It's August 1st, and I am not having fun watching Rangers baseball. I want to be careful not to sound like a broken, anger-tinged record here, but this is not fun, this is not enjoyable, and, more and more, watching the Rangers does not feel like a valuable use of my time.
The first two games of this four-game set have been laughers, with the Angels smashing the Rangers in the mouth on Monday night, and with the lone positive sign from that game -- that is, the eight runs that the offense scratched across, which engendered some newfound hope that the lineup was about to turn the corner -- disappearing yet again on Tuesday night, on a night where Jered Weaver flirted with perfection for four-plus innings and the Rangers could plate only a couple of low-leverage late-game runs.
And while I'm still in a bitter, excessively irritated, but above all else disappointed sort of mindset, I'd like to point out Derek Holland's curiously upbeat post-mortem of his start (6.2 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 3 HR), which marked the first occasion in his major league career where he allowed at least four walks and three homers in the same outing:
"I felt really good about my start. If I had to take anything back, it would be a couple of pitches. I made a great pitch to [Mike] Trout, but I was behind in the count so he was sitting on that. [Albert] Pujols, same thing with the first home run, I tried to change his eye level, and he got it. The next time, I did execute my pitch, but he was sitting on it. But other than that, I did a good job of executing. I felt very strong. Just a couple of pitches got away, and they hit them. This is a good ballclub over there. They’re going to hit your mistakes.”
Here, incidentally, is the pitch in question -- a 91 mph heater that caught the center of the plate on a 3-1 count. The previous pitch was a virtually identical 91 mph heater that was thrown to almost the exact same spot on a 3-0 count. I always try to seek out some sort of legitimate cause for encouragement going forward when things go awry such as they did last night, and I guess I can look at his stellar work early on -- before the wheels totally fell off -- and the fact that he feels "strong" and roll with those, but I guess I'm really having trouble deducing what, if anything, made this a "great" pitch:
I don't want to get further bogged down in what happened last night, though. What I want to do is flip the narrative back a few pages, and, as #gauche as it may sound, shoot a quick glance back at something I wrote on June 7th, at another point in time when it felt as though the wheels might be coming off and the Rangers might be losing their grasp on the division:
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, 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 floored by how much of that passage is still applicable as of right now, and here's the thing that especially troubles me -- I'm more worried now than I was then. On the one hand, the Rangers were 33-25 (.568 winning percentage) and boasted a four-game lead on that date, and, as of today, the Rangers are 59-43 (.578 winning percentage) and boast a three-game lead. Very little has changed from that particular vantage point; the Rangers are still winning about 57-58 percent of their games on the whole, and have retained a decent, but not especially secure hold on the division, which is basically exactly where they were last year at this same time. In that sense, I feel like they're still in a pretty good place, and, in spite of everything, still divisional favorites.
During the month of July, however, the Rangers produced their worst single-month winning percentage (9-14; .391 WP) since their miserable 11-18 run back in August 2008, and the not-so-dirty little secret is that they were outscored to the tune of 81-to-110 on the month, with that minus-29 run differential completely wiping out their plus-23 from the month before and then some. I'm also somewhat taken aback by the fact that their Pythagorean win expectancy for the month was actually 8-15 -- and, sure enough, per FanGraphs' clutch statistic, the lack of clutchness of the lineup for the month (-1.2 wins) was actually completely neturalized by the clutchness of the pitching staff (+1.6 wins). In other words, the Rangers were actually somewhat fortunate that their July record wasn't worse.
And here's something that's a little more startling: with that minus-29 run differential in 23 games played during the month of July, the Rangers were outscored by an average of 1.26 runs per game. That's the worst per-game run differential average for the club in nearly a decade, as they haven't fared so poorly from that standpoint since a nightmarish June 2003 run where they went 7-20 and were outscored by an average of 2.3 runs per game. No, you don't expect their recent run of futility with runners on base/in scoring position to persist forever, and you expect things to (hopefully) normalize ... but these numbers validate the perception that this team has been going very poorly of late, and support the notion that this has actually been one of their worst months of baseball in a very long time.
The reality is that we tend to overvalue recent events and undervalue less recent events when forming our expectations (otherwise known as recency bias), and, as such, we're a whole hell of a lot more pessimistic right now about a 59-43 team than we probably should be ... but that's the thing that continues to bother me. Where, exactly, is rock bottom? Did they hit it last night? Do they hit it a week or a fortnight from now? When, exactly, do their fortunes turn around? Sure, you expect regression towards a club's true talent level, but baseball is a fickle b---- and things don't always fall nicely and neatly into place in the way that you might want or expect.
And, no, I'm not "scared" of the Angels or the Athletics, per se, but I'm more worried about both clubs than I was back in early June, given that they both still pose legitimate threats -- yes, you should be taking Oakland seriously by now -- to the division crown as we move into the month of August, and the former boasts the best player in baseball this season and a newly fortified rotation. The two main post-season odds calculators peg the Rangers at 55 percent on the low end (CoolStandings.com) and 80 percent on the high end (Baseball Prospectus) to win the division; those are decent figures, but if you, say, split the difference between those two projections, the Rangers still face the one-in-three possibility of losing the division title and being cast into a one-game playoff. You'll have to forgive me for not particularly liking those odds in light of where this team is right now.
I wish the Rangers would start playing better. I wish this would start being fun again.