Another night, another miserable and completely forgettable showing. I've got nothing on that. Not only would I not blame anyone for punching out on that and undertaking a more productive/enjoyable activity (while still occasionally checking in to see if the Rangers had made any headway, of course, which they ultimately didn't), but I'd actively encourage it. Life is too short to blow three-hour chunks on baseball games that are complete lost causes almost from start to finish.
So, as I suggested might end up being the case last week, the Angels are quickly making up lost ground in the divisional race, sit just 2½ games out of first place as of this morning, and have people spooked. At the same time, Ron Washington is taking something of a beating from some frequenters of the Rangers blogosphere who believe that he is, at best, facilitating their current slump by penciling in some days off for his regulars -- with whom he's supposedly being too generous with rest -- as the Angels make up large swathes of ground in the race, and at worst is dooming the Rangers to a second-place finish and/or a place in eternal hell by being too "soft" with his most important players during a key stretch of the pennant race.
I'm not buying it. Not even for a second.
Let's be straight up about something right off the bat -- it has been inordinately hot this summer. Insanely hot, in fact. We're all fairly well acquainted with the life force-draining effects of extreme heat, and we also get that an X-degree variation in temperature is a lot more dangerous at the two extremes; for example, a 10-degree jump from 100 to 110 degrees is clearly more dangerous and more likely to have a material short-term and/or long-term effect on an athlete's performance than going from, say, 50 to 60 degrees. Put another way, all heat is hot, but some heat is hotter than the rest of the heat. Hey, remember when Cliff Lee didn't re-sign with the Rangers because of the heat?
But just how oppressive is the heat this summer, really? Using Baseball Reference's Play Index tool, I found that there were only 33 major league games played last season where the temperature at first pitch registered at 95 degrees or hotter. The Rangers took part in 13 of those games, and none of those 13 games exceeded 100 degrees.
This summer? There have been 67 such games (again, 95 degrees or hotter at first pitch) played with still more than a month to go in the season, and the Rangers have taken part in 33 of those games -- a whopping 20 of which have been played with a first-pitch temperature in the triple digits or higher. Only 32 games overall have been played this season with triple-digit temperatures. To reiterate that point, and to throw some extra data points into the mix:
2007 Rangers: 8 games at 95-plus degrees, 1 game at 100-plus degrees
2008 Rangers: 7 games at 95-plus degrees, 0 games at 100-plus degrees
2009 Rangers: 16 games at 95-plus degrees, 5 games at 100-plus degrees
2010 Rangers: 13 games at 95-plus degrees, 0 games at 100-plus degrees
2011 Rangers: 33 games at 95-plus degrees, 20 games at 100-plus degrees
Now, we can sit here all day and argue about whether the Rangers should be up to the challenge of playing well in whatever fatigue-inducing conditions they should happen to encounter, and whether their conditioning programs should fully prepare them for exactly this kind of extreme weather, and so on and so forth -- but if anyone is going to criticize Washington's handling of the lineup, they should first be armed with the facts.
In the month of August, Washington and company have rested Elvis Andrus twice (still on pace for a career high of 148 games), DH'd Ian Kinsler once (on pace for a career high of 154 games played), rested Mitch Moreland once (on pace for a career high of 140 games played), DH'd Michael Young once, rested Josh Hamilton once, rested Nelson Cruz once (last night, apparently out of concern on Washington's part for Cruz's level of outward fatigue), and regularly rotated Yorvit Torrealba and Mike Napoli between C/1B/DH. Napoli, in fact, hasn't had a single day off this month. The Rangers have played nine games this month alone where the first-pitch temperature was at or above 100 degrees.
Does that really strike you as poor handling and/or coddling of the team's regulars by the coaching staff -- or, more specifically, by Ron Washington? Because, you know, for me to believe that Washington is mismanaging his players, I basically have to believe one of two things, if not both: that he either (a) doesn't have a good handle on the urgency inherent to this playoff race, or (b) doesn't have a good feel for the fatigue level of his players. I may have my share of issues with Washington's tactical approach to the game, but there's nobody I'd trust more on an issue as nuanced as player fatigue and rest than Washington. If that renders me an apologist, then I'm down with that.
Because this is not Washington and company blindly and ignorantly benching key players with a week left in a deadlocked pennant race -- rather, this is Washington and company selectively buying rest for their most critical assets with more than a month left to go in the division race, and with the Rangers still up by several games and still far likelier than not to land a post-season spot. And I'd much rather see the people charged with guiding this thing exert some control over the issue and try to preemptively stave off a team-wide epidemic of burnout at a key point in the race late next month than keep running every damn starter out there every night and risk multiple key Rangers running out of gas at the same time with a couple of weeks left to go in the season.
This isn't a video game. Don't even think about treating it as such.