Frustrating baseball is frustrating.
The Texas Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Angels 3-2 on Saturday night. You’ll notice I said they lost to the Angels. I would not say the Angels beat the Rangers. The Rangers gave this game away in a nicely gift-wrapped present to the Angels.
This was the second night in a row that the Rangers have played a sloppy game that has resulted in an Angels win. If you back up one more game, it was a 21-8 loss to the Seattle Mariners. The Rangers are playing a bad brand of baseball right now; not the kind of baseball that they have come to typify over the last two years en route to back-to-back World Series appearances.
Almost no one is innocent from this rash of bad baseball. It is slowly creeping in and through the entire team. The only Rangers players who visibly seemed to play like they cared at all in this game were Yu Darvish and Craig Gentry. Darvish had some of his best stuff on the season. Gentry robbed a home run, and showed plenty of hustle and want in the game by also sliding hard to attempt to break up a double play attempt. That is the exhaustive list of players who provided a worthy effort.
A start that could have been a gem by Darvish was spoiled by, in the words of Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel “total lack of support, both offensively and defensively”. The Rangers made three errors in the field on Saturday, and that does not include at least two more mental errors that negatively impact the result of the game. The Rangers have now allowed the most unearned runs in all of baseball since May 1st.
Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre made some tough errors, but they were incredibly poorly timed. In an inning in which Darvish didn’t give up a hit, didn’t walk anybody, and struck out the side, the Angels scored the first run of the game. That’s not a mis-print. Darvish did everything perfect in the inning, and yet a scoreless tie was broken.
Elvis Andrus was the main criminal in the error department. After having just had a day of “mental rest” two days ago, his play has been as sharp as the dull side of a butter knife. A lackadaisical throw in the first allowed Mike Trout to reach base to start the game. Worse than that was his decision to not attempt to throw out Trout on a routine ground ball in the 7th inning, instead stopping to argue with the umpires that the ground ball hit the runner going from 2nd to 3rd base.
The other mental error came later in the 7th inning when the score was 2-1 Angels. With the bases loaded and one out, a fly ball was hit to medium-shallow right field. The speedy Trout was the runner at 3rd base, the right fielder was Nelson Cruz, and the throw home was perfect, beating Trout by three steps, beating any other runner by fifteen. The error was on the part of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who failed to receive the ball in a way that allowed him to block the plate and apply a good tag. He caught the ball a step in front of home plate and had to lunge back to tag Trout, instead of allowing the ball to come to him. The tag landed high on Trout’s leg, and although the super-slow motion replay showed that he was out by mere centimeters, the umpire called him safe. Then, Torrealba completely lost it, screaming and yelling at the umpire, dancing around him like a wild man. He was quickly ejected from the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Rangers failed to capitalize on seven walks issued by the Angels pitching staff, to go with two errors made by the Angels defense as well. The Rangers hit into three double plays, and a fourth double play was of the strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out variety. Additionally, the Rangers were 0-8 with runners in scoring position, stranding a total of ten runners on base. The game ended with Josh Hamilton swinging-and-missing on three pitches from Ernesto Frieri with the bases loaded. Two of those three pitches were approximately three inches inside.
The baseball season is a long season. It’s 162 games, and it’s a grind. Baseball players aren’t superhumans. They’re prone to mistakes, errors, mental lapses, and the like. It’s crazy to think that this type of play will continue for the rest of the year, or that the Rangers are no longer one of the best teams in baseball because they’ve hit a rough three-game skid. To put things in perspective, last weekend the Rangers were in the middle of sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays in commanding and exhilarating fashion. To go even farther, last year the Rangers won their division by 10 games, and after 53 games in the season were 28-25 (31-22 this year), and had a 1-game lead in the AL West (this year 3.5-game lead). On the other hand, the Rangers now have a 8-9 record against their division. In 2011, they went 40-17 against the rest of the AL West.
As fans watching the game, knowing that this Rangers ball club has raised the standard, watching them fail to come anywhere close to playing at the level they can is inordinately frustrating. Maybe this Rangers team has felt too comfortable all year with their sizable lead in the AL West, and now it’s catching up to them. Maybe getting swept in Los Angeles this weekend could be the best thing for them, delivering a much needed wake up call.
We haven’t seen any signs of a World Series hangover this year, despite two straight World Series losses. Something is damaging the product the Rangers are putting on the field right now, and it has spread like a virus to every facet of the team. There are still 109 games left in the year, and this won’t be the last bad streak of the season, but it is time for this championship-caliber team to display the resiliency that has guided them to consecutive American League championships. The playing-the-victim, minimal effort team that has taken the field the last three games isn’t who this Texas Rangers team is, and it’s not who they’re going to be. The sooner we get to the latter, the better.