The game of baseball has a way of humbling you.
The heady days of April and May, when the Texas Rangers were drawing comparisons to the 1998 New York Yankees, seem like a lifetime ago.
The pitching staff has been ravaged by injuries, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young have been slumping for months, the rest of the lineup hasn't been much better and even the bullpen has shown a few cracks in the past few weeks.
The Los Angeles Angels, left for dead after their slow start to the season, are suddenly 4 games back. The red-hot Oakland A's, a perennial doormat left for dead three or four seasons ago, are hanging around at 3 games back.
Zach Greinke, who would have instantly been penciled in as the No. 1 starter in Texas, will be a No. 3 or a No. 4 for the Angels. The Rangers will miss Greinke, who makes his LA debut on Sunday, but their struggling offense will be facing Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson when the Angels come to Arlington for a huge four-game series next week.
Yet, with all that being said, Texas still has the fourth best record (58-41) and the fourth best run differential (+82) in the baseball. At this point in the season last year, a Rangers team that was a misplayed fly ball from winning the World Series was 56-43.
The best hitters in baseball get a hit in a little over 30% of their at-bats. The best teams in baseball win a little over 60% of their games. Over a 162-game schedule, even the best offenses in baseball are going to struggle.
Some times, the bloop Ian Kinsler hit with two men on in the 7th drops for a hit. Other times, it hangs in the air just long enough for an outfielder (Chicago LF Dayan Viciedo) to make a diving catch.
There's only so much a baseball player can do to control his outcomes, which is why coaches want them to be as process-dependent as possible. That's why Hamilton was given the night off on Saturday: both Ron Washington and Nolan Ryan have gone on record saying they don't like his swing first and ask questions later plate approach in the midst of his slump. It's the root of Washington's "calm hand" managerial philosophy and it was the focus -- relax and let go of past struggles at the plate -- of the meeting the Texas batters held after their 5-2 to the White Sox.
Because when the outcomes are as ugly as they were on Saturday, it's kind of hard not to take it to heart. The Rangers went 0-13 with runners in scoring position, with all nine starters getting in on the fun (or lack of it) of not coming up with a "clutch" hit.
The only offense came courtesy of a Mike Napoli solo HR in the 5th and a David Murphy double in the 9th, as he scored on consecutive ground-outs from Young and Napoli.
Even Matt Harrison, the most dependable starting pitcher the Rangers have had all season, came up short on Saturday. In his worst outing in over two months, he allowed 5 earned runs in 7 innings, putting Texas in a hole their struggling offense had little chance of getting out of.
That's certainly how it felt to anyone watching the game, yet if Kinsler's bloop landed in front of Viciedo's out-stretched glove in the 7th, Texas would have had the tying run at the plate against a reliever with a 3.27 career ERA (Jesse Crain).
Even if they added an impact bat like Justin Upton (who is reportedly no longer on the market anyway) at the deadline, he can't single-handedly lift the rest of a struggling offense up with him. The Rangers have a lot of talented hitters with long histories of hitting the ball; only Young is at the age where you would suspect that a prolonged slump might just be the new normal.
All they can do is hope that the averages turn their way and do so soon. If that's not very comforting, that's baseball for you.