Alright. Here we go.
So, the Rangers ran off four wins in a row from May 25-28th, three against the above-.500 Blue Jays -- with one bizarre but legitimately bona fide classic mixed in -- and one against a bad Mariners team, and those bad feelings stemming from this team's erratic play since April began to subside, just as I predicted they would a few days earlier.
Then, the Mariners smashed their teeth in with a pair of blowout losses. Fine, okay, call it a blip on the radar. As long as they show up for the Angels, right?
Then they lost two out of three games in Anaheim, which undoubtedly stung -- but, hey, at least they escaped with a win to minimize the damage in the standings, and the Rangers amassed more baserunners in every game of the series, and scored more runs in the aggregate, and you could sleep okay knowing that it could have very easily been a series win for Texas, that the lingering Angels didn't beat the Rangers so much as the Rangers beat themselves, and so on. I wasn't happy about it, but I could live with it, in part because I didn't feel the Angels established themselves as the better team within the span of those three games, in part because the Rangers still had that 4.5-game cushion, and in part because four games against the sad-sack Athletics were coming up.
And then this series started, and I couldn't make any further justifications. They were utterly demolished in the series opener, rebounded for that Tuesday night win, and then got manhandled again in each of the last two games, with the final run differential for the series being 24-8 in the Athletics' favor. All three of these losses were characterized by an unnerving and almost complete lack of run production, which wasn't so much about poor luck with runners on base as it was about a fundamental failure to get runners on base, period. Two of the three losses were also heavily influenced by bad starting pitching, as Scott Feldman and Yu Darvish were both terrible, and the lone win almost feels like a gift, seeing as how Oakland threatened to steal that game away as well.
It's not just that they lost three out of four games to a subpar team in a series where, ideally, they should have taken three out of four, and, at a minimum, should have at least secured a series split. It's how they lost. There was no point during any of these last three losses where I felt like the Rangers were going to win, or even that they had a decent to good chance of winning. I didn't get that feeling during any of the Rangers' post-April trials and tribulations ... not until right now. That really bothers me.
Everything that I know about this team and its true talent level relative to its competition and its oft-demonstrated resiliency suggests to me that they'll right the ship relatively soon, resume playing above-.500 baseball, get to the post-season, and all of that. Logically speaking, I do still think this team is going to be okay; I felt that way two and a half weeks ago, and I still feel that way right now. I'm not panicking, nor am I considering bailing from what some consider to be a sinking ship.
But I am worried. I'm tired of having to rely on other teams to do the Rangers' dirty work and take down the Angels in order to preserve this team's divisional lead (a strategy which doesn't feel very viable in the long run), and I'm concerned by the accumulating injuries and the general malaise that seems to be hanging over this team right now (as an aside, I wonder how many other regulars are also fighting off illness right now), and I'm frustrated because I know this team should be in a better place right now ... and I'm worried because I can't sell myself on the notion that the Rangers have hit rock bottom just yet. I'm worried because I don't really know when or where this is going to end.
I'm also, to a certain degree, worried because there's no readily identifiable quick fix or shortcut back to the winning path. The much-ballyhooed Ron Washington team meeting supposedly got the defense back on track (I say supposedly because, well, correlation != causation and all of that), but the team is still not performing the way that it should be performing. Roy Oswalt's on his way, so you've got that tucked away in your back pocket, but you're probably still down a starter even after he arrives, and you've still got dicey rotation depth overall, and you're getting erratic performances in the meantime (sidenote: I still love what he's capable of doing when he's on, but I'm perturbed by Darvish's struggles over his last four starts, especially today's walkfest).
The problem is that Texas is sort of caught in the middle here, with no true recourse right now other than to ride out the storm and see how things end up playing out. Even if the Rangers were/are in the hunt for a rent-an-ace and are willing to pay out the nose for such an asset, that market isn't going to fully develop for at least another month -- if it develops at all.
And the Rangers also face a similar sort of issue with the lineup. You're not going to magically get better by dumping Yorvit Torrealba and overpaying for a replacement No. 2 catcher. In the infield, you're not going to replace Adrian Beltre, or Ian Kinsler, or Elvis Andrus, or Mike Napoli. In the outfield, you're not going to replace Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz, and you're not getting rid of Michael Young.
At best, you have two positions that you might be able to upgrade at in the next two months: first base or DH, provided that you give up on Mitch Moreland, and left field or center field, provided that you bail on David Murphy and/or Craig Gentry. Even then, though, how much are you going to have to pay on the open market for what will likely amount to a marginal improvement in the final standings, and possibly no meaningful difference in the post-season crapshoot? And will there even be a clear-cut, no-doubt improvement available at those positions for a price that the Rangers will find remotely palatable?
There's a grand old game of finger-pointing to be played here, and I'm okay with that. Losing breeds frustration, and frustration breeds the urge to identify the parties responsible for the losing. I get it. I know I'm not going to change it. But the thing I'm finding is that many of those same people responsible for the losing are also the people responsible for the winning, and that the only thing that's really going to get this team going again is those same people again doing what they do best.
We can get angry about this until we grow numb over it, we can find this kind of baseball to be completely unacceptable coming from a back-to-back league champion, we can offer our suggestions and criticism (some constructive and well thought about, and some just stupid) -- but there's no magical panacea out there that's going to flip the switch. The ingredients for a consistent winning ballclub and a division title and, beyond that, a world championship are all here. It should all come together, I still believe it will all come together ...
... but today, we all came face to face with our worst fears. And, sometimes, there's no such thing as a happy ending.