It's May 16th, the Rangers find themselves on the losing end of a home sweep for the first time in 22 months, and the natives seem surprisingly restless. Though, then again, maybe it shouldn't come as any sort of surprise, because I get that this is the age of heightened expectations, and that anything less than a split in any series is going to rile and/or incense this fan base. I don't necessarily agree with such an extreme response to regular-season games in mid-May, but I get it.
In this case, though, we're talking about back-to-back home losses to a sub-.500 Kansas City squad -- and not just losses, but fairly convincing losses, as the Royals were in control for the better part of those 18 total innings, and themselves doubled the Rangers' meager total of five runs in those two games. When something like that transpires, you can bank on somebody getting slammed with the blame. On Monday night, the criticism was very deliberately aimed towards the B-squad lineup that conjured up only a solo home run and, to a certain extent, the manager that decided to rest both Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler on the same night. And on Tuesday night, the targets appeared to be ...
Target A: Colby Lewis, who shredded his competition during five starts in the month of April (32.2 IP, 4 BB, 29 K, 4 HR, 1.93 ERA), and is currently campaigning hard to make us forget all about those positive contributions, as Tuesday night marked his third consecutive start where he allowed at least six runs to scoot around home plate. Ron Washington was quick to deflect some of the blame from Lewis in asserting that five of his runs allowed would not have scored if not for his two throwing errors (logical errors ahoy!), but the reality is that this was still Lewis in his ugliest form, because the Colby Lewis who's beset by deficient fastball velocity/command and who's sailing 87 mph meatballs up in the zone is nothing short of unwatchable. That was dreadful.
But, hey, rough patches happen, right? He'll get it figured out, right? In theory, yes; I've compared everything from Lewis's BABIPs to his pitch frequency heat maps to his swinging strike rates between the months of April and May, and nothing really stands out other than that whole getting-homered-to-death thing. If you drew a gun on me and demanded that I tell you whether Lewis will be okay over the long haul or not, I'd side with the former over the "not." But it's also worth noting that his average fastball velocity seems to have fallen another tick (this time, into the 87-88 mph range), and that this isn't the last time we're going to get burned this year by his increasingly thin margin of error.
One caveat: if the root cause of his recent struggles is something more sinister than your standard-fare rough patch, such as, say, his degenerative hip condition taking another turn for the worse ... then, yeah, all bets are off.
Target B: Ron Washington, who benched those aforementioned two starters on Monday night, and then rested both Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz on Tuesday night -- moves that didn't prove terribly popular with the fan base at large, as they helped feed the perception that Washington wasn't taking these games as seriously as he should, or that he was basically "punting" the entire series. There was also some grousing over Washington's pinch-hitting management in the anticlimactic ninth inning of Monday night's affair, and then some assorted carping over Washington leaving Lewis in for one batter too long, seeing as how Lewis's final batter of the night raked a two-out, run-scoring double.
So, yeah. It's the year 2012, the Rangers are still -- as of this moment, at least -- on pace to win 100 games, they've claimed back-to-back American League pennants, and Ron Washington is still catching considerable flack for his decisions. Tough crowd. Speaking as someone who has been a pretty vocal critic of Washington's in-game management of years past, I do still understand where most of the fan frustration comes from, and I get that Washington is never going to be regarded or accepted as a saber-savvy manager. (I think you could make a compelling argument that the marked increase in defensive shifts and the particulars of the Rangers' baserunning philosophy qualify as saber-friendly strategies, though there will certainly be those that disagree.)
It's a little strange, though, that Washington still faces such difficulty in getting any kind of benefit of the doubt with some people. Sure, I'd prefer that the Rangers rest one of Cruz/Andrus/Napoli/Kinsler on four separate days as opposed to resting two of that group on back-to-back days -- but I have to imagine there was great reluctance on Washington's part to rest any starters during either the Angels series or the forthcoming Athletics series, and so two per game it was. Or maybe Washington saw that all four players needed that breather as soon as possible, and adjusted accordingly. I get the frustration, but I'm not prepared to question Washington's judgment on a matter that he's better equipped to make the right decision on than any of us.
I'm not saying that anyone should treat Washington's maneuvers as gospel, or ignore blatant managerial mistakes. Hell, you don't even have to like Washington as a manager. But if you are going to rail on him, make sure your contention can be supported by good, objective evidence ... and after you've done that, retake stock of the good that Washington has done over his tenure in Texas, and ask yourself if it's really worth it to press forward with that point against Washington that you're yearning to make. Sometimes, it will be. But not every time. That's all I'm saying.