Magic Number: 1
If you are here, if you clicked the link to open this story, I am going to assume you have successfully moved on from the horror of the Texas Rangers' season. With two weeks gone since their untimely demise, we can settle the emotions down and look back on how the 2012 Ranger campaign should be judged, what happened, and where they go from here.
First and for most, objectively, and against the way your stomach is probably telling you to feel, the 2012 season should not be graded as a disappointment. Weird, right?
Think about it this way: You may have wanted the third time to be the charm, but the playoffs are such a crap shoot you -- and even the regular season such a non-guarantee -- you can't ever expect a team to win the World Series, and then judge them as failures when they don't. You set a reasonable expectation for wins, judge them based on how and why they do or do not reach that, and pray no one else does better.
The Rangers won 93 games. That is two more than the Diamond Mind Projection Blowout at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog gave them. That is the fourth most wins in franchise history. That usually puts you in the playoffs, would have won the AL Central comfortably, and would have won the west the past two years. It is really hard to be too critical of a team for merely winning 93 games.
Beyond that, the Rangers more than believably played better than 93 wins suggests, with Baseball Prospectus suggesting they hit, pitched, and fielded more like a 96 win team. That's just three measly wins, but think about how different the season looks with just two of them.
Yu Darvish, in his first season, was one of the best pitchers in baseball, despite an extended period of not being able to find the strikezone with his fastball. Elvis Andrus grew in to one of baseball's best shortstops. Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in one game. Adrian Beltre had a season that would be considered for MVP candidacy most years. All these things happened that were exciting and should be looked at fondly.
Texas is on the outside looking in not because they were a poor, or even remarkably disappointing, team for 162 games. They are on the outside looking in because the Oakland Athletics rolled around in mutagen and went crazy on the second half of baseball. That is not the Rangers fault, they can't control their opponents. The A's deserve a lot of credit, they are the story here.
Despite all those words, there is going to be emotional disappointment, and it makes sense. There is even real disappointment to be had.
Michael Young hit like absolute garbage while playing 113 games at positions where you need to be at least average to even be replacement level. When he wasn't there, he was playing terrible defense at premium spots. Most good teams refuse to continue to start awful players for an entire season when they have something to play for, but the Rangers staunchly dug in their heels and let their Veteran Leader© pose a black void in the middle of the lineup. For most of the year it seemed like trying to prove a point resulting in nothing more than a harmless annoyance, but in the end FanGraphs valued Young as being worth a win and a half worse than what the top of the MLB scrap pile would have been worth. And in the end, a win or two would have meant an entirely different season in Arlington.
Not that the blame can rest entirely on Michael Young and the people who let him play. Derek Holland refused to continue his strong second half to 2011. Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli followed up the best seasons of their careers with the worst. Nelson Cruz finally stayed healthy and did nothing with it. It doesn't take more than one of these players turning in just a slightly better year for Texas to win the West. The sum of the parts may have resulted in a season that was alright, but some of the results of the individual parts are infuriating.
The biggest reason this season will go down as a monstrous disappoint is, of course, because of the way the season began and ended. It started with what looked like a historically great squad in April that became merely alright the rest of the way, before completely tanking in the last two weeks of the season. When going 3-6 is all it takes to win the division at the end and you cannot even handle that, everyone is going to look back on your year as a failure no matter if you won 100 games. It's not fair to the Texas Rangers, but the emotions and logic of a sports fan don't deal with fair.
It feels a bit more disappointing, too, with the state of the Rangers' window of opportunity. Hamilton is most likely gone, with no obvious replacements. Beltre, Napoli, Kinsler, and Cruz are drifting farther from their peak years. The 2013 Rangers don't look bad, but neither does their division. The long term health of the organization still looks good, lead by a tremendously trustworthy front office, and fueled by a strong farm system, but the future is full of more question marks than you would like. Without some magic -- and magic is certainly possible, to be fair -- this team probably takes a hit next year, and a hit could well me consecutive seasons watching other teams play in the ALDS.
Being down on the season, feeling anger and heartbreak, is not a problem. The problem is the amateur analysis that will come out of this. There is reason to suspect Ron Washington could have positioned his bullpen better throughout the year, or should have just benched Michael Young, or could have benched his fatigued stars more, but no one outside the team itself is an expert. The team may have just been tired, or they may have not taken the season seriously enough, or it may have just been the weirdness of baseball. The people who know are the front office that has delivered all this talent to the Ballpark.
Further, none of these dark words should not completely cloud what we have watched the past three years. Once upon a time, winning 93 games and seeing a one game playoff for Rangers fans would have been absolute joy. Jon Daniels and his crew -- on field and in the office -- have put together the golden era of the Texas Rangers. A nice long era of success is due at least one dark year, and the Rangers had theirs early, but that should not mean we look back on these years with anger. We have seen two American League pennants. We have seen MVPs, Rookies of the Year, and proof positive that the Texas Rangers can have a fantastic pitching staff. There is no indication that is coming to an end, either.
This is a speed bump. There will probably be more speed bumps. But there are still plenty of good reasons to continue to day dream about your Texas Rangers.