“I don’t know if anybody has the right answer for that,” Max Scherzer said on Wednesday, when asked how the Rangers might right a battered ship after their 15th loss in 19 tries. “I think every team responds differently to adversity, and every player responds to adversity in a different way … Everybody can look in the mirror and sit there and say, ‘I wish I could do something better.’ …. Everybody’s got to just do their job just a little bit better.”
Not so much as a writer. More so as a Rangers fan.
Colleagues who write about the Cowboys tell me they are drawn to the beat in part because there’s always fresh controversy to cover, new and creative negativity to report on, maybe even fan-base angst to stir up. Talk show hosts feed on this stuff. Rock and movie critics, too. It unfailingly draws eyes and ears. It’s premium content.
Not me. I don’t do this thing for the views or likes or follower count. It’s just not why I write (and also why I’m not a #journalist). I do it—and believe me, I recognize how fortunate I am to have spaces like this to do it in—because I love the game and have this cool opportunity to express sports highs and lows and hopes, rewarded and dashed alike, in writing.
I’ve gotta figure out how I’m going to respond to the strangest adversity this team has ever thrust upon me in the nearly 50 years I’ve tuned in. I’m not easy to get rid of.
I wasn’t able to watch the Monday or Tuesday installments of what was fairly billed as one of the biggest—and ultimately, worst—series in franchise regular-season history. Travel and teaching got in the way. Seeing the final scores was bad enough, but I found myself hoping anyway, the way baseball often gets me to. I held onto hope that Scherzer and his teammates would salvage the finale of the series, which would be their final meeting of the season with the Astros—unless they meet in the playoffs. (There’s me gravitating toward hope again.) Scratch out a win on Wednesday, and then maybe Texas would be able to get the bullpen in order on Thursday’s off-day and prepare to pounce on the visiting A’s before the next huge series in Toronto, a four-game set with a Blue Jays team that now presents the most accessible reentry into a postseason position.
Alas: Houston 12, Texas 3.
In that game, the Astros became the first team in baseball history to stack up 50 hits and 16 home runs in a three-game series, not to mention the first to score at least 12 runs with at least five homers in three straight games. In one of the biggest series in Rangers history.
On August 15, just before the 15-losses-in-19-games skid started, the Rangers were 72-48 (a robust .600 winning percentage three quarters through the season) and had a 95.1 percent chance of making the playoffs for the first time in seven years. After the Houston series, the number stands at 51.1 percent.
Every season, fan bases for 29 teams walk away disappointed on some level. And still, at this moment, I stand by my insistence that a sports gut punch, no matter how seismic, beats irrelevance. I’ve been tested these last three weeks. Not only has this stretch been packed full of early-inning blowouts and late-inning meltdowns—there have been very few “normal” losses—but even the victories have been taxing. Of the four wins the Rangers have earned in these last 19 games, three were by one run and the other was tied going into the ninth. (One of those one-run victories marked the only time all season the Rangers won when trailing after eight innings.) I’ve been tested. But I’m still upright.
The Rangers were so good for four-and-a-half months. When they had built that 72-48 record, two weeks after opportunistically adding Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton (and, uh, yeah, Austin Hedges) to the pitching staff, their run differential suggested they should have been 78-42, a record that would extrapolate to 105 wins for the year. With those six extra expected wins, the Rangers today would lead Houston by two games and Seattle by four, even with this recent run of losses.
The primary culprit for the difference, of course, has been the bullpen. At least as of a few days ago—actually, this still stands, as I’m quite sure they haven’t had a save opportunity since—the relief corps’ conversion of a mere 47.3 percent of its save chances would be the worst ever for a team recording at least 25 saves.
But also at fault is the (very good) offense’s inability to play situational baseball. Getting a run in from third base with fewer than two outs. Managing more than one score with the bases loaded and no outs. Taking highlight-reel swings when a sacrifice fly or a pitch driven up the middle would suffice. Getting bad baserunning reads and making fateful decisions. The Rangers have been, at least until the last few weeks, historically strong at the big things—but not good at the little things.
I’m trying to be OK at the little things: locking in on a middle reliever trying to strand a couple of inherited runners, having faith in a crooked number here and there from the offense, believing a ho-hum win is around the corner, and maybe a streak. It has become a common refrain in this spiral to say that if we had been told in February the Rangers would be within a game of a playoff spot with three weeks to go, we’d all be thrilled. Yeah. Probably. Definitely.
Easy to say now, I guess, but it’s 100 percent true, isn’t it? This isn’t over. So now it’s on Texas to beat, if not sweep the A’s, as the Rangers systematically should. Then go into Toronto and take care of the business that for so much of this unique season has been squarely at hand. And people like me to stay locked in for every pitch, every swing, every night.
“Everybody can look in the mirror and sit there and say, ‘I wish I could do something better,’” Scherzer said.
Yes, sir. On it.