And so ends another veritable comedy of errors, one which began in promising enough fashion and then violently spiralled out of control and into the second Rangers loss of its kind in the last six days -- losses in which Texas had, at varying points, held commanding advantages on the win expectancy scale in excess of 85 percent. Losses of that sort are going to befall even the very best major league teams, but when you're in the midst of your fourth consecutive poor start to a season in four years under your lame-duck manager and watching the Season of Heightened Expectations begin to slip away, shake-up is a near-inevitability.
There were a number of destructive factors which conspired to make this game another forgettable disaster (Josh Hamilton's costly misplay down the left field, Jerry Crawford's maddeningly inconsistent strike zone, Chris Davis continuing to emulate Ben Broussard ca. 2008, etc.), but ultimately this was about the bullpen failing to do its job, beginning with Chris Ray and ending with ... well, whatever the hell it was that we saw in the eighth and ninth innings. And perhaps the worst thing about it all was that you could sense the trainwreck coming from a mile away.
It struck me as odd that Darren Oliver -- who has some concerned about him potentially being run into the ground by virtue of his heavy early-season workload -- was asked to throw 23 pitches in a lost cause on Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, a sentiment which returned when the 38-year-old southpaw was brought back for a second inning of work after a very shaky seventh inning in which he allowed a single-walk combo before recording the final out. Predictably, Oliver struggled to hit his spots against the eighth-inning lead-off man, Jason Varitek, hanging several meatballs down the middle before yielding a double ... and yet remained in the game. Moments later, the score was knotted at 6-6, Oliver having been taken yard by journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald.
I suppose the reason this didn't fully resonate with me at the time was because I didn't realize closer-du-jour Neftali Feliz hadn't pitched since April 14th; asking him to throw two high-leverage innings in a literal must-win game might have been a dicier call if he had logged a significant quantity of pitches in the preceding 48 hours, but when you're desperately attempting to protect a two-run lead and your best reliever -- if not overall best pitcher -- has amassed six days of rest, what's the justification for not turning him loose to nail down the six-out save? I think I have a bigger problem with this than the ninth-inning Frank Francisco debacle, which undoubtedly erased any lingering vestiges of trust in him; the velocity may be returning, but the command is still non-existent.
Neither this team nor this season are finished by any means, but if you figure this to be a true-talent 86-win team and extrapolate that over the final 149 games, you're suddenly looking at an 84-win team in reality -- one which does not, at the moment, inspire much in the way of confidence, much less look like a pennant-contending team. Beyond the upcoming returns of Ian Kinsler and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the possibility of swapping out Rich Harden for Derek Holland and/or Tanner Scheppers for a reliever, this roster figures to be very inflexible over the next 4-6 weeks, so it's not like there is a magical panacea hiding out somewhere that Texas can activate. It's sink-or-swim time.
And for the third time in three years, it appears that the players from whom Ron Washington is purported to extract maximum effort are going to have to bail him out of managerial purgatory -- only this time, the stakes are much higher.