Every baseball season tells a unique story, and like most good dramas–feel-good tales and tragedies alike–there are usually several ways to judge what we’ve seen. It’s certainly true in the case of the 2022 Rangers.
On one hand, Texas recovered from a poor start to the season to even its record by the end of May. Until the Mariners turned in a white-hot July, the Rangers held down second place in the five-team AL West for a long stretch. Since climbing to that .500 record, they have dropped to a 72-win pace–but even that would be a 12-game improvement over 2021, a boost that trails only the Mets, Orioles, Diamondbacks, and Twins. And despite the falloff, the team’s run differential is essentially even, suggesting the Rangers are performing more like a .500 team in spite of the win-loss disparity. If the Rangers’ record were determined by the rate they score and allow runs, we’d be looking at a gaudy 21-game improvement.
On the other, there’s the Rangers’ record in one-run games. Texas is 6-24 in such contests, which is not only on pace to be the worst mark in MLB history but is also so awful that it basically explains the season on its own. If the Rangers had just split their 30 games that have been decided by one score, they’d be 57-51. And half a game out of a Wild Card spot.
It’s almost unfathomable that Texas, on its way to a 10-17 July, lost more than half of those games by a single run. The Rangers went 1-10 in one-run games last month, which included four of their seven straight losses to Seattle. The bullpen struggled to hold leads, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There were nights where there was never a lead to hold, despite Texas keeping the game close.
After one particularly maddening 4-3 loss to the Mariners, manager Chris Woodward’s frustration was palpable. “There’s a lot of little plays there that we have to make,” he said. “If we’re going to win games, we’ve got to find a way to get it done. We had them on the ropes and just didn’t have a big hit or a big at-bat. We’re going to find a way to get them.”
One-run streakiness, of course, can give as plentifully as it takes away. While the Rangers are on pace for the worst one-run campaign ever, they also hold the record for the best season in one-run games, having gone 36-11 in 2016. If they instead had gone, say, 24-23 in one-run contests that year, they would have won 83 games and gone home after 162 rather than winning the West.
But what does it all mean? Even the analysis on this year’s one-run ineptitude can vary. Are the Rangers that close to being a lot better? Are they truly just a timely hit here or one fewer baserunning lapse avoided there from being a pennant-race participant? Or is the cliched inability to “find a way to win” a character trait that isn’t easily overcome without significant personnel changes? Falling just short, one might believe, isn’t always simply the result of running out of outs.
When the 2022 season ends, even a strong finish and positive overall assessment of how the year went won’t prompt the Rangers to stand pat with their roster. The rotation will be a focus, and at least one impact bat most likely will be added as well. Josh Jung should finally factor in, and in six weeks we’ll know a whole lot more about how Bubba Thompson and Cole Ragans might fit. Owen White is charging fast, and this time next year we might be talking not only about Jack Leiter and Dustin Harris but also about Kumar Rocker, Luisangel Acuna, and Aaron Zavala.
And maybe the baseball gods in charge of regulating tightly contested games will smile once again on the Rangers in 2023. Even leaving them alone and letting them win as many of those as they lose would be quite welcome.