percent of the time if he wants to stick. The same is true for Martin. He has the tools to be a poor man's Andrew McCutchen, but he needs to be consistent, on defense and especially at the plate.
The pitching should be a lot better. Darvish will be back and, hopefully, engaged. Derek Holland was brilliant in September. As long as he stays away from Wrigley, his boxer, he and Darvish will make a potent 1-2 punch. If Colby Lewis can be re-signed to a low priced deal and the club gets another starter in the free agent market, the rotation should be pretty good. The bullpen will be improved, if only by the return of a fully healthy Neftali Feliz.
The season is over, ending, in fitting fashion, with the A's shutting out the Rangers on a hot Sunday afternoon. It's time to move on. After all, opening day 2015 is just 197 days away.
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