It's July 23rd, and the Rangers boast the second-largest lead of any front-running team in baseball and their best record after 94 games in franchise history -- but if you take a moment to assess the sentiment of the Rangers fan base at large, you discover fairly quickly that the fan base is, in general, not satisfied. It isn't necessarily dissatisfied, but it doesn't really seem satisfied. The fan base is restless. The fan base is uneasy. I am generalizing, of course, and I readily acknowledge that I'm casting a wide net that encompasses a lot of fans who are actually good with where the team is right now. I get that.
With all that said, though, I get the sense that this baseball team is functioning more as a source of annoyance to its fan base right now than as a source of pleasure, and I feel like that's been the case for a pretty extended period of time. Case in point: I found this post from early June a few hours ago while digging around in the site archives, a lengthy post that came immediately after a bad stretch of baseball in which I spilled my feelings about where the team was at the time, and in which I talked about why I felt like the Rangers would get back on track while simultaneously airing my frustrations and grievances.
I mention that post now because, after skimming back over it, I was taken aback by how much of its content is still applicable to the team as of right now, more than a month and a half later. I still feel that this team is going to be okay in the longer run, but I'm also still concerned about the health of the pitching staff and the offensive malaise that returned at the outset of the month of July, and, to a large extent, this is still a team that's going to either ride or die with the performance of the guys already on the roster.
Yeah, you can hope that Mitch Moreland will furnish at least a modest offensive lift upon his return to the active roster, and you might improve the bench a bit by way of outside acquisition, and you might even pay the hefty premium for a front-line starting pitcher ... but the biggest determinants of how far this team is going to go this year already reside on the active roster, and there still isn't a quick fix that you can readily apply to this team to assuage its greatest present ills. The overriding problem is that the majority of the everyday starting lineup is underperforming right now (to the extreme, in a few cases), and, aside from some minimally effective shuffling of the lineup and/or strategically chosen rest days, there just isn't a whole lot you can do to try and artifically induce the offense to come back to life. It's going to have to be organic.
That all leads me into another observation on the smaller, but quite vocal, rival factions that have cropped up on various message boards within the Rangers blogosophere and on Twitter -- the first which believes that everything is hunky-dory based on the Rangers' record/position in the standings and seems incredulous that anyone could disagree, and the second which believes that the Rangers' struggles are heavily indicative of their impending failure in the playoffs (or failure to even reach the playoffs), and, in a few cases, belittles those who don't share its view. I guess I don't understand the need for positions on such extreme ends of the spectrum. It is okay to feel good about this team's rest-of-season capabilities and still harbor some concerns about its struggles and remaining deficiencies. It may feel strange to hold two seemingly conflicting opinions at once, but it is alright to do so.
The last four games have been undeniably disappointing, and have seen the Rangers drop a close-and-late series finale in Oakland, then do nothing on Friday, then respond with a series of crushing blows on Saturday, then go right back to doing nothing on Sunday. Yeah, that sucked, and I don't doubt that this latest little spate of losing has people more tightly wound and on edge than usual, but it's funny -- in a strange sort of way -- how much consternation has been triggered by a team that woke up this morning to find itself in as enviable a position as any team in baseball.
Although now that I stop and think about it a little more, it's really not all that funny. Heightened expectations are good, because they're brought about by a quality team getting better and experiencing success and taking those next important steps forward competitively. The flip side of that, though, is that when you expect more, and you expect progressively greater things out of your team, and it invariably fails to keep pace with what you demand of it ... yeah, it just doesn't seem to be as fun as it used to be. The wins are still awesome and uplifting, but the losses are more of a downer, and may somebody help us all if this team hits another one of these disturbing little slumps and goes skidding all over the road during the month of October, because, for a great many people, nothing less than winning it all is going to suffice this time around.