It's been real, Josh

The Rangers Season is Over

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Well, how shall we begin? Yu Darvish fought valiantly through 6.2 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on five hits, striking out seven and surrendering no walks for the first time in his big league career. Had it not been for his workman-like performance, the game wouldn’t have been as close as it turned out to be. The Rangers offense mustered just one run across the plate, a first inning double-play groundout from Josh Hamilton that scored Ian Kinsler. Outside of the futile 4th inning rally where Texas managed to get runners to first and third with just one out, that first inning was the only chance the Rangers had to do damage before it was too late.

Joe Saunders battled through his 5.2 innings of work for Baltimore, yielding 6 hits and a walk, one run, and had 4 strikeouts. As it’s been all season, the Orioles bullpen shut the door, with Darren O’Day (2 IP), Brian Matusz (.1 IP), and Joe Johnson (1 IP) each pitching shutout baseball. The only real life we saw from the Rangers came in the 9th inning with 2 outs, when Mike Napoli drew a walk and Jurickson Profar slashed an opposite-field single. With two outs and the bases loaded, down 5-1, Texas brought the tying run up to the plate. And on a 1-1 fastball tailing away from the strike zone, David Murphy popped out to center field, and, with that, the Rangers season concluded.

Baltimore 5, Texas 1.

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The makeup of the 2012 Texas Rangers began to take shape on January 18 when it became official that prized Japanese import Yu Darvish signed with the two-time defending American League Champions. His arrival effectively offset the departure of de facto ace, C.J. Wilson — who signed with the division rival Angels a month earlier — after receiving a below-market qualifying offer from the organization that drafted and developed him. Along with the addition of Darvish, the Rangers signed Joe Nathan to a 2-year, $14M deal, prompting former closer Neftali Feliz to shift from his late-inning, high-leverage role, into being groomed as the club’s #5 starter.

It was clearly a season of change for the Rangers, and, on paper, a change for the better, even coming off back-to-back World Series appearances. With an Opening Day rotation featuring Darvish, crafty veteran Colby Lewis, along with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison coming off strong 2011 campaigns, it looked as a team who was set up quite nicely for another dominant season of baseball. And, for the most part, that’s what it was, but for different reasons.

Neftali Feliz made only 7 starts before succumbing to season-ending Tommy John surgery, catalyzing the club to go out and sign Roy Oswalt, a pitcher that never truly got his legs out from underneath him, making only 9 starts of his own before being permanently replaced in the rotation by Scott Feldman, which is another topic completely. Combined with the loss of Feliz, perhaps the biggest blow to the Rangers season occurred sometime at the beginning of June, when Colby Lewis, the team’s most consistent and effective presence during their previous two World Series runs, went down with season-ending surgery of his own. And just like that, at the beginning of June, two-fifths of the Rangers Opening Day rotation was gone and not to be heard from again.

That said, the team persevered. Matt Harrison nearly equalled his 2011 season in terms of production (3.8 fWAR in 2012 compared to 4.4 fWAR in ’11), acting as the club’s most reliable starter for the majority of the year. And by the time his effectiveness began to wear off, sometime in the beginning of September, Yu Darvish was pitching like the best pitcher in baseball, which he was in his last 7 starts (50.2 IP/59 K/10 BB/12 ER).

The Rangers finished behind only the Detroit Tigers in terms of total pitching fWAR (starters + bullpen) in all of baseball, accumulating 23.9 wins above replacement, a fraction better than the 23.0 figure posted in 2011. And yet, even despite this impressive mark, there was much left to be desired from the rotation. 2012 could be considered a lost year for Derek Holland, who — even including some brilliant flashes — failed to take a step forward in his development, further exacerbating the perplexing question of “Just how good is he?” Along with Holland, both Scott Feldman and Roy Oswalt probably hurt the team more than they helped, and I can’t say I’ll have any problem next year when neither are on the roster.

A constant bright spot in regards to pitching came from the bullpen, and it came all season, unremittingly. On the year the pen produced a shutdown-to-meltdown ratio of 118-49, a stat derived from how a pitcher performs affecting the probability of winning the game (by plus or minus .06%). Joe Nathan had a stellar first year, and Koji Uehara was the pitcher we thought he’d be when he was acquired from Baltimore in the trade for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter last summer. It can be argued that Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams took minor steps back, but they were each solid, for the most part. I’m also excited to see where Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers go from here.

Away from the pitching, perhaps the biggest surprise of the season was the offense, or, lack of offense. Listen, I get it that the Rangers scored the most runs in baseball, so from that perspective the season shouldn’t be considered a disappointment, but when looking through the lineup, I just don’t see how they managed to pull that off. All of Ian KinslerMichael Young, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli took significant hits in comparison to their 2011 seasons, which was partially augmented through amazing years from Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton, and surprisingly impressive seasons by David Murphy and Craig Gentry (when he actually played). As a whole, the offense produced a wRC+ of just 104 (as compared to 112 in ’11), a wOBA of .335 (compared to .348 in ’11), and stole a mere 91 bases (compared to 143 in ’11). Basically, what Texas had in one of the most dynamic 3-4 combinations in baseball, it lacked in overall balance like it did in 2011. And it’s the offense, not the pitching, that (unironically) let the team down in the waning weeks of the season.

* * * * * *

In 2007, Jon Daniels executed two monumental trades that changed the landscape of Rangers baseball forever. The first, a trade-deadline sale of the hottest commodity on the market, Mark Teixeira, netted them Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia; the second, an offseason move that sent top organization pitching talent Edinson Volquez to the Reds for the polarizing all-world outfielder Josh Hamilton. Daniels built the Texas Rangers the right way, from the ground up, and we’ve been very lucky as fans to have witnessed these last few years of baseball. And now, sadly, this era of the Texas Rangers is likely to shift again.

Josh Hamilton is a free agent, and Elvis Andrus — with two years remaining on his contract — could very well be dealt this offseason to receive Josh’s replacement in return. I think we all understand Josh’s talent level, as he may very well be the most talented individual to ever dawn a Rangers uniform, but, knowing this, we also understand his time here is probably over. Thanks for the memories, Josh.

Elvis Andrus presents a different case, but just as essential for the betterment of the franchise. There have been no inclinations to make us believe he will sign a longterm extension, and Jurickson Profar’s immanent ascension up the ranks of the minor leagues puts him in a position to do the exact thing Elvis once did, starting shortstop for the Rangers at the ripe age of 20. Elvis Andrus is the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen, and his bat is sure to get better as he reaches his prime years, but his value might now better be used in helping fill the hole that will be Josh Hamilton. You may disagree with me, and I’m not exactly saying goodbye to Elvis quite yet, but if he does indeed go, I will miss him.

The 2012 Rangers season could be viewed as a disappointment, from playing like one of the best teams in baseball to an historic collapse to an early exit from the postseason. I get that. But more than the disappointment of not fulfilling the crazy expectations we place on our winning franchise, I am disappointed that this will probably be the last year we get to see this very eclectic mixture of talent and personality all playing together on the same field. I really liked this group of guys, and it’s just too bad they couldn’t get a title together.

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