10/04/12 3:08 PM ET
Now's the time for Rangers to wipe slate clean
Focus must be on AL Wild Card game, not end-of-season slump
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
"Momentum shifts all the time," Rangers designated hitter Michael Young said. "We can get it back in no time. We have an opportunity to do that."
The Rangers never dreamed it would come to this, that they would let a five-game lead in the American League West slip away from them in the final nine games of the season.
Now a season that began with such optimism after back-to-back AL pennants has been thrown off the tracks and into a one-game Wild Card playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CT on TBS.
"Baseball is a weird game," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We've played 162. We'll get ready for one game and try to win it."
The Rangers led the AL West by 13 games on June 30, but couldn't hold on. They enter the Wild Card game having lost nine of 13, including three in a row to the A's this week.
"It is what it is," outfielder Josh Hamilton added. "We can't do anything about it. It's about what we do in the next game."
For long stretches of this season, the Rangers looked like the best team in all of baseball. Way back in April, they had a deep rotation and 100-mph relievers lined up. Back then, Hamilton looked like the guy who might win a Triple Crown.
Stuff started to happen. Relievers began to get hurt, and then starters. They signed Roy Oswalt and traded for Ryan Dempster. Hamilton went into a two-month slump. Young stopped hitting for a time. Kinsler had a terrible time hitting on the road.
"This can turn around fast," manager Ron Washington said. "The Major League season is over. We're disappointed, but that can't stop your drive or your competitiveness."
That's another thing the Rangers kept saying to reporters the last couple of days. Maybe they were saying it as much to remind themselves as anyone else.
They've played a ton of huge games the last three seasons, and answered challenge after challenge just to get into the World Series two years in a row. They're hoping that poise and experience will help.
"It hasn't been a lucky year," Washington said. "I can't say we've had any luck. We've earned it. There has been a lot of luck against us, but I can't remember us having a whole lot of luck. We've had to grind everything out. That's the way years are sometimes. We had opportunities to put some cushion between us, but we never could do it. The teams behind us never stopped. They kept coming."
The Rangers had made it look relatively easy the previous two years in sailing to the top of the AL West. In 2012, nothing came easy after the opening two months.
After last season's World Series Game 7 loss to the Cardinals, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels telephoned former Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz.
Last season taught Daniels how difficult it was to win two straight division championships. He couldn't get his mind around the Braves winning 14 in a row.
"What an unbelievable accomplishment," Daniels said. "I know people appreciate it, but I don't think we talk about it enough as an industry. It's unbelievable. It's hard to win once. It's harder to win twice. Fourteen? That's insane."
Still, last season seemed like a walk in the park compared to these last few weeks. In the last eight games, Rangers starters had a 8.15 ERA. In the last 18 games, it's 5.84. Starters failed to finish six innings in six of the last 10 games.
The Rangers believed they had enough depth to withstand the normal wear and tear of a season. But they had far more than that.
Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz were lost for the season to elbow injuries. Derek Holland spent time on the disabled list. Yu Darvish stopped throwing strikes for almost two months.
"It's not just my starters," Washington said. "It's been everybody, everything. We're not going to point the finger at one area. We're all responsible."
Still, it's starting pitching that can rescue the Rangers. It's where momentum begins and ends.
The Rangers made a $107-million investment in Darvish last winter, believing he had both the stuff, smarts and presence to replace C.J. Wilson in their rotation. Now he's being asked to rescue a season on Friday.
"I'm not going to think about the games we've already played," Young said. "We have an opportunity on Friday. It's as simple as that. We have no choice but to turn the page. You have no time to lick your wounds."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.