I'd like to be able to talk about or point to something that really stands out as a beacon of positivity in a baseball environment that's currently awash in bad vibes. I'd like to be able to write something deeply profound or meaningful about the psychological mindset of the Rangers as they coast forward into this next three-game set against the Athletics. I'd like to tell you that this will definitely be the point where the bleeding is cauterized and Texas avoids what could possibly be a seventh series loss in eight tries. I'd also like to acquire the pipes of Ronald Isley, the all-encompassing musical genius of Prince, and the fashion sense of Raphael Saadiq, but I'm not sure any of these are realistic goals to aim for.
The Sunday afternoon pitching meltdown was in no way, shape, or form a good thing, and I certainly don't want to downplay just how unbelievably frustrating it was to watch -- or at least be aware of, due to interference by an infinitely more compelling Lakers-Mavericks series clincher -- the Yankees blow Cody Eppley's doors off the hinges by going single-single-single-grand slam ... but, at the same time, you can't tell me you weren't expecting things to go badly right from the moment when Dave Bush first toed the rubber in place of a blister-nursing Alexi Ogando. In a way, the emotional response is dulled when you've already been expecting disaster and disaster, albeit delayed, finally does strike. I guess that isn't captured in any of the numbers that really matter, though.
It would be easy to throw some blame in the direction of Ron Washington and/or Mike Maddux in view of the timing of some of their in-game decisions (or non-decisions), but the odd criticism of the specific call to let Dave Bush try and pitch one more inning is fairly easily combated by pointing to the short-handed condition of the bullpen. Eppley, a sinker-hurling sidearmer, shouldn't have been pitted against three consecutive opposite-handed hitters to begin his nightmare inning, but yet again you can analyze the context of the situation and reasonably arrive at the conclusion that the only other option at the time in the mind of the coaching staff was Mark Lowe. * There may not have been fully optimized bullpen use going on, but the real underlying issues here are the continued lack of talent and depth.
[* At the point Eppley was summoned into what was then a 6-5 game, the Rangers had four other hypothetical options: (1) Darren Oliver, who had thrown 27 pitches the night before and, judging by the manner in which he was used last year and his heavy workload thus far this year, may not have been available for more than one hitter, if at all; (2) Arthur Rhodes, who, despite being a superior option to Eppley against lefties, was yanked on account of having just allowed two home runs and a single in his inning of work; (3) Neftali Feliz, who obviously wasn't going to pitch in a game that the Rangers trailed; and (4) Mark Lowe. Eppley may have been set up to fail, but my whole point here is to illustrate that pitching changes which appear hopelessly ill-advised on the surface aren't always the product of stupidity from the dugout.]
And so the Rangers move at least one day closer to the respective returns of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz -- whose absences weren't seriously impactful, given that Texas still mustered a cool five runs -- and the likes of Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman, all of which are supposed to give Texas a serious boost. I won't argue otherwise, and I also won't play the role of alarmist and say that the Rangers are in any real danger of falling out of the race before that particular wave of reinforcements arrives. I'm not seeing it. No, the concern that I want to reiterate this morning deals with the risk of recurrence.
It's great to gaze down the road towards the end of the rainbow and see the primo -- or at the very least, useful -- talent/depth working back towards Arlington, and then idealize a scenario in your head where no further injuries are incurred, no significant patches of ineffectiveness break out, and the Rangers play at a level very close to their true talent level of 90-91 wins. I'd love to believe it could all go down in this exact way, but I can't even begin to suspend reality long enough to pull that off. More injuries are going to strike at some point, and we can only hope their extent and severity are minimal; if not, it becomes much easier to envision a scenario where the Rangers never do get fully healthy, never really hit their stride, and consequently fall short of expectations. The current funk doesn't help in that regard, either.
Since I don't really want to close on a sour note, I will say this: Things look fairly dark right now, and it's very easy to progress from a state of frustration to concern to panic during a stretch of games like this ... but the Rangers, as a whole, didn't clinch a World Series birth by being mentally fragile and easily intimidated by the first hint of adversity. There is fight in this ballclub. It doesn't seem like it at the moment, but it's there. It also remains to be seen if all of its issues will be adequately ironed out and/or addressed by the front-office transaction machine, but last year is still too fresh in my mind for me to even begin to contemplate the idea of counting this Rangers team out.