In the past week, the Texas Rangers have suffered several losses that could easily be classified as bad losses. That’s a strange term, “bad loss”, because every loss counts the same, just as every win counts the same, whether it be in April or September, by 1 run or 15 runs. A “bad loss” may be best defined as a loss that you can point to at the end of the season, when magic numbers and games behind in the standings begin to be counted on a daily basis, and say “that’s a game we should have won”. The Rangers had two bad losses in a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners last week, one of which was a 21-8 laugher. This week they have lost two of three to the Oakland Athletics. Each of those losses came on a night where the level of effort by Texas could be classified as lacking.
Those aren’t the only series in which the Rangers displayed below average performance against a below average team. One could also point to when the Kansas City Royals swept the Rangers in a 2-game series in Arlington, or losing two out of three games at Seattle. These are games against inferior teams to the Rangers, and stand out as the kinds of series the Rangers shouldn’t be dropping.
These signposts beg the question – have the Rangers played poorly against poor teams, and stepped up their game when faced with a better level of competition?
The Rangers have played 30 games against teams that currently have a record better than .500. They have played 27 games against teams with a sub-.500 record. Against the teams with a record greater than .500, they are 18-12. Against the latter group, they are 15-12. That is a winning percentage of .600 and a winning percentage of .556, respectively. Not a huge difference. Obviously, 15-12 against some of the worst teams in the league is not exactly tearing things up, but it’s not so bad that we can affirm the accusation of the Rangers playing to the level of their competition. That is more perception than reality.
As back-to-back defending American League champions, the Rangers have a target on their back. They are the measuring stick of the American League. Much like a Super Bowl champion in the NFL, they are seeing the best from their opponent every game, because everyone wants to knock off the reigning champs. The Rangers can’t match that level of intensity every night in a 9-month season, nor should they. Regular season wins only matter for one thing: Getting to the playoffs. Once a team is in the playoffs, what they did over 162 games no longer matters. At that point all that matters is the next 1, 5, 12, 19, or 26 that they play. The Rangers are now a veteran team that knows they have to keep something in the tank for those October runs. I’m not advocating them mailing it in each night, but it is important to keep perspective during a night where there is a lull surrounding the team. There is a bigger prize to be had than just one game in the regular season.
The Rangers held a team meeting after a loss to the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend, with coaches and players alike speaking out about the need to cut down on mental errors and defensive mistakes. Since then, those issues have been mitigated. The more prevalent issue has been timely hitting, an aspect of the game that can run hot and cold. Soon, that switch will flip back to “hot” for the Rangers, and all this discussion of slumps and mental lapses will be but a distant memory. If the Rangers continue to “do what the game asks them to do”, as their manager Ron Washington always advocates, everything will work out just fine.