Lee Stitzel recently wrote an article for NW, and in his opening stanza he writes:
I contemplated writing an article breaking down the September collapse and trying to assign blame to players, coaches or front office guys but it is not worth it. The end of the season hurt. It was too painful. It is time to let it go and move on. Why wallow in a painful season? I do not blame Rangers fans for expecting more.
I do blame Ranger fans for expecting more. I blame them like I would blame a fan of the U.S. National soccer team bemoaning the fact that they didn’t win the World Cup; if you expected more from the Rangers in 2013 — given the plethora of circumstances the team had to deal with — you are an entirely unreasonable follower of baseball.
First of all, I resent any individual who considers the 2013 Texas Rangers season a “collapse”. It may function as a catchy headline, but it doesn’t come anywhere even remotely close to describing what actually transpired. See, in 2012, when the Rangers blew a 5-game lead with 9 left to play… that’s a collapse. That was never supposed to happen in reality. If you ran a computer simulation replaying those last 9 games the odds of the Rangers relinquishing such a lead would probably occur only a handful of times in a thousand chances. It was so improbable the way it worked out that to describe it as anything other than a “collapse” would be intellectually insulting, as that is the definition of a collapse in the baseball sense.
But 2013 was different. In 2013 the Rangers had a significantly less talented roster, a roster that was fully intact for all of 6 games, just long enough for Matt Harrison to throw 5.0 ineffective innings in his 2nd start of the season. Alexi Ogando was only healthy for about half of the year, Lance Berkman was never fully right, and Nelson Cruz got suspended for 50 games during the most critical stage of the year.
“Collapse,” you say?
Sure, it’s a collapse. If you are lazy. It’s a collapse if your vocabulary is too limited to come up with a better way to label it. If you truly believe that — that it was a collapse — I think you are wrong, and you should spend more time thinking than just running with what rolls so easily off the tongue. (Or, in this case, the keyboard.)
The reason the Rangers had a 3-game lead on the AL West at the start of September was thanks to going 21-7 in August, playing teams they were supposed to beat. They got fat against non-contenders. Then when September began and they all of a sudden started 2-12 — effectively eliminating their chances of winning the West — fans predictably ran amuck calling for the heads of the manager and the GM and oh hell just trade everybody. That’s what people do, after all. If they don’t receive instant gratification then the sky is falling and something needs to be done. It’s sad, but it’s the world we live in, and it expands well beyond the boundaries of a game where some guy flings a ball from 60 feet away to large dudes with intentions of doing bad things to it.
There are a few reasons the Rangers gave up a 3-game lead on their division, and they’re all entirely rational. So long as you put in a little thought:
- In baseball your team can’t go on a hot streak forever. There is a very real concept in this sport, and it’s called regression. If you win 75% of your games in a given month, historically it makes a helluva lot of sense that your team will start losing to restore balance. What everyone lost their shit over was (a) how frequently the Rangers were losing and (b) the fact that they were losing at the worst possible part of the year.
- Pitching. In spite of losing Harrison, never getting a start from Colby Lewis, only getting a half-season of Alexi Ogando, and needing to use Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm, Josh Lindblom, Ross Wolf and Travis Blackley for an unfuckingbelievable 45 starts in 2013, the pitching staff picked a bad time to start giving up runs. Ranger pitchers surrendered 71 runs in that sad 14-game stretch (5.07 runs/game), and they didn’t have an offense to support them. Not only then, but for the entire season.
- The schedule picked up. After facing Houston, Seattle, Anaheim, Chicago, and Milwaukee in August, the Rangers had to face Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Kansas City in September — all competing for the playoffs.
Again, I’ll reiterate: This was not a collapse. This was more or less supposed to happen, especially when considering that the Athletics were essentially staked to a September schedule of what the Rangers faced in August.
If losing a 5-game lead with 9 to play is considered a “collapse” insofar as losing a 3-game lead with a month left, isn’t there something wrong with that vernacular? Shouldn’t we challenge ourselves to come up with something different? If English was like math, that wouldn’t add up.
I’m not a big fan of labels in the first place, if for nothing else that they are too obvious and in many (or most) cases aren’t even true. Labels are vague generalizations that force us to stop thinking; they make it so we can just cubbyhole various ideas into neat little sayings — or individual words — such that we won’t have to provide legitimate reasons for why certain things happen. And that’s all that went down in this instance: Baseball. Baseball happened, and the Rangers ended up in place Ranger fans didn’t want them to end up. So if you wanna cry about it, keep crying about it.
I think where I’m coming from is pretty simple: Before the season I projected the Rangers to win only 87 games, and I’m elated that they surpassed that expectation by 4 games, even earning themselves a one-game playoff to get into the postseason. That they had promising showings from Martin Perez, that I got to see Jurickson Profar in (limited) action, and that the year offered various moments of extreme awesomeness was just icing on the cake.
I know 2013 didn’t end with the playoff magic we’ve been spoiled by over the last half-decade, but by no means does that take away from how much I enjoyed it, and doesn’t manifest any foreboding signs of gloom to come. The window for the Rangers is still wide open, and if they win 91 games while blowing a 3-game lead in 2014 I am fully prepared to write the same thing at this time next year.